STAFF REVIEW of Skylanders Imaginators (Xbox One)

Wednesday, October 12, 2016.
by Kirby Yablonski

Skylanders Imaginators Box art The Skylanders franchise was a gamble for publisher Activision in 2011, as making a game that required you to purchase real ‘toy figurines’ to play seemed risky. Well, the game was pretty popular and you couldn’t find many of the game’s figurines come Christmas of that year. The franchise has seen a yearly release since that time with each new entry doing something different. From giant Skylanders to Skylanders you had to trap to mixing and matching Skylander parts to Skylanders in vehicles, it’s been an interesting journey. One thing has been missing over the years though, and that has been the ability to create your own Skylander. Well, the number 6 seems to be the lucky number for fans, as Skylanders Imaginators, the 6th game in the franchise, now allows you to do just that.

I have to preface this review and let you know that my 12-year-daughter does most of the Skylanders playing during the review process. I get my hands dirty too, be it through cooperative play with her, or when looking for something specific to address. Skylanders is a family friendly title that all ages can play, but come-on, we know that the kids are the ones it’s targeted so I tend to really focus on that aspect; however, one cannot deny that parents can get hooked with too, so we can’t forget about them either.

Story wise, Kaos is back once again, and that dastardly nemesis of the Skylanders troop still has plans to rule the world of Skylands (stubborn isn’t he?). He has found the power of mind magic and he is creating an army of his own Skylanders called Doomlanders. It is up to you, with your self-created Skylanders called Imaginators, and other existing Skylanders, to defeat Kaos and his Doomlanders. I could get deeper into the story, but that would take the fun away, so this ‘tidbit’ of information will have to suffice.

Skylanders Imaginators has to be one of the biggest Skylanders games, content wise, that I have ever experienced. The main feature to this year’s game is the ability to create your own Skylanders. You save your ‘creation’ to an elemental crystal. It’s a simple process but yet it is much deeper than one might expect. You start off choosing your element and battle class. The battle class is your fighting style (e.g. ninja, knight, bowslinger, smasher, bazooka and more). With 10 different elements and 10 different fighting styles there are 100 starting points to choose from. You get to tailor what your Skylander looks like, what attributes they have, and what armor they may wear. From hair to eyes to ears to even tails and size, you’ll then head onto your armor and where you put it (e.g. shoulder guards, backpack, leg and chest armor, etc.).

The amount of visual control you have over your creation is pretty much unlimited. You can use pre-set options, basic customization options, or head on into the advanced options to color every little detail you are allowed to in order to make it special looking. Toys for Bob didn’t want to take any customization away from the “younger audience” either, so the different levels of customization make it easy, or as deep, for whatever one wants to do, no matter how old you are.

As any Skylander fan knows, each Skylander has their own unique personality, and in Imaginators you can create your own personality to your liking, including some great sayings from a fairly extensive library of such. You take various parts of a saying and chain them up together to create a ‘tag-line’ of your own making. Of course you can also name your character and create a voice from the menu of options. You can also assign your character a specific theme song (e.g. funk) as well as assign their weapon its own sound too (e.g. cartoony, magical, and even an 8-bit video game like sound).

Skylanders Imaginators introduces new Sensei Characters (separate figurines) – considered masters – and they each represent one of the 10 battle classes. For example, there is Sensei Ember, who represents the Sentinel battle class (double edged sword); she was one of my daughter’s favourites. By bringing any Sensei onto the portal fans get a training bonus by upping one’s custom character level cap, and they also provide Imaginators of the same battle class with a new technique for their customization options to add or try out. When using a Sensei character, a new on-screen meter shows up that represents the Sensei’s Ski-Chi super move, which only they have. This super-move fills as you dispatch enemies and you must figure out when the best times to use it are. Sensei characters are also able to open up Sensei Shrines throughout the game’s levels, as well as Sensei Realms. There are challenges to be found in each one you open and the Sensei characters are the only ones who can enter and take these trials on.

As I mentioned above, I consider this one of the biggest games in the franchise to date, content wise. Along with custom Skylanders, and the Sensei characters, there is the game itself, and there is A LOT (caps added for emphasis) to do. Sure, you could rush from A to B and complete the story mode without exploring, but what fun is that? There are a TON of collectibles to be found, from Imaginite Chests (contain custom pieces to create more, or modify, custom skylanders), Troll Radios (you get your catch phrases here) which have mini-games, Soul Gems, and even more secret areas with more secret items and more hidden treasures. But wait, there is even more.

There is a new board game called Creation Clash, which is based on the Skystone game of past Skylander releases. Strategy and smarts are required to win but Imaginators eases you into it. Arena Battles are back too, as you once again go against waves of enemies in the traditional three round matches. It’s a great way to test your custom created Skylander’s strengths and weaknesses and a nice way just to kill some time (pun intended). You will also find Battle Gongs, which are Sensei dependent. Here they get their own challenge of enemies that come in waves, but once you beat the challenge you will find that you are rewarded handsomely. You can also take selfies throughout your adventure, and you will find that there are specific spots that the game challenges you to do so. Finally, one of the biggest returning features is Skylanders Raceway, reminiscent of Skylanders Superchargers. You’ll find yourself racing on land, sea, or air tracks, and you can race couch co-op with a friend or head online to race up to 4 players. Are you getting the point of “BIG & LOTS OF CONTENT”? There are hours upon hours upon hours of fun here.

Presentation wise Skylanders Imaginators is a winner, plain and simple. The visuals are simply impressive. From the level designs to the characters in motion, it’s all gorgeous. There are effects galore too, from water, lighting, lasers, explosions and vehicles, to name a few, for you to see, all rendered in colourful detail. The draw distance is impressive too, giving you a sense of actually being in the world of Skylands, a land that stretches way into the background. Technically speaking, me and my daughter did not run into any noticeable issues, and the camera, while not always perfect, was not a major issue during gameplay. And of course we cannot forget the music and voice acting.

The cutscenes, which seem to use the in-game graphics engine, are great to look at, and even better to listen to. The voice acting is wide ranged and plentiful and there is lots of humor to be found throughout. Original characters continue to be voiced by their original voice actors, or at least is sounds like it, and it makes things feel just right, continuity wise. When you hear Skylanders mocking the fact that long time villain Kaos is back again, given he has been their foe throughout the franchise’s existence, it’s actually pretty funny, and it’s this voice acting that makes it great to listen to all the characters speak. The music adds to whatever you’re doing at the time, be it exploring the Mysterious Ancient Place (M.A.P. (Get it?)), trekking through the countless long levels, fighting enemies during a boss battle, racing on any given track at Skylanders Raceway, or just hanging out at Skylands Academy. The music has an uncanny knack at matching what you are doing to a tee.

As per usual, all the previous Skylanders toys are compatible with Imaginators. This makes for hundreds of characters for you to play in game. You can complete Skylanders Imaginators with the starter pack, as you don’t have to buy any of the others should you not want to, but there are areas in the game that require the new Sensei characters or different Elements, but it’s not like you need ALL of toys coming out. That is the beauty of Skylanders, you don’t have to buy everything to play, and you can buy things as you go if you want to.

To add some further fun, fans can download the Skylander Creator app on iOS and Android mobile devices to create Skylanders anywhere they may be and eventually transfer their creations to the game. I had the chance to download the app on my Samsung Galaxy tablet and I have to say I was impressed. Pretty much all the same options that are in the in-game creator menu are available for the app. The app also allows you to open up more chests to get more items to create your Skylander. You can also head online to the Skylanders Imaginators store from the app and have your character created into a card, printed on a t-shirt, and even made into a 3D printed model. At the time of writing this review the 3D printed model was the only thing not active yet in terms of availability, but once it is it will be limited in numbers. I was lucky enough to get a Skylander I created, named Sir Boomalot (yes, I made that up), sent to me as a 3D printed figure. It’s fairly detailed, has individual colors throughout, and it works on the game portal. Regardless if you buy anything or not, the app’s ability to allow you to create on your own mobile device, and transfer it into the game, is not only handy, but impressive too.

Skylanders Imaginators proves that the franchise continues to strive to provide a quality gaming experience full of fun for families with kids looking for alternatives to the AAA shooters, sports and driving games that continue to hit consoles out there. Being able to create your own Skylander is a great addition and the Creator App for mobile devices is pretty darn cool. This latest iteration of the game has the most content I can think of in a Skylanders game, and there are hours and hours of exploring, creating, chest opening, and discovery to be had. The only negative that I can think of is I can’t imagine where the series will go from here, but hey, we’ve been surprised before.

Overall: 9.0 / 10
Gameplay: 9.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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