Before they were Giants, or had swappable parts, Activision’s Skylanders were mere toys that came to life in a digital world. Now, they’ve evolved once again, in order to act as amateur hunters and jailors in Toys for Bob’s latest, Skylanders: Trap Team. It’s a new take on the familiar action and adventuring, and promotes collection through not only purchases but also in-game effort.
The nice thing about a fictional and fantastical world like the Skylands is the fact that it’s open to changes and interpretation. Founded on imagination, it allows for anything to be added, and its target audience of younger gamers is unlikely to question a thing, let alone worry about the money each version of the game costs their parents. For Trap Team, the developers added a new prison into the mix, before blowing it up at the beginning of the game. Said catastrophe — which was, of course, the fault of the series’ vertically-challenged villain, Kaos – kicks things into high gear and creates a need for the famous Trap Team of yesterday’s lore.
You see, the members of the titular Trap Team were once called into action to round up and lock up the land’s most villainous baddies, the worst of which were the Doom Raiders – a group of creatively themed evildoers who will stop at nothing to reach their end goal. It’s their escape that is most worrying for those who live in the Skylands, causing them to call in the cavalry.
The gimmick, this time around, is the new trapping ability. Although the heroes of yesteryear come bearing their own, magical weapons, it’s their elementally-themed traps that are the keys to their success. The Starter Set, itself, comes with two – one for its water-based Trap Master figure, Snap Shot, and one for its traditional, life-based character, Food Fight. The two can be inserted into the new Traptanium (a special element that is impenetrable when used in jails) portal and switched at will.
If you purchase Skylanders: Trap Team, go in knowing that you’ll be signing yourself (or your kids) up for another round of traditional Skylanders action with what could be classified as a twist. And that twist happens to be the ability to trap, then play as the villains. Those who you defeat in battle – through very common boss battles, set over the course of the game’s eighteen mission campaign – can be captured and used, provided that you have the required type of trap to encapsulate them with. Therein lies the hook, because you’ll need to buy not only more characters, but also more traps if you wish to gain the full experience. The Starter Set is enough to complete and platinum the core game, but you can add replay value by spending real-world cash.
Only one enemy can be held in a trap at any given time, but your collected foes are kept in a vault and can be cycled through before and after missions. Each one has his or her own abilities, too, which can be used at will, provided that their clock hasn’t run out. You see, instead of running on your chosen Skylander’s health bar, the big bads’ health is shown through time. It’s a meter that slowly drains during use, although it lessens faster if hits are incurred. The whole idea is a neat one, and definitely adds to the experience. Not only that, but it also makes things a bit easier, because you can switch to a powerful villain in order to hide a character who may be on his last legs, health-wise.
The jump to current-gen consoles has allowed Toys for Bob to create what is easily the series’ best-looking outing thus far. Everything from the characters to the environments and their textures, has been visually improved, and it’s noticeable right from the get-go. Its colours pop, its art design impresses and its world feels more improved than ever. That said, it also helps that the game’s level design is quite a bit better than in previous iterations.
Going further, Skylanders: Trap Team is, without-a-doubt, the best version thus far. At least, out of the ones I’ve played (I’ve yet to play Giants). Still, I’m confident in saying that this is the best one, despite the fact that it’s not a revolutionary sequel. Its campaign also tends to drag on a bit, but that’s normal when it comes to these games. At least, in this case, there’s almost too much content, whereas Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes shipped with too little.
Speaking of content, it’s important to note that there’s more to this release than just its story mode. In fact, your $75 (USD) admission fee will also grant you access to an arena mode and a pretty neat set of Kaos challenges. The arena battles, themselves, appear quite often in the core game, whereas Kaos’ trials provide a colourful take on third-person tower defense gameplay. Both are welcomed, and add a decent amount of extra value to an already lengthy game.
Along the way, you’ll also come across non-playable characters who will want to play a game called Skystones Smash. Sometimes, you’ll need to beat them in order to gain a key or get by, but there are several others who just want to play what is essentially a war-like card game for fun. I enjoyed it and took every opportunity to play, because it was a nice diversion from the norm and an addictive way to pass time. It was easy to grasp and win, too, because all you need to do is pick a hand of stone cards, depicting different villains you’ve captured. Then, you use their varied hit points and damage points to hit the other player and reduce his life to zero. To stop an attack, you place a card as a blockade, as only cards without one beside them on the three-tiered grid will damage one of the players. Simple stuff, really.
In the end, though, it all boils down to how much you (or a loved one) enjoy these games. If you’re a big fan of the Skylanders universe, or an avid collector, then Skylanders: Trap Team will be right up your alley. It’s generally more of the same, but its new mechanics add to the core experience in a positive way. Add in this version’s new coat of paint and bonus content and you’re looking at an interactive experience that lives up to its hefty price tag.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which we were provided with.
Skylanders: Trap Team is full of polish, and expands upon its predecessors' mechanics in interesting ways. It could very easily be the series' best outing thus far.