I like to think I’m a strong-willed chap. I’m not enticed by gambling, I can pull myself away from a difficult situation and being rather antisocial means I don’t get swayed to spend money I can’t afford to spend. That being said, give me something that requires me to purchase additional apparatus to get the full gaming experience and I become a feeble slave to the machine! Last time I played Skylanders I spent way too much money on extra characters and level packs, and all I got was a little poorer and little disappointed. This time round however I’m putting my foot down, and Activision have very generously given me the best edition of their latest cash cow, so with 5 guys to play with there’s surely no need to buy any more … surely?
Skylanders: Imaginators is the latest adventure from the guys and gals of Activision and Skyland, available right now on every platform going. As with each release it comes packed with a gimmick, or a catch as parents like to think, and this time round it’s actually a great creative idea, and not just the addition of cars or characters that snap in half. In place of those Giants or SwapForce legends are new ‘Sensei’, mighty heroes of old packed with powerful skills and the ability to train fresh new talent, The Imaginators. Players will now need to purchase Imaginator Crystals, mystical new Skylanders that can be fully customised, from their name to their class, their weapon to their voice, gamers everywhere now have the power to create their own heroes completely from scratch! The plot follows the peaceful inhabitants of Skyland being once again threatened by, yep you guessed it, Kaos, who wishes to steal the secrets of the Imaginators and create his own army of Doomlanders. Featuring all your favourite cast, you must topple Kaos for the umpteenth time and save all of Skyland, all of course without spending your life savings in the process. It can be seen as a little snide having a yearly release with a uninteresting or poorly thought out gimmick, (just take the critically panned Superchargers for example), so is this just another case of the same crap but with a different name? Or is it actually worth your time and investment? This is honestly the most jam packed and enjoyable one yet!
The typical starter pack will give you everything you need to get your adventure started, 2 mighty Sensei and 1 Imaginator Crystal. Water Sensei King Pen will tear up the field with his razor-sharp claws, and Earth Sensei Golden Queen causes havoc in battle with her terrifying Scarabs. The Imaginator Crystal is a fire elemental, and when you first place it on your portal you will have full reign of what he or she can do, I picked the blisteringly savage Swashbuckler class. Now, I was lucky enough for Activision to send me the best edition of the game, giving me 2 additional Sensei to play with, the awesome Crash Bandicoot Starter Pack. The legendary Bandicoot harboured the power of Life, whereas the dastardly Dr Neo Cortex unleashes the power of all things tech. So, with 5 characters to play with I felt I was actually properly equipped with tackling this game with a fair advantage, rather than having to spend a stupid amount of money from the off just to get some variation and enjoyment out of it, so unfortunately if you want the best out of this game, you’ll have to spend a bit of money or fork out on a more expensive starter pack. As a cheaper alternative to buying more Sensei, you could always shell under a tenner for another crystal, as if anything, you can get far more enjoyment and variation out of creating your own characters, and the fact that you are constantly on the hunt for new equipment to improve them, they are very easily more powerful than anyone you can buy. Each level is rife with purple chests which contain a random piece of Imaginite, which when obtained can be a weapon, armour or a new head to try out. The fact that you can be rewarded with potentially awesome kit for your Imaginator is a great incentive to going the extra mile and trying to fully complete each level, meaning that for the first time in the franchise, I actually feel encouraged and inspired to slog it out for a few extra hours more, just to see if I’ll get anything awesome, much like an RPG.
Of course with anything that rewards you greatly for playing, for a small price you can be rewarded even quicker with very minimal effort. This is where Skylanders: Imaginators gets a little … dangerous. Imaginite is split into 4 categories: common, rare, epic & ultimate, and are randomly generated and free to collect throughout the game, however for just X amount of real cash, you can receive guaranteed ultimate imaginite instantly, at the touch of a button. At least with Skylanders in the past you had to go into a shop to spend more money on the game, however in a day and age where paying for stuff online can be done in only a few clicks, this opens up for the possibility of players racking up huge bills for stuff that can be obtained by cheaper, alternative means. Another thing I noticed which is a little cheeky, is that NPCs on the map can approach you and recommend characters for you to buy, even when you’re in the middle of a mission. Of course, you can’t buy characters via the game, but it’s still a rather sneaky attempt at encouraging kids to pester their parents for more money.
Anyway, enough about the corporate shadows lurking in Skyland, let’s get back to the game, which seems to be now inspired by Crash & Spyro games of old. No longer are you trotting round the Skylander Academy in search of quests, now you can trot around the entire kingdom and enter each domain like a warp room. Throughout the course of the story you’ll unlock new levels to explore, and though Skylanders may be in its 6th incarnation with 5 very similar games behind it, I can honestly say that it’s never felt so fresh nor been this exciting. Each level is incredibly vibrant, action packed and difficult, with plenty of incentives swarming throughout each area to encourage you to search every nook & cranny. Every level is full to the brim with secret pathways, puzzles and challenges, like these massive scattered gongs, that when struck will commence a chaotic battle royale that can kill your little guys if you’re not careful. On the surface, Imaginators is a colourful and easy video game that will keep your children quiet and your wallet empty, however underneath all that is a very cleverly written and a terrifyingly tricky platformer that will excite any old school gamer willing to give it a crack!
In short, Skylanders: Imaginators is the best entry in the franchise to date and cements it as the top dog when it comes to custom, figure-using platforms, or whatever the correct labelling is. That being said, it does work out as being the most expensive entry in the franchise with all the new pricey Sensei you’ll want to buy, not to mention all those Imaginite Crystals you’ll find yourself collecting. Each year the franchise adopts a new gimmick, some worse than others, however Imaginators is without a doubt the most creative, unique and genuine ‘value for money’ one yet, what with it’s terrific customisation and difficult jam packed levels. It’s a shame that with every Skylanders game, you really need to spend a fair bit of moolah in order to get off to the best of starts, but if you part with your cash and invest in the Crash Bandicoot edition, not only will you get 2 fantastic additional characters, but you’ll also unlock the best level in the entire game. Imaginators needed to be great, and by jingo it is. I for one am looking fondly into the future of the franchise, and permitted they learn from past mistakes, the talented team behind Britain’s most wanted Christmas present can deliver yet another brilliant adventure in 2017.