Whether you’re a seven-year-old or a 30-year-old, there’s joy to be found in the Skylanders series. Whether it’s the cheesy humour and cute visuals, the simple puzzles and combat, the imaginative heroes and villains, or perhaps the detailed collectible figurines, this uber-popular property has you covered. And capturing your attention once again is this year’s iteration, Skylanders: Trap Team, further building on its ‘toys brought to life’ foundation, with even more excuses to purchase and surround yourself with plastic models. However, this instalment might just push the money making pitfall a little too far.
Indeed, this outing shakes things up a little bit. The unsurprising tweaks are present in the form of new challenge levels, minigames, and battle arenas. Meanwhile, the visuals see a slight improvement, almost mirroring your plastic figures with solid colouring, texturing, and lighting. But, as the title suggests, it’s the trap mechanics and its affect on the narrative that really make the difference.
Everyone’s favourite villain Kaos has come up with another devious plan to rule Skylands, this time by destroying Cloudcracker Prison and unleashing the dangerous prisoners within. However, what our hapless bad guy didn’t bank on was a group of these prisoners, the Doom Raiders, having their own plans for domination, side-lining the abovementioned antagonist. It’s a bold move by the developer, but one that pays off rather well, introducing a host of interesting baddies to the boiling pot, and giving them enough independence away from the franchise’s chief ne’er-do-well to build actual characters out of them.
Remarkably, the majority of these new villains have more personality and character than the Skylanders themselves, complete with their own theme tunes, attacks, and humorous dialogue. It’s fortunate, then, that Trap Team’s new mechanic is capturing these villains so that you can control them as you would your main heroes.
Like your plastic protagonists, each villain is tied to a certain element, such as Life, Earth, and Fire. Once you’ve found and defeated one of these bad guys, you can capture them with the use of the new Portal of Power, and its prison. Simply beat the living snot out of the reprobates, pop a corresponding Trap Crystal into your plastic accessory, and you’ll detain the villains – complete with sound effects and more, courtesy of the peripheral’s built-in speaker. We really can’t emphasise just how cool this simple feature is.
With a villain successfully locked away in a crystal, it can now be called into battle – and these former adversaries pack quite a punch. What’s nice is that, whether you’re battling with them or not, they’ll comment, laugh, and joke in reaction to what’s happening in-game, as well as beg for forgiveness for their past transgressions. This is all handled by the Portal of Power’s abovementioned speaker.
However, the first part of Activision’s money making scheme is revealed through it: the need for different elemental Trap Crystals. Fortunately, once you’ve captured a villain, it will be permanently transported back to the prison hub for you to place in a crystal, so it’s easy enough to swap detainees within the same element – but with the starter pack only containing two traps, you’ll certainly feel the need to purchase more to get the most out of the experience.
And, of course, there are plenty more Skylanders for you to splash your cash on, too. New variants of previous heroes are introduced, as well as completely new ones, both Normal and Dark, as well as the adorable Mini Skylanders. However, the most interesting and integral set are the Trap Masters. These larger Skylanders are packing powerful crystal weapons, specifically designed to smash Traptanium crystal fragments strewn across Skylands. They are also essential, as the areas locked behind an elemental gate return from previous games, but this time can only be opened by Trap Masters of the right element.
With the elementally associated Traps and Trap Masters being the key to unlocking the whole experience, a hefty additional price needs to be considered on top of the Starter Pack. This does, however, give newcomers to the series a more approachable title to get them started, without the huge back catalogue of Skylanders needed to see everything that’s on offer. And, of course, if you are a veteran, it’s still backward compatible with your existing collection of Skylanders and magic items.
Thankfully, even with the high potential price tag casting a nasty shadow over it, this is still an excellent game. The narrative is corny, but impressively fresh and intriguing, with the new cast of villains truly standing out as the stars. Meanwhile, the level design is less inspired than previous versions, but still strong, enticing you to explore and smash everything for precious loot and secrets. The jump mechanic introduced in Swap Force still feels loose and inaccurate, however, and the overall platforming suffers as a result. There’s also a noticeable reduction is speed, as your Skylanders now saunter along more leisurely than they did before.
Skylanders: Trap Team brings enough new tricks to keep Activision’s cash cow entertaining for another year, but we sense that there may need to be some more meaningful changes next time around. For now, though, kids and adults alike are going to love this charming romp – even if wallets will be hit harder than ever before. It turns out that you can buy happiness after all.