Skylanders Trap Team Hands-On Preview [E3 2014]


Given the annual releases the Skylanders series has received for the past three entries, it’s no surprise to see that Skylanders Trap Team looks to be pretty far along in development and is already scheduled for release this fall. As this site’s resident Skylanders fan, the question I found myself asking was simple: Will Trap Team offer enough in the way interesting new mechanics to entice fans back to Skylands a fourth time?

After playing through a level of the E3 demo this week, it’s hard to say. Some elements do have me interested, but I didn’t get the impression from what I saw that the series’ core gameplay and structure is getting much in the way of additions or refinements. The new gimmick for the game’s toy component also comes off as more of a blatant cash-grab than before. Plus, there’s some really unnecessary restrictions, as well.

The demo I played was of the Wii U version and I was able to control one of several new Skylanders, again swapping out their physical figurines onto the base of the USB Portal of Power accessory to choose who I played as. Notable new characters include Jawbreaker, a large robot with powerful fists, and Torch, possibly the first Skylander to wield a flamethrower.

The new central hook for Trap Team is the addition of two new character types. Much like previous entries expanded beyond traditional Skylanders to incorporate the Giants and Swap Force, the new type of playable hero here is known as a Trap Master. As the game’s main plot will revolve around longtime antagonist Kaos breaking some of Skylands’ biggest threats out of a major prison, the Trap Masters have the power to imprison each villain inside a crystal and convert them to allies after besting them in battle.

The new Portal of Power that the game will be bundled with corresponds with this new twist, too. Besides the traditional flat base to place your figurines on, the front of the portal has a hole to put toy crystals in, which will be sold in stores alongside the traditional character toys. You’ll need to have a crystal that corresponds with each villain’s elemental type (Fire, Water, Tech, Undead, and so on) to trap them, as well as be using a Trap Master character at the same time.

This is where Skylanders Trap Team felt a bit more money-hungry compared to previous games in the series, at least for me. While it’s an interesting way to expand the character roster, Activision reps confirmed that each crystal will only hold one captured villain at a time. The rule that you have to use a Trap Master to capture them seems sort of pointless and restrictive as well, especially since, if the game follows in series tradition, it will come bundled with one or two Trap Master figurines at launch.

It also doesn’t help that Trap Team isn’t anything truly new for the series gameplay-wise. Last year’s Swap Force boasted a notable improvement in graphics quality, as well as finally allowing characters to jump for more platforming-focused exploration, but I didn’t see anything in this demo in terms of how it actually played that struck me as truly new or innovative.

Also, one of my favorite features of the Skylanders series has been the ability to level up and upgrade each of your characters, with that specific data saved to a microchip in each figurine instead of your console’s hard drive. While you will be able to summon villains captured inside each crystal and swap them with your current figurine as fully playable characters, they will have time limits and cooldowns on how long you can use each one, and I saw no sign of an experience bar for them, so they may end up feeling more limited in comparison.

Younger gamers may not care one way or another about everything I’ve brought up, but after the positive tweaks that Swap Force made last year, I’m not sure if I’m quite on board with everything Trap Team has laid out so far. I’ll still probably end up getting it since I’ve been a fan of the series from the start, but there does seem to be a chance that this will be a disappointing follow-up.

Skylanders Trap Team launches in North America on October 5 for PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Wii, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and the 3DS.