The Toys to Life genre has been a type of game that has delighted and impressed parents with young children for a while now. Three heavy hitters have existed including Disney Infinity, Lego Dimensions, and Skylanders. Out of the three, only two remain with Disney Infinity shutting down last year after they released their Star Wars pack. With only two remaining, Toys for Bob (creators of Skylanders) and publisher Activision could have just sat back, chosen not to innovate and instead just rely on the fans from the Disney series to join them. Instead, Toys for Bob released one of the most impressive Skylanders to date with a slew of new characters and one very impressive feature that sets this release above all of the rest – the ability to create and outfit your own Skylander.
When you buy the Skylanders starter pack, you’ll get two characters, a base, the game, and a weird looking crystal floating in a chamber thing. The new characters are Sensei Skylanders who can teach your other Skylanders special moves. They are serviceable characters with Master King Pen being my favorite, but the real excitement for you and your kids will come with making your own characters. When you put that weird crystal object on the game’s base, it will open up a create a character screen that will ask you to pick a type for this Skylander. The first choice you make is permanent though, so be careful. Do you want to be a brawler, a gun shooting guy, a ninja type guy, etc. Each crystal figure has a elemental type as well and the one that came with the game was fire based. What this means is that the gameplay type you select for this character will be a fire elemental and that will never change since it’s tied to the crystal itself. You can buy additional crystals to make new characters, but the type of the crystal will always determine what type of character it is.
So, you have the crystal, now what? It’s time to make a character. This was by far the most fun I had in this game. Buying characters is always fun, and a lot of work goes into making the characters you play with special, but being able to create your own is on a whole different level. You’ll start by picking out the head, body, legs, arms, etc. and then move on to moves, voice, and personality. You can change the color scheme and mix and match body parts to create whatever type of character your heart desires. These changes aren’t permanent and you are actually encouraged to change them as you play the game. On the PS4, hitting the big black middle bar will bring up the option to do this and it’s as simple as changing some features and then jumping back into the game. My son is still a little young to fully play Skylanders levels, but he had a blast creating the character and mixing and matching. In the end, he had some sort of Tiki mask wielding warrior who sounded like a mad scientist who punches people with fire. It was awesome. But the character creation doesn’t end after you finalize your first character. As you play through the game, you’ll uncover chests that have crystals inside them. When you break them open, you will unlock additional items that can be used in the character creator. Some of these items even add stat bonuses like an RPG game. As I played the game, it became a sort of addictive side quest to find all of the items I could find in chests. This breathed new life into the game for me and was a very welcome addition to the toys to life genre.
The character creator is amazing and is worth a buy simply for that feature (if you’re already a Skylanders fan that is) but there is a game here as well. The gameplay is exactly what you know and love from other games in the series. Kaos is back trying to cause some…chaos…and it’s your job to stop him. In order to do so, you’ll make your way through some truly awesome platforming levels that rival some of the best platformers out there right now. Skylanders may have started years ago as a way to sell toys that you can play with in a video game, but it has morphed into a really fun, extremely well put together action platformer. Each level has it’s own flair and you’ll spend your time traversing it with a fellow Skylander guide. If you have no desire to play with the toys that come with Skylanders, you will do just as well with the ones they provide with the set. These characters, as well as the create a character, will give you everything you need to enjoy the game.
Skylander’s gameplay can best be described as an action platformer grab bag. You’ll begin with seemingly normal levels where you’re fighting enemies and before you know it you’re in a maze that involves some puzzle solving skills to get out of. Soon after you’re on a river, barreling down towards uncertain doom. The levels are incredibly varied and built in a way that evokes nostalgia from my childhood days of playing old school action platformers. Side quests are a plenty and hub worlds offer enough variety that you’ll always have something to do. Card games are back as well as the racing from the previous entry in the series. I typically don’t play these types of games, but Skylanders does action platforming so well that it’s hard to not feel drawn to it. Throw in the multiple levels of difficulty (including a really hard difficulty for the more avid gamers) and there is something here for all ages.
Another thing that Skylanders does incredibly well is it’s world building. The areas you’ll visit and the graphics displayed are incredibly well done. The actors doing the voice work also do an incredible job of bringing the world to life and my son sat spell bounded by the performances of the characters. He even laughed out loud watching me play during some moments when the action took a side step to some truly funny moments. This is a great game for those of you will small kids, just make sure your kids are old enough to do action platformers. There will be lots of jumping between platforms, fighting enemies, and some puzzle solving that involves some thinking. My son is too young for this so he watched me play, but if you have a 6 year old or above, I think that would be a great age to get them involved in the Skylander’s universe.
There is one thing you should know before getting into the Skylanders games, it can be expensive, but only if you go all in. You can buy the starter set and be fine with your two characters and a create a character. You will have everything you need to complete the game and enjoy it to the fullest. But, take a trip down the toys to life aisle at Target and you’ll quickly see that there are a ton of other figures to buy that will make any gamer drool at the aspect of collecting them all. You don’t need to buy these toys to enjoy the game, but as any young child will show you, they certainly enhance the game with their variety. Switching between characters while playing is a part of the fun and at about $15 a pop, it can get pricey to collect them. We have built up a healthy collection ourselves over time and with each release that collection is growing. It’s something to be cognizant of if you’re going to dive in to this game. Also to note, there are “in app purchases” in Skylanders, but these are optional. They will help you unlock character items faster, but it’s certainly not required.
Skylander Imaginators is the best Skylanders game I have played to date. The RPG aspect of creating your own character and the truly phenomenal platforming and world design will make any adult feel like a child again while playing with their kids. If you have been hesitant to jump into the toys to life games because of the large number of choices, rest assured that Skylanders is the highest quality toys to life game on the market. This is a great time to jump on board and experience the toys to life experience perfected after numerous other iterations. If you have played in the past, Imaginators also comes highly recommended due to the new character creation and parts collecting through the levels. There is enough here to warrant a purchase whether new to the series or a seasoned pro and kids (and adults) of all ages will enjoy the game.
*Reviewed on the PS4 with a copy of the game provided by Activision