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Skylanders: Imaginators

Score: 90%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Toys for Bob
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: RPG/ Action/ Adventure

Graphics & Sound:

Skylanders: Imaginators is the latest offering in the original Toys-to-Life game, and while it is filled with just as much gimmicky gameplay as any Skylanders as before, there are several subtle changes that could easily give any follower who has felt disappointed in the past couple of games some hope.

While Skylanders doesn't stray from the visual style created in the first game, it still manages to look better and better with each release. Levels still have the fantastical feel that they always have, but the set pieces and scenery just feel more detailed. Similarly, the in-game versions of the toys you put on the Portal of Power look just as detailed and elaborate as their real-world counterpart. Of course, the virtual versions of the Skylanders have enough added special effects to make them feel more alive than the toys, so elements like Ember's translucent fire parts come off looking like actual flames in the game, or Starcast's smoky parts that have some glitter in them look more like a flickering star-field.

One aspect that should be mentioned is how well the character-creation feature of the game smoothly blends such wildly different body parts into a Skylander and doesn't make it feel quite as disparate as something with robotic arms and skeletal legs should. Each of the different body parts are well designed so that they meet up with the other parts without issue. Essentially, Imaginators makes the blending of Swap Force's 16 characters look like child's play since everything from arms, torso, legs, heads, ears, eyes and tails can be changed out on a whim. Even better, while playing as your super-customized Imaginator, all of those details and odd parts are plainly visible as you run around levels.

Skylanders: Imaginators' sound department continues to be just as good as before. Music has the same fun and fancy-free feel that has been a part of the franchise since the beginning, while the voice acting seems to have even stepped up a notch since the story has you interacting with many classic Skylanders like Spyro, Pop Fizz, Eruptor, Stealth Elf and Jet Vac, and it sounds like those voice actors have returned to play out their parts in this game's script. This means that you don't just hear actors like Bobcat Goldthwait shout out a few one-liners like in past games. Instead, there is full dialogue and conversations between the different characters.


Skylanders: Imaginators has a few key changes that actually simplify some aspects of Skylanders and, I believe, actually address some issues that have been growing bigger and bigger with each past release. In past games, the gimmick characters (i.e. Swap Force, Trap Team) were released alongside reposes of classic characters or new "core" characters, but the gameplay itself encouraged the player to stick heavily with the gimmick characters and the more basic figures were left relatively unused. In Imaginators, there are no reposes and no characters (short of the customizable Imaginators themselves) that aren't the special type for this game, Sensei characters. These Sensei do come in two flavors though: half of them are villains from past games turned good, and the other half are brand new designs, but they are all Sensei and you never feel like there are characters that need to remain unused, especially since there are areas of each level that encourage you to switch between Sensei and Imaginator characters, whereas past games never gave you a reason to take your gimmick figure off the Portal of Power.

As fans of the series would expect, Kaos has a new plan to take over Skylands. This time, he plans to harness the power of Imaginite to reshape the entire world to his desires. Of course, the Skylanders need to stop him, and this time they have the help of Skylanders who are masters in one of 10 different Battle Classes.

These classes have the characters attacking in a wide variety of ranges and each attack type has wildly different levels of speed, power and ability. One Battle Class is all about short-range melee combat, while another focuses on archery and another uses rapid gun fire. There is one that is all about brute force and another that uses magic, and each one feels different enough that you can end up with vastly different feeling characters because of how those Battle Classes work out.

The Sensei figures level up and have ability progression like past Skylanders. As you spend coins, you unlock various attacks in the character's tree, and you will get to choose one of two paths that will make one or two of the character's attacks more versatile. Each character also has a powerful attack unlocked by finding its Soul Gem and there is another attack made available when a Sensei finds its Battle Class shrine. This newest feature is called its Sky Chi ability and while they take effort to build up, when they are executed, they can quickly clear out some of the more densely packed areas of the game with little issue.

Imaginators, on the other hand, have a very different feel when it comes to their abilities, and those abilities end up being just as fluid and changeable as their body parts and armor: well almost. There are a couple of immutable aspects that are locked down from the start, but more on that later.

Imaginators have several different categories of attacks that you can choose to make a truly unique fighter. These attacks let you choose how you want to use your Battle Class weapon, how to use your Elemental Power, and which Secret Technique you want to use (unlocked either by collecting a Sensei or by defeating one of the game's bosses). These abilities can be upgraded for a cost, and at any point you can switch from one attack to another. Between the fact that you can drastically change how Imaginators attack and change how they look or sound or even what their catch phrases are, each Imaginator really comes out to be a unique creation that I can easily see kids growing an attachment to.

I mentioned earlier that there are a couple of aspects of your Imaginator that are set in stone when you create it, and that is the Element and the Battle Class. The first is chosen by which Creation Crystal you are storing your Imaginator on, and the other is chosen when you go to create the character. You have to chose one of the 10 Battle Classes and while every other aspect of the character can be changed and tweaked, this Battle Class isn't a facet you can change. At first glance, I didn't really have a problem with this, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized I couldn't think of a technical reason why this should be. Short of some kind of game balance issue caused by being able to change the Battle Class on the fly, there just didn't seem a reason to force this lock down, especially since there isn't even an option to reset the Creation Crystal back to factory settings like you can with every other Skylander figure. I can only imagine that this is to encourage players to buy enough Creation Crystals to have at least one for each Battle Class, which makes the restriction feel more like a marketing ploy that limits the player's ability rather than a technical detail.

Given the sheer number of body parts, armor, and weapons that you can choose from in Imaginators it should come as no surprise that the game doesn't hold back in rewarding players with new pieces frequently. Levels are scattered with Imaginite Chests that can contain several different pieces of varying rarity. Players also get pieces by adding Creation Crystals or Sensei to their collection, defeating bosses, solving puzzles, playing mini-games or unlocking Battle Class shrines. Of course, Skylanders being what it is, you can also purchase Imaginite Chests in a store in blind packages (so you aren't sure if you are going to get a bronze, silver or gold chest), or over Xbox Live where you could also purchase a platinum chest that guarantees even more rare items. Thankfully, the frequency that the game rewards players with Imaginite Chests should curb any desire to purchase them either in-game or in-store.


Skylanders: Imaginators has four difficulty settings, and while the lower ones, Beginner and Adventurer, let players speed through the levels faster, the Expert and Nightmare options pay off with bigger rewards. I played the game in Adventurer Mode and I only found myself having to swap characters to avoid imminent death once or twice, and that was typically because I was purposefully using a low-level Skylander in the hopes of getting it beefed up quickly. As the game describes, this setting is for those that want a mild challenge, where Beginner is for those that just want to experience the story and have as little difficulty as possible to get to the next cut scene.

That being said, the Expert and Nightmare settings are notably tougher, and as always, players will have to be very conscious of their character's health and where they can nab some HP-restoring food. Since Nightmare Mode was introduced several games before, this has always been a challenging experience where every hit hurts a lot and every HP point is precious.

Game Mechanics:

As I mentioned above, Skylanders: Imaginators seems to depart from more recent games in a few ways. Not only are there only new figures in the roster of new Skylanders, but they are all of the special type featured in this game. That alone seems to be a big step to keep the game from trying to push the player or parent from buying characters that won't be used much, but interestingly enough, the game itself isn't nearly as restrictive as before. In past games, there would be entire segments of the levels that were blocked off because you didn't have a particular type of character, and given the wave-based release of the figures, it was often the case that even buying everything available upon release meant you couldn't explore all of the levels. There were always holes in the experience and those wanting to fully explore the world had to wait for one or two figures to come out, and that could be several months after the game's release.

While that is still the case here (there are no Bazooker Battle Class Skylanders released at the time of this writing), the levels themselves are fully open to anyone who has a Sensei and a Creation Crystal, and those come with the game. What not having characters beyond the starter pack has you missing is the ability to unlock the special abilities for the characters you don't have (no real loss there), and several side-mission levels found in the hub world. These Sensei Areas can only be unlocked by a Sensei of the appropriate element (and there is a Sensei for each element available at this time), but within the main story levels themselves, everything is open and ready for you to explore.

This feels like a drastic departure from anything the previous Skylanders games have done before and I applaud the change. From the start, with Spyro's Adventure, I noticed the sneaky ways the game nudged players into buying up additional figures by showing you previews of them or making sure you realized you didn't have exactly what you needed to see beyond an elemental gate. From a business standpoint, this is a great form of advertisement that really helped build up the Skylanders franchise and kicked off the Toys-to-Life genre. I think that the addition of Disney Infinity and LEGO Dimensions added a lot of competition for Skylanders and between the fact that gamers felt forced to choose between the franchises and that the investment in any one of the games just kept getting bigger and bigger meant that there were some side-long glances at any attempt to convince the player to buy anything that wasn't truly necessary to play the game. I think the shift made in Imaginators to make the game almost completely open from the start is a great way to show that Activision recognizes the slight shift in the market and responds to it.

If you've found yourself feeling a bit disappointed in the way the Toys-to-Life genre has moved in the past couple of years, then I think you will find Skylanders: Imaginators a breath of fresh air. The core game and overall feel are the same, but these subtle changes to how pushy the game is to get you to buy up the figures goes a long way to winning back any dissatisfied fans.

Activision provided me with a free copy of this game and the following toys to help aid in the review process. The opinions I share are my own.
  • Gryphon Park Observatory Adventure Pack
  • Dr. Krankcase
  • Hood Sickle
  • Kaos
  • Master Ambush
  • Master Aurora
  • Master Barbella
  • Master Chopscotch
  • Master Ember
  • Master Mysticat
  • Master Starcast
  • Master Tri-Tip
  • Tae Kwon Crow
  • Wolfgang
  • 12 Creation Crystals

-J.R. Nip, GameVortex Communications
AKA Chris Meyer

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