Activision continues to be one of the most prolific publishers in the industry and part of that success comes from their annual franchises such as Skylanders. While some in the toys-to-life genre have faltered like the now defunct Disney Infinity, Skylanders continues to keep moving right along. The introduction of new mechanics each year has kept the series fresh, of which they have done now by putting the creation of Skylanders themselves in the hands of the players for the first time in Skylanders Imaginators.
Skylanders games of the past have provided somewhat different but still very familiar experiences, with mechanics such as trapping creatures or using vehicles. Skylanders Imaginators takes a similar route with less changes in the overall gameplay from last year, but focuses much more on customization and the countless possibilities presented to players via the Imaginator Creation Crystals.
As with previous entries, the Skylanders Imaginators Starter Pack comes with just enough to get your started to where you can play through the entire game, but still limits your experience overall. Included in the base pack are two Skylanders figures, Master King Pen and Golden Queen, which are known as Sensei in this version, as well as a Fire Creation Crystal and a portal to play with. For those that get the special Crash Edition on PS4, you will also get Crash Bandicoot and Dr. Neo Cortex figures as well. Master King Pen and Golden Queen provide you with a Water and Earth based type Skylander respectively, and work just like they have in the past with you able to place them upon the portal and use them in battle.
The real wild card in the package however is the Fire Creation Crystal, which allows you to create one Skylander for yourself. While technically you can play through the entire Skylanders Imaginators game with only Skylanders figures from this game or the past, creating a new Skylander of your own is what the game is built around. As soon as you place the Creation Crystal upon the portal, you will be prompted to design your own personal character from top to bottom.
Before getting to the look of your new Skylander, you have to choose a battle class from 10 different options. While previous games split the Skylanders by element, this here adds another designation between each one in the type of weapon they use. These include Brawler, Ninja, Bazooker, and Sorcerer, which each provide different styles of play. After doing this, you have the option to design the look of your character from among the Imaginite items you’ve earned in the game thus far, as well as naming and equipping gear and weapons. This can be done in-game or even through a companion app for your mobile device, allowing you to customize on the go.
The look, name, and equipment can be changed at anytime, but the absolute worst problem with Skylanders Imaginators is that once you pick a battle class for any Creation Crystal, that crystal is locked to that battle class forever. These crystals are already fixed to certain elements when you buy them, but to even try out any of the 10 battle classes, you’ll need 10 total crystals, or even more if you want multiple battle classes of the same element. This would be a little more acceptable if there was at least a way to try out each class in the game without having to use other figures, but all you get here is a quick video showcasing that style.
One of the best features of Skylanders Superchargers was that you were able to experience most everything in the game as long as you owned at least one of each vehicle, but Imaginators kind of reverts back to a larger paywall method due to the locked battle classes with Imaginators. You will also need at least one of each element Skylander, between the Sensei and Imaginators, if you want to experience the full game, but the good news is that there is still a lot of content to be had even with the basic Starter Pack. This helps to forgive the fact that there’s a higher cost of entry for the full experience this time around.
Even though there is the looming issue of the locked battle classes on in the Creation Crystals, the actual Imaginator system has a lot of options to choose from. As you play through the game, you’ll find or earn different purple chests that hold what is known as Imaginite inside that is ranked by rarity, such as common and ultimate. There is also the addition of microtransaction chests to the game that guarantee ultimate items, but this isn’t too big of a deal considering just how easy it is to find and earn chests in the game itself otherwise.
By breaking these open, you’ll get new equipment and weapons that you can use to make your Imaginator stronger in areas like attack, speed, and armor. While these were built to help customize your Imaginators, it would have also been nice to upgrade the Sensei with upgraded items as well. This actually makes the Imaginators the more attractive option to build upon compared to the Sensei, as you can make them much more powerful and useful in the long run.
Like the Sensei, the Imaginator itself can be leveled up by earning experience from defeating enemies throughout the game. At the beginning, there is a level cap at 15 for your Imaginator, but for every different Sensei figure you place upon the portal, that level will increase by one. In addition, you can also find new abilities for your creation via Soul Gems that are scattered across the different locations in the game.
Regardless of whether you are using a Sensei or an Imaginator, the game’s main story is the same. The villainous Kaos returns again this time around, with you constantly foiling his attempts at taking over the Skylands with his new Doomlanders. These boss battles are scattered across the game’s different stages, which are accessed through the decently sized hub world. The plot is definitely targeting a younger fan base, but it’s still enjoyable to play through regardless, especially thanks to the continually likeable characters.
Imaginator system has a lot of options to choose from
The overall gameplay in Skylanders Imaginators is nearly identical to previous entries, as you go through different locations and are either destroying enemies or solving little puzzles to advance. Even with being so similar, it is still a lot of fun to play through thanks to the range of different areas you’ll visit. Stages like Fizzland and Abandoned Amusement Park throw in some new objectives and obstacles that take great advantage of the Skylanders formula. However, the Imaginators do not feel tied enough to the gameplay or story beyond the actual creation of them, which feels wrong for a game named after them.
Beyond the game’s story missions, there are also some sidequests available that will pop up as you’re playing through the game. Some of these require you to have figures for that specific element, such as the different element based realms. You will need to have a corresponding figure of the specific element for that realm to unlock it, but you can then play through it with any Skylander you want. There are also plenty of other little missions and collectibles to find in the game that will keep you busy for quite awhile.
While the focus on vehicles is no more in Skylanders Imaginators after last year’s SuperChargers, Toys for Bob has not left that feature behind completely. Vehicles no longer play a part in the main story, but rather are still around in the form of racing. From the start, players can do single races, online races, or even time trials. If you still have the Land, Sea, or Sky packs from last year, you can use that figure to unlock Boss Pursuit, Supervillain Cup, and Mirror Cup modes as well. Even without the extra packs, there are quite a number of races available to where those that really enjoyed the racing last year can pick it up once again.
Skylanders has now been around for six consecutive years and it doesn’t seem to show any signs of slowing down with Skylanders Imaginators. The core gameplay is still a lot of fun and the level of customization with the new Imaginators is quite impressive, but a few bonehead decisions like the locked battle classes on Creation Crystals and a lack of any major gameplay changes surrounding the actual Imaginators prevent Skylanders Imaginators from taking the series to the next level.
- Available On: PS4, XOne, Wii U, PS3, X360
- Published By: Activision
- Developed By: Toys for Bob
- Genre: Toys-to-life
- US Release Date: October 16th, 2016
- Reviewed On: PS4
- Quote: "The core gameplay is still a lot of fun and the level of customization with the new Imaginators is quite impressive, but a few decisions prevent Skylanders Imaginators from taking the series to the next level."
- Enjoyable characters
- Vast customization for Imaginators
- Plenty of content
- Locked battle classes
- Imaginators not tied in enough