Review: Skylanders: Imaginators (Xbox One)
Skylanders: Imaginators is the sixth game in the Skylanders franchise. With one of its major competitors, Disney Infinity, shut down, only LEGO Dimensions stands in the way of the toys to life crown.
As the title of the game suggests, a big focus of this sixth Skylanders game are the new Imaginators. In physical form, they’re small tubes containing a crystal colour to match their element. But once you put them onto the portal of power, the game lets you choose a battle class (unfortunately a permanent choice, so choose wisely!), and then the magic really begins. For the first time in the series, players can create their very own Skylanders. This has no effect on the physical model, but in-game, you can change the character’s name, size, weapon, voice, catchphrase, armour, colour and appearance.
As you play through the game, you’ll collect Imaginite chests, which contain items of common to ultimate rarity, and can include appearance items, armour, weapons and more. You can change everything from your character’s ears to their arms to their shoulder armour, and everything in between. The possibilities are endless – there are hundreds of items to be unlocked across the various categories. Apart from weapons and a couple of other items, any item can be used by any class or element of Skylander.
The only downside of the Imaginators is the potential cost. At around R180 for one Imaginator, you’re looking at quite a big investment to collect every element and battle class. There are multi-packs, however, which are much more cost effective. What really irked me, however, besides the fact that every load screen is an advert, was the in-app purchases. Yes, in addition to the Skylanders themselves, you can purchase Imaginite chests, either in-game with real money, or you can buy a physical chest. This just seems unnecessary given how much money it is already possible to sink into this game.
The Senseis come in many different flavours, 31 in total, not all of which are currently available (you can see previews of them in-game). The physical toys are much larger than normal Skylanders, and are highly detailed, and sell for around R300 each. They also come in packs with an Imaginator crystal of the same element, which is a pretty good deal for R400. Like normal Skylanders, they come in different elements, and battle classes as well. The base game comes with Master King Pen, who is basically a giant version of a Madagascar penguin, full of punny quips. He’s a lot of fun to play. The starter set also includes Golden Queen, who I think is probably one of those characters that would end up in the bargain bin if she wasn’t in the starter packs. She’s got some cool flavour, but is boring to play in comparison to King Pen and the other two senseis I picked up, Masters Ambush and Mysticat (both of those are really fun to play and make great-looking physical toys).
Besides being pretty powerful to play, with a number of abilities to unlock and access to special Sky Chi moves, senseis serve several other functions in-game. They’re the only ones who can unlock the elemental realms accessible from the world M.A.P., and thus the only ones who can unlock unique Imaginator items, and senseis are also needed to unlock battle class-specific fighting techniques. In other words, you’d need one sensei from every element and battle class to unlock all that content for your Imaginators. Finally, senseis also increase the level cap of your Imaginators, from the initial cap of level 15, by one level per sensei.
Depending on the senseis you play with or the battle classes you choose for your creations, combat is a pretty fun part of Skylanders: Imaginators. There are numerous abilities to choose from and upgrade, giving you a wide variety of options. My enjoyment of the game changed quite a bit based on the character I was using: Golden Queen is pretty dull to play, while others like King Pen or Ambush, are a blast. Playing with one of your own creations, and upgrading their gear as you gain levels, is the highlight of the game.
The story is pretty straightforward: the villain Kaos has gained some ancient powers, and you must stop him. Guided by Skylanders like Spyro and Stealth Elf, you’ll play through a number of varied levels in your attempt to stop Kaos’s plot. While the level design is pretty interesting and the game looks really good, the platforming can be frustrating, as you lack the ability to jump properly.
Imaginators features a number of minigames, clearly aimed at young children, or people with much more patience than I have. While these are merely inconvenient in single player mode, they become infuriating in co-op mode, complicating matters with a turn-based system.
Younger players won’t notice these flaws as much, and the game has plenty of levels and challenges to unlock to keep fans busy for many hours.
As a newcomer to the Skylanders franchise, I can only compare it to Disney Infinity 3.0 and LEGO Dimensions, both games I’ve devoted many hours to. With its annoying NPCs, dull storyline, mediocre platforming and inane minigames, it feels like Skylanders is aimed at a much younger audience than either Infinity or Dimensions, so playing it as an adult feels more like a chore than a fun experience. And while I love the physical sensei toys and consider them excellent additions to my collection of toys to life figures, the Imaginators are just little tubes with crystals in them, and not much to look at when you’re not using them.
If you’re a diehard Skylanders fan, or really love Crash Bandicoot, or have young children who love Skylanders, Imaginators is a no-brainer. If your kids are older, if you want to play with them, or if you don’t have kids at all, consider Disney Infinity 3.0 or LEGO Dimensions to save your sanity.
Check out the launch trailer:
Disclaimer: I received a copy of the Skylanders: Imaginators starter pack for review. This review reflects my honest thoughts and opinions based on the time I spent playing the game. I purchased two additional senseis and an Imaginator crystal myself.