Love it or hate it, the toys to life genre continue to make headlines in the world of video games. Where much of the talk last year stemmed from newcomer, LEGO Dimensions, recent chat has come from the sizeable hole left by Disney and its sudden withdrawal from what was fast becoming a heated contest.
Although it’s been kept out of the spotlight somewhat, the Skylanders franchise still has a constant presence, even in these tumultuous times. With six games now under the belt (amid the various spin-offs of a small multimedia empire) it’s the most established series in the genre and doesn’t scare easily.
Instead of scaling things down with this year’s release, Activision and developer Toys For Bob seem to have stepped things up. The new game’s underlying premise is perhaps the series’ strongest and most empowering since the original Spyro’s Adventure. In a nutshell, players (or “Portal Masters” if you prefer) can now create their very own Skylanders using a wealth of crazy combinations.
The first step is choosing a Creation Crystal, an hourglass-like figure that lights up when placed on the portal. These come in a variety of style and colours, denoting the element of your Imaginator (Fire, Light, Undead etc.). From there, you select one of ten unique battle classes, each with their own combat techniques and abilities. For instance, Knights and Ninjas can handle themselves in close quarters while Bazookers and Bowslingers have a natural ranged advantage. Over time these classes are fleshed out as you unlock new moves, yet we’d struggle to call them all that expansive. When maxed out, you’ll have a character that has just as many moves as a normal Skylander, though sometimes less.
Visual customisation is where the Imaginators really get to show off. There are well over a thousand creation pieces to mix and match when building your character. Just about everything, from ears and shoulder guards to weapons and catchphrases, can all be altered using a growing supply of options. It’s a surprisingly in-depth creation tool and one that I continued to dip into throughout my playthrough.
One of the reasons for this is the constant barrage of loot the game throws at you. Up until now, the only way to jazz up your Skylanders has by placing goofy hats on them, often conferring small stat bonuses. Imaginators takes this one step further with dozens of gear sets, sending the series deeper into dungeon crawler territory.
Sadly, these options are strictly bound to Imaginators only. Regular characters, whether a Trap Master, Supercharger, Giant, or member of the Swap Force, cannot be retrofitted.
While on the subject of older figures, I found myself less inclined to grab mine from their various shelves and shoe boxes this time around. Although my series one Gill Grunt is still a force to be reckoned with, he and his ageing plastic posse bring less and less to the table each year. Not only are they overshadowed by the highly dynamic Imaginators, there are the Sensei characters, too.
These larger figures each ascribe to one of the game’s ten battle classes, from brawlers to sorcerers, and each have their own unique upgrades. What’s interesting about them is how they change the way this year’s Skylanders toys are positioned. Usually the developers have released two tiers of figures with one often being stronger and more versatile than the other. This year, however, there is no discrepancy. Instead of being cordoned off, Senseis are the baseline for this year’s range.
As always, it’s easy to get carried away with the new range of toys and how they spring to life once placed on the portal of power. However, beneath all that, is a gameplay formula that hasn’t really changed since the series was created. Bar the occasional mini-game, we’re treated to a mix of combat, platforming and puzzle solving, glued together with the occasional cutscene. Veteran gamers won’t find it all that enthralling but youngsters will no doubt continue to revel in this vibrant colourful world despite the simplicity of its mechanics.
Compared to last year’s Superchargers, Imaginators is certainly a step in the right direction. Instead of bolting something onto the existing formula, Toys For Bob have instead gone for reinvention. Being able to construct and share your own Skylanders isn’t a massive game changer, but it feels far more considered than other gimmicks.
Version Tested: PS4