Thinking outside the toybox.
Evil baldy genius Kaos is up to his old tricks again, having stumbled upon some ancient magic that allows him to create an all-powerful army of “Doomlanders”. Someone needs to stop him… so it’s up to you and your imagination (and potentially a wallet brimful of cash) to thwart his dastardly plans and bring serenity back to Skylands.
The latest addition to the mega-selling Skylanders franchise brings a new twist to the “toys to life” concept. This time round you don’t necessarily have to buy loads of physical figures to experience different characters – you can just go ahead and create them yourself. The Starter Pack comes with a new portal, two nicely-crafted character models: Master King Pen and Golden Queen, and – at first sight – a rather dull-looking Creation Crystal.
You should never take things at face value though. That seemingly insignificant Crystal actually unlocks a whole heap of fun. In the five years or so since Skylanders first brought its colourful capers to consoles, the franchise has certainly proven it’s not afraid of change.
"Skylanders Imaginators feels like the natural successor to 2013’s Swap Force, where some of the toys had interchangeable tops and bottoms."
Placing one of the plastic toys on the supplied portal magically transports it into the game so it instantly becomes a playable character. Tiny chips in the base of each toy mean your progress and stats are retained, so the characters actually improve their skills and abilities over time. It’s a clever bit of kit and has become a bit of a phenomenon, amassing huge sales over the years.
Each Skylanders game has had all sorts of new design ideas, ranging from giants and trappable villains to vehicles and characters with swappable bodies. This time, Activision and those guys at Toys For Bob have introduced 31 brand new “Sensei” characters – split over 10 classes and each with different attacks, special moves and personalities.
These figures not only unlock special abilities and certain areas of the game, but they’re also the only guys capable beating Battle Gongs, initiating an arena battle for bonuses. Undoubtedly though, it’s that aforementioned Creation Crystal that shines through as the greatest innovation in this year’s release.
Skylanders Imaginators feels like the natural successor to 2013’s Swap Force, where some of the toys had interchangeable tops and bottoms. Back then, the 250+ permutations meant new characters could be created, each with unique powers and abilities. Imaginators takes that a step further…
"Opening chests, finding collectibles, taking selfies and completing objectives during the actual game rewards further add-ons and costumes that you can add to your character, incentivising exploration and keeping the whole thing fresh."
Set aside those shiny new Skylander figures a moment and instead chuck the aptly-named Creation Crystal on the portal. You’re then able to tinker with a surprisingly comprehensive creation tool to build your own unique characters. It’s a first for the series and a fantastic addition. In fact, it’s so much fun tailoring these characters that you can spend ages doing that rather than playing the actual game.
First you have to choose one of the defined battle classes – be it a Ninja, Bazooker, Bowslinger, Brawler, Knight, Quickshot, Sentinel, Smasher, Sorcerer or Swashbuckler – with each affecting ranged, melee and special moves.
You also get to choose a name and the set the appearance of your new Skylander. It’s a deceptively in-depth creation tool, with options to tweak bodies, weapons, gear, size, colour and aura. What weapon should you choose? Which tone should your skin colour be? What’s your special attack move? Do you have a tail? What kind of voice do you have, and what’s your catchphrase? Many selections have a bearing on your attributes too – so choosing the right headgear and arm guards, for example, could affect how fast or strong your character is.
Opening chests, finding collectibles, taking selfies and completing objectives during the actual game rewards further add-ons and costumes that you can add to your character, incentivising exploration and keeping the whole thing fresh.
In fact, I can’t help but think the new Sensei characters will struggle to get much of a look in. It is actually far more fun to romp through the colourful levels with your newly-created character – especially as you can constantly change their appearance and abilities as you go.
Skylanders’ gameplay is much the same as the previous titles. It’s a hack and slash affair, where you defeat an onslaught of enemies before moving onto the next area. Along the way, there are various mini-games – nothing too taxing but fun nonetheless. One minute you’ll be chasing a snail and collecting his slime, the next you’ll be playing with a jukebox or solving a sliding puzzle. It’s all perfectly targeted to a younger audience and although it’s not hard to romp through the levels and complete the game, you’ll have a blast doing so.
Pop two Skylanders/Crystals on to the stand and you can enjoy the experience with a friend through local co-op play as well. Each stage looks suitably different, and it’s as smooth navigating the moving platforms and runaway rafts as it is when you’re being shot from a cannon or sliding and grinding between zones. The visuals are bright, cartoony and as colourful as the characters themselves. Some familiar old faces make a welcome appearance too and are blessed with great voice acting.
The game doesn’t hold out too much of a challenge but Skylanders is clearly aimed at a younger audience. The physical toys are top quality and the tactile, interactive element really appeals to kids. As you play, the portal throbs different colours, illuminating the characters and crystals, which looks kinda cool too. And ultimately, the gameplay is fun, quirky and entertaining – even the cut scenes are good to watch. Children will lap this up. Imaginators is an interactive cartoon with the ability to create and play with your very own characters in the game.
"Be warned though. Skylanders has long been a retail juggernaut and this version is no different. There are plenty of opportunities to splash real world cash. There’s obviously the lure of buying new Sensei figures in stores."
Be warned though. Skylanders has long been a retail juggernaut and this version is no different. There are plenty of opportunities to splash real world cash. There’s obviously the lure of buying new Sensei figures in stores. And you’ll probably find yourself needing at least a few more Creation Crystals. A warning pops up on first use and tells you to choose your Battle Class carefully as your decision can’t be undone. You’ll have to go out and get yourself more Crystals if you want to try out the other classes.
In-game you’re able to improve your stats, abilities and customisation options through a plethora of microtransactions too – so parents beware. And that’s not all money-wise… if you ever want to order a physical version of the unique Skylander character you’ve just created, then you’ll be pleased to hear it’s actually possible using the accompanying mobile app… the downside is it isn’t cheap. You can even get yourself a customised t-shirt or character card. Now that’s merchandising at its finest!
On the plus side, you don’t have to spend more. Every Skylander you’ve collected over the years is compatible with the new portal – which means all that money and time you spent on previous games hasn’t been entirely wasted. All 300+ Skylanders are supported.
Imaginators progresses the series nicely, and although it may be much the same game as its predecessors, it’s absorbing and ultimately good fun. However, the story is not as good as games past, it’s a little repetitive, and the Sensei figures may be overlooked given the great creation options available. Still, there’s loads to do, plenty to explore, and lots of reasons to keep coming back for more.
This game was reviewed on the Xbox One.
Looks good, sounds good and plays well. New Creation Crystals are a cool idea, opening up a wealth of customisation options. Upgrades and collectibles provide a reason to keep playing.
Plot is not the best and there is a sense of “seen it all before” with the gameplay. Not taxing and can be repetitive. Are the actual figures a little redundant now we’ve got the creation tool?
Yet another addition to the popular Skylanders series but the twist is you can create your own characters. Colourful, creative and great for kids