Kaos is back (again), wreaking havoc in the Skylands (again)! It's up to you and your gigantic Rubbermaid bin of figures from the last five years of Skylanders games to stop him! Oh, who am I kidding. You're going to shell out a couple hundred bucks on the new hotness that is Skylanders Imaginators. Perhaps you'll also invest in a nice curio to display them in?
Skylanders Imaginators injects a needed change into the formula. Sure, you still buy figurines to use in your game, but as the sixth entry, they can only create so many before they get stale. The ability to create your own Skylander is one of the most addictive and entertaining aspects of Imaginators, and though it treads familiar ground, the game is much better for it.
Adding a Creation Crystal to the Portal brings up a customization screen that allows you to alter every aspect of the Imaginator. From the abilities and gear they use, all the way to the musical cues and catchphrases they spout, almost every aspect of your Imaginator is able to be tweaked to your liking.
The campaign and almost every other activity you take on in the game rewards treasure chests, which contain weapons, armor, sound effects, voice packs, and even glow effects for your Imaginator. Play long enough and you could spend hours trying to perfect your figure. As for me I quite enjoy my Dark Sorcerer who looks like a spooky skeleton with moose antlers and a snowman backpack.
Parents, beware that physical treasure box figurines are available as a sort of blind box item. Each contains nine random creation items, and I must absolutely stress that they are randomized. Once you place the box on your Portal, the box's contents are emptied. You can also buy treasure boxes digitally, but again, I don't think it's a good idea. Considering how many items you'll get over the natural course of play, these seem like a cash grab.
I'm a big fan of the Imaginators, but they come with two fairly large caveats. First, each Creation Crystal has an element type. If you want to create a fire-based Skylander, you must buy a Fire Creation Crystal. Second, the class you select is permanent. Hope you really wanted to play as a Sentinel! The necessity to buy specific Crystals to assign an element, or a new Crystal if you goofed on the class you pick seems like a bit of a cash grab.
To satisfy the more traditional Skylander enthusiast, there are also Sensei figures - twenty new characters (including some cameos from Crash Bandicoot), ten ex-villains, and... Kaos. While I balk at the thought of wanting to subject my entire play time to his horribly irritating voice, playing as the villain is pretty cool. Each Sensei figure you add to your in-game collection will increase the level cap for your Imaginator creations by one, including being able to go over the hard limit of twenty.
Senseis provide a few additional bonuses as well. Each elemental type has a corresponding Sensei Realm to unlock on the map. While these areas are relatively hit or miss, more content is always nice, and you can always revisit them with other characters later on. You can also earn passive stat bonuses for your Imaginators via the built-in selfie mode. Each level has a few points of interest per level where you're encouraged to snap a selfie. If you do this with a Sensei figure, there's an area back in your home base where you can put the picture in a frame, granting a permanent boon to Imaginators of the corresponding class.
The synergy between Imaginators and Senseis is somewhat light in practice. It basically boils down to this: if you want to have more powerful Imaginators, collecting a lot of Senseis will enable that. However, you don't need anything beyond what comes in the Starter Set to enjoy the campaign. It would have been nice to see a more direct relationship between the two, such as bonuses for playing cooperatively with both a Sensei and Imaginator or the ability for an Imaginator to 'borrow' an ability from a related Sensei, because i feel like there was an opportunity to explore this space that wasn’t taken.
In the past year, my kid has gotten more and more into video games, and Skylanders has gone from a “watch daddy play” game to a “it’s a good thing there’s co-op because wrestling a controller away from her is a challenge” game. So this time around, I had a co-op partner on standby at all times.
As it happens, that’s a good thing because unlike last year’s SuperChargers, Imaginators doesn’t have online play for the campaign. As a game that’s directly centered on kids, I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing. However, it’s odd that they backtracked on that feature, especially since you can still use your vehicles to race competitively online.
Each Skylanders game has featured couch co-op, and Imaginators works exactly like each past game, allowing drop-in/out play by simply adding a second figure to the Portal. Though the campaign's levels are quite expansive, the leash put between players is quite tight, and there were a few moments where I wanted to get a treasure chest and my partner didn't agree with my ideas. Perhaps my daughter has better ideas than I do.
Skylanders Imaginators is another solid entry in the series. While I'd like to see the campaign have a few more new ideas, the focus on creation is a smart one. Now, if you'll excuse me, I just unlocked an entire set of ladybug-themed items that will go amazingly well with my starfish ninja stars.
Skylanders Imaginators was reviewed on the Playstation 4 with a copy of the game provided by Activision.