Imagination limit reached.
It certainly feels like Skylanders has been around forever. One of the original “toys-to-life” experiences, the first title in the series – Spyro’s Adventure – actually released just six years ago. Since then, the series has received an annual iteration in typical Activision style; each new addition given its own gimmick to try and keep things fresh. This time around, that new feature is the titular Imaginators.
If you’ve never played a Skylanders title before, you are probably wondering what it’s all about. Let’s start there. Essentially a 3D platformer, you play as a character that you scan into the game using the Nintendo Switch’s NFC feature (similar to amiibo) and will then then appear on the screen. As you progress through the levels and solve the puzzles, your characters can level up and learn new abilities – all of which are stored on the chip encased within your plastic figurine.
Looking past the basic mechanics of the game, the story goes that series antagonist Kaos returns to cause problems. Whilst you could argue that this enemy clearly doesn’t learn his lesson, it’s no denying that he has learned about the ancient abilities long-forgotten, and he soon unleashes new monsters upon the Skylanders. His boastfully-named “Doomlanders” will all have to be defeated as you quest across the different areas on the Skylands; your other jobs being to rescue a variety of non-player characters, and wade through what is typically a generic story. You’ll need to solve puzzles along the way of course, and each mission has a series of basic objectives – but to be totally honest with you… it was all a bit boring.
You start in the central Skylands hub, and as you unlock new levels you’ll follow a trail of breadcrumbs to unlock each new zone. Aside from slight differences in look however, the zones all essentially play the same. You move from one section of the level to the next, occasionally stopping to fight waves of enemies or the occasional mini-boss. Sometimes you’ll be required to move a block around to access some harder to reach areas, or complete a puzzle mini game – like moving a creature around to unlock doors, or playing a card game to move on to the next area. None of this poses any real challenge.
While the majority of the gameplay centres around your typical 3D platforming fare, there are some side-scrolling sections, and a few bits where you glide on rails and other such things. For the most part though, you’ll be walking around (very slowly), pounding the attack buttons, and moving to the next section. The action is very much the same as before, and feels fairly stale as a result. Don’t even get me started on the awful character voices; and while the game’s music suits it well enough, the jolly and chirpy tunes will also get annoying after a while.
The better parts of the game however, are the bits that revolve around the Imaginators. By activating a creation crystal (one is supplied with the base pack), you’ll be able to create your own Skylander from the parts available – which further depend on what your character’s level is, and how much “imaginite” you’ve accumulated on your travels. Being able to stamp your own take on things is quite refreshing, and my son certainly enjoyed this bit. The thing is, you seem to only be able to do this with other crystals for differing types, and that’s kind of what aggravates me the most.
So to truly get the most out of this game, you are going to need a plethora of different characters; and this new release coincided with the availability of the bigger and more detailed Sensei types. Two of these new figures are included in the package of course, but the problem is that these new bits all cost more money than the standard figurines that came before them. Worse yet, there are many areas in the game which are inaccessible without having a specific character (that you’ll have to purchase separately). Though you can complete the core game with the characters packaged in, it very much feels like you can’t get the most out of the game without additional purchases. Such a revelation could get very expensive – not unlike LEGO Dimensions, or the previous titles in this series. It’s what essentially boils down to “disk-locked content,” only using the figures to get away with it.
Speaking of figures, with more than 350(!) different Skylanders characters available to purchase, you’d probably be wondering how a system which promotes portability would manage a need to use such a variety of characters. There’s no way my kids could carry more than a handful of plastic toys and a gaming system safely outside of the house, and the whole thing could easily become quite unmanageable because of that. Thankfully, common sense has prevailed and Skylanders Imaginators allows you to scan the character in and store them in the memory – a first for the series. It takes away from the experience somewhat in that you aren’t then bringing the character to “life” within the game, but then the removal of the portal in this version has diminished that effect somewhat anyway. Add that to the fact that the Imaginator portion of the game renders the toys somewhat redundant, and it was obviously a no-brainer.
This aptly brings me to the end of the review – and at this point, I find myself looking at a game which is not only somewhat redundant, but also stale, boring, and potentially expensive. What initially was a clever idea, has now become nothing more than a rehashed cash-cow with little innovation or progress. Those of you with children may find that your little ones may enjoy the game, but you could easily find more value (and fun) in something else on the Switch.
Skylanders Imaginators feels tired. A game that either needs a significant break or possible retirement, it’s difficult to recommend to anyone but younger gamers – and parents would probably prefer to avoid it due to the additional character cost. There are plenty of other games more worthy of your cash, and if you desperately must have this game, buy it on another system where the starter pack will be cheaper.