The Skylanders franchise took a huge leap forward with the release of Skylanders Superchargers back in 2015, with the combination of vehicles and diverse level design Superchargers was a breath of fresh air for a franchise that struggled with certain key elements. Moving forward Imaginators seeks to continue pushing the franchise in a forward direction with new ideas that attempt to encourage players to embrace their imagination, and take their minds on the journey.
Skylanders Imaginators puts the power of its characters in the hands of the player featuring this as the games key element, this adds a layer of personalization to the core experience, players can choose how their characters look and even how they play. There is something to be said about the way this feature works, compared to past games where the player was limited to set designs Imaginators really offers players the chance to make their own mark on the journey.
Creating a character is quite simple, by placing a creation crystal on the portal you are immediately asked to pick a class for your character, this allows you to choose whether you play as a knight, an archer, a brawler, or many other varying classes. There are multiple types to choose from which adds quite a decent variety to the player’s fingertips, following this decision players can then choose their characters design and start their journey. The process was a lot easier than expected and it was enjoyable deciding the ins and outs of a characters appearance and the best moves to fit the character.
Each of the games classes offers a vast difference to the experience as a whole, as an example the knight and brawler are characters who are up close and personal to foes, while the archer or sorcerer are more distant attackers, unfortunately there is little room to experiment and choosing a class becomes a grueling task with your choice being final.
This falls into one of Skylanders Imaginators biggest problems, much like past games the creation crystals are a cash grab, if you choose a class that you quickly realize you are not fond of you have to buy a new creation crystal and start the process all over again. Imaginators seeks to pull money away from its players with its creation scheme that could have been better implemented in the players favor, letting players trial a class before finalizing the decision would have reduced plenty of the frustrations, but that just is not how these types of games work.
Thankfully once you get past the frustrations of class choosing things are a lot better, you can always alter your character as you see fit, and the need to experiment actually is brought to the limelight more than it should have been. The game offers a wealth of materials that always urge you to try a new head on your character, or a change in legs, nearly every instance of the game is about encouraging you to change up your personal character and find a new perception.
Furthermore the games materials are handed out at random, there is no telling if defeating a group of enemies will get you a basic item, or will get you something incredibly powered. This makes it more satisfying every time you find an item as the random nature keeps you guessing what you are going to get next. It was always amusing receiving a random pair of legs one moment, and then the next getting a really powerful sword or piece of armor.
The biggest flaw that occurs through the use of personal characters falls to the lack of stable design, when looking back at past games there was always a character to cling to and a figure which would sit proudly on your shelf long after completion. This made it easier to remember your journey and look back at the characters who carried you through Skylands, the creation crystals lack this charm after finishing the game you won’t remember the character that is tied to it and they lack the same appeal as the standard character figurines. Creation crystals simply look out of place next to all the regular figures which can really bother collectors who proudly display their collections, and the characters are never quite as exciting.
Thankfully, Imaginators does still offer a good batch of classically designed characters ready for use which covers those who don’t want to embrace their creative side. This games main characters are known as the Sensei’s which are the most powerful characters created to date, these large scale characters (in the vein of Giants or Trap Masters) are needed to unlock unique areas, as well as receive power ups for special attacks.
Sensei’s are a critical part of the game tied to the other Sensei’s, each one boosts the maximum level cap allowing you to further train them although this is never really required when a low level Sensei can still carry you through many of the games toughest moments. But this is still once again where the game is trying to encourage more sales, this aggressive tactic caters to the games key demographic and will make children think that they need the characters to succeed. If nothing else the Sensei’s are really great characters but they are ultimately also the big dilemma with this game where they want to pull money from their audience.
Unlike 2015’s Superchargers, Imaginators takes a bit of a fall in terms of quality, both in terms of its narrative which sees the Skylanders go up against Kaos which is really growing really stale by now, and some of the level design simply fails to shine. Where the previous game featured plenty of clever and new ideas every level, here things feel more generic and like we have gone back towards Swap Force level of quality. There are rare instances where the level design was pretty clever but in most instances levels were simply bland with long stretches that failed to draw any real interest.
Imaginators biggest problems falls to some of its more lazy design, following in the trend of past games much of the games brain work falls to lazily designed block puzzles that are never a challenge, and appear all to often. Besides this is the tedious minigames such as Skystones, and a pointless lockpicking challenge which are monotonous and fail to pose much of a challenge. There are even many arcade style minigames which come housed in one of the games levels, while the level has one of the better designs of the entire game the minigames are there more as a means of progression and fail to create any real excitement never really encouraging the developers to come up with some exciting idea.
It’s bad when even the overworld is more exciting than many of the games actual levels, searching the map for hidden secrets to explore, or simply encountering random enemies is more of a joy especially as new elements are added to improve the overworld as you progress. Overworld exploration is also assisted by a greater movement speed which makes it easy to get around and find your own adventures outside of the main campaign.
Combat is actually the biggest positive of the Imaginators experience which came as a huge surprise, with the benefit of character classes there is plenty of ways to approach the game, whether trying to stay distant as an archer, or running head first as a knight. But combats greatest strength is in the way it really sets the odds against you, most enemy encounters are in huge waves which will also throw out creatures of varying shapes and sizes from easy one hit foes, to boss like creatures that take numerous hits to finally defeat. Each battle is just as satisfying as the last especially as you work your way out of a troubling situation without letting your character fall.
Skylanders Imaginators is just another adventure to Skylands, for a child the simplistic design will certainly keep them amused, but these staples of the franchise are outstaying their welcome and really need to evolve. Skylanders is returning to its downward spiral and now it is time to evolve or simply just stop for a while, and the personal creation is not going to save things.