Another year, another Skylanders...but donít for one minute think that statement is in the slightest bit negative as the original toys-to-life franchise shows no signs of stopping, going from strength to strength with this latest release, Skylanders Imaginators. Having seen off main rival Disney Infinity and once again claimed its place as the main NFC franchise on the market, itís time for the team at Toys for Bob to take the mantle and in some way shape or form keep things new and entertaining, after all the cost of entry remains high and to see and do everything Skylanders has to offer, you will be needing deep pockets. For those who donít regularly dive into the Skylanders world every year itís important to note that the developers alternate, much like they do with the Call of Duty, with Toys for Bobís last entry being Skylanders Trap Team roughly two years ago, a solid entry gaining a rather admirable 8 out of 10 from The Digital Fix team stating at the time that it was ďArguably the best entry in a franchise which shows no signs of witheringĒ.
In the last outing Skylander Superchargers, Activision introduced toy cars and racing to the already established mashup of platforming, beat Ďem up action mixed in with a series of mini games and a simple yet fun card game (with stones not cards) named Skystones. Whilst a great game and fun, the cars were perhaps a little left field and some might have speculated at the time that the toys-to-life market was coming to the end of its life (ironically). Well, we can put that theory to bed right now as this latest incarnation, Skylanders Imaginators is arguably the best entry to date.
Our good old friend Kaos is at it again, this time discovering the ancient power of mind magic and is in the process of using it to create an army of Doomlanders. The call has gone out to all portal masters and the greatest warriors of the Skylands, named Sensei, to stop Kaos once and for all. As with all previous entries the story is serviceable, often amusing, occasionally laugh out loud funny, especially when scenes involve Flynn voiced by the always excellent Patrick Warburton. Embarking on your adventure either solo or utilising the consistently reliable couch co-op you work your way through a series of creative, colourful worlds taking down Kaos and his new goons as you go.
What is interesting about Skylanders Imaginators is the customisation that is afforded to the player. Previously, some might say with a cynical mind, random toy-based elements have been the focus of new titles and the games have been moulded around these. These titles inevitably mean more toys to buy for those poor parents and more money to be made, for example Superchargers (cars). This time around though there is indeed something new to be purchased for you lovely parents out there, players arenít confined to just using the predetermined characters out of the box. Creation crystals are now part of the Skylanders world and are used to allow you to create your very own character. Place the crystal on the portal and a wealth of customisation options appear. Itís easy to think at this point that the customisation options would be quite light, this is after all a kidsí game and wouldnít often present much of a challenge to complete, however youíd be mistaken for thinking that as there are a wealth of options available to you. Itís oddly satisfying taking on the fairly lengthy campaign (ten to twelve hours) with your very own Skylander rather than using one of the standard out of the box toys, and there are plenty of options for you to customise. A total of ten character classes are presented, included such standard class bases as the dual wielding Swashbuckler (rogue), to the Brawler (melee) and the Bowslinger (ranged).
Character customisation is a real treat for the little ones giving the player the ability to dictate a number of options right down to the two stage catchphrase that your character rolls out upon winning each encounter (ďFear the musicĒ being a favourite) - keeping in tune with the Skylanders tone, these are frequently hilarious. In addition to this new feeling of creation and control you are then treated to a loot element seeing multiple types of items drop through the course of the campaign, chests can contain common items all the way up to the epic items which boost your character in a big way for the rest of the adventure. Items which drop include weapons, gear set items as well as visual-only items such as heads (and tails), as well as the aforementioned phrases, all of which can easily be swapped out on the fly via the menu. The loot game is quite strong inSkylanders Imaginators adding a new loot grind angle to an already fun and engaging experience. Itís not deep enough for adults to start buying into the Skylanders world with no youngling in tow but for Skylanders, itís a damn fine addition.
Sadly as ever Activision arenít in this to be nice and to make you happy for no return, there are one or two catches along the way. Firstly the new Imaginators crystals have the ability to create and hold one single character, therefore there is no opportunity to create a few, see which one you like and then commit. This is a shame especially as once you have chosen itís locked in, forever. This therefore creates a potential money pit for all the parents out there. Secondly the introduction of thirty Sensei is yet another excuse for you to buy more toys, and if you want access to all the content within the game you are unfortunately going to need to buy a few. The Sensei themselves are serviceable enough and by using them you boost the level cap of your very own creation, but as you discover that all that sweep loot can only be applied to your character, if you have a starter pack only one player is getting the full Imaginators experience...cha ching.
The game itself is very much in keeping with previous entries but pushed forward as a result of some of these RPG-like additions. Graphically sumptuous in places, generally amusing throughout yet adhering to set formula, the campaign even without side missions presents a genuinely fun experience from start to finish. Level design is nice and varied with missions mixed up by some one-off mechanic uses; for example some levels are heavily based on platforming, some are simple affairs seeing you beat up anything you come across along with both on the rails and Resogun-style shooting sections. The wealth of content doesnít stop there, the player also has the rather annoying yet easy enough door locking puzzle game and the always fun Skystones Ďcard gameí, the latter frequently rewarding the player with that sweet, sweet loot. Just in case this isnít enough content for you, you can of course choose to take selfies across key points within the campaign which all reward you with a loot box - a clear sign of the times that taking a selfie is a gameplay mechanic which is rewarded!
Skylanders Imaginators is a great step for the franchise, far from perfect and still quite the drain on the wallet but fresh enough to keep even the most fatigued Skylander player (or parent) coming back for more. The addition of the joyous loot grind along with (finally) the ability to create your own Skylander, coupled with a lengthy yet colourful and downright fun campaign, Skylanders Imaginators shows that this is one toys-to-life franchise that isnít going anywhere.