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Skylanders Imaginators (PlayStation 4) artwork

Skylanders Imaginators (PlayStation 4) review

"Another high-quality Skylanders game that fans of the series won't want to miss."

The other week, after I read a high-quality article on a site I like, I clicked on one of the promoted links that appear at the end of some quality posts around the Internet. My click took me to someone's list of 10 games that I would theoretically be ashamed to let my friends know that I play. It was an eclectic list, and I own almost all of the titles featured. Most of them are awesome. One of the ones included in the ranking was "Skylanders."

If you've played any of the Skylanders games (and I realize that a lot of adult gamers still haven't, for various reasons), you already know that the series is terrific. Sure, you have to place collectible plastic toys on a plastic pedestal in order to play, but the experience that follows is definitely solid. The series has been going strong for six installments now. The latest--and perhaps final--entry in the franchise is Skylanders Imaginators, which is again very good. I recommend playing it, and I recommend not being ashamed to suggest that others do the same. I also recommend not making the mistake of reading those junky network site articles, but that's a topic for another day.

Skylanders Imaginators again takes place in the fictional island world of Skylands, where the nefarious Kaos is again plotting to take over the world. This is his sixth attempt that games have documented, and it feels rather halfhearted. He seeks out an ancient magical being who can give him spectacular knowledge, and then he uses that knowledge--briefly and rather inadequately--and then the Skylanders characters (guided by you, their "portal master") stop him. Roll credits.

Past Skylanders games have featured some very clever writing and also some terrific voice acting from Hollywood talent. The latter is again the case here, but most of the writing in the main campaign is disappointingly tedious. Awesome characters from past installments are now offered only bit parts, and there's a chance that when you play through the game, you won't even see some of the funniest bits. I played through the game for the purpose of writing a guide, which required me to dig through every corner of the admittedly large world. I hate to think about other folks who buy the game, beat it and yet never see some of the exchanges that had me laughing out loud. The fact that the game elicited genuine chuckles is a big deal to me, too, because it's rare that a game even manages to make me crack a smile.

Put aside the disappointing story, though, and Skylanders Imaginators really shines. The visuals are among the finest that I've yet seen from the series, and some of the levels are just plain gorgeous. Early on, there's one particularly memorable stage that finds players exploring a mushroom forest and then rafting down a river. It's lovely. And there are other stages that look every bit as good, like one where you ascend a high mountain, riding on gusts of air and grabbing special wings that let you descend a series of platforms in the clouds. The game is a feast for the eyes.

But enough about that. You may be wondering what the "Imaginators" in the title refers to, and that's very fair and perceptive of you. After all, past installments have been built around gimmicky additions such as the "giants" and even the "swap force," which let you mix and match body halves to create unique combinations. The "Imaginators" that players encounter here feel like an extension of the latter, actually. You can take basic template characters and teach them special new moves, using power crystals. There are all sorts of parts to mix and match, which you randomly receive as rewards for clearing stages. I've played the game for dozens of hours and I still don't have them all, because there are tons of sets and so many hours in the day.

To learn the best moves, of course, you need to collect "Sensei" characters. A few come with the game, if you purchase a starter pack. They are large characters that you can power up and teach amazing moves at hidden shrines. They fall within one of the 10 elements, and use one of the 10 weapon types. To access absolutely everything, that means you need a minimum of around 15 Sensei characters, and some of those characters aren't even available--last I checked--except as part of special adventure packs that cost around $40 a pop. That kind of stinks, especially if you're a kid with a limited budget and you want to see everything, but it's not as big a deal as it might sound like it should be. As long as you have a character of each element type, you can see very nearly every stage and event the game has to offer. The rest is just (completely unnecessary) gravy.

Another thing worth mentioning is the sheer variety of collectibles available in the game, whether you have the right plastic figurines or not. Many of them are intended only for Imaginator customization, but there are numerous other trinkets that are considerably more useful. They give you the option of unlocking special abilities for the various Sensei characters that you may or may not purchase separately, or they improve the weapon strength of all characters of a particular type. There also are trophies to gather, a pursuit that gives players ample reason to revisit stages a time or two... or three, or four. Some of the loot is hidden away quite expertly, so you may need to consult a guide to find it all.

And finally, I really should comment on the special stage that I played through, which was devoted to the Crash Bandicoot character. Several versions of the PS4 game, including the one that I received, include that Crash figurine. I believe he is also available separately. If you set the figurine on your pedestal, you unlock a stage that he can access, which is modeled closely after the classic Crash Bandicoot games from the original PlayStation era. You even can bounce from crates, and there are segments where you run toward the screen while a giant ball rolls after you, like a scene from an Indiana Jones movie. I wanted to like the stage a lot, especially since it does such a great job of capturing the general vibe of the original games, but it honestly left me feeling rather flat (and no, that wasn't a clever way of saying that I let the giant ball catch me and roll over me; that never happened). I'm glad to see Activision paying homage to the IP rather than letting it collect dust, but a full-on new game would probably work better.

In any event, Skylanders Imaginators is a generally enjoyable next installment in a series that doesn't get nearly the love it deserves, at least not from adults. It's loaded with fun mini-games, inventive level design, and plenty of items to gather, plus it looks good enough that you might forget how disappointing the central plot is compared to previous narrative highs that the franchise has reached. I wouldn't necessarily recommend this game as your starting point if you're trying to dip your toe in the delightful Skylanders waters, but it's a nice continuation of something great. Don't be ashamed to give it a shot...


honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (December 26, 2016)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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