It’s hard to recall the moment the first Skylanders burst on to consoles, heralding the lucrative Toys To Life genre of gaming. The fact that Imaginators still feels fresh even though it’s the sixth entry in the series says a lot for the quality of the game and the work that Toys for Bob have put in to this latest Skylanders game.
Every Skylanders game has its unique twist and this year’s is the Imaginators. The pack comes with two ‘Sensei’ Skylanders, powerful larger characters who act as guides and also help new players get to grips with the game. Special packs on Playstation consoles come with Crash Bandicoot and Dr Neo Sensei Skylanders. The box comes with a crystal in a tube which lights up and pulses when you place it on the portal, this is your entry point to creating Imaginators, characters you can build from scratch.
While it removes the need for specific toys and you could argue that it also distances the game from the Toys to Life element, the creation of unique Skylanders really opens Imaginators up and mixes up the gameplay, too. There are 10 different classes to choose from, each with unique abilities from long range attacks to heavy weapon skills and these can be customised further with heads, bodies and even their speech changed. The options are impressive in their scope and it helps to make you feel like you’ve created something unique to you.
The story this time around revolves around a book on the Ancients Mind Magic, the powerful force that created all things in Skylands. Kaos, the diminuative evil guy who existing Skylanders fans will recognise from the previous games, has discoverd the book and attempts to use it to create the world’s greatest villains; which he calls Doomlanders.
Spyro and friends call on the Senseis to help out and, once they realise what Kaos is up to, create the Imaginators to combat these Doomlanders with the help of the Senseis and the player as Portal Master.
It’s nice to see Spyro back in the limelight, especially when you pair him up with Crash Bandicoot (if you’re lucky enough to find the packs with him in before he becomes available to buy separately) for some 90s gaming nostalgia. Fan favourite Flynn is back, too, once again brilliantly voiced by Patrick Warburton (The Tick, Family Guy) and the rest of the voice cast are well catered for with some good scripting and an interesting (if slightly generic) story.
Gameplay is pretty much standard for a Skylanders game, platforming elements interspersed with simple (and a few not-so-simple) puzzles. A few odd choices, like opening gates with a puzzle game, do seem a little too advanced for younger players but mostly the game caters well for all ages. The Imaginators and Doomlanders mix this gameplay up a bit with new powers and fights and there are mini-games, as well as a new puzzle game you can play at any time, to add variety.
There are also gated element areas which only allow Skylanders from a particular element or battle class to enter, forcing yo to buy new toys to unlock everything. That said, you can still complete the main game with the toys that come with the set.
Parts for new Imaginators, as well as new voices and sound effects, can be found in chests littered around the area. Thankfully, these are numerous and you’ll soon find yourself with thousands of options for creating even more unique characters. The only downside to this is the menu system for these chests, where the last option is always a micro-transaction request for real money in order to unlock more chests. It’s not essential but it’s too easy for a child to press on, taking them to the relevant store page for their console.
New Imaginators can be created if you buy more crystal toys, so even though specific figures aren’t available, you’re still going to have to buy something in order to get more characters. Sensei characters and other figures for the game are also available in different classes and elements and, as usual, enhance the game with new quests and sub-levels.
You can, of course, always use your older toys, including last year’s vehicles, in the game and these will act as you’ expect. The only difference is that they’re far less powerful than either the Sensei characters or the Imaginators, so if you don’t already have them fully levelled up you’ll find it harder to progress.
The game is also the best looking Skylanders, yet, with worlds feeling very different from each other and plenty of secrets and interesting scenery. The racing sections, an add-on that lifts the the racing from the last game, also benefit from the graphical upgrades and look great.
While I thought I might be tired of Skylanders games by now, and part of me still feels that it’s still an attempt to make a ton of money via plastic toys, Toys for Bob and Activision have really outdone themselves here with easily the best entry in the series.