Update: This title has a Nintendo Switch release, outside weaker graphics due to weaker hardware, the review for the most part applies to this version as well.
Update: This titles release list includes: Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Wii U, and Nintendo Switch.
Skylanders has been around for quite a few entries now, bringing with it dashing colorful worlds with characters filled with personality, and a controversial figure-dlc system that encourages teens and parents to grab as many toys as possible to experience all the variety in gameplay the series has to offer. It’s also one of Activision’s defining franchises, with a run time toward 5 years, and one of the most consistent franchises out in gaming today.
Skylanders Imaginators, the latest in the franchise, brings familiarity mixed in with new tricks, and a very special guest character who’ve no one has seen playable in a video game since 2010 (2011 internationally outside the U.S.) and that character is Crash Bandicoot. A franchise many have been asking to return to the video game scene. Which is why I parodied the title of this review to be similar to the first Skylanders entry: “Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure”
One aspect of the Skylanders series that many, including myself, like is the presentation. You have a combination of top notch voice acting, amazing attention to detail, immersive environments, and atmospheric music that fits the games design. Storywise, Imaginators takes a few steps back this time around. Kaos is back and has created “Doomlanders” which are basically evil Skylanders in layman’s terms, and the rest of the story follows a cliche that you will recognize right away. Especially if you have played other entries in the Skylanders franchise. In fact, the “plot twist” lacks a lot of originality.
In it’s place however, are well crafted cutscenes, that really show off each character’s personality. Some of them are even funny, and are quite enjoyable pulling you in. While the main plot is lacking, the way the characters are voiced and written bring a level of fun that replaces the slacking main plot making it a non-issue. This goes double for Crash Bandicoot, and his nemesis, Dr. Neo Cortex, in the Crash Edition. Which contain a mix between the personalities seen in their Twinsanity (Sierra, 2004) days along with dialogue matching what we’ve come to expect in Skylanders. Giving a unique storyline that gives Crash more life than he has seen in a loooong time.
(Skylanders Cartoon Visuals are top notch, and really shine on Xbox One and PlayStation 4)
Skylanders always did a very amazing job with its graphics. Originally using carefully designed art-styles to make up for the graphical disadvantages it had. But since Superchargers that has largely changed and now Skylanders sports amazing graphics across the board. Imaginators is a perfect example of how Xbox One and PlayStation 4 hardware helps Skylanders visual design immensely. Making the games world more immersive, and making comparisons to classic CGI children’s movies more than possible.
Levels pop out with you, animations is fluid and smooth, effects such as fire and water are top notch, lighting is used in a cinematic way. The camera also makes sure you view the visuals from the best positions. It’s a cartoon world that doesn’t really look fake. It does a good job improving from the design from other Skylanders games. Running at a consistent frame-rate, more animations per character than before, shadows have high black levels, and when you get close to environmental objects you can easily see the attention to detail they put into many areas of the game. Some of which I believe is overkill. Especially during situation where you won’t have much time to take them in.
(The new Skylander Creation Suite is one of the most stand out features in Imaginators!)
Gameplay is a mixed bag. One thing that made Skylanders stand out was challenging platforming, a pretty decent beat-em-up fighting system, and usually a gimmick to keep things interesting: such as racing or gravity. The game is still fun, and you can have a blast with moderate play times. You have more options for customization (armor sets, catch phrases), most of the Skylanders you have been using (if you’re a fan) for years will still work for this game. The platforming is better than ever, the fighting is still a good time, though not too different from previous titles, granted with more ways to build up your Skylander. You can even build your own heroes in general! Yes, you can build your own Skylander. To do this, your starter pack will have something called the “Imaginator Creation Crystal” putting it on the portal of power will bring up an editor to create your own personal hero which allows you to set up its stats and class as well as its body. It’s one of the stand out features of this title and something many have been asking for.
However I’d like to mention 4 things that really hurt Skylanders Imaginators over other games in the series:
- Assassins Creed 1 style filler is present in this game. By that I mean there are a lot of pointless or tedious filler “quests” that are more bland than anything else. Usually the same style of mission, chase X, grind to Y, Object moving puzzles, Unlock this door/gate. It’s not the whole game or anything, but it really does feel like they cut back on gameplay innovation for this game relative to other Skylanders titles.
- Your Trap Team crystals and your Supercharger vehicles (in story mode) are useless here.
- The game doesn’t really do much to really put itself out there in terms of new flashy gameplay. It plays it safe offering a standard beat-em-up romp. While not going for the gimmicks or features seen in other games. Instead it trades it for character creation and Crash Bandicoot. So this will be up to the individual person as to whether it was a good trade-off. Personally I’m in the middle.
- The game pushes microtransactions in a new way that I personally don’t like. Things like trading cards and loot that can be used to build up characters can be bought with real cash. Which I think takes away from the exploration and the magic of being able to work hard to build your character.
(Crash is back! Been a long time friend.)
Crash Bandicoot is the guest in this game. His first real bout since Crash Nitro Kart 2 on IOS devices back in 2010 (2011 in some countries) is quite impressive. The first thing I would like to mention is if you have played and enjoyed the controls for Crash of the Titans (Sierra, 2007) and Crash: Mind over Mutant (Sierra, 2008) then you will be right at home here. How he moves, jumps and swings is very very similar to those games in my personal opinion. So if you are familiar with that time of movement and control then it will feel like Crash never left. How he moves, how he jumps, how he travels, even some (not all) of his controls are not too far away from his last two platforming outings.
New voice actors do a pretty bang up job. You get the N.Sanity Island feel with the stage design and nostalgic iconic set-pieces like running away from a boulder. Plot wise, it’s a bit silly. Aku Aku mentions a time when all the dimensions align perfectly and a wormhole appears to the Skylands. Crash wanting to invite the Skylanders to a party, can’t because they are busy fighting evil, and this Crash decides to jump in. Pretty basic stuff actually.
Crashes gameplay basically mirrors what I mentioned in the above section, with a few of his own unique moves (such as his trade mark spin) and Cortex is along for the ride as well. They didn’t really deviate much from the norm with these guest characters. The level design is nostalgic for Crash fans, you get Crash npc characters to show up, such as the Tikimen from Crash Bandicoot 1, giving you quests to look for items. However, it seems the trade off for innovation in gameplay for character creation and building is most evident here. Yes Crashes sections are the most unique and varied in the game. His puzzles and quests are enjoyable and his areas in the game will give Crash fans a taste of whats to come of his future. To be fair though, what you have here is short and limited in relation to the rest of the game.
Skylanders Imaginators, takes a few ideas from the now defunct Disney Infinity, and MMO’s with its character creation and hero building along with a bigger focus on loot. Crash Bandicoot and Cortex bring in more fun with their own styles as well, making this one of the most anticipated Skylanders entries yet. Gameplay is top notch, fighting is a blast, and platforming is still great and improved from before. A more immersive world with fantastic visuals to draw you in, cutscenes and dialogue to make you laugh and get pulled into the action, even though the main story is lacking a bit. It’s a real treat to fans and newcomers.
Though omissions of certain features and toys from other Skylanders games, a step back in gameplay innovation, increase in microtransactions, and repetitious quests, may make this game lose a few points depending on the individual. I would still highly recommend this title for what it does achieve and for how it shows Skylanders future, which is looking quite bright. This is one of the best games in the series and I hope this review convinces you to give it a try!
SCORE: 8.5/10 (3.5/5 with scoring system change)
“A very solid game experience with tons of exciting new and most wanted features! But plays it safe and pumps up the microtransactions” -Verzu Chase