Also On: Wii U, Wii, PS3, Xbox 360, iPad, Kindle Fire HD/HDX, Android tablets, 3DS
Developer: Toys for Bob
As a gamer and a parent of elementary school-aged children, I have a rather large bin of Skylanders figures and accessories sitting in my den/gaming room — and I’m certain I’m not the only one. Skylanders has proven to be a big money maker for Activision and more than likely a money drainer for parents; But you know what? I don’t mind. The franchise is still one of the best family-friendly gaming options out there — no matter the economic repercussions and impact on closet spaces it inflicts. So even with the franchise’s formula starting to feel overly familiar, and a few gameplay issues here and there, Skylanders Trap Team continues the tradition with a unique new “Toys-To-Life” feature and an overall quality game experience for the whole family.
Skylanders Trap Team is the 4th proper release in the series, which means I have at least 3 USB-powered portals and a few dozen figures (at least). Activision has seemingly abandoned any idea of reusing the first portal after Skylanders Giants was released, so if you’re a fan of the series you kind of have no choice but to purchase a new $75 starter pack for every new version of the game. Trap Team changes up the Toys-To-Life paradigm somewhat by introducing a all-new Traptanium portal with a special elemental “trap” slot in the base, which in conjunction with new trap toys, can be utilized to capture an assortment of enemy creatures throughout the game. To be fair, the new portal is actually one of the most interesting yet, with a clear base, integrated speaker (so you can hear the trapped enemies) and super bright LED lighting. Yes, it still requires a USB connection for all console platforms, but more on that later.
For the uninitiated: Kaos is the main bad guy in Skylanders, and after the events of Swap Force (spoilers kinda!) he was apparently sealed away for good (hah) in a volcano. Of course he escapes and of course he is once again out to take over the world and harass the citizens of Skylands. This time though he seeks the assistance of the Golden Queen and her Doom Raiders after finding a way to break them out of Cloudcracker Prison. After rebuffing Kaos? plan in lieu of their own evil and greedy intentions, this new evil band of misfits sets upon the world of Skylanders, much to the dismay of its inhabitants. It?s at this point that we meet and take control of the Trap Masters, who are the powerful Skylander guardians that originally imprisoned the Doom Raiders. It?s up to them to ultimately track down and trap the Golden Queen and her lackeys and restore peace. Sound familiar?
Trap Team should be instantly familiar to any Skylanders players the second they pick up the controller and place a figure on the portal. Skylanders Trap Team looks and sounds like a Skylanders game, which means it’s colorful and fun to look at, and has plenty of Patrick Warburton to listen to. The whole “trap” thing is new however. In addition to swapping out Skylanders figures, players can capture a select number of villains (40 in total) and store them, one at a time, in elemental trap toys. For instance, a magic-type enemy can only be trapped with a magic-type trap toy, with the same logic applying to fire-type, ice-type, life-type and so on. If you want to be able to trap one of each enemy type you conceivably need to purchase more traps (the starter pack is bundled with 2), so just a heads up. The game also includes a useful little cardboard stand to place your traps into so you can more easily remember which enemy is stored away in which trap if you ever need to bring one to life by dropping it into the portal.
Trapping enemies in the game and storing them on a physical toy is definitely a fun twist, and the three-dimensional sound effects which fade from your TV speakers to the speaker in the portal itself are surprisingly cool. These trapped enemies frequently speak to you via the integrated portal speaker and also interact by lighting up the trap toy in sync with their voice. Capturing these bad guys is only half the Skylanders Trap Team experience however, since they can be called upon to replace your Skylander character temporarily, in-game, by hitting the swap button. The former bad guys (those who were bosses especially) make powerful allies and will usually make short work of the Golden Queen’s minions. While they don’t have upgrade trees like actual Skylander figures, their abilities do change over time, so it pays to use them.
Although you can play through the game with only the figures included in the starter pack, Skylanders Trap Team doesn’t stray too far from the “use X type Skylander with Y element” pattern to unlock gates to new areas and items. Trap Team is fairly self-contained compared to previous installments, meaning that unlike Swap Force, it never requires a certain Skylanders figure from a previous game (Giants or Swap Force) to access any content. It really doesn?t take long to come across an optional gate which does need an elemental Trap Master figure of a type that isn’t included in the Trap Team starter pack, so if you?re a completionist, it pays to stock up on these figures before even playing. Of course you can still bring over your now super-powered Spyro’s Adventure figures or any other Skylanders characters since the game is fully backwards compatible with them all. In terms of new figures, beyond the Giants-like Trap Masters, Activision has released a new line of Skylanders Minis which are smaller, cuter, big-eyed versions of beloved Skylanders characters from previous games. Needless to say my daughters fell in love with characters like Spry or Bop immediately. Think Beanie Boo representations of Skylanders and you’ll get the point.
As mentioned earlier, the gameplay in Skylanders Trap Team doesn’t stray too far from what was introduced in Swap Force — meaning yes, Skylanders can jump. In Swap Force, I was more or less neutral on the addition of a jump button, as opposed to context-sensitive jump actions or bounce pads in previous games. In Trap Team in particular, I found the additional platforming to be an occasional annoyance especially with 2 players. The floating perspective doesn’t always lend itself well to accurately jumping, and the game screen never zooms out to accommodate the two players who are always tethered within short distance from one another. If one player decides to jump on a set of moving objects, the second player better be ready to do the same or risk being pulled forward or backwards and regenerating in a potentially dangerous position. It’s sometimes easier to kick the second player off the portal until the tricky portions are over, and then have them jump back in when it’s time to kick some butt. Most stages do include some sort of platforming, so if you expect to play co-op with slightly inexperienced players, the issue will likely pop up a few times.
What’s great about the Skylanders series is that, beyond the humorous story and light action RPG gameplay, the games are so chock full of content that players can spend weeks trying to play through it all. It’s not just about unlocking gates, fighting enemies, solving puzzles and defeating bosses. There are hidden and unlockable items and secrets everywhere, several mini-games including the new tower defense-inspired Kaos Challenge an updated Sky Stones card game and a slew of additional activities and challenges.
This review is based on the PS4 version supplied by Activision, but we also had the chance to put several hours into the tablet version of Skylanders Trap Team for this review. Billed as the “full game experience”, Skylanders Trap Team Tablet Edition (compatible with select iPads, Amazon Fire HD and Android tablets) is the real deal. The starter pack includes a customized, wireless Bluetooth portal, a mini wireless Bluetooth gamepad controller and the same figures and traps included with the console version.
The Skylanders Trap Team game app can be downloaded from your device?s respective digital app store (free of charge) once you own the portal, and besides a slight visual downgrade and some occasional mid-game content downloads, the experience is decidedly faithful to the console version. The AAA battery powered wireless portal syncs up to the app immediately, and while it doesn’t have the integrated speaker, it lights up and has a slot that is designed to hold a tablet at a playable angle. The Bluetooth controller, which features 4 face buttons, 4 shoulder buttons, 2 analog pads and a digital pad, is essentially a mini Skylanders-styled Xbox 360 controller. Sure, it’s cheap feeling, but it gets the job done in Trap Team and I assume it’s compatible with other tablet games that support controllers. For those who prefer to use touch controls, the game includes a virtual on-screen control option as well. It’s kind of weird playing a console game like this on a portable device, but there’s something about the convenience of not needing to power up my whole entertainment center that makes it an attractive option.
All in all, Skylanders Trap Team is a fun, fairly unique new addition to the Skylanders series for those who already own an army of figures as well as gamers new to the franchise. This year’s iteration seems a little less polished than last year’s, and the basic formula is beginning to feel repetitive, but it still holds up as one of the more enjoyable family friendly gaming experiences available this year.