Skylanders Imaginators may be a launch title on the Switch, but it's not a new game as such - we've already played this on Wii U, after all. While many expected Activision to simply roll out the Wii U game with boosted visuals, there have been some changes to make it fit perfectly on Nintendo's new system - in fact, these are so significant that this could well become the preferred platform on which to create and play Skylanders.
If you've not seen it before, Skylanders Imaginators is the latest toy-powered game from Activision where you unlock characters with beautifully-crafted physical plastic figures. It's a simple premise but one that has worked well for young players over the past few years.
This year the twist is that you can create your own characters using a sophisticated creation tool. This not only works really well for kids but also de-commercialises the experience somewhat, as it's not all about buying new character but using your imagination to invent your own. Buy the Starter Pack and you have everything you need to complete the game and create one character of your own. You can also use any of your existing Skylander characters with the game to help you progress, something that has been a hallmark of the series for quite some time.
One caveat here is that unlike the other versions of Imaginators, the Switch edition doesn't include the Superchargers racing levels so you can't use your vehicle or trap toys there. You can, however, still scan in your vehicles from Superchargers to unlock a load of free parts to expand your character creation options. This brings us to the whole scanning process. Skylanders Imaginators is unique on the Switch for not using a portal peripheral to access your characters. You simply place them on the right Joy-Con's NFC touch point and bingo - they're in the game.
To those who have been with Skylanders from the very beginning, this process takes a bit of getting used to. It's not as instant as placing a character on a portal and you have to rescan the toy again when you save your progress. However, give it some time and this approach has some big benefits. You don't have to worry about lugging around another plastic peripheral or cluttering up the living room. By reusing the existing technology on the controller it keeps things simple and slick. This also means that it works just as well in undocked mode.
Imaginators doesn't stop there, though. Embracing the more mobile-friendly nature of the Switch the game lets you scan in a whole load of Skylanders characters to instantly switch between later on the go. Not only have they done away with portals but also with the annoyance of having to carry around a big bag of plastic figures to play the game out and about. A lot of Skylanders fans will moan about this, but for families and young players it's actually a big step forward.
Another reason to love this version is the fact that you're able to play on the go without worrying about separate controllers or dealing with touch screen controls. On iOS, Skylanders worked pretty well and came with a portable controller and portal. It was slick but still felt like playing a game ported to the handheld device. Playing on the Switch with the Joy-Cons attached to the tablet offers the best of both worlds; it's an on the go tablet experience that looks amazing while also still having proper controls without the need for extra peripherals.
Character creation also works well, with the touch screen really helping in that case. Pulling the Switch out of the dock to touch and tap the different options for legs, torso, arms and tail is brilliant. Of course, you could do it while the Switch is docked but we liked the more tactile feel of creation. Also new to the Switch version over the Wii U is the HD Rumble feedback. The Joy-Con's rumble works best when docked in the grip peripheral and offers an added level of immersion over the previous Nintendo version. Visually, the game looks great - not quite as shiny as the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One editions, but very close. The textures, lighting effects and general polish all make this feel like a top-end title. Plug in some headphones and the voice and music sound great, too.
Otherwise, this is the same game as on other platforms. This means that you have the same caveats that you will need to make more purchases to access the different Sensei characters and upgrades they offer as well as more Creation Crystals if you want to make multiple Skylanders of different classes. This goes with the territory - while Activision has done much to scale back the commercial elements of Imaginators, it was never going to abandon them entirely.
If you are looking for a family-friendly way to play Skylanders and Superchargers racing levels aren't a big draw, then the Nintendo Switch version is most definitely the best way to go. Its mobile experience, intelligent pre-scanning of characters and lack of extraneous plastic peripherals should make it the toys-to-life game of choice for parents and children alike.