Game Review: Skylanders – Imaginators (Xbox One)

The Skylander’s toys-to-life series has remained strong since its debut in 2011. It has since that time garnered much competition in the shape of Disney Infinity, Amiibo and now Lego Dimensions. Despite going up against Nintendo, Disney and a vast array of licensed cartoon Lego characters, Skylanders has remained strong due to its fantastic gameplay and its innovative use of its plastic toys.

For those that are unaware, Skylanders is a game that has players place plastic toys on to a physical portal and use those characters digitally within the game. Various entries into the series have seen characters swapping the tops and bottom of their bodies to create new combinations, capture enemies on-screen and trap them in little plastic crystals and then unleash them in-game as reluctant would-be heroes, and characters paired up with a variety of vehicles sporting the traditional land, sea and air clichés.

Skylanders: Imaginators allows you for the first time to create your very own hero and use them to once again thwart the evil of Kaos. While Imaginators packs with it a cool concept of creation, it doesn’t quite nail everything that goes along with it, and questionable design choices that have held back previous entries in the series still remain present here.

Skylanders: Imaginators does the smart play and shifts the focus of characters towards the upcoming Netflix series; Skylander’s Academy. Spyro is back and is joined by Stealth Elf, Eruptor and Jet Vac. Once you’ve been introduced to the majority of them Spyro will be tasked with tracking down an Imaginator, a being that can manipulate mystical energies called Mind Magic, and well, that’s you.

How you’ll create your Imaginator is easy. There are ten elements spread out among various crystals that will allow your character to take form. A fire Crystal will allow you to craft a fire element Imaginator, a water one with a water element and so on. You can choose from Air, Dark, Earth, Fire, Life, Light, Magic, Tech, Undead and Water. Your starter pack will come with at least one and at 13.99 a pop, creating an army of characters can be pricey. Once you place the crystal on the portal you’ll be asked to pick a class, and this choice is crucial as it is permanent. There is a hack to revert your character back to default, but it requires a lot of work, a 3DS and a copy of the first Skylanders game for that system. The element you pick is mostly a stat thing and doesn’t really affect much of what you are able to create with said character.

The classes you are able to pick are from a total of ten, much like the elements. Brawler, Bowslinger, Knight, Sorcerer, Smasher, Quick Shot, Sentinel, Ninja, Bazooker, and Swashbuckler. These classes are also paired up with a series of characters called Sensei’s. These are the toys you will buy since the characters you make are via the crystals. Sensei’s are fairly hit and miss in Skylanders: Imaginators and I’ll get to why in a bit.

Each Sensei you purchase and unlock in-game boosts the max level of your Imaginator. The currently released Sensei’s are the following:

  • Light: Aurora
  • Maigc: Mysticat
  • Fire: Ember, Tae Kwon Crow
  • Earth: Barbella, Tri-Tip*, Golden Queen*
  • Tech: Dr. Krankcase, Dr. Neo Cortex
  • Dark: Starcast, Hood Sickle*
  • Water: King Pen*
  • Air: Air Strike
  • Undead: Chopscotch*, Wolf Gang*
  • Life: Ambush, Crash Bandicoot
    ..and Kaos.

Characters marked with an * have a color variant that is either exclusive to the Dark edition of the game or available at a specific retailer. There are approximately 15 more characters and variants left to be released as the entire Bazooker Sensei line has yet to be released.

Sensei’s have a bit of questionable nature to them as they in a sense do more harm than good. Sensei’s do two things; they raise your character’s max level and they block substantial content from the game. In prior versions of Skylanders there were elemental gates within each level that gave you a small area to run around in and collect treasure and various items. Sensei’s this time around block entire levels. The game ships with around 10 levels without the use of Sensei’s, but drop 19.99 on a specific class Sensei and you unlock a whole level for each of the ten classes. That’s pretty much half the game right there. Not to mention, Crash Bandicoot and Dr. Neo Cortex are currently exclusive to the PS4/PS3 Crash Starter kits (however, they do work on the Xbox One and the WiiU versions should you fork over the 129.99 for that Starter Pack…) and they unlock a special Crash Bandicoot level that is a huge homage to the PlayStation games of the same name and arguably the best level in Skylanders: Imaginators.

There is also an expansion pack that comes bundled with Sensei Air Strike for 39.99 that contains a level of its own. While the 10 levels that are built into the game are extremely fun, it’s sort of un-cool for Activision to put so much extra content behind a plastic pay-wall let alone release an expansion pack on the same day the main game comes out.

Once you pick your class, then that’s where the fun begins. While your choices may be slim right now, you’ll be unlocking a vast amount of bits and pieces needed to create the character of your imagination. You’ll unlock lizard armor, clown arms, a hat shaped like a bear or a snowman backpack among the hundreds of possible choices. I made a vampiric goth archer named Krynne and made her a member of the Bowslinger class, as Archer’s are usually my go-to class for any game. I gave her a pale white face, and outfitted her with purple and black armor, a bone tail and some skeletal wings as well, because, why not?

As you progress and complete various tasks in the game you will be rewarded with Imaginator chests. These chests are the key to customizing your character. Loot works through a tier system; Blue>Purple>Green>Yellow which is told via Common>Rare>Epic>Ultimate. While a tier system is a solid foundation for a loot system, because well, nearly every popular game uses a similar system, the way in which Skylanders uses it is fairly broken. Once you hit level 6 you are allowed to equip Ulimate Gear which means that from levels 1-5 you are restricted to either Common, Rare or Epic. The problem with this is that level 6 takes no time at all to achieve, making the hundreds of level 1-5 gear you find entirely pointless. Sure, you could suffer a stat loss to make your character wear a gear item you want, but why would you want to lower your characters stats? Once I hit level 6, I didn’t change my armor till almost 20 as nothing I found was even near the stats of my current set up, and I unlocked a ton of Ultimate gear.

The one saving grace to the loot system is that loot is everywhere. Every system in the game is designed around giving you loot. By the time the credits rolled on the story, I must have opened over 100 chests, and that’s on the low-end of the estimate. Should you want loot a bit quicker, you can also purchase it via the online store of your system or buy physical bags that are stocked alongside the characters on store shelves. For those that want to take that route, I recommend the 9.99 digital purchase as you are given more than double the gear items when compared to the 7.99 real-life counterparts. I would also strongly suggest that you don’t leave an active credit card on the system as Activision isn’t shy about advertising buying more Imaginator chests.

Aside from changing the look of your character, you can also name them, give them a voice, a soundtrack and design a catchphrase for them. You’ll pick a start and end to it via two sets of phrases. Some combinations like “Fear the.. Pancake House” or “It’s raining Monkey’s” are some of my personal favorites. The voices you can equip to your hero range from hero’s, robots, cowgirls, vampires and more. You’ll need to unlock the majority of them, but many of them are tied to the levels you unlock with the Sensei’s, again with that plastic pay-wall.

So once you’ve created, crafted and named your hero, how does the game centered around them play? Well, quite good actually. Levels are bright, vibrant and in some cases, cleverly designed. Most levels have a theme as is the case with nearly every level throughout the series. You’ll visit sky fortresses, storm a pirate ship, infiltrate monster filled sewers and various outdoor areas that are just gorgeous to look at, seriously, this is one good-looking platformer. The typical level structure of past Skylanders games is here with no real drastic changes to their formula. If you have played any of the past Skylander games then you’ll feel right at home here. Regardless of that feeling of same-ness, the levels are extremely fun to play and with a hero of your own design taking the fight to Kaos, it just rings a bit sweeter this time around.

The main story behind Imaginators is that Kaos is seeking the secret behind Mind Magic. Long ago, beings called The Ancients, used Mind Magic to create everything throughout Skylands. They discovered; however, that in the wrong hands, it could spell doom. When Kaos finds a way to channel Mind Magic, he creates Doomlanders and attempts to take over all of Skyland with them. When I first heard about the Doomlanders, I expected some rag-tag of villains with varied personalities that would compliment them much like the Skylanders themselves, but that is not the case here at all. Doomlanders, while incredibly fun to battle, lack that staying power needed to make them memorable. What was great about Trap Team was that each villain you fought was interesting as well as fun, and Imaginators just lacks that.

Skylanders: Imaginators still suffers from a few series design choices that really make no sense. Paths still have awkward moving block puzzles that are mainly there to slow you down. In one level you will need to find a key to open a gate and while this wouldn’t be so trivial, they mention that the key is in the building to my immediate left, and upon entering the building just to my side, sure enough it was there just floating around. What was odd about the whole scenario was there wasn’t a single enemy in the building, making my trek to find said key a complete waste of time. There are several moments like this that are designed around padding the game’s length instead of enhancing it. Had the building been ambushed and made me fight for the key, then sure, that would have been much better than just walking in and grabbing it with no fuss.

Skylands is explored via M.A.P, which if I recall correctly, stands for Mystical Ancient Place. It works as a central hub for each of the game’s levels. The map will pan over and give markings on the ground that will lead you to where you need to go next. You’ll stumble across bonus levels, surprise attacks from enemies and rats that dig holes to treasure filled caves. You can also visit an arena to battle in as well as a few different dungeons that randomize each time you explore them. Each of these activities will garner you an Imaginator chest for your trouble.

If you grow tired of adventuring, and I mean, why would you? You can partake in races. If you own any of the vehicles from Superchargers, you can race with those vehicles or be provided some free basic one to use regardless of your collection. The racing has a very Diddy Kong Racing feel to it, should you remember that game. You have three types of races you can compete in; Land, Sea and Air. The racing is really well done and makes me wish they had made more vehicles and tracks this time around.

The toys are nicely painted and have some nice designs to them. The variety in characters is pretty decent with some new characters and returning favorites. I do wish their bases were more circular as some toys like Hood Sickle and Wolfgang in particular, are a bit tippy. The packaging this time around is gorgeous with bright colorful boxes that have some awesome character shots on their top. So far only Wave One and Two are out and from what I have seen, collecting the entire first two waves, they are some of the best ones made so far. That being said, I still miss the swappable characters from Swap Force and felt that mechanic wasn’t explored enough.

Despite the very apparent plastic pay-wall access to almost a dozen levels, Skylanders: Imaginators is a solid platformer with smart writing, clever jokes and a wonderful cast of new and returning favorites. The fact that they brought Spyro back is another boon to this game. I do wish the Sensei’s had a bigger more prominent role other than blocking content or raising your max level. Either way, Skylanders: Imaginators allows you to craft your own hero, give them a voice and if you want, make them wear a trash can on their head while dressed in bright pink armor with your arms wrapped in pizza, don’t worry, I won’t judge.


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