Review: Skylanders Imaginators (PS4)

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Formats:

  • PlayStation 4
  • PlayStation 3
  • Xbox One
  • Xbox 360
  • Wii U

Format/Hardware Used:

  • Blu-ray Disc
  • Crash Bandicoot Edition
  • PS4
  • HDTV
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Title: Skylanders Imaginators
Format: Blu-ray Disc
Release Date: October 13, 2016
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Toys for Bob
Original MSRP:

  • $79.99 (Starter Pack)
  • $99.99 (Crash Bandicoot Starter Pack)

ESRB Rating: E10+
A copy of this game, the full launch lineup of thirteen Skylanders characters, fourteen Creation Crystals, and the Gryphon Park Observatory Adventure Pack were provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Audio Review:
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 496 of the podcast at 168:10.

Gameplay:
Skylanders Imaginators is the sixth console release in the series, and fourth on the PlayStation 4 alone. The hook this year is that, for the first time in the history of the series, players can create their own Skylanders.

This is something that’s been brewing since the release of the first game back in 2011. The original developers, Toys for Bob, are back for this installment and appear to have had a strong influence on the game and the direction it took.

 Skylanders Elements 
 Air   Dark 
 Earth   Fire 
 Life   Light 
 Magic   Tech 
 Undead   Water 

The Creation Crystals are all tied to the original Skylanders Elements. Using either the included Fire Creation Crystal or one purchased separately for $9.99, you’ll be able to place it on your Portal and create the character of your dreams… eventually.

You see, the driving force behind the unlockables in the game is that character customization. While you’ll able to mix and match nearly every part of your character – head, eyes, ears, chest, arms, legs, tail, along with their weapons, gear, size, color, and aura, you may find the initial options a bit lacking, especially if you have a specific design in mind.

My four-year-old and I ran into that very quickly when none of the body parts for our imagined four-armed, gorilla body, dragon head ninja with rainbow hair, a rainbow tail, and a chicken butt, were available. One hundred twenty-eight heads in total are in the game but only thirty-four are unlocked at the start.

Granted, for most people that should be plenty to get things going, but for us, it was a bit of a disappointment as we had to create something else entirely. I suspect a number of younger fans have already drawn up the exact character their hearts desire and they may be disappointed when they can’t find the pieces needed to fulfill that vision the moment they create their first character.

While playing through the game, you’ll complete tasks and minigames that will unlock Imaginite chests and this is where you’ll find new customization items. It had me a bit worried that we’d end up playing through the entire game before finding all the parts we actually wanted for our character, if they even existed.

Fortunately, we’ve been able to unlock quite a few of them but we haven’t gone back and changed the look of the character yet. You can change just about anything at any time but the one thing that’s locked in permanently is the Battle Class.

 Skylanders Battle Classes 
 Bazooker   Bowslinger 
 Brawler   Knight 
 Ninja   Quickshot 
 Sentinel   Smasher 
 Sorcerer   Swashbuckler 

Battle Classes are brand new to the franchise and a part of the Sensei characters, the new Skylanders being sold this time around. The Senseis all have both an Element and a Battle Class which determines the type of fighter they are and the weapons and moves available to them.

When you create a character, you’ve already decided on the Element based on the Creation Crystal itself. You’re then asked to chose a Battle Class and warned that this is a permanent choice. It can be a really hard decision to make because if you find you don’t like that particular play style, your only recourse is buying a new Creation Crystal.

This also happens right at the start of the game so you haven’t even had a chance to try any of the Senseis out. That would at least give you a feel for the different Battle Classes. I understand wanting to have the player jump right in with creation but as I played different Battle Classes with all the Senseis as the game went on, I found I was more comfortable with the ones I didn’t pick.

Don’t get me wrong, character creation is surprisingly robust and a lot of fun, you just might need to temper your expectations a bit in regards to your options right out of the gate. The mixing and matching of different Elements and Battle Classes brings out some interesting combinations but it can get costly at $9.99 a pop for the Creation Crystals.

A bigger question for people creating multiple characters is how you keep track of who’s on what Crystal. Hardcore fans likely had similar issues with the traps in Trap Team. With Imaginators, each Creation Crystal has a small circular Element logo on one side and a blank circle on the opposite.

Each Crystal comes with a sheet of small stickers for each Battle Class and a slightly larger one to write the character’s name. The one minor issue here is that the name tag sticker is designed to fit nicely… on the poster that comes with the game.

The poster itself really only includes an image of a few Creation Crystals and if you have, for example, two Water Crystals that look the same, how do you keep track? You’ll have to figure that one out for yourself if it comes to that. I’ve taken to adding a sticker to the bottom of the base for each Crystal.

The Skylanders Creator App

As for the other characters from previous games that may be in your collection, all are compatible with Imaginators as expected, but you may notice that the Portal doesn’t have a place for Traps from Skylanders Trap Team. Much like in SuperChargers, they have no place in the game. If, however, you have a Portal from SuperChargers or Trap Team, it will work with the game, and placing a Trap in it will give your character an instant 555 coins.

Speaking of SuperChargers, when I opened the characters we received for the new game, my son Mason immediately asked about their vehicles. After trying to explain why they didn’t have any, we started the game and found the option on the Main Menu to play either the Story Mode or the Race Mode.

Race Mode is a straight port from SuperChargers, nothing more, nothing less. All the same options are available, including online, and it’s the exact same twelve tracks. Three vehicles are available, one each from Sky, Land, and Sea, so you don’t actually have to own anything from SuperChargers to play the racing mode here.

If you do have vehicles from the previous game you can place them on the Portal one at a time to register them. You can then put them all away if you want since the game saves the fact that you own them. If you have the Land, Sea, or Sky Play Set Trophy pieces, they can also be used to unlock three of the race modes.

… a good mix that helps keep the gameplay fresh …
The game itself is a Skylanders experience through and through with some fun new stuff added to the mix. The Senseis are important to your created characters because you’ll start with a Level Cap of fifteen. Every time you place a new Sensei on the Portal, the cap raises by one. So there’s your first reason for collecting every new character released this time around.

The Senseis will also unlock a lot in the game for your characters including special areas on the map, new weapons, and combat techniques. The Senseis themselves are pretty powerful on their own and each has a unique Sky-Chi move which highlights their Battle Class in a dominant way.

The story brings back many of the original characters from Skylanders Spyro’s Adventure which is really nice to see for long time fans. Kaos is of course the main villain but also a playable character in an imaginative twist.

Many new and returning mechanics and minigames are present including a fun new take on Skystones. It’s a good mix that helps keep the gameplay fresh in a series that sees yearly releases. One downside, if you can call it that, is that there are so many side quests available, mainly through the Sensei Realms, that it can be a bit too easy to get sidetracked and lose track of where you are in the story.

… I have played Crash Bandicoot on the PS4, and it’s glorious …
The Crash Bandicoot Starter Pack includes everything in the regular Starter Pack as well as Crash Bandicoot and Dr. Neo Cortex figures. Placing either of them on the Portal will unlock the Thumpin’ Wumpa Islands on the map.

This entire level is based on the lore of the Crash Bandicoot series. For those of you waiting on the new remake from Sony, I have played Crash Bandicoot on the PS4, and it’s glorious. It’s not exactly the standard Crash gameplay, but all the callbacks that they were able to work into the constraints of the Skylanders format is impressive.

Fans of the series are going to love this. The fruit is scattered along your path and in boxes just like you’d expect. There are TNT boxes and characters from the original games as well. It’s truly a love letter to the series and a delight to play.

If you opted instead for the regular Starter Pack, Crash and Dr. Neo Cortex will be available together in the stand-alone Thumpin’ Wumpa Islands Adventure Pack by the end of the year for $29.99. In an interesting twist, this pack, unlike the Nintendo characters that appeared in SuperChargers, will be compatible with all platforms.

… the cartoony wonder of the game …
The Gryphon Park Observatory Adventure Pack, which will also be $29.99, includes the Master Air Strike Sensei, and Earth Creation Crystal, and the Gryphon Park Observatory Play Set Piece.

Much like the vehicles, placing the Observatory piece on the Portal just once will unlock it within the game and you won’t need it out to play it again at a later time. The level itself is pretty big and it adds a whole new set of challenges along with unlocking more options for your personal Imaginators.

Visuals:
Much like the other Skylanders games on the PlayStation 4, this one’s a beauty. The bright, colorful graphics add to the cartoony wonder of the game. Lighting is actually really good at showing off the dark caves, water, and lightning strikes around the different levels and there isn’t even a hint of the jaggies.

… it keeps players more invested in their characters …
Audio:
This is another strong point for the series with many, if not all, of the original voice actors back to reprise their roles while the music fits the mood of each level perfectly.

Having the option to pick your voice, theme music, and sound effects for each created character is a wonderful option to have and you’ll, eventually, have plenty to choose from. Your catchphrase can lose its punch after hearing it for the umpteenth time but you can always go back in and change it whenever you want.

Online/Multiplayer:
The entire game can be played in local co-op which is a nice option to have. Simply turn on a second controller, hit Cross to join, place a second character on the Portal, and you’re in the game.

Any combination of two characters, Imaginators, or Senseis can be used. The only downside is that it isn’t split screen. You’ll need to keep both characters somewhat close together while playing through the game which may cause trouble in some areas like the rail grinding but I didn’t try that one out.

The Race Mode also includes the original online racing so at least that’s another option for someone looking for a new challenge.

Conclusion:
Every year I wonder what Skylanders can do to change up the gameplay. With the surprise loss of last year’s top franchise in the Toys to Life genre, Disney Infinity, it’s now down to the number one selling toy brand on the planet, LEGO, and the game that started it all, Skylanders.

Perhaps this creation infusion was inspired by the entry of LEGO into the field. Either way, it’s a great step forward for the franchise as it keeps players more invested in their characters going forward.

I fully expect that your Imaginators, much like every other character released across the previous five games, will be available to use in the next installment and beyond. This alone should be enough to bring in new players as well as pulling any wayward fans back into the fold.

Score:
8.5

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

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Written by Josh Langford

Josh Langford

Josh has been gaming since 1977 starting with the Atari 2600.
He currently owns 25 different consoles and 6 different handhelds (all hooked up and in working condition) including all consoles from the current generation – minus the Switch.

Josh is currently the US PR & Marketing Manager for Fountain Digital Labs and has recused himself from any involvement on PS Nation arising from posting or editing any news or reviews stemming from FDL.

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  • Makai Ookami

    Could have been worse Josh. You guys could have made a Unicorn like character and named it ButtStallion.

    Oh Borderlands…