Review: Skylanders: Imaginators (Wii U)

Imagination is key in the series’ latest iteration!

By Marc Deschamps. Posted 12/08/2016 07:00 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
1-Up Mushroom for...
Character creation is fun, intuitive and deep; Sensei figures are some of the series' best; narrative puts focus on popular characters like Spyro
Poison Mushroom for...
Paid DLC feels like gouging when the game is already expensive enough

After five previous Skylanders titles, it was hard to imagine where Activision could go next with the franchise. Sales of toys-to-life games and their corresponding figures have been far more modest of late, causing competing franchise Disney Infinity to abruptly fold. While the playing field may be a bit smaller now, Skylanders: Imaginators proves that the genre is far from dead, as long as Activision still has some ideas left in the tank.

The main hook for Skylanders: Imaginators is in the game’s namesake. Imaginators are custom characters that enter the game the same way every other figure joins: through the Portal of Power. Placing one of the series’ new Creation Crystals on the portal allows players to begin designing a character. Players choose a permanent character class but everything after that can be adjusted throughout gameplay, as more options are continually unlocked. Nearly every achievement in the game provides additional skins, weapons, and even catchphrases (“Check out the Pancake House!”). While the majority of the options exist solely for aesthetic purposes, weapons and gear can also increase stats like attack and speed. As a result, the game takes on some RPG-like characteristics as players continually fine-tune their creations.


Where Skylanders: Imaginators truly succeeds is in the quality of the customized characters. Player-created characters in video games stereotypically come across as generic, but that’s often not the case, here. The option choices blend rather seamlessly, and the resulting designs feel every bit as authentic as those created by Activision. It’s very easy to grow attached to your own Imaginator, and players will likely prefer to use them over anyone else the game has to offer.

Cynics might question how a toys-to-life game can make money when the characters are being designed by the players themselves, but Activision clearly thought this one through. Skylanders: Imaginators offers perhaps the greatest variety of ways to spend money the franchise has ever seen. Fans can have their custom creations put on t-shirts and trading cards or order 3D-printed Skylanders figures. There are additional Creation Crystals (which are required for creating additional Imaginators), Sensei figures, and, in another first for the series, paid DLC. The latter seems to be a bit of an overreach on Activision’s part. With a game that already costs nearly $80 at retail before all the extra figures and Creation Crystals, the addition of paid DLC is the one area that really comes across as unnecessary gouging.

In addition to the custom Imaginators, the game also introduces the aforementioned Sensei Skylanders. These new characters allow Imaginators to reach higher levels and learn new moves, while serving in the role of the latest toys added to the franchise. The Sensei characters are easily some of the best designed Skylanders figures released to date. The evolution from the first series to the current one is impressive to say the least. The line also gets a boost from existing characters like series villain Kaos and former PlayStation mascot Crash Bandicoot (currently a timed Sony exclusive).


Outside of the creation element, Skylanders: Imaginators retains the majority of features of its predecessors. The gameplay is still a mix of dungeon-crawling, platforming, and puzzle-solving, with the series’ trademark humor remaining intact. Vehicles, introduced in Skylanders: SuperChargers, also make a return, albeit in a smaller role. Imaginators features a side racing game that can be accessed at any point from the main menu. Races can also be accessed later in the main game, but they can be skipped during the central narrative.

While all the costs associated with Imaginators can seem daunting, the game is still compatible with every Skylanders figure and vehicle released thus far. In fact, the story even places a spotlight on fan favorite figures, such as Stealth Elf, Eruptor, and Jet Vac. Fans of Spyro the Dragon will also be happy to know that the character not only gets a large role, but an area from the character’s original series appears this time, as well. With these older faces playing key roles, long-time fans that “only” get the starter set likely won’t feel too left out. This detail helps the franchise feel like a more worthwhile investment for parents looking at toys-to-life titles, giving the figures themselves the kind of longevity Disney Infinity never quite matched.

All in all, Skylanders: Imaginators offers a ton of content, regardless of how many accessories players choose to purchase. At its worst, the title can sometimes exemplify the greediest excesses of the toys-to-life craze, but long-time fans will still find plenty to offer, as well. Toys-to-life fans and those who love creating custom characters will find a lot to enjoy, but newcomers on a fixed budget may want to look elsewhere.

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