At this point, the Skylanders series has basically done it all in the world of toys-to-life. They helped popularize the genre on gaming consoles (it was already a thing on PC with kids lines like Webkinz), made the figures bigger, tackled multi-part toys, added traps to capture NPCs, and even vehicles into the mix. Their most recent big gamble is full-on creation tools, in the form of creation crystals that allow players to craft their own characters, in tandem with the new pre-build “Sensei” toys. It’s an awful lot to keep track of, but being able to play Skylanders Imaginators on the go using the Switch helps break all of that down.
So what’s new on the Switch? Well, it doesn’t need a portal, and thank goodness because I have an entire box dedicated to those plastic monstrosities. Instead, it utilizes the NFC capabilities of the Switch tablet (specifically the right analogue stick), much like amiibo. Going out and sharing the game is the easiest it’s ever been now that it’s not tethered to a Wii U GamePad and/or a bulk extra accessory (players can also scan characters into a digital library and summon them at will after they’ve scanned them twice—a measure Activision refers to as “anti-theft protection”. I miss the giant portal to an extent and wouldn’t mind seeing it again in a future iteration, but I got used to it this time around on the Switch. It’s also, strangely, one of the only games on the Switch that currently supports the touchscreen. It might just be for menus, but it’s slick all the same.
There is one major downside however. The Switch version, for whatever reason, does not support vehicles from Skylanders SuperChargers or traps from Trap Team. As someone who owns all of them, I was disappointed, as the races are a fun way to pass the time. Well that, and “forward compatibility” is something the series prides itself on, and this is the first time the chain has been broken. Granted, traps, just like Skylanders SuperChargers, only work as “boost” power-ups in the other versions, so you aren’t missing much from that omission even if the loss of vehicles does sting—especially so since this means that Donkey Kong and Bowser’s Barrel Blaster and Clown Cruiser (respectively) don’t work on a Nintendo system.
As for the game itself, it’s basically the same as it was late last year. Combat is simplistic but more than functional, with bright hues constantly rocking the screen as well as colourful characters that have a lot to say (including the catchphrases that players can program into them). On paper, the Skylanders series doesn’t seem like much, but after playing just one of them you’ll easily see why the games warranted their own cartoon series and massive following. Each development team puts a lot of soul into their work, as do the animators and voice actors that help these creatures come to life.
Unfortunately, the microtransactions are here to stay. While earning loot quicker in a well-paced game that’s targeted at kids isn’t a necessity, it’s the very notion that gets me. It’s not just tucked away in a menu either; it’s tied to some loot chests and can be sprung on you after pressing an errant button. I didn’t expect that the Switch version would eliminate this cash cow entirely, but I did hope that they would tone it down a bit.
A Diablo style loot system is the cornerstone of Skylanders Imaginators, and drove me to not only finish the campaign, but to continue and go for a full completion run. There are extras in each level to locate and quite a bit of replay value with added difficulty runs, as the bulk of the data is saved into the figure. “Bringing your character over to a friend’s house” was kind of a pain in the past, but with the Switch, you can literally just bring the tablet and play in handheld mode.
The Switch version had the potential to be the clear-cut definitive edition, but a few compromises were made along the way. It might not seem like much to someone who’s diving into the series for the first time, but the lack of vehicle and trap support feels like a missed opportunity.
Still, as a hack and slash for the entire family, Skylanders Imaginators proves that the Skylanders series is still more than relevant.