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Skylanders: Superchargers adds vehicles for all the budding gearheads

The market for physical toy-based video games has expanded rapidly in the last few years. With Disney/Marvel Infinity and Nintendo’s amiibos able to pull from their massive catalogs of beloved characters, and established toy giant Lego about to throw its hat into the ring with Lego Dimensions, category-originator Skylanders needs to innovate in order to maintain its lead. Previous entries in the franchise have added features like swappable body parts or the ability to trap villains in the portal.

The new hook for Skylanders: Superchargers is the addition of vehicles for your Skylanders to ride, which opens up whole new types of gameplay for the series. The 20 different vehicles are broken into three categories: land, air, and sea. Within those groups they cover a wide range of types, such as motorcycles, tanks, submarines, or speedboats. Developer Vicarious Visions wanted to make sure that they “deliver on as many vehicle fantasies that we think kids would have,” a representative told me when I recently got to see the game in action.

Hot Streak, a souped-up sports car, is the vehicle included with the Starter Pack. Note those rolling wheels — unlike the Skylanders, which tend to be somewhat limited in mobility, the vehicles feature functional wheels, propellers, and whatnot, which gives them additional edge as really usable toys in their own right. The driving section I saw was a mostly linear  stretch, with various ramps, obstacles, and speed boosts to spice it up — understandably much more Mario Kart than Forza. Collect “Gearbits” along the way (a new currency analogous to coins) to spend later on upgrading your vehicles. Secret side-routes can be found as well, often leading to special Mod Chests that contain upgraded parts that you can swap in to customize your ride. Although any Skylander (including those from previous games) can use any vehicle, each one does have a particular pilot that, when paired together, will “supercharge” the vehicle and unlock additional capabilities.

Related: LEGO Dimensions brings in Back to The Future, DC Comics + More Franchises

Because only Hot Streak comes included with the Starter Pack, the sea and air sections of levels are all technically optional, so that anyone is capable of playing through the entire main game without shelling out for extra toys. The water level in the demo was another linear course like the land section. Because Dive Bomber, the vehicle demonstrated, is a submarine, it was also able to duck down below the surface. In this case the water was relatively shallow, with secret paths branching out below the surface. Other levels will include full-blown underwater exploration. The section culminated in a boss fight in an open arena, requiring you to use depth and wave timing to avoid its perils. The flying section was extremely reminiscent of Star Fox 64, as you flew on rails through a linear section. Also like in Star Fox, there will be open arenas for dog fighting.

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Vicarious Visions

All of the 300-plus toys from previous Skylanders games are compatible with Superchargers, so you don’t have to worry about leaving behind your favorite characters. Eight of the new Skylanders for this iteration are also revamped versions of fan favorite characters from prior games, like the Supershot variant of Stealth Elf (above), who has been a fixture of Skylanders games since Spyro’s Adventure.

Kaos is back again with an evil super-weapon that threatens to gobble up the sky. With an extensive story campaign and a hub area leading to a wide range of side missions and additional challenges, Skylanders: Superchargers is the biggest game in the series yet. It is due out on September 20, 2015, for PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and Wii U, with a separate version for 3DS and the original Wii. Owners of previous games will be able to use their existing portal to play, and can just purchase a digital Starter Pack.