Skylanders Imaginators (Switch) Review
The Skylanders series is an interesting series, another one at risk of a relatively quick death from over saturation. Imaginators, which came out in September last year, is a peculiar choice for the Switch. Not only is the port late, but it’s also not as feature complete as other versions of the game and yet it also brings some other stuff to the table that other versions don’t. The result is a product that is superior in some ways, inferior in others.
Skylanders Imaginators is pretty much the same game you might have played last year. The story is simple – Kaos is a bad guy and you as the good guys must stop him from doing bad things. If it sounds like I’m grossly oversimplifying things I am, but the story is basic enough to give context to the platforming that Skylanders games have come to be known for. Perhaps in a move to align it more with the companion Netflix show, the characters all have much more noticeable (and dare I say charming) personalities too.
As you’d expect, the main new addition to Imaginators is the Imaginator Skylanders type. Essentially, these are Skylanders that are creatable and customisable by you. Each created Skylander requires a creation crystal of the element type that you need. The creation system is surprisingly robust, with all kinds of customisation options available to the player – though it’s strange that these crystals cannot be erased and used again completely – but it does make sense given Activision’s love for money.
Continuing that trend, the pieces you can create a Skylander with are found inside Imaginite Chests. These give you new body parts for your Skylanders as well as new voices, weapons and body builds to play around with. Your creations can be customised and changed on-the-fly which is a great touch if you want to experiment constantly with your created Skylander. The only thing you can’t change is your battle class, which works similarly to the abilities in Swap Force, so choose wisely!
The Sensei Skylanders are arguably the star of the show here, and their inclusion is welcome. Akin to Giants and Swappable characters from the previous games, they offer new ways to explore the game’s reasonably large overworld and visually busy attacks. The combat is simple, mind you, but the way the sensei move and attack looks great. The Sensei that are available at the time of writing are all varied enough that buying a few doesn’t feel like you’re short-changing yourself too.
Although this variation in the Sensei Skylanders can work against some aspects of the game. Some of the slower Skylanders can’t dash or run around which can be annoying during combat if you’ve got a character equipped who’s more slower and plodding. You can work it out so that your character has abilities which can technically act as a dash, but it’s such a clumsy way to do so that it’s probably not worth bothering.
Not to keep ragging on them, but the slower Skylanders also struggle with basic platforming – some of them struggle to clear certain jumps where a run/dash function would probably prove more helpful. It’d be remiss to expect platforming elements of synonymous quality with games like the Super Mario series, but some of this game’s worst platforming sequences could get frustrating for someone who hasn’t bought several toys and is only stuck with what’s in the Start Pack.
When you’re not customising your Skylander you’ll no doubt be exploring the world, and Imaginators delivers one that’s a blast to explore. The overworld map, which is fun to explore, is filled with characters to talk to about quests as well as portals to hidden locations containing collectibles that’ll give you more pieces for your Skylander too. There’s a lot to do and see here with at least a seven to ten hours experience depending on how much you explore, though this could easily triple for those looking to find everything Imaginators has to offer.
One of the questions that is asked about Skylanders so much is just how much of the experience can be played with what comes in the box. In short, almost everything. Those looking to purchase extra toys will have a much easier time. In our review for the Wii U version, it took our writer 15 hours to wrangle about 24% of the gear available out of the game. While my own focus wasn’t to find everything, I extrapolate similar results from my play data. You can, of course replay levels to unlock more gear, though I’m almost certain Activision would rather you buy gear, either through physical chests or digital microtransactions.
The biggest question over Imaginators is whether the Switch release is necessary and whether it uses the features of the Switch to its fullest potential. There are some great ideas here – your figurines must be scanned in using the system’s NFC reader (though for some reason, they must be scanned in twice) and aren’t required ever again. It’s a great idea for a game that could potentially be played on the go, though the way Skylanders are sorted means that Imaginators on Switch isn’t quite so pleasurable for those with larger collections. For younger audiences, the “magic” can also be gone if figures aren’t involved.
Perhaps the most annoying thing about Imaginators on Switch is that it locks out certain toys from previous games, which almost goes against the whole foundations that the Skylanders franchise is built upon. Trap Team and Superchargers’ traps and vehicles, respectively, will not work with the Switch version of Skylanders. While this means Bowser and Donkey Kong aren’t fully usable either, it also means anyone who didn’t buy Skylanders toys for a previous system will be locked out of some content in Imaginators. Given the rarity of even some Imaginators figures in the Australia retail space right now, that’s a pretty big downfall.
From a visual standpoint, the Switch version performs reasonably well. When played while docked, it looks great with a pretty steady framerate, though not anywhere near as dense and vibrant as the Playstation 4 version. When taking the game out and about, the game is clearly playing at a lower resolution. Without being too harsh, the visual fidelity of the game suffers quite a bit when playing portably on the Switch. It’s not a huge deal breaker, as this is presumably an offset for being able to take the game out and about, but we’ve (already) seen better handheld experiences on the Switch.
Skylanders Imaginators might do a serviceable job at scratching that platforming itch left by the absence of games like Super Mario Odyssey, but it just feels like yet another Skylanders game. While the Switch version brings more hardware appropriate features to the table, it still feels slightly inferior to other versions, especially as it’s missing content. Issues aside, Imaginators is bound to be a hit with younger audiences, but just be warned it’s a franchise that’s truly starting to stagnate.
Note: Screenshots are taken from Nintendo’s website, the game does not allow you to use the Switch’s capture button.