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Every young hero needs a mentor, and it’s never been more fun to be a student than in Skylanders Imaginators.

The sixth game in Activision‘s popular toy-to-life series, Skylanders Imaginators takes what fans loved about previous games and ramps it up to the extreme. Players return to the magical world of Skylands to help defeat the evil wizard Kaos from abusing the powers that created the Skylands with his maniacal creations, the Doomlanders. The plot itself might not be totally revolutionary, but it’s an original, fresh spin on the good vs. evil gameplay we’ve come to know and love. Unlike ever before, Imaginators puts unrivaled creativity into the mix, making this game stand out from many other family-friendly action video games.

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The gameplay dynamic is shaken up with the introduction of Creation Crystals, which allow players to create their own unique Skylanders from scratch. Once players tap their crystal into the portal of power, they are able to completely customize their new character’s appearance, and give their Skylander its own name, elemental powers, battle class equipment, and even catchphrases. Kids’ one-of-a-kind Skylander can be saved onto the Creation Crystal, so they can take the action with them wherever they go.

I made my character a fire-based brawler cyclops with a huge axe and super silly catch phrases. But no Skylander is one-size-fits-all. Players can get seriously in depth with their custom creations. There are at least 20 different kinds of options when it came to ears alone, not to mention eye color, height, weight, hair, and so, so much more. Skylanders Imaginators is brimming with personality, and kids need to harness some of that playful fierceness to be the best at the game. Once kids  see the finished product that is their new hodge-podge hero, they will be eager to get out into Skylands and put him or her to work saving Skylands.

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Once crafted, the brand new, completely original Skylander will require some training– and that’s where the Senseis come in. The introdcution of Senseis, or masters in 10 different battle classes, is infectiously fun. The starter pack I played came with two Sensei minifigures: Golden Queen, a gilded Egyptian warrior and Master King Pen, a massive armored penguin who uses his ice breath and steel-covered wings to bring back balance to the Skylands. I chose to lead with King Pen, and exploring his power set and combat gameplay was the most unadulterated fun I’ve had playing a video game in a long time.

A welcome surprise for myself and other older gamers who may be playing along with younger ones is the inclusion of retro video game characters like Crash Bandicoot and his nemesis Dr. Neo Cortex as Senseis on both sides of good and evil. The Skylanders gameplay immediately took me back to games just like Crash Bandicoot, where this vibrant, fictional world full of oddities was yours to conquer and explore. Just like the action exploration games of yesterday, Skylanders Imaginators has healthy dose of humor injected into it that will delight fans of all ages. As someone completely unfamiliar with the Skylanders series prior to this, I was immediately struck by the level of detail and personality present in the game. It’s apparent that this game was created with some serious affection and care, as evidenced through the living backdrops and exceptional music. The voice acting in the game is also top notch and is supported by writing that never feels stilted or repetitive.

The puzzles that litter the game are as challenging as they are fun to navigate and solve. Kids and parents alike will spend as much time creating their new characters as they will moving through each level. The creative element of Skylanders Imaginators will have kids clamoring to play and the original story will have them hooked from the beginning. Plus, the new figures are more detailed than ever before, and even boast some sweet new packaging design. Overall, Skylanders Imaginators delivers new, unique gameplay the franchise has never seen, bringing in a new level of creativity to the toys to life category.