Skylanders: Trap Team Review

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Posted October 15, 2014 by Cameron McFarland in Video Games

Developed by: Toys for Bob

Published by: Activision

Release Date: October 5th

Available on: Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo WiiU


Skylanders: Trap Team has been on store shelves for just about a week, now. If you have stopped by your local Target or Walmart store I’m certain you’ve seen the massive ads and shelf space assigned to the fourth installment in the Skylanders franchise. In many ways we have a very familiar game released annually at this point, but it is not entirely fair to stop there.

If you are unfamiliar with the games, Skylanders is a simple dungeon-crawling children’s game where characters are chosen based on the corresponding toy you place on the game’s Portal of Power. The initial gimmick worked well enough for the first game, but each year Activision tries to keep things fresh. Trap Team specifically introduces a new class of Skylander, namely the Trap Master. In addition, players can also purchase and collect trap crystals to imprison bosses from the game and reverse their role into a playable character.

As always, the toys themselves are fairly well crafted. Being mass produced, on occasion you will notice a sloppy paint job, but this round I had no trouble picking up the figures that jumped out the most. They are built pretty solid and honestly have some of the most creative character design I have seen in a long time. It’s hard not to find at least one character that speaks to you. I know a couple friends who have bought Skylanders figures in the past only to display on their desk.

The Trap Masters share a theme in their weapons which are all made out of “traptanium” which is a clear plastic similar to the material you’ll find the traps themselves made out of. Aside from that feature, Trap Masters are bigger, don’t light up, and cost more at a price of $15 a pop. Previous Skylanders “premium” characters were Giants with light-up eyes or swapping parts that warranted the additional cost, but Trap Masters almost feels like a cry for help. Activision may be running out of ideas, and I don’t blame them. Paying an extra couple of dollars for my Krypt King figure put a sour taste in my mouth and I was concerned the game would feel bad to follow.

A crab ninja faces an army of undead under the green moon light.  Is this a game for children?

Visually, I’m surprised. It is rare that a kid’s game gets this amount of polish.

 

That is, however, until I booted it up. Trap Team, again, is more of the same. Any veteran of the series will likely begin mashing buttons until cutscenes can be skipped, and the tutorial stage will feel a bit tiring. Players are still asked to push turtles into holes and place the water element Skylander on the portal to open the water gate, but the fun picks up quickly as soon as you get past the initial couple of levels.

As an adult, I thought it would be best to play on the hard difficulty. I didn’t notice anything too difficult until I faced a boss in the third level and died 9 times. I know I died 9 times because I was looking at the pile of Skylanders figurines laying next to my portal, defeated in shame. I had to pause the game and dig through my closet and find an old shoe box with more Skylanders sleeping inside. At that point, I realized I was hooked more than I should be. I feel obligated to retract my earlier statement that I am an adult.

It has always been satisfying to place a character on the portal and see them come to life, but the new ability to capture villains truly surprised me. When you first capture a villain, you need to defeat them in the game and then insert your trap into the little hole in the side of the Portal of Power. On your TV screen you will see a void open as the character is sucked in, and as their screams fade you begin to hear them from the portal itself thanks to a speaker built into the side of the device. It sounds like a silly, childish gimmick when you break down how the illusion works, but when I experienced it first in person it gave me a pretty wide smile. It’s a cute function of the game, and it adds to the fun of capturing each villain as they will comment on your gameplay. When your health is low, sometimes your captured villain will chime in with a reminder to maybe swap to them for a while. It adds a little more personality to the game, which really says a lot given the amount of characters already available to choose from.

You looked at the alt text, Skylander! Here's an achievement

See these arrows? The puzzles in Skylanders games are always more like directions to follow than actual puzzles.

I had a lot of fun with the cute little additions Activision has brought to the game, but they do not completely overshadow the negative points. As always, the game is aimed for children and each time you can’t skip a cutscene you may get a bit frustrated. The characters in Trap Team can feel a bit repetitive and a lot of the dialogue feels like it was rejected from a Saturday morning cartoon script, especially if this is your fourth game in the series. The dialogue feels like it is trying to be funny to kids, and sometimes the writing team struck gold. More often than not, I really wish cutscenes would skip faster or just go black while I’m waiting for the next segment to load. The bonus I experienced from playing the WiiU version of the game is the ability to display the game on the gamepad while I have The Walking Dead or Adventure Time on the television screen.

The only other major complaint I need to bring up is the Trap Masters themselves. They cost more dollars than normal characters and just don’t bring any additional features. I would not describe them as stronger or more entertaining to play, but they are the only way unlock elemental gates, magical hats, or clear out traptanium blocking your path. Trap Masters don’t at all feel required to play the game, they simply gate side content behind a pay wall in a fashion that feels like Activision wants me to stop playing and give them more cash. The trap crystals themselves actually feel like the value purchase in the whole equation. One trap can contain any villain of the corresponding element, which means players only need to buy one $6 water trap to have access to all the water villains in the game.

Take it from an old Skylanders pro: only buy a character because you like them. All the little addons such as unlocking additional hats and getting a 100% clear rate might be tempting, but the marketing ploys are too transparent and in some ways downright evil.

Skylanders Trap Team is in a lot of ways something we’ve seen before. If you have played games in the past, you may notice the small improvements and you may get tired of the repeated moments. If this is your first in the series, it’s a great time to start given the amount of backlog characters one can find at their local Toys’R’Us store. It is still a bit expensive for a video game, the starter set alone being $75, but to those who hold a passion for collecting I would recommend it.


About the Author

Cameron McFarland

Cameron loves cartoons and bad movies almost as much as bad cartoon movies. He is also the world's best spaghetti-eater, so don't bring it up around him or he won't shut up about it. Author and Artist for world-reviled World of Warcraft fancomic, www.taurenitup.com