Skylanders Trap Team (iOS) Review

Ned Jordan
In Short
The complete Skylanders experience, anywhere you go.

Award of Excellence Big videogame releases on consoles are often accompanied by a companion release on mobile. It might be an app to help you manage your inventory, a second screen tool used as an aid while playing the game on a console, or a small game inspired by the console version that's designed to get more people interested in buying the full game. Skylanders Trap Team on iOS is none of those things. It's Skylanders Trap Team. The full game. Exactly what you get in the console versions of the game. You can even use the Skylanders figures with it, both the new Trap Team line and any other Skylander figure that you may already own from earlier games in the series, because it comes with its own portal designed especially for use with tablets.

The tablet portal is different than the one that comes with the console versions of the game. First off, it uses Bluetooth to communicate with the table so there's no cable attached. The platform is also different, made with an opaque white surface rather than the clear transparent platform used for the console portal. There's a light ring around the portal that glows when a Skylander is placed on it, but it pulsates through single colors at a time rather than putting on the multicolor light show that its console cousin does. The portable portal also has a trap slot on it (more on traps later), but is lacking a speaker so the villains' voices come through the tablet instead when one is inside a trap. Turn this portal over and you'll find a surprise ' there's a gamepad stored underneath for use with the game.

The gamepad has all of the buttons and triggers that you'll find on a PS4 or Xbox One controller, but it is smaller in size than those controllers both to enhance its portability and to make it easier for smaller hands to hold it. It has a little style to it, too, in that the symbols for the game's elemental powers are embossed around the edges. Like the portal, the controller is wireless and uses Bluetooth to talk to your tablet.

The Portal

I should probably answer the battery questions that some of you undoubtedly have at this point before moving on. The controller takes two AAA batteries and the portal four, and, yes, the starter set does come with batteries included. Kids will probably need an adult's help to change the batteries as you need a screwdriver to open the battery compartment, although a coin may do in a pinch. I found that the portal went through batteries at a faster rate than the controller, with the portal using up its batteries in from three to four hours of play.

The starter set also comes with two Skylanders figures, Snap Shot, a crocodile-like Trap Team Skylander, and Food Fight, a regular Skylander who resembles a little artichoke on legs. Both are fun to play because Snap Shot is a good all-around fighter with both a ranged arrow attack and a sword to swing for a stronger melee attack and Food Fight can fire tomatoes at enemies and leave behind little exploding bushes when chased. You also get two traps, one aligned to the life element and the other to the water element. There's no game in the box, of course, but you can download it for free from the App Store (or Google Play, depending on your tablet's persuasion).

When playing the game you can use the portal as a tablet stand to prop up the screen for you while you play, or you can sit with the tablet on your lap or whatever's comfortable for you. Since the portal and controller use Bluetooth, they just need to be in the general vicinity of the tablet. The game's audio has been designed with using the portal as a tablet stand in mind, though, so the audio mixing it does to give the illusion that a villain's voice is coming from a trap works best when you do.

As I noted earlier, you can use any Skylanders figure with the portal, new or old, and the figure will appear in the game for you to control. Sometimes you'll have to wait for a bit while the game downloads the graphics for the character, and sometimes you don't. I had it download a couple of the new Trap Team Skylanders the first time I put them on the portal, but a Skylanders Giant appeared right away while still wearing the hat that he earned on the Xbox 360 two years ago. Which leads me to the next important feature of the game ' figures can move freely between the console versions of the game and the tablet version and keep all of their experience, earnings, and loot as they jump back and forth between the games. This includes the traps, and the villains inside them, as well.

If you don't have your portal with you (or fresh batteries), you can still play the game. There are mobile versions of Snap Shot and Food Fight within the game, and if the portal isn't found you will be able to play with these two characters. They're like their own unique figureless figures, though, so they have their own experience levels and such, and they don't transfer between the mobile characters and the figures. If the controller is not found, the game displays the action buttons on the lower right portion of the screen and you can move around using a virtual touchpad on the lower left. The game plays perfectly well in this mode, although I prefer the response of physical buttons over the virtual ones.

Otherwise the tablet version of the game is virtually identical to that of the console versions. The field of view is a little smaller and you can notice the video compression at times in the cutscenes, but these are the kind of things that are more noticeable to adults who play games regularly than they are to kids.

Now at this point I'll turn my attention to the game itself, but if you've read my review of the console version of the game then things will be pretty familiar from here on out. Sure, you can chalk a little of that up to my laziness in not wanting to completely reword a 2,500 word review a day after I wrote it just to say the same things all over again, but the real overarching reason here is that they truly are the exact same game. You're getting a full, modern console game experience on your tablet, and that's a pretty impressive accomplishment when you think about it.

As for the game's story, it begins as all Skylanders games do, with the evil but incompetent Kaos hatching a new scheme to take over the Skylands. This time out he decides that he may need a little help if he's to have any hope of defeating the Skylanders. He becomes determined to enlist the help of the villains of the Doom Raiders, but unfortunately they've been locked away in Cloudcracker prison by the Trap Team Skylanders. Kaos finds a way to destroy the traptanium walls of Cloudcracker prison and releases the villains back into the Skylands. Of course, Kaos has a long history of failed schemes, so it's not too surprising that this one doesn't quite work out as he planned, either...

The Skylanders games have always been about bringing toys to life, but with the new trap toys the game now brings life to toys. When a villain is captured, you'll see the villain get sucked into a vortex on the screen while it is 'transferred' to the trap placed in the portal. A light under the translucent traps pulsates with the audio as the villain speaks and the villain will make comments based on what's happening in the game, further enhancing the illusion that the villain is indeed inside the trap and looking out.

The new line of Trap Team Skylanders figures are larger than the regular Skylanders figures, like the Swap Force and Giants figures of the prior two games. Each wields a weapon made of 'traptanium', the same colored translucent plastic that's used to make the trap pieces. Like the Skylanders figures, the traps are also aligned to one of the game's elements. If you've played Skylanders before, then you'll know all about elemental alignment. For those new to the game, Skylander figures come aligned to one of eight different elements, air, earth, fire, life, magic, mechanical, undead, and water, and the elemental alignment has an effect on gameplay. Some areas of levels provide a power boost to Skylanders of a certain alignment, and some zones are locked behind gates that can only be opened by a Skylander of the corresponding element. While you can make your way through all of the game's levels and experience the entire story with the Skylanders that come with the starter set, you won't be able to complete the entire game to the 100% level and earn the highest three star rating on each level without at least one Trap Team figure from each element. The areas blocked by element gates are generally smaller zones that lead to some sort of bonus item or treasure chest, so it's not like you'll miss out on a significant amount of gameplay if you don't unlock every gate.

The villains in the game are also aligned with one of these elements, and to capture a villain you'll need to have a trap of the same element handy. Also, each trap can only hold one villain at a time, so if you want to trap a new villain in an occupied trap you'll have to bump the old villain in favor of the new. If you're missing the right trap or the trap you need is already full, you needn't worry about losing a villain or the chance to capture a new one. The game's hub area where you'll return to each time you complete a level contains the Villain Vault. Every villain that you've defeated will be available in the vault, so you can always transfer one of them to a trap or back to the vault any time that you're in the hub area. The catch is that you can't make any transfers while in the middle of a level, so you'll have to make do with the villains currently in your traps or with any new ones that you capture in the level. You can pick up the six remaining traps to complete your element collection in three-packs, which at the time of this writing will run you a little over $30. This will allow you to play as any villain that can be captured in the game, except for Kaos himself who requires his own special trap, although you can only bring one of each element with you into a level.

The game itself plays like an action-RPG that's heavy on the action and light on the RPG. It's decidedly geared towards kids and includes three difficulty levels so that the challenge can be scaled to a few different age ranges. It can be fun for adults to play as well thanks to the imaginative level locations and quirky character dialog, but it's not going to challenge older gamers and is certainly more fun when the experience is shared with a child.

As you can probably gather by now, the game's story is focused on foiling Kaos' latest plot by tracking down and capturing all of the villains that have been released from Cloudcracker prison. Each level involves making your way towards a final confrontation with one of the major villains while dispatching a minor villain or two along the way. Each level has a lot of charm and each feels distinct from one another. There are a lot of little details that change between each level as well, helping to give each one its own unique atmosphere. For example, the pads on Chef Pepper Jack's zeppelin fortress resemble electric stove burners and the spinning gears of the clock-obsessed Time Town keep everything moving to its own rhythm.

The gameplay is primarily focused on dispatching enemies, but there's more than fighting to the game. Environmental puzzles often block your progress, but none of them are complicated enough to frustrate younger gamers. There are also some light platform sequences in the game, but again they are not especially difficult and if a jump is missed the Skylander is quickly returned to the platform without any penalty. The game does a good job of mixing in different mini games into the levels ' on-rail shooting sequences, claw crane challenges, and rounds of the trading card game like Skystones, to name a few ' all of which help to break up the battle sequences and keep things varied and interesting. The levels are also filled with hidden areas and players are rewarded for finding and exploring them. Some of these are a little harder to find than others, but they can all be found with a little determination and careful observation.

As for all of those battles, they do lend themselves to button-mashing but that's usually what kids do best anyway. There's a bit of strategy that can be learned based on the types of attacks your current Skylander has available, though, so I can see there being an opportunity there to learn a bit about tactics and hone some basic game playing skills. It's possible for a Skylander to be knocked-out in a battle, and if this happens the Skylander will not be available for the rest of the level. If you've got additional figures, you can tag team another one into the game without missing a beat by placing it on the portal. If you're out of figures, though, you'll need to try the level again.

Trapped villains can be swapped into a battle at any time with the press of a button. The villains are pretty powerful characters, so to keep you from running amuck as a villain there's a timer that only allows you to keep them in the game for a short amount of time. After the timer expires they'll be pulled back into the trap and you'll have to wait for it to recharge before calling on that villain again. Like the Skylanders, each villain has a unique set of powers and so there's a little bit of strategy to selecting which one to bring into the game for the current situation. For example, Broccoli Guy (who is exactly what he sounds like) can drop little healing zones onto the ground, so if you swap a Skylander back in after using Broccoli Guy you can take advantage of that. As a whole the villains have a lot more personality than the Skylanders, at least somewhat due to the fact they're so chatty while the Skylanders are mostly silent during play. But it goes a bit farther than that, as some great character design has gone into the villains and given us some truly enjoyable characters in the likes of Pepper Jack, Chompy Mage (and his Chompy hand puppet) and friends.

Defeating enemies will earn experience points for the current Skylander in play, and this is where the light RPG element of the game comes into play. As each figure accumulates experience it gains levels, making it stronger and giving it more overall health. With level gains you also get the opportunity to buy new and more powerful attacks for each Skylander, and at certain level you'll need to choose between two different tiers of higher level attacks. The experience and new abilities stick with the figure itself, so you can take your collection to a friend's house and play with your figures there. Also, you can find hidden treasure chests containing special hats in the game's levels, each of which has its own unique set of stat boosts. It's loot-lite that works quite well with the game's RPG-lite aspect.

Between levels your Skylander is returned to Skylanders University which serves as the game's hub. You can generally go right into the next level from here (or revisit any level that you've completed before), but there are other things to do here as well. A band called the Skaletones is in residence here, and you can earn some extra coins by sitting in on a song with them and playing a Guitar Hero like rhythm game. This is also the location of the Villain Vault, so you can make use of your time here managing your trap collection.

There are also two other game modes that can be launched from the hub, the Arena Mode and Kaos Doom Challenge. The Arena Mode is a collection of battle challenges that place you in a small arena and then send waves of enemies into the arena with you. Kaos Doom Challenge is a series of levels that play like a combination of tower defense and horde mode. You must protect a treasure chest from successive waves of attacking enemies with your Skylander and you can place defensive towers to aid you. The type of tower that you place will depend on the element that your Skylander belongs to. If you and your chest survive a wave, your surviving towers are automatically upgraded and the chest spits out a shower of gems. If the enemies manage to break the chest, though, well, let's just say that you'll be in for a nasty surprise. The Kaos Doom Challenge is a fun diversion from the game's story levels, and is also a great way to earn some extra experience for your Skylanders. If you buy a new figure, you can use the Challenge levels to boost its level to match that of your other Skylanders and allow you to bring it into the higher story levels with you.

While there's certainly a motivation here to sell you as many figures and traps as possible, there's a fun game behind it all to enjoy with as large, or small, a collection as your budget allows. Trap Team's ability to bring a console experience to a tablet is impressive, and for those of you who buy the home version as well it's a great way to take the experience on the road without having to buy a whole new set of figures. It would have been nice to have different figures come with this version of the game, though, because those who want to play both at home and on the road will double up on those figures. But being that the different versions of the game are identical, there's something to be said for just sticking to the tablet version of the game and using the money you save from not buying the console version to buy more figures instead...

Final Rating: 94%

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Transmitted: 7/27/2021 6:05:17 PM