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Skylanders Imaginators

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, WiiU, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Toys For Bob
Release Date: Oct. 16, 2016


PS4 Review - 'Skylanders Imaginators'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Oct. 24, 2016 @ 2:00 a.m. PDT

Skylanders Imaginators empowers Portal Masters to unleash their imaginations by giving them the freedom to create their own Skylander.

Buy Skylanders Imaginators

It's easy to worry about the fate of the toy-focused games after the Disney Infinity franchise ends. Although an unfortunate loss, it's clear that its competitors are still going strong. Skylanders was the originator of the Toys To Life genre, and every year, it brings a new gimmick to the table. In some ways, it risks becoming bloated, but it also means a constant influx of new features. This year's Skylanders Imaginators adds a feature that fans have wanted for years: customizable characters. It's a doozy of an addition.

Imaginators is the latest in the Skylanders line of games, but it doesn't break the comfortable mold of its predecessors. The core gameplay is more standard and safe than last year's vehicle-focused Superchargers. If anything, it feels like this year's iteration is a bit of a breather. Rather than reinventing the formula or changing the mechanics too much, Imaginators is a very standard action/platformer game. If you or your kids have played any of the previous Skylanders titles, there shouldn't be too much to surprise you, and if you haven't, this is a fairly accessible starting place. The gameplay mechanics revolve around action-adventure combat and exploration. There are some minigames and optional challenges, but they're mostly on the sidelines. If it weren't for the create-a-character feature, it would probably feel too familiar.

The evil Kaos has hatched a dastardly scheme, and a new set of Skylanders has awoken to stop him. What makes this one different from the previous games is a greater emphasis on the older Skylanders. The first-gen Skylanders, including longtime game mascot Spyro the Dragon, play a larger role and carry the bulk of the story. It's a nice touch in that it helps bring the Skylanders to the forefront. Beyond that, it's an average Skylanders story: cute, funny, and incredibly accessible.

Unlike other Skylanders, the Imaginators have no set design. You use an elemental-coded Creation Crystal on the portal, and then you choose a battle class. There are 10 classes in total: Bazooker, Bowslinger, Brawler, Knight, Ninja, Quickshot, Sentinel, Smasher, Sorcerer and Swashbuckler. Each class, as you can imagine, specializes in a certain type of combat. Bowslingers fight from a distance, Brawlers get up close and personal, Sorcerers sling magic, and so on. Once you've created your element and class combination, the crystal is locked to that specific set. From there on, you can completely customize your character. Individual body parts can be changed, new gear can be equipped, your voice can be changed, and battle music can be altered. You even can change catchphrases, which is frequently fun and hilarious, especially since portions can be customized to create some cool or absurd sayings.

There's a hint of Diablo to Imaginators. The constant influx of new gear and new loot makes it a fun experience for the simple pleasure of getting new stuff. However, there are some flaws. One is that the scaling isn't well designed. A good Diablo clone makes sure you're steadily increasing in power. Skylanders is too free and loose with high-quality equipment, so you will likely find some elite gear early on that you'll never unequip. By the midway point, you won't find anything better to equip on your character. As such, this particular iteration of Skylanders is not quite a Diablo replacement, and older gamers will find a better loot-drop experience in Destiny or Diablo or one of the countless games along that vein.

On the other hand, most of the loot is cosmetic and fun, so it really plays into the character creation elements. Finding the perfect sound effect or the right body part for your Imaginator is all you'll need. Of course, you'll have to stop the game almost constantly to swap parts; it's a small but nagging flaw. It's easy to get negative about the poor flow of gear if you're approaching it from a power-gaming adult perspective, but it's easy to see how younger gamers will just see a swarm of cool new items.

The second type of new Skylander in Imaginators are the Senseis, who have normal plastic toys and their own immutable designs. Each represents one of the various Imaginator character classes, and you can power up characters of the same class and use special super moves. Despite all that, Senseis are overshadowed. They can't equip gear and can't be customized, so the end result is that the bulk of the new gameplay doesn't apply to them. They have some interesting aspects, including areas that only they can enter, but it's hard to imagine anyone wanting to use one of the existing characters when they have a range of customizable heroes available. It's a lot more fun to create than to use the defaults. You'll probably want to pick up one or two that represent the classes you most enjoy playing, but there's no reason to go all-out on Senseis.

A warning for parents: Imaginators is one of the most potentially costly Skylanders games to date. Character classes are locked once you create a character. You can alter the look, but once it's been created, you can't alter the character class or the element of a crystal. If your son or daughter decides to play as a Bazooker instead of a Brawler, they're going to need a second crystal. More than likely, you're going to end up with a bunch more. Considering the customization elements, this can be pretty significant since it means a particularly creative kid might want a boatload of crystals to properly envision their ideas.

Adding to this are microtransactions in the form of loot boxes, which contain random gear, including gear that you may already have. Since the game is generous with them, there's no reason to buy loot boxes, but it's easy to see someone's credit card getting racked up with small charges by a kid trying to find the exact right body parts for their Imaginator. The Senseis add more to the mix, especially since each Sensei you use raises the character level cap by one. It isn't necessary to use more than the ones that come packed into the game, but the temptation is there. Any parent investing in Imaginators should be very careful to budget things out beforehand.

If there's one area where Imaginators is weak, it is in the toys. Much like Trap Team, they've foregone custom-designed Skylanders in favor of generic objects that represent them. Unlike the Trap Team toys, the crystals have almost nothing in the way of personality. It's an odd choice considering that Imaginators seems to understand the flaw and brought back some of the Trap Team villains as Senseis. The Sensei toys are rather nice, continuing Skylanders' increasingly high trend of figure mold quality.

Unfortunately, the stars of the show don't get to be taken into the real world, which is rather disappointing. It's repeating the mistakes of Trap Team all over again. The appeal of Skylanders is having a physical version of the character you're playing. Add in the character creation element, and it's even more disappointing. This is a real step back from last year's SuperChargers, which had one of the stronger toy lineups. Theoretically, you'll be able to upload your created character and purchase t-shirts and 3-D printed models, but it's just not the same. (It's even more for parents to consider when shelling out the Skylanders money.)

Visually, Imaginators is a treat, and there's a lot to like in terms of design. Skylanders has always excelled at this, and Imaginators is no different. The characters are brightly animated and delightfully vivid. The customizable character creator might not be as in-depth as some other games, but it makes up for it with lots of neat little details. The visuals haven't changed too much from last year's SuperChargers, but that isn't a bad thing. Toys For Bob has always managed to make Skylanders into a game that drips with personality. The voice acting is mostly good, though I found a few of the voice clips to be overly repetitive.

Skylanders: Imaginators fun, accessible and easily played by gamers of any age. It doesn't break the mold, and the highlight of the game is in creating your own character. The core gameplay will feel very familiar and perhaps too safe. The ability to create your own Skylander means there's a lot of potential fun for the younger set — though it can be a hit to the wallet for parents! Players who are aging out of or burning out on Skylanders might not see much of a boost from it.

Score: 8.0/10

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