Skylands is in danger, once again. Long ago, the Ancients used a mysterious power known as Mind Magic to create everything in the magical world, conjuring into existence anything that they could imagine. In the wrong hands, they had realised that such power could become very dangerous and decided to seal it away so that it would never be misused. But now, Kaos has discovered this ancient secret and has let loose the power of Mind Magic to create an army of fearless Doomlanders to take over Skylands.
As a Portal Master, it’s now down to you to save Skylands from destruction. With the chance to use Mind Magic to design heroes of your own, Skylanders Imaginators sees characters born from the player’s own imagination fight alongside the Senseis – mystical warriors that Master Eon has summoned to help train your heroes to become powerful Skylanders.
Open up the Skylanders Imaginators Starter Pack for Nintendo Switch, and it’s clear to see that something is different. There’s the unstoppable fighter Master King Pen, the powerful sorceress Golden Queen, a Creation Crystal, and a copy of the game, but no Portal of Power. The pedestal, which has long been used to transport Skylanders who appear as toys in our world, into Skylands is no longer required, with Activision and Toys for Bob instead choosing to let players build and access their own digital character library.
This becomes the first revelation in Skylanders Imaginators, as, while perhaps necessary to suit the portable home console’s flexibility in letting you play at home or on the move, it means that you can load and store your accumulated Skylanders heroes directly on the Nintendo Switch. Parents will be thankful that they won’t have to carry around so many toys, and the children – and adults like me – can enjoy the fact that there is more immediacy to summoning their favourite characters.
It is your imagination that becomes the great innovation in this, the sixth game in the mainline Skylanders series. Recalling the pile of letters that they have received from fans that had shared crude drawings for new Skylanders characters, the introduction of the new Imaginator Creator now gives everyone the chance to breathe pixellated life into their own creations.
This is a playful process as you flit between multiple categories to build your own Imaginator, starting with their body parts, weapon, gear, size, colour, and aura, before moving on to their Battle Class, powers and personality – giving them their own name, voice, catchphrase, and theme music. It’s not a one-time process either, as Imaginite Chests that you retrieve on your adventure will steadily reward you with new Creation Pieces to retweak your character with. Each Imaginator that you create though will require their own Creation Crystal that are aligned to different elements, so there is still that need to hurl more money at the game.
Players can also import, create and share their own creations on Skylanders Creator, a companion app for mobile devices. This will let you transfer your custom Imaginator from the game to your phone using magical bleeps and sounds, which was pretty neat, actually. The only problem is that I couldn’t see any way to send them back, meaning that an Imaginator created from scratch in the app or any tweaks made to your existing Imaginator cannot be reflected in the game, which seems slightly pointless.
We have had Giants, swappable parts, Traps, and vehicles over the past several years, but the chance to create your own Skylander is, by far, the most meaningful addition. There is a more immediate connection to the game thanks to the fact that it is your own character that is setting out on an adventure, and, whether it is an influence from the Skylanders Academy animated series or not, Skylanders Imaginators packs even more comedy, heart, and personality than past storylines. It’s not the strongest in the series though, it has to be said.
The Senseis, too, are incredible in their own right. Each a master of a particular Battle Class, they show their skill in battle and can unleash Sky-Chi. Master King Pen uses his bladed wings and frost breath to freeze his foes, and imparts his wisdom about the Brawler class to your fledgeling Imaginators. Whereas Golden Queen shoots golden scarab beetles from her staff and can teach your Imaginators how to sling spells the Sorcerer Class. As well as being able to unlock access to special areas, these Sensei characters – as well as those that can be purchased separately – can increase Imaginator level caps, and unlock Secret Techniques for your Imaginators to use.
With your own Imaginator as the star in this adventure, it’s a delight to see them interact with other Skylanders as you trek around the M.A.P. (Mysterious Ancient Place) hub and play through the game’s multiple chapters. These largely see Skylanders Imaginators play by the book, delivering exciting levels to play through that see you take out enemies, solve puzzles, and take down the Doomlanders that Kaos has created with his own menacingly mischievous imagination. There aren’t many surprises, there.
Those that would like to expand their experience with Skylanders Imaginators can also look to Adventure and Level Packs, with Gryphon Park Observatory, Enchanted Elven Forest, Thumpin’ Wumpa Islands, and Lost Imaginite Mines all delivering more content to whack enemies in. At £35 apiece it may be the price that deters most from buying these, despite the fact that they also include a Sensei and Creation Crystal. I’m sure that the chance to play as Crash Bandicoot and Dr. Neo Cortex will be one opportunity that most won’t want to pass on, though, seeing how well Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy has sold.
Skylanders Imaginators delivers the most purposeful innovation to the wondrous toys-to-life series, but, beyond that, presents a gameplay experience that perhaps treads a little too closely to what has come before. That doesn’t mean that it is any less entertaining, but, somewhat ironically, the developers need to tap into their imagination to make the adventure more surprising to stand out.