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REVIEW / Skylanders Imaginators (PS4)

 

As you might have picked up on from my previous posts, I’m an unabashed fan of the Skylanders series. It created the toys-to-life genre, and remains one of the most successful series of games currently running. Many competitors have risen and fallen (R.I.P., Disney Infinity), but Skylanders continues adding the kinds of interesting characters that keep me coming back. But there’s one thing I like in video games more than interesting characters: the ability to create your own characters. That being the case, Skylanders Imaginators is my dream game, at least in theory. There’s no question in my mind that the game is a blast, and the character creation has loads of options. It’s just that I think Activision might have gone a bit too far with the toy requirements this time.

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The story this time around is a bit more simple than in some of the previous games. A new power called Creation Magic has somehow been reawakened in the Skylands, and series antagonist Kaos is using it to create evil “Doomlanders.” So, it’s up to the portal master (meaning the player) to use the same power to make Imaginator Skylanders and defeat Kaos. There’s also something about an evil brain, among other things, but that’s the basic plot. The main difference this time around is that players are guided through quests by classic Skylanders characters, who just so happen to be the same characters in the Netflix series “Skylanders Academy.”

 

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Previous games have had NPCs like Flynn, Hugo, and Tessa to lead the Skylanders on their journeys. In Imaginators you work with series veterans Spyro, Stealth Elf, Eruptor, Pop Fizz, and Jet-Vac. While this does get a bit weird if you’re playing as one of those characters, it makes a lot more sense, and helps players get a better idea of the characters’ personalities. On the flip side, the simplified plot means we don’t have as many entertaining cutscenes, which really are one of the best things in the series. To put it in numbers: watching all of the cutscenes from Imaginators in a row would take about 30 minutes. Watching all of the cutscenes from the previous game, Skylanders Superchargers, would take 52 minutes. It’s not a big difference, but it is pretty clear.

 

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The core gameplay of the Skylanders series hasn’t changed much since Trap Team, but each game has a different gimmick. In this game, of course, it’s the titular Imaginators. To make a custom character, you use a toy called a Creation Crystal, one of which comes with the game’s Starter Pack. Upon placing it on the portal, you’ll be asked to choose one of several battle classes. Once you’ve done that, you can customize pretty much everything about the character except for their element (which is determined by the crystal). There are tons of options for heads, torsos, arms, legs, weapons, shoulder pads, powers, catchphrases, and more. The custom characters feel like real Skylanders, and there are more than enough customization options to make pretty much any Skylands-appropriate character you can think of. Here are a couple of mine, Brimstone and Slytherip:

 

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Since each battle class has two different main attack styles and four different “Secret Techniques”, along with the choice of one of 4 element-based powers, each character feels unique. There are new normal toys-to-life figures as well. Half of them are based on popular villains that were playable in Trap Team, while the other half are brand new characters. These characters, called “Senseis,” also each have a battle class and an element, and they can unlock new parts and powers for Imaginators.

 

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That’s sort of part of the biggest problem I had with the game. There are so many customization parts, but almost all of them need to be unlocked. You unlock plenty over normal gameplay, but even excluding the ones that require certain Senseis, you have to go far out of your way to unlock all of them. Naturally, the game is willing to help you unlock them faster if you pay extra. There are microtransactions available in the game to buy mystery chests, and you can also purchase physical (single use) mystery chests. Toys-to-life games have always been about getting players to pay extra; I understand that. But especially considering that what you get is random, this seems like it’s going too far. You might have a perfect character idea in your head, and the game might have the parts to make it happen, but unless you buy a bunch of chests or complete every single challenge, there’s a pretty good chance you won’t unlock all of the parts you want. One also has to consider that, with the Starter Pack, you can only make one custom character. You need to spend $10 on a Creation Crystal for each additional character, which also seems pretty steep.

 

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One last note about the gameplay: I noted in my review of last year’s Skylanders Superchargers that each stage had its own style, something to make it play a bit differently from the others. In one stage you were a giant, in one stage you had to manipulate light, etc. Imaginators mostly does away with that, for better or worse. It lacks the previous game’s variety, but variety is not always what you want, especially because some of the stage gimmicks in Superchargers were very annoying. Imaginators plays more like previous games. I don’t really have a problem with that; it’s good solid platforming with enough differences between characters and stages to keep things going. That being said, there also aren’t that many stages. There are mini-stages in between to keep the game from being too short, but it’s still noticeably curtailed.

 

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If it seems like I focused on the negatives in this review, it’s only because the positives speak for themselves. The character creation options are vast, the gameplay remains solid, and the story, while simplified, still features interactions with entertaining characters. I’m sad to see the character creation aspect of the game weighed down by slow unlocks and microtransactions, but it’s still an impressively robust system. If you can afford to buy the Starter Pack and a couple extra Creation Crystals, or if you wait until it goes on sale, it’s an excellent (albeit casual) game. If you’ve enjoyed previous games in the series, you know what you’re getting. And if you’re new to Skylanders, this is a perfectly good place to start.

 

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