The Skylanders franchise returns to its roots, yet innovates, with Skylanders Imaginators. Our take on the PS4 version.
The Skylanders games have been a bit of a pioneer in the videogame industry. Ever since Spyro’s Adventure effectively launched the “toys to life” genre, we’ve not only seen sequels but also several other similar franchises. Disney launched its Infinity line of games and characters, which despite a seemingly huge draw and fanbase faces an uncertain future. Then there’s Nintendo’s line of Amiibo characters that’s been doing well due to its platform exclusivity and strong tie-in with iconic characters, but Nintendo is also the platform where all three franchises are trying to eat a piece of the same pie. And we haven’t even mentioned LEGO Dimensions yet….
No title has been as successful as Skylanders though, and part of that was due to its characters carrying over in newer adventures while also adding new features and additional toys each time. A parent’s (wallet’s) nightmare, but pure magic for children. Last year’s Skylanders SuperChargers felt like a bit of an odd one out in the series, despite being a quality title. Its Mario Kart-inspired gameplay did away with the classic platforming of the series, and while characters were reusable in other games – vehicles, so far, are not – unless you play the vehicle-specific racing mode. Being able to use a character across multiple games adds value to both the games and the characters, so perhaps that’s why Imaginators returns to their platforming formula – albeit with a twist.
In Imaginators, you can now create your own Skylanders. Wait – didn’t Swap Force already sort of allow this? True, but the approach is very different here. Swap Force allowed you to physically change characters by exchanging their top and bottom halves, combining their abilities into new characters. An awesome concept, although the total number of possible characters was of course limited. Imaginators attempts to fix this ‘problem’ by allowing you to assemble your characters from a big list of components, where each and every one of them can also be altered in terms of appearance and size. You do this in-game, and then store your self-made Skylander in a magic crystal – a new physical toy to use. Yes, that’s a bit like how Trap Team did it, only with a lot more customization options.
There is a catch to this ‘limitless creation’ routine though, and that’s that you can only store one Skylander character per crystal – you’ll have to buy additional crystals if you feel like playing through the game’s story with a roster of homemade characters. Another limitation is that although you’re free to modify your character on the go, your base class/type for the character will stay the same. Again – if you want to break away from your current style of playing, either an extra purchase is required or a wipe of the existing character.
So yes, Imaginators still has that marketing catch that might drive moms and dads crazy, but it’s also a solid game with a few small innovations under its hood. The basic gameplay is very similar to previous titles (with the exception of Superchargers), but with the new Imaginators-twist comes the introduction of RPG-like elements. It’s all aimed at children so it’s very much a “lite” formula, but loot collecting and unlocking (and using) pickups to ‘upgrade’ your character are subtle and fun ways to introduce a young crowd to dynamics they’ll see much more of as they get older. Perhaps we’ll also see the Skylanders franchise itself expand on this in future years, who knows?
The changes in Imaginators are subtle – it’s more of an evolution than a revolution. Yet, it’s a well-rounded package that has both the classic Skylanders action and about a dozen race tracks for Superchargers fans. The entire back catalogue of characters can be used with the game as well, which might decrease the need to buy a lot of characters if you’re an existing fan of the series. Just be ready to shell out for a few more magic crystals if ‘imaginating’ catches on with you or your little ones….