Anyone who had some semblance of a childhood has fond memories of playing with toys and conducting epic battles of good vs. evil. If you happened to have a childhood in the early 80’s, you inevitably played with some of the most renown villains of our day. Characters such as Darth Vader, Cobra Commander, and Skeletor were just as popular as their heroic counter parts. Children, like adults, gravitate towards villains as there is an element of rebellion when playing the role of the “bad guy”.
This year’s iteration of Skylanders capitalizes on this premise by providing an experience where trapped villains are now playable characters. Activision along with Toys for Bob and Beenox Studios have raised the bar with this year’s version but in doing so have they alienated their loyal customers?
The Skylanders franchise is in its fourth year and like past releases, there is a new in-game feature that separates itself from past releases. Three years ago large lumbering Giant characters were introduced to the franchise and then last year with Swap-Force, players created their own special Skylander by mixing and matching the tops and bottoms of characters. With Trap Team, the teams at Beenox and Toys for Bob have added a new trap feature and revisited the Giants formula. This year the new characters are called Trap Masters. These characters are very similar in size and speed to the giants from Skylanders Giants. What makes these characters special is not only their size but they also each have elements of Traptanium, which allows them to trap certain enemies throughout the game.
In order to trap the characters, you’ll need to have a physical trap, which fits like a peg into the newly designed portal. Approximately fifty villains can be trapped throughout the game. The frugal gamer could purchase one plastic trap for each element and be able to move through the game without issue. The collector will want to buy all the traps not only for their aesthetically pleasing looks but because this eliminates the need to swap out villains back at the central hub. Once a villain is locked into the portal it occasionally will talk to you as the portal is equipped with an embedded speaker. It’s a nice subtle touch to heighten the atmosphere of the game. Villains also have their own side quests, which if completed will reward players with new outfits.
With the addition of Trap Team comes a whole host of new characters. We already mentioned the Trap Masters but there are also other new characters to round out the lineup. These characters are either brand new to the series or reposed characters from previous versions. Some of the highlights of the reposed characters are Full Blast Jet Vac, Hog Wild Fryno, and Tidal Wave Gill Grunt. Additionally, Activision has also graced us with playable mini-characters. You’ll remember Frito Lay had a promotion for some mini characters last year but they were sidekicks, like pets in Castle Crashers. Mini-characters are cute and fun to play with but they don’t really last long in-game. Buyer beware if you’re thinking they can be played as consistent characters.
With so many characters to choose from, past and present, there is no wonder Trap Team is a loot fest. I like loot just as much as anyone but I often found characters could be leveled up pretty early on in the game. If you have a small amount of characters and they’re leveled up half way through, it does take out some of the incentive to explore each level. However, our main consistent gripe with the Skylanders franchise is that each iteration forgets the previous one exists. While yes, if you have some older characters who aren’t quite leveled up, you can level them up in-game, there are no new ability upgrades for older characters, which can often mean some of your favorite characters will remain on the sidelines.
Another gripe I have is that there has been no consideration to add locked levels for past characters. Currently in every game there are designated areas where only certain elements can pass through. It would be exciting to see them do this for say Giants and Swap Force figures. It would reward loyal customers with new content and make them feel their past purchases still have value.
Trap Team has tweaked co-op gameplay so both parties now share in the loot. However, co-op still feels slow and sluggish as players are tethered to each other. The timing of jumps can be a rather hot mess, especially if your co-op partner is a young child who isn’t concerned with teamwork and timing. Besides side quests, story missions, and other assorted challenges sprinkled throughout the game, Skystones and locked puzzles make a triumphant return in Trap Team. In past iterations, Skystones was more about the grid and blocking players like say in Tic-Tac-Toe. The newer version is more like a traditional card game where you’re competing against the other person’s hand. Locked Puzzles have received a significant upgrade as they now contain various obstacles, bumpers, loot, and levels. An impressive upgrade to an already rewarding experience.
There are a few things which hold Trap Team back from being a truly outstanding experience. First and foremost, characters still move at an incredibly slow place. In this day and age, where players are used to a sprint button, it’s a radical departure to traverse levels at a snails pace. Yes, you can upgrade a character’s power to add speed but the improvement is minimal at best. The lack of camera control is also a main sticking point. In so many games, we’re used to being able to use one of the thumbsticks to get a 360 view of the level. Such is not the case with Skylanders and it’s a shame because the lack of control prevents players from taking in the lush landscapes. The visual improvements from Swap Force to Trap Team are not huge but the game looks glorious and is a standout on the next gen systems.
The Holiday season is right around the corner and Skylanders Trap Team will without a doubt be a Holiday success. Kids and adults alike gravitate to the toys and RPG platforming fun. It’s pure magic the first time you crack open a new character and see them come to life on the screen. With the addition of trapping villains and then hearing them talking to you from the portal, the magical experience has been kicked up a notch. With a deeper story, the addition of new in-game mechanics, and tons more content, Skylanders Trap Team has raised the bar for future titles in the franchise. Now if we could only get some faster characters and online co-op, it’s a kid’s game but we can dream after all, right?