Skylanders Imaginators Preview: Imagination to Life

For over five years Skylanders has sparked the imaginations of kids of all ages.

The series started the toys-to-life craze and hasn’t quit, allowing players to bring over 300 characters from real life into the worlds of multiple successful games. And on October 16th, Toys for Bob and Activision are bringing the biggest innovation to the series yet with Skylanders Imaginators.

On September 20th we were invited to the Toys for Bob studio in Novato, CA for a hands-on demo of Skylanders Imaginators and a look into how this new entry in the series came to be. After the release and success of Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure in 2011, the team was flooded with fan art. Kids sent in drawings of Skylanders from the game and ones they had come up with on their own. Adults sent in professional designs of their own characters and some even sent in level designs.

Once we walked into the studio it was hard to ignore the walls adorned in colorful promotional signs and tiny Skylanders still preserved in their boxes. Not far from the entrance was a section of wall covered in some of the first fan drawings and glass cases holding the earliest character and portal prototypes. The tiki bar-themed studio is obviously a hotbed for creativity and imagination.

The core of Skylanders Imaginators is making good on those early dreams of creating whatever Skylander your imagination can think of. The team wanted to make a customization system that works for everyone who plays the game. Young players have enough control over individual pieces to make a unique character, called an Imaginator, and jump right into the game. Older players who have experience with customization systems like in Skyrim or World of Warcraft can spend hours fine-tuning their perfect Imaginator.

Imaginators tells the story of the Ancients who used powerful Mind Magic to create everything in Skylands, as long as they could imagine it. But the Ancients feared the powerful magic could fall into evil hands and decided to lock it away forever. Of course, this doesn’t stop bad guy Kaos from discovering Mind Magic and using it to create an army of Doomlanders to terrorize Skylands. As Portal Masters, players will need to create Imaginators to fight against Kaos. To help train these new creations, players will be using Senseis sent by Eon.

At Toys for Bob we were given extensive time to experiment with creating our own Imaginators. It starts by taking a Creation Crystal and putting it on your Portal. Creation Crystals are aligned with their own elements which works just like in previous Skylanders games to infuse an Imaginator with fire, water, life, tech, and more. You can then select what battle class you want your Imaginator to be. Ninjas, Brawlers, Quickshots, Bowslingers, Knights, and Sorcerers are just some of the ten classes to choose from.

With your battle class and element selected, it’s time to figure out what your Imaginator will look like. There are options to choose what kind of head, body, legs, arms, backpack, ears, and different pieces of armor you want to equip. In our demo there was a little under 20 options for each customizable category but pages of options that would be available in the final build. From a baby head with a robot body to a skeleton with butterfly wings and disco pants, it really felt like the possibilities were endless! And in a game about using your imagination to create characters that will be fighting for you in the game, there couldn’t be anything more fun.

Playing through the game is how you will unlock further skins and items to be used for customization. Whether it’s through discovering hidden treasures, competing in mini-games, or beating bosses, more and more options to make a new Imaginator will become available. Even finding every piece of a set will reward you with a unique item to add to the list of things you can dress your Imaginator up with. Toys for Bob isn’t pushing players towards any particular kind of look for their creations either. If you want your character to look as goofy as possible or like a true warrior of Skylands, then go for it! It’s a system that is so easy to use and really fun to work with. While I do love spending time in character creators, I often give up when trying to figure out what specific slider makes my ideal looking character. Skylanders Imaginators allows for both nuanced and drastic changes. And because one adjustment can make your character look so different, experimentation is even more fun.

A welcome surprise in the creation process was being able to create how your Imaginator sounds. What good is a hero without their own catchphrase? In Skylanders Imaginators, any player can make a catchphrase for their creation to say throughout the game. Whether it’s a spider baby saying “be prepared for hugs” or a robot with a top hat talking about taking over Skylands, you will be sure to add another layer of personality to your Imaginator, or just have something funny to laugh at.

Just like with their visual appearance, Imaginator’s voices can be adjusted. A range of pitches and modules add different effects to voices. You can also adjust the genre of music that plays during the game’s action, or the type of sound effects that plays when you jump or attack. Kids will definitely love being able to select the “gassy” option and have their Imaginator jump around while country music plays. Defeating Doomlanders, unlocking treasure, and beating Troll Radio mini-games will also unlock more sound options.

Skylanders Imaginators has a massive amount of options for players who want to create their dream Skylander. Even in the short amount of time with the game, it was easy to see how much time someone could spend just creating. Because Skylanders figures are so accessible, you are able to take your Creation Crystal and bring it over to a friend’s house to play on their console or just show off what Imaginator you came up with that week.

The same simple and entertaining Skylanders gameplay is present in Imaginators and hasn’t taken a backseat to the creation aspect of the game. There are now areas in the game where Imaginators will be more powerful than other characters, earning bonus experience and doing more damage. Battle Classes allow you to fight enemies up close or at a distance. But there are also areas and items that only a specific battle class can access. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the game is also gorgeous. We played on PS4 and the time Toys for Bob has spent on this hardware shows because colors pop and the action is fast and smooth.

RPG fans will also get a kick out of their Imaginators because you will be building up your creation straight from level one. You start out with basic attacks but as you level up, you begin to learn more and can even select an upgrade path that you will be locked into. Senseis are the traditional Skylander figures that are included in starter packs and that you can buy at stores. Because they are meant to help train Imaginators, Senseis give boosts to your creations.

After putting a Sensei on the portal, you are informed that your Imaginator’s level cap is increased. But if you match a Sensei and Imaginator with the same battle class, then the Imaginator will unlock a secret technique that builds up over time. Senseis also possess Sky-Chi, which is a super move specific to them. 31 Senseis will appear in the final game, with 11 of them being villains in previous games that are now fighting for good.

Senseis are tough-looking characters that evoke power and strength. You can see this in how they open up new weapons for Imaginators to use and make them stronger. Some areas in the game are definitely tough and your early level Imaginator might become overwhelmed and need the help of a Sensei. This is an interesting way that players of Skylanders Imaginators can create a bond between both the physical characters they can hold in their hands and the ones they create in the game.

Before my time with the game ended I was able to check out something I had been looking forward to for months: Crash Bandicoot. It has been far too long since Sony’s original mascot has been given appropriate time to shine. Skylanders initially seems like an odd place to put the beloved Bandicoot but it actually works. Imaginators has an entire Crash-themed level called Thumpin’ Wumpa Islands. The level features a lot of music-based elements but is also packed with Easter eggs for fans of the original games.

Toys for Bob has shown a lot of respect for Crash and his legacy. I had a huge smile on my face when Spyro appeared in the level and chatted it up with Crash. The classic sound effects are there when Crash spins and the section where you are chased by a boulder and Crash runs towards the screen made me extremely nostalgic. But it should also be a lot of fun for players who never got their hands on the series before. The design used for Crash and Dr. Neo Cortex in Imaginators looks so great, I wouldn’t mind if it was also used for the upcoming Crash Bandicoot remakes.

Skylanders Imaginators is shaping up to be a dream come true for fans of the series. For anyone who has been playing Skylanders for five years or who only recently have been enjoying the toys-to-life genre, this will be a hard one to miss. Unlike other games in the genre, players aren’t tied down to specific brands or names with Skylanders. The series has always featured creative creatures and fun characters to interact with. But Imaginators takes this to a whole new level by allowing kids of all ages to sit down and let their imaginations come to life before their eyes.

Skylanders Imaginators releases on October 16, 2016 for PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, and Wii U.

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