The year 2010 marked the beginning of Crash's 6 year hiatus, which lasted even longer if you exclude mobile spin-offs from your math. For the longest time, no one knew when Crash was coming back, as the brand was put aside and forgotten like a mutant gorilla/kangaroo hybrid in a party game. About halfway through 2016, Activision and Sony finally announced they would be reviving Crash Bandicoot, and his guest appearance in Activision's toys-to-life franchise was only the beginning.
Skylanders Imaginators is a beat 'em up with platformer and RPG elements along with local co-op, so if you've played Crash of the Titans or Mind Over Mutant, you'll know exactly what to expect. The game follows closely on the premise of previous Skylanders games. By acquiring a character figure and placing it in the NFC device known as the Portal of Power, you'll be able to play as the character it represents. As you level up your character, progress is saved in the figure itself, allowing you to take it to a friend's place and play as the exact same character you've been using. Since all Skylanders figures are forward-compatible, the game works with every figure previously released.
Each character in the Skylanders universe has their own abilities and belongs to one of several elements (such as fire and water) as well as battle types. The main innovation in Imaginators is the ability to create your own character from a vast array of possible combinations. This is done via Imaginite Creation Crystals, which, like the characters themselves, are represented through real-life figures available for purchase. Besides appearance and elements, you can customize your characters with attacks you collect throughout your adventure, including unique moves learned from Senseis (the big kahunas in the game and the ones that got figures with this entry). Speaking of Senseis, this is where Crash comes in.
Celebrating 20 years of history, Crash was brought back into action through one of the best guest appearances ever made in a video-game, and he also brings Cortex along with him. Both Crash and Cortex are playable Senseis, which means they get their own real-life figures just like everyone else. Additionally, they are the central characters in Thumpin' Wumpa Islands, an exclusive level that only they can unlock (though you can use them in every other level and event too).
Despite Imaginators being developed by Toys For Bob, Vicarious Visions created all of the Crash Bandicoot content in the game. They had previously developed most Crash titles on the Game Boy Advance along with Crash Nitro Kart, and their dedication towards making something fans of the series would love shows through and through. All of the characters have updated designs that take many cues from the Charles Zembillas's original concepts (in fact, they've never been quite this faithful before), and the amount of nods and references to Crash lore is staggering.
Taking place in a sort of mish-mash between the three islands from the very first Crash game, Thumpin' Wumpa Islands will see you traversing through familiar locations, now with the added benefit of much more beautiful graphics than any previous games. While Imaginators looks great in general, the Wumpa Islands look particularly amazing, especially on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. The bright colors mixed with Crash's trademark ruins and tropical environments come together to deliver a Crash level unlike any you've ever seen before.
Throughout the level you'll spot many odes to Crash history, whether it's a tribesman challenging Crash to flee from a boulder, or a musical puzzle involving statues of Tiny and Dingodile. Speaking of musical puzzles, these are a recurring feature in the level that's interwoven with the plot. The Synchronization Celebration is making everyone (and everything) in Wumpa Islands dance with rhythm, and sometimes you'll have to solve a simple puzzle or find a boombox to make certain areas jiggy like the rest. Despite being a first for Crash, this idea feels right at home, and it sits comfortably with the many crates and Wumpa fruits you'll find in this level, par for the course for one of Crash's adventures.
Of course even the way Crash and Cortex move and attack is extremely faithful to previous games. Their speed and maneuverability is limited (this is a Skylanders game first and foremost, after all), but their animations and attacks are just further evidence of Vicarious Visions going the extra mile. For instance, Crash actually has a lives system, which besides being mostly cosmetic (he still has a health meter, after all) is still a nice touch.
As a Skylander, Crash's element is Life, and his battle type is Brawler. He's got plenty of new moves besides his more traditional attacks like the spin and slide-tackle — He also throws TNT crates (and occasionally one with an extra life), he can use his yo-yo from that one idle animation from WARPED, and sometimes he'll find a special crate that lets him use the long-forgotten jet-pack and bazooka (at the same time, no less)!
Cortex, who is a Tech Sorcerer, primarily attacks with his ray gun, but the ways in which he does so are plentiful and varied, such as being able to shoot it sky high and shower enemies with projectiles. It can even morph into different forms, letting him borrow N. Tropy's technology to slow things down as an example. He can also throw mines like in WARPED, whip out his trusty rocketsled to smash into things, or let good old Uka Uka lend him a proverbial hand.
Finally, it's worth noting that since Spyro the Dragon was already a Skylanders character, this means that he and Crash can once again partake in a crossover team-up, provided you have the required figures. Perhaps more interestingly, the compatibility nature in the Skylanders games also makes it possible for Crash and Cortex to join Nintendo's Bowser and Donkey Kong, both of whom had previously been featured as playable characters before. This marks Crash's first official crossover with the Mario series, even if only on the Wii U (Bowser and DK only work with Nintendo platforms).
There is no doubt that Crash's appearance in Skylanders Imaginators adds a very special flair to the game, and it comes with all sorts of perks for us fans of the bandicoot. Not only did we get some great Crash and Cortex figures (which will work with future Skylanders games), our first taste of Crash in modern graphics, and a level full of tributes to the series' past, but it also marks the beginning of a new era for all the crazy marsupials and scientists we all love, and in many cases, grew up with.
Need a second opinion? Check out Bring Back Bandicoot's in-depth review!