Activision developer Toys For Bob’s previous Skylanders game flipped the idea of Toys-to-Life on its head by introducing the Life-to-Toys concept with Skylanders Trap Team.
For their follow-up effort, Skylanders Imaginators, the Life-to-Toys concept is taken one step further by empowering young and old Portal Masters alike with the ability to create their own in-game Skylanders characters and then save them to a glowing physical toy. Don’t worry; there are plenty of new physical Skylanders figures to optionally purchase as well.
Skylanders Imaginators is in many respects a direct successor to Trap Team despite Vicarious Visions’s Skylanders SuperChargers falling between them. Many of the ideas, characters and concepts found in Imaginators originated in Trap Team and have now been improved and expanded upon. The evolution is natural and befitting a franchise continually striving to innovate.
Creation Crystals: Creating Better Plastic
Perusing the Skylanders Imaginators launch wave overwhelms with plastic. This is the third consecutive game where figures are complimented by secondary physical objects, in this case Creation Crystals to house a complete Imaginator custom Skylander character.
Whether intentional or not, the Creation Crystals feel like an apology for the bland, monochromatic Skylanders Trap Team traps from two years ago. This year’s extra plastic brings back the sorely missed Light Core technology with distinctive designs for more Portal of Power pizzazz.
Creation Crystals were the source of vociferous fan uproar when Battle Classes were revealed to permanently lock once selected during Imaginator creation. It’s understandable why and I don’t bemoan the decision in the least. Activision wants you to collect numerous Creation Crystals and not locking one of 10 Battle Classes would make that less necessary. The restriction is a moot point with so many readily available Skylanders to choose from.
Imaginators Will Light Up Kids’ Eyes
I’ve seen it with my two kids and am confident other kids will do the same. The ability to create your own Skylander character, known as an Imaginator, is what kids will latch onto and not easily let go of. Unlocking over 1,100 new character parts, auras, weapons, catchphrases and more for their Imaginators by collecting seemingly countless Imaginite chests attached to virtually every game accomplishment will keep kids eyeing frequent returns.
Adult players and parents might not be as impressed. We’ve seen create-a-player modes on many other console games so there’s nothing groundbreaking apart from the fact that the Imaginators are stored onto a Creation Crystal. Where Skylanders SuperChargers introduces kids to kart racing, Imaginators introduces them to custom character creation.
Beyond the console game is where the real magic of Imaginators surfaces. An Imaginator created in-game can be transferred via roughly 10 seconds of high pitched R2-D2-like bleeps and blips from the console to the absolutely free Skylanders Creator mobile app, the results of which are seen below.
There’s no kind of Internet or Wi-Fi required for transferring Imaginators from the game to Skylanders Creator. I’ve even heard you can complete the transfer by making an audio recording of the bleeps and blips off the TV and playing it back for the app to hear. How cool is that? Very, believe me.
Figures are Literally Growing Up
The Skylanders Imaginators Sensei that each offer new skills for Imaginator characters are huge. Not one or two of them; all of them.
It’s almost comedic to put the likes of the Golden Queen or King Pen, included in the Imaginators Starter Pack, next to Stump Smash or Stealth Elf from Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure. The original game’s young players have grown up over the past six years and the figures along with them.
This size disparity comes into play often while playing Skylanders Imaginators. Numerous areas feature a pulled-back camera where the Sensei Skylanders are still a decent size. Put in a smaller Skylander like High Five or especially a Skylanders Mini figure like Small Fry and they look like ants scurrying about the screen.
The upside to larger figures is Toys For Bob lead character designer I-Wei Huang has been enabled to craft the most intricate and detailed Skylanders yet. Skylanders have always impressed aesthetically yet the Sensei figures raise the bar another notch.
Skylands is the Hub We Deserve
Each successive Skylanders game has gotten away from portraying the concept of Skylands, a series of floating islands where the Skylanders live and unselfishly protect. The hub in Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure was based on a small slice of Skylands, while more recent games have turned the hub into a sprawling Skylander’s Academy campus.
For Skylanders Imaginators, Toys For Bob has turned back the clock and embraced the concept of Skylands without dropping the Academy. Now the hub is a sprawling representation of Skylands known as the M.A.P., realized both vertically and horizontally in an impressive 3D feat. Think Super Mario 3D World only 1000 times cooler. There’s so many islands to explore that a hint option is available directing lost players on the correct path if hidden caves and secrets aren’t being sought out.
Better yet, Skylanders kick into a new gear to get around the M.A.P. They scurry like mice avoiding a cat from one destination to the next. Accelerated speed is a welcome respite from the lumbering larger Skylanders marching through traditional levels.
Core Skylanders Speak Up
With the Skylanders franchise on the cusp of its own Netflix television show in Skylanders Academy, some of the Skylanders featured in that series have expanded roles in Skylanders Imaginators. Spyro the Dragon, Stealth Elf, Jet-Vac, Eruptor, Trigger Happy and Pop Fizz have extensive speaking parts and personalities that shine through. Jet-Vac’s subtle personal mission is Skylanders humor at its finest.
Toys For Bob also dipped deep into the Skylanders mythology to bring back other favorite NPC characters including some of the Trap Team villains that didn’t get their own Sensei figure. One specific Trap Team cameo will surely turn the other villains green with envy.
Defeat Kaos: Get Straight to the Point
Skylanders Imaginators wants Kaos to be defeated post haste. Following the straight and narrow path to defeat Kaos without exploring Sensei Realms or other areas of the M.A.P. puts the nefarious shrimp in his place seemingly faster than any Skylanders game before.
Adults may cringe at a shorter campaign but it works wonders for kids seeking quicker gratification. Skylanders Imaginators is not smaller than previous games. On the contrary it’s quite massive with each of 10 Sensei Realms, playable outside the main campaign, as big as the campaign levels. Other unlockable missions cleverly constructed by repurposing campaign levels pile onto a sizable to-do list without Kaos’ meddling.
Thumpin’ Wumpa Islands Rock
The PlayStation 4 Skylanders Imaginators Starter Pack comes with timed exclusives of guest star Crash Bandicoot, his foil Dr. Neo Cortex and the Thumpin’ Wumpa Islands Crash homage level. Call me a sucker for rhythmic beats but the physically grooving level design and catchy tunes make this my favorite level bar none. It was my first stop once beating the game to look for more hidden items and is a must-own addition to Skylanders Imaginators.
Backward Compatibility Streak Lives On
Every single Skylanders game’s toys before Imaginators have been 100 percent backward compatible with previous games. That streak remains intact if only by a hair.
Toys For Bob elected to include the Skylanders Swap Force Portal of Power with Imaginators that does not include a slot for Traps to be inserted. As such at first glance it might appear that Traps are not compatible with Imaginators.
Traps do in fact work with Imaginators as racing unlocks the same way they work with SuperChargers. The caveat is that you’ll need a Trap Team or SuperChargers Portal of Power in order to use the Traps in the legacy SuperChargers racing areas of Imaginators.
On one hand the Traps aren’t necessary because half the villains they might house are now Sensei figures. On the other those that invested hundreds of dollars collecting dozens of Traps may feel slighted that they cannot run around the cool Skylands M.A.P. as Broccoli Guy or Chill Bill.
Nagging Oddities, Unfortunately
Some of the Skylanders Imaginators levels take more than a half hour to complete and there are no checkpoints or ability to save within them. This is a major oversight in an era where time is more precious than ever and players want to chip away in small increments.
I encountered a few bugs through my campaign run including Imaginators not always reading their custom name when placed on the Portal of Power, sheep floating in midair and Kaos vanishing two-thirds through the final Kaos boss fight. The latter required restarting the fight and some choice words hurled at the screen.
Over Half a Decade and Going Strong
Skylanders Imaginators stands on its own as a pleasurable journey for kids and adults alike as the sixth entry in the Skylanders franchise and fourth from Toys For Bob. It is the quintessential AAA game for kids that adults can equally enjoy if they peel back layers of maturity built up over time and allow themselves some immature fun. Imagine that.
Skylanders Imaginators was reviewed on PlayStation 4 using the game and figures provided by Activision for the purposes of this review.
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