The last time I reviewed Skylanders it was for the launch of Nintendo’s Wii U. I remember being surprised at the quality of the scannable figurines, a little shocked at how endearing the story and characters were, and surprised that Activision managed to hold off what could’ve been a serious demand for people’s money. Sure, areas of each stage were locked unless you had the right elemental figurine, but it didn’t stop you from having fun, and gave you something new to do should you pick up another Skylander.
First impressions are everything, so when the voices for the characters didn’t match up with the facial animation, I was apprehensive. This was replaced by complete disappointment when the 90 second load times appeared. With the cartridge tech available, this is simply inexcusable. To be met with the low quality resolution of the game and its simple assets after such long load times only added insult to injury.
I saw the potential for the series, gave it a solid 7.5, and was curious to see how the gameplay might grow as the series progressed. It turns out Activision were thinking something similar, but instead of focusing on gameplay, they clearly looked at where their main profits for the series came from and acted appropriately.
31 new Skylanders join the roster. The figurines are bigger and more expensive than those that started the series, but those extra dollars get you a seriously high quality scannable figurine. But Imaginators is bringing something completely new to the table: Imaginators.
Kaos is back, of course, and this time he’s doing his best to create an ultimate army of Doomlanders thanks to the powers of the ancients. Thankfully, you’re given the ability to do the same thanks to unlockable Imaginator pieces “found” along the way. I say “found” as you effectively get new pieces for any goal, big or small. It’s less about finding them and more about building up a huge collection of items so that you can start creating from as soon as possible.
Imaginators doesn’t stop there though. If you’re saying “well, that’s okay, Reagan. I’ll just buy one of each element. That’s only seven – I don’t need all 31!” do you think you managed to outsmart Imaginators? Imaginators wants you to have all of them. You might be happy with your Bazooker-classed fire-type, but there are nine other battle types you can create just for the fire-types, and you sure as hell can’t use a single Creation Crystal to store all of your creations on.
See, Imaginators wants you to build your own Skylander. Imaginators wants you to buy a non-resettable Creation Crystal that you can store a single Imaginator in. And Imaginators wants you to take a look at the 31 Creation Crystals (three versions of each element, and four sensei variants) on offer so you can buy at least one of each element.
So you’ve bought the starter pack, and you decide to give the character figurines a miss because you’re focusing on creating. You’ve picked up another couple of Creation Crystals and you’re ready to get started. Only something grabs your eye, it’s a small advert for the Skylanders Creator app for your smart device. Hey, why not, right? This way you can look through the items you’ve collected, view your creations, and, while the app is open, order that customised t-shirt, an NFC card of your character, and a high quality scannable version of them too.
None of this would be a problem if I was sitting here blown away at how far the series has come. Afterall, developers and publishers do deserve compensation for the time and effort put in, and if you’re giving consumers extra value (even if it comes at extra cost) then you’ve got yourself a great business plan. But after forcing myself through a decent chunk of Imaginators I started to wonder if Activision and Toys for Bob were taking advantage of their younger fans’ obsession with the franchise.
Skylanders: Imaginators is doing nothing the series wasn’t already doing, it’s just doing it in a more overt way. It’s bored with hiding its monetisation behind things like fun and subtlety. Instead of a focus on story and mechanics, Imaginators simply wants you to build a custom creation. When you’re done with that, they want you to make another.