Skylanders Imaginators Review: Mind’s the Limit
Ben Sheene / Oct 12th, 2016 No Comments
When Skylanders first released, I was already in my 20s. The only “toys” I ever purchased were included in collector’s editions of games and gathered dust on my desk. But five-year-old me would have lost his mind over Skylanders, and my poor mom would have spent a lot of money.
That is why the cancellation of Disney’s Infinity came as a shock. If one of the most well-known brands couldn’t send units flying off shelves, what did it say about the toys-to-life genre? It couldn’t possibly bode well for Skylanders’ hundreds of original characters, right?
Flying in the face of adversity, Skylanders Imaginators presents an obvious solution: let players use their imagination. By having some of the creative reigns handed over to them, players of all ages are in for an inventive, joyful ride.
Imagination, Life is Your Creation
Skylanders Imaginators’ big hook is that it gives players the chance to create their own characters who fight against the forces of evil “mastermind” Kaos. Like every Skylanders game before it, the action starts by placing a Creation Crystal on top of the Portal of Power. In seconds, the TV screen comes to life and you are asked to choose a battle class.
Battle classes are your typical RPG-like classes with focuses on a different playstyle. Bowslingers, ninjas, quickshots and sorcerers focus on long-range attacks while brawlers, sentinels, swashbucklers, bashers and knights get up close and personal. A short video plays upon choosing a battle class to explain their abilities. It’s important to note that there is a type of elemental power (i.e. fire, tech, water, etc.) tied to the specific kind of Creation Crystal you have. Unfortunately, once a battle class is picked, the choice is permanent and will be locked.
In the game, ancient Portal Masters used the powers of Mind Magic to create everything in Skylands. After recognizing how powerful the magic was, they sealed it in Imaginite crystals. Of course, series baddie Kaos has managed to get his hands on Mind Magic and is using it to create Doomlanders that are causing mayhem in Skylands. It’s up to the player to create their own Imaginators, as they are strongest against Doomlanders.
Imaginators are a blast to invent. They can become a Frankenstein of opposing parts and ideas or a fully-realized hero that could be the paragon of virtue in any game. Players are given a surprisingly robust creation tool where they select a number of heads, bodies, arms, legs and equipment in the quest to make their ideal Imaginator.
Developer Toys for Bob could have stopped after allowing players to pick color schemes and proportions for individual body parts but didn’t. Instead, the team went the extra mile by allowing Imaginators to be fused with a personality that can be changed on the fly. To fully realize the idea that it’s possible to build your own hero, players will be able to give them a catchphrase. Catchphrases are made by picking and choosing different options the game presents to you.
Even the voice can be tinkered with to give off a heroic warble or an angelic robot tone. During gameplay or upon activation, the Imaginator will bust out the catchphrase and a few other choice lines. Sound effects and ambient music that plays can be adjusted. So why not have that tiki-faced ninja make fart sounds while cowboy music goes on in the background?
The results can be equally hilarious and epic, depending on how you want to experience Imaginators. I can’t even begin to imagine the amount of kids that will laugh uncontrollably at how absurd an Imaginator you can make. But the same also applies to the ones that will create a hero that will make their friends shout “cool!”
Creating a character that will appear right there in the game is not just a nice cosmetic touch. Imaginators have their personality and look, but they can also kick a lot of butt. Leveling up and collecting coins means unlocking about 10 abilities per battle class that can also be upgraded. This takes Imaginators from being a deceptively cute and easy-looking game to an experience that is a lot more complex.
Over the past several years, we’ve had Skyrim and Dark Souls and World of Warcraft and countless other games that have provided players with deep customization options. Dozens of sliders are mixed with upgrade trees and branching story paths. It’s all about giving the player choices to do what they want. There is enough in Imaginators to keep older players who are used to those deep systems entertained, but there’s also enough hand-holding and heavy lifting done under the hood so kids can plug in some options and get right into the action.
Created Imaginators also feel personal because they were created by you. You want to level them up and take them on this journey. Depending on how many Creation Crystals you are willing to invest in, you might only have a handful of Imaginators, which makes them feel even more special.
The Quest for Loot
Senseis are this year’s cool new toy to buy for Skylanders. Over 30 are planned for release and about half of them will be available when the game launches. Senseis act as mentors for Imaginators. Placing one on the Portal of Power will increase the max level Imaginators can get to. Senseis also unlock a secret technique for their battle class that any Imaginator of the same class can use.
Scattered around the world of Skylands are soul gems that unlock new abilities for Senseis and Sensei Shrines that unlock devastating ultimate attacks called Sky-Chi powers. Along with the ability to select an upgrade path for Senseis, there’s a lot to do with the standard Skylanders.
Of course, it’s hard to talk about the quality of the actual Sensei toys. Players familiar with Skylanders should be used to the quality of the figures by now. Whether you prefer them pristine in a box or out for the world to see, they are packed with detail and quality. They still only take seconds to go from the floor into the game. My personal favorite is Chopscotch, with the level of detail on her helmet and the massive axe she wields. Characters are posed great to evoke that sense of strength you get in the game while never looking mean or scary.
Gameplay is based on the hack-and-slash core found in previous entries, but the list of different powers for both Senseis and Imaginators means there are creative ways to tackle most situations. In fact, I found many parts of the game fairly challenging. Certain combat arenas drop dozens of enemies onto players and can be a fun, yet tough rush for under-leveled characters.
There is definitely incentive to play through levels and areas multiple times. One of the real hooks of Skylanders Imaginators is the sheer amount of stuff to collect and things to do. Putting new Senseis or Creation Crystals on the Portal unlocks pieces of gear to be used in customization. These pieces of gear can be body parts that are purely cosmetic, giving a new look to an old Imaginator, or equipment that provides different stat boosts to attributes like damage, speed and luck.
There were a few moments while playing the game where I almost felt like I was in a more colorful, youthful version of Diablo or Destiny, diving into a new level in hopes of finding a better piece of gear to make my Imaginator stronger. It’s surprisingly addictive but I will admit to being disappointed that banana gauntlets don’t offer as much protection as plated armor.
Gear can also have sets that allow players to look like a snowman, robot, elf or dozens of other things. Completing a gear set rewards another unique item. Players are rewarded with new voice options, new cathphrase lines, and just about everything else. Each level in the game comes packed with challenges like defeating a certain amount of enemies, finding every chest or beating it quickly. For a “kid’s game” it’s a lot to take in.
Skylanders Imaginators made me chuckle many times with it’s tongue-in-cheek dialogue, corny one-liners and general attitude. It’s a warm, welcoming game that is a delight for all ages. As an older gamer, I can knock it for some rough visuals and lip syncing during cutscenes, but these are things I notice because it comes with the territory of knowing so many genres and quality of titles.
Yet, I never felt jaded with the game because it was — as any game should be — fun. I was involved — swapping Senseis and Crystals back and forth, replaying levels to collect stars, hitting every item in sight just for a few more coins. These are the types of things any kind of player can do and enjoy themselves, but it isn’t often that you can take a spark of imagination and watch it come to life.
“Toys-to-life” is a phrase capable of evoking child-like wonder. It’s a sensation where the world is your oyster and anything is possible. As a kid, I would spend hours playing with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures. My hands manipulated those green plastic figures into scenarios I had witnessed on television. Mario was great but he was never tangible, not like those cartoons that had transformed into toys I could play with. Skylanders Imaginators didn’t disappoint, making me feel like a kid again with a cool new set of toys I didn’t want to put down.
Skylanders Imaginators was reviewed on PS4 using a retail copy of the game and toys provided by the publisher.
tags: review , skylanders , Skylanders Imaginators , Skylanders Imaginators Review , Toys For Bob