There’s one big draw to Activision’s next Skylanders game: character customization. For the first time in a Skylanders title, players will be able to make their very own characters called Imaginators come to life, and that’s exactly the feature I tested when I had the chance to get my hands on the game.
Character creation begins with your choice of toy: in this case, one of the 10 available Creation Crystals. Your chosen Crystal acts as the toy your Imaginator will be tied to, the figure that you place on the Portal of Power to summon your Imaginator into the game. Each Crystal also acts as the elemental base for your character, so you’ll need a Water Crystal for your Water character, a Light Crystal for your Light character, etc. For myself, I picked out a Magic Crystal, purely because purple is cool.
Your first big choice, upon entering the character creation menu, is also your only permanent one. In addition to the 10 elements, there are also 10 Battle Classes: Brawler, Sorcerer, Smasher, Bowslinger, Knight, Quickshot, Sentinel, Ninja, Bazooker, and Swashbuckler, each arrayed as constellations in the stars. This choice affects the core of how your character plays, determining what weapons they’ll use and what powers they’ll gain. While all other choices past this point can be changed up at any time, once a class is chosen, there are no take-backs. I settled on a Sorcerer build, and my character took form as a vaguely humanoid swirl of stars.
Lou Studdert, the associate producer of Skylanders Imaginators, was on hand to guide me through the details of the customization process. I had a base?a Magic Sorcerer?but that was only the beginning.
“What’s really fun is that we’ve found that unique balance of parts that are hitting all the different beats that you’d want out of a good Skylander,” Studdert explained. “So there are ones that are very awesome, ones that are heroic, ones that are spooky and kind of ghostly, and then there are ones that are just completely insane and goofy.”
The wide range of visual customization options was hammered home through the randomize button, which I tested a couple of times (you have to hold down the button for a few seconds in order for the randomization to go through, a saving grace for any players with grabby children or younger siblings). The entire character can be randomized at once?flipping through a lizard-faced creature with giant legs, a robot, and some sort of horned cyclops while I watched?or parts can be randomized individually if, say, you’ve got a face you like but aren’t settled on a body. In addition to selecting the look of each body part (head, torso, arms, legs, and tail), each part can be scaled up or down to create comically oversized heads, muscle-bound warriors that skipped leg day, or teeny tyrannosaurus arms. My sorcerer became a tiny bat-eared, long-tailed imp in scale and cloth armor, who I made carry a giant marshmallow on a stick as a weapon (because I wanted to add s’more).
Then, of course, there was color tweaking. Each character starts with a base color theme according to their Element, a nice way to pick out new parts solely on their looks without being distracted by a jarring default color. There are several pre-set color themes to flip through that automatically make nice-looking combinations, or there’s an individual color-picker to tweak every single part separately. At this point, I thought, I’d gone about as far as most character creators go?surely I was close to done.
I was far from done, however.
“We’ve got hundreds upon hundreds of parts and moves and abilities and personality points,” Studdert said, as I navigated the menus. “But what was really fun for us was to make a creation system that wasn’t just how a character looked, but also how they played, and also to give them a personality.”
Indeed, within the next few menus were options that added more than just visuals. I could choose to have my Imaginator sparkle as she ran, or leave swirls of magic in her wake. I picked out her voice from a decent selection of base voices, and applied filters until she ended up with a squeaky yet somewhat taunting laugh?fitting for her imp-like looks. With that voice, I could invent her catchphrase?a two-part mad-libs-esque battle call cobbled together from the first half and the second half of a sentence (“don’t mess with – glitter!” “you can’t handle ? my muscles!”). Even her weapons could have custom sounds in addition to the standard sound effects?Looney Tunes style banana-peel slips for a comic character, or retro arcade game sound effects if I’d wanted something more robotic.
On top of that, I could then pick my character’s moves. These moves are determined by the character’s Element and Battle Class, but can still be customizable?do you spray water in your enemy’s face, or bounce around in a bubble? Your choice of moves directly affect combat, though unlike the Battle Classes, you can switch up your moves at any time. New moves can also be unlocked by swapping out your character’s toy for a Sensei figure of the same class (because, as Senseis, they teach things, you see? it’s not just an attempt to sell more toys).
And, once all that is done? there?s your character! Standard character creation in games is nothing new, but it’s pretty cool to place your character’s Creation Crystal on the portal and see them come to life in the game, the same as Spyro and the other more canonical characters. I only had the time to run my squeaky little Magic Sorcerer through a couple of areas, but even that was pretty fun?and as I explored and defeated enemies, I uncovered even more parts (extra ears, etc) that I could then jump back into the creation menu to add in, should I so choose. Skylanders Imaginators goes a step or two further than most character creators with all of the customization options it offers, and offers up a lot of just plain silliness that’s sure to help bring even the most outlandish creations to life.