Screen grab from Skylanders Imaginators.

Skylanders Imaginators: the game that lets kids create their own heroes

The latest in the role-playing platform series took its cues from fan art sent in by children

One of the perks that goes overlooked when making children’s games is the fan mail. Developers get piles of missives from kids. Some have ideas scrawled on ruled paper. Others have pictures drawn in crayon. The idea for the latest Skylanders entry came out of children’s enthusiastic responses.

“Ever since the beginning we got fan art,” says Paul Yan, associate creative director at Toys For Bob, the studio behind the series. “We received hundreds and hundreds of pieces of fan art.”

A lot of the drawings featured Skylanders’ popular characters, but many had the children’s own ideas for new heroes. Those who grew up with video games know the feeling. In the 8-bit days, players created their own Mega Man villains. Others drew their own Super Mario Brothers levels on graph paper.

With this creativity jamming their mailbox, Toys For Bob decided to focus on this when it came to their latest game, Skylanders Imaginators, to be released in October for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 and Wii U.

For the first time, players will be able to create their own heroes who are called Imaginators. They do it through a new toy called the Imagination crystal, which is tied to the eight elements of that universe. Players put the crystal on the portal, it glows alive, and their very own hero pops out in the video game.

In Skylanders Imaginators, the creation process starts off with players picking from one of 10 battle classes. This determines how the hero will fight. If they pick a ninja, they’ll be quick. If they choose a smasher, they’ll beat foes with heavy weapons but be a bit slower. Although they’ll be able to pick the fighting style, the type of Imagination crystal will determine the elemental affinity.

From there, players can choose the body parts such as the head, body, arms and legs. They can make their hero themed like a crab or mix and match it with robot hands and Spyro dragon horns. They can switch around the colour scheme. The possibilities are nearly limitless.

Screen grab from the game.
Once their appearances are settled, Imaginators need a personality. Players can mould that by coming up with an Imaginator’s voice, tag line and theme music. Like the rest of the character creation, there’s plenty to modify. Players can change the pitch and speed of the voice to make a character sound like a chipmunk or a burly giant. They can choose the catch phrase from a series of words. It’s fairly easy to figure out.

Once players create the Imaginators, they can set them forth on the adventure against Kaos. He has his own Imagination crystals and has created his own squad of villains called the Doom Landers.

The combat is fairly straightforward. Veterans of the series won’t have any problem taking down the maniacal hordes and levelling up their character. The cap for each Imaginator is level 20, but players can raise that by introducing some of the new Senseis such as Tri Tip or King Pen into the fray. They act as mentors for the freshly created characters, and they increase the level cap by one. With 31 Senseis available, those young Imaginators can become very powerful.

What struck me most about Skylanders Imaginators is how it resembled loot-heavy dungeon crawls such as Diablo or Borderlands. Players will be fighting enemies and they’ll run across a treasure chest, which will drop all sorts of items. Some will be used for aesthetics. For example, some loot may include a new helmet or new set of legs that can be added to the character design.

But the chests also drop gear, which will improve the stats of an Imaginator and also change the look of it. They can find a powerful sword that would be helpful if they’re a knight. They can find a backpack that boosts their power and it will appear on the Imaginator. With the gear, players will find out there are different rarities and power levels associated with it.

“When I get new parts, it refuels my imagination,” says Lou Studdert, associate producer at Activision. “You can make different sets. You get gear and it encourages you to create a new Imaginator.”

Creating an addictive dungeon crawl is an interesting move given how last year’s game was focused on Mario Kart-like gameplay. It’s a trend that aims to keep the game fresh as well as grow with the young gamers who stuck with the title for the past five years, says Yan. One of the surprising things is that Toys For Bob kept the vehicle concepts from Skylanders SuperChargers and the same tracks and game modes will still be supported in the new game. The player-created heroes can even jump in and pilot the older crafts.

Tribune News Service