Skylanders: Imaginators Review (Xbox One)
For anyone who grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s, you might remember how prevalent playsets were at the time. Interspersed between Saturday morning cartoons were commercials for castles, space stations, or even wild west towns and they were huge. Skylanders: Imaginators feels like a throwback to that time. It feels as though it would’ve accompanied Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or Sonic the Hedgehog: The Animated Series with it’s varied group of anthropomorphic animals, fantasy creatures, and literal fuzzballs with magical powers banding together to stop a villain threatening to destroy their world.
Skylanders: Imaginators begins when the audience is informed of a type of magic called “Mind Magic” which the Ancients used to create the Skylands, home of the Skylanders (and anything they could possibly think of). The Ancients realized this power could fall into the wrong hands so they decided to seal it away. Unfortunately, Kaos, the series’ villain, unleashes this magic and uses it to create his own monsters, called Doomlanders. That’s where you come in as Portal Master, a person able to control Skylanders and also have the power of Mind Magic to create your own Imaginator.
The Skylands are wondrous fairly large areas with some light exploration outside of the determined path. You’ll explore a town, a library with massive books five times bigger than your character, a haunted house, a desert, and many areas based on each element of nature such as fire, water, earth, or even light and undead. The colorfulness of the world is inviting and is impressive as it’s not based on some licensed property.
In the Starter Pack you are given a Fire Creation Crystal, which is used to create and store an Imaginator and two Senseis, the newest group of Skylanders. For every Creation Crystal you have, you are then able to create more Imaginators, but I never felt as though the elements mattered much to the gameplay. The game will inform you when you’re in an area where a certain element is more powerful, but it didn’t feel as though I was doing less damage or that I needed to swap to another Imaginator to do more damage. The only time I felt as though I did need to swap them out was when my Imaginator ran out of health and I had to retire them for that level. Even then it would only happening during boss fights.
I did enjoy having a breadth of Creation Crystals so I could make a bunch of Imaginators to play around with, like a Light-based Brawler named Brawlie, who is a massive purple half cat/half man with angel wings surrounded in white light; or Dennis, the Undead Smasher, who is a 2 foot tall skeleton with a head bigger than his body, a voice that sounds like an earthquake, and who loves yelling about how much he loves hugs.
When you place your Creation Crystal on the included portal, no matter the elemental affiliation, you are taken to a fairly robust character creation screen. After choosing your class from one of 10 Battle Classes, you are then able to choose the head, chest, arms, legs, and tail and reproportion them to your exact liking. You can even change how your Imaginators talk, what their catchphrase is, whether they will have music accompanying them, and what sound effects happen when they attack. You can even change these without having to exit a level. It’s all very streamlined.
The Senseis on the other hand weren’t as compelling. They were certain parts of the levels where a Sensei would be needed to unlock their own ultimate moves. They are also Sensei Shrine levels where you must have a Sensei of the element to play and where you can unlock new voices and gear to use on your Imaginator. They are worth having if you want more things for your Imaginator, but they never felt as necessary as your created character. Even in a story context, they show up once at the beginning and that’s it.
The gameplay itself is easy to get into and plays like a standard action-platformer --- like a Ratchet and Clank or Banjo-Kazooie --- with some light RPG elements like character progression. Your Imaginator starts with three basic attacks, but unlockable ultimate attack can be found throughout each level. Outside of the sometimes button-mashy fights against enemies, the game will mix it up with levels where you pilot a gunship to fight sky enemies, solve puzzles inside a lock, play a new card game, or even participate in a battle arena.
Now that isn’t to say Imaginators is perfect, as the game becomes very repetitive. Yes, there are a myriad of attacks to pull off but most of the time it’s easier to just mash the most basic attack. The boss fights all have the same structure of “Deal some damage, boss gets powered up” rinse and repeat three times for every boss. At certain points and it can hold your hand too much. Some of the puzzles aren’t puzzles because they tell you exactly what you need to do, but on the other hand, you’re never lost on what objective you have to accomplish. At times I felt like I was wrestling with the fixed camera that you cannot move. If the character would get to close to the camera, I couldn’t see what was happening anymore. Beyond that, outside of cutscenes, some of the character animations are very stiff and the lip-syncing doesn’t always line up.
All in all, Skylanders: Imaginators is a good time. Once I finished with the story, I didn’t really care to go back and get all the extras and achievements. However, if I find myself in a spot where I just want to mess around for 30 minutes and beat up some enemies, I could see myself playing more. With a big cast of characters, colorful scenery, fairly clever joke writing, and pick-up and play gameplay, Skylanders: Imaginators feels like a playable Saturday morning cartoon where you can insert your own hero into the fray.
This review was completed with a Skylanders: Imaginators starter kit and additional figures provided by the publisher for Xbox One.