After receiving a behind closed doors demonstration of the just announced fifth entry in the Skylanders series – e – we pressed Activision on the possibility of a Mario Kart spin-off mode.
June 3 2015: In news sure to send kids across the planet bonkers – and their parents to the bottom of the piggy bank – on September 24 Skylanders: SuperChargers will be released in Australia and it will change the famous series forever. The big new feature is drivable vehicles, with a mix of land, sea and air-based craft set to be available at launch and in the ensuing months until a total of 20 are lined-up on your shelf.
For those unfamiliar with the series, Skylanders was the first entry in the now huge “toys-to-life” genre, which is characterised by the use of real-world figurines in-game. This is achieved by placing the figurine on a portal, which tells the console which character to transport into the game world. Switching characters of different element alignments on and off the portal as the on-screen avatar confronts different obstacles in the beautiful 3D worlds is a huge part of the fun, and a feature loved by kids big and small alike.
With the upcoming Skylanders: SuperChargers, 20 vehicle figurines will be made available during the lifetime of the product, and when each is placed on the portal alongside any of the 300+ Skylanders character figurines already in circulation – plus more unique and modified characters specific to the new game - they will merge as driver/pilot/captain and vehicle. Pair the right character with the right vehicle and said ride becomes Supercharged, giving it extra powers and abilities.
You will not be able to drive a vehicle anywhere, however – it’s not the same style of experience as the likeminded Disney Infinity series. Instead, as you platform your way through the world dealing with new enemy types and solving level puzzles, you will come across sections whereby you can enter what is effectively a race track. These areas can only be traversed by vehicles, and whether you are flying, racing or hurtling through (or even beneath) the waves, the appearance of pick-ups, nitro-pads, hazards, weapons and tricks clearly pays homage to the mighty Mario Kart.
While not strictly races – you can take alternate routes, stop to solve puzzles and even battle bosses in epic arenas while in a vehicle section – all the hard work has been done to create a race experience. It begs the question; will Skylanders: SuperChargers have a Mario Kart mode?
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Skylanders Karting – Your Heard It Here First
I put the question to the Activision representative who played the game live to a small room of journalists in Sydney Australia… and got no confirmation. But I also got no denial. And while my ability to read their body language can be counted as little more than just speculation at this point, the reaction to the question suggested there is something in the idea being explored.
I see a spin-off multiplayer mode on the offing, in which four players can go head-to-head in classic splitscreen racing across a range of tracks inspired by sections from the single player game. It would make sense for a number of reasons:
- The karting genre is one of the most consistently successful in video gaming and while Mario and the Mushroom Kingdom very much led the charge, everyone from Crash Bandicoot and Ben 10 to Sonic the Hedgehog and the Angry Birds have given it a nudge; copy and pasting the formula to great success.
- With the raw gameplay and assets in the bag, all the heavy-lifting has been done from a development perspective. While designing specific tracks that could function in a standalone multiplayer experience isn’t a task to be sneezed at, relative to the overall design process it’s a small time investment to get live.
- From a business perspective it aligns wonderfully with the desire to sell figurines, enticing the purchase of more vehicle types so that there is a greater variety of racers in the standalone PvP mode. Not to mention that a Mario Kart mode would be a relatively easy channel to feed in DLC in the form of new tracks.
- The first three Skylanders games did feature a standalone spin-off mode for competitive multiplayer. More of a Smash Bros. style bash ’em up experience, the feature was dropped from last year’s Trap Team entry. But three out of four games thus far suggests that the intent is there from Activision to supply multiplayer longevity for players of the series.
In the other corner arguing against a Mario Kart mode I see three obvious stumbling blocks:
- How big a hit would the very pretty visuals need to take to get four Skylanders racing around on the same track at the same time and is that optimisation too intensive to be worth Activision’s effort?
- How do you fit four vehicles onto a single portal?
- Is it a better financial decision to release a genuine box copy standalone Skylanders Karting game early next year to maintain momentum between core releases?
I believe the course has now been set for a Skylanders karting experience somewhere in the future. Whether that eventuates as a mode in Skylanders: SuperChargers, or whether it is a concept in development as a standalone title or DLC pack, remains to be seen. But what I’ve witnessed thus far looks like great fun, the toys I played around with felt another level-up from previous iterations – especially the vehicles – and the game looks a treat with plenty of eye-catching effects and a robust soundscape.
Parents, get out your wallets!
What About Co-Op in Skylanders: SuperChargers?
Regardless of all the above, there will be some multiplayer to be had in Skylanders: SuperChargers, with the core gameplay experience allowing you to play in co-op as with previous versions. However, in vehicle sections there will remain only one car on the screen. When I asked the Activision representative to elaborate on how this would function, I was told; “in co-op you can have one vehicle and two drivers. So the aim is that one person will command the vehicle and the other will focus on the threats.”