Another year has gone by and we are already at the annual Skylanders release. Time really does fly because it feels like we were playing Swap Force not too long ago. Again we were fortunate to get a review copy from Activision for the newest release — Skylanders Trap Team — and I’ve been checking it out ever since it got here. I wont bother going into too great of detail about what Skylanders are, but if you are curious we have several articles from the past games. Basically it’s light action RPG where you place figures on a tiny portal and see them come to life in the game. What I will go into detail about is all of the new stuff in Skylanders Trap Team.
Trap Masters & Traps
The new hook this year are the traps and the whole concept of trapping villains and turning them to fight for you. The specialty figures in Trap Team are known as Trap Masters and they are each equipped with weapons made out of “Traptanium.” From what I can tell they don’t seem to be really any different than normal Skylanders and have the same amount of abilities and so on. The thing that makes them unique is their ability to destroy Traptanium deposits which usually lead to bonus side areas. Trap Masters are also the only Skylanders that can access the elemental doors that also lead to bonus areas. In past games you would be able to open these with any figure of the respective element, but in Trap Team the doors are made out of Traptanium and can only be opened by Trap Masters.
The traps are actually a pretty cool idea. Each element has its own trap and they can hold one villain from that element. There are around 50 villains that you can trap and initially I was concerned that you would need multiples of each trap in order to catch them all, but thankfully that is not the case. When you do encounter a trappable enemy and defeat him you are given the option of putting him in a trap our not. Regardless of whether or not you decline the trapping, or just don’t have that elemental trap, the villains will be locked away in a vault back at the Skylanders Academy. If you want to put a villain inside a trap, or switch it out with another, all you have to do is go to the vault. So this means you really only need one of each elemental trap rather than 40 traps. You could have multiple traps of an element if you wanted, for taking multiple villains of that element out with you, but it really isn’t necessary.
Villains & The New Portal
The Villain characters are all very interesting and the whole concept of trapping them and using them is easily one of the best ideas added to the series. Some of the Villain characters are just specialty versions of normal monsters that you encounter but some are actually the bosses that you encounter in the game. In order to call out your villain all you need to do is press the left trigger and you “tag-out” with your current Skylander. The villain character can stay out and fight for short amount of time before having to recharge. The timer bar acts as its health as well so taking damage will decrease the amount of time they can be out. I was bothered at first by the time limit but it actually recharges fairly fast. Villains don’t level up or gain new abilities like Skylanders but each one has a special side quest where they can be redeemed. Some of them are fun little missions or minigames but there are a few that amount to just a short conversation. Once the side quest is done the villain turns into his evolved form which usually means some cosmetic changes and making his attacks stronger. Not only that but it seems to greatly slow down the trap timer and make them buffer.
By far my favorite thing about Skylanders Trap Team is the new portal and how the traps interact with it. First off, it looks really cool; It has a clear base that is surrounded by a color-changing barrier and its attached to a little prison. You put your figures on the base like usual but you take the traps, which look like little hexagonal keys, and insert them into the base. The coolest part about all of this is that your villain is trapped in the tiny little prison. Behind the prison bars there is a speaker and you can hear the villain talking! It’s absolutely fantastic. When they get called out you can hear them zooming from the base to the TV and back again when you switch out. The best part is how they communicate with you while you are playing. They add in little one-liners and offer hilarious commentary on what you are currently doing. My favorite Villain, by leaps and bounds, is Broccoli Guy. He’s this little dude made of Broccoli and he can drop a healing circle for you. Other than that he’s not too great when it comes to combat but he is ridiculously funny. I just keep him around to hear all the stuff he says from inside the prison.
When you aren’t progressing through the story you can do several things around Skylanders Academy, which is the hub in this game. It is slowly expanded throughout the game and you gain access to additional things to do. There’s a battle arena where you undertake different challenges while battling bad guys (I think this was actually in Swap Force as well) and a really cool new mode where you have to defend a treasure box from waves of bad guys. It’s sort of like a tower defense lite and you are able to build towers at specific locations to help you. Sometimes they require different elemental types to build but thankfully there is no traptanium restriction. When towers survive waves they upgrade or just give you bonus loot when they max out. It’s really enjoyable but can get pretty difficult. There’s also this really odd rap battle rhythm mini-game where you press buttons in time with the music. It features different characters “singing” but it’s pretty much just different pieces of the character’s audio pieced in with music. Your skylander joins in in a similar fashion as well. it’s all a little surreal and I couldn’t really decide if it was hilarious or disturbing.
The Skystones mini game returns but in a different variation. Rather than playing like a poor mans Tetra Master they went with an interesting card based mechanic. You pick a set of stones you want to use and each player gets a hand of three. The opponent always goes first and places down a stone in one of three spaces in a column (You each have one). You then do the same and then combat is resolved. If nobody is defending in the specific position then damage is dealt to the player. If there is an opposing stone then they battle and you calculate damage, etc. It’s pretty simple but still very amusing. Some of the tiles even have special abilities like the Chompy Mage who can increase player life by 2 when played. I would love to see this expanded upon in future games.
Musings & Final Thoughts
I really don’t have many complaints about the game aside from the usual ones that come with each iteration of the Skylanders franchise. Mainly that jumping is too rudimentary and relies too much on jump pads, there needs to be a block or dodge mechanic, and the characters need to move about 100% faster. The character speed seems especially bad in Trap Team and characters seem to move tediously slow at times. One thing that does bum me out a little bit is how older generation Skylanders just don’t have much use anymore. They don’t get any new abilities and they aren’t even good for opening elemental doors. So it’s kind of a bummer in that regard, but I guess this game could be seen as a good place to start playing without feeling like you need to go back and buy so much stuff. Hopefully in the next game they also improve upon character progression as well since leveling up doesn’t really feel that satisfying and you can easily buy all of your abilities in no time at all. The same split progression system where you can choose between two paths still exists but they have yet to expand upon that at all since the first game.
Other than the new Trap and Villain system there isn’t a lot that is radically new with the series, but it is still a fun game and measures up just as well as previous titles. Trap Team actually feels more similar to the original game, which I guess could be a good or bad thing depending on your point of view. I’m still hoping for some really exciting innovation in the next entry to the Skylanders Series, like always, but until then I’ll have fun chilling out with Broccoli Guy. 8/10