Skylanders Trap Team Review
After one failed plot too many, Kaos, the villain of the Skylands, decides he may need a little help if he's to have any hope of defeating the Skylanders. He decides 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 explosion of Cloudcracker prison freezes the Trap Team Skylanders and sends them hurtling to the Earth along with the traptanium fragments of the prison, and this is where the toys to life aspect of Skylanders comes in ... and in the case of Trap Team, life to toys as well. Skylanders games have always come with a portal peripheral - place a Skylander figure on the portal and the Skylander appears in the game - with the conceit being that the magical portal transports the "frozen" Skylander back to its native Skylands. The new Trap Team portal adds a small slot to the side of the platform and by placing a "piece of traptanium", aka a trap toy, in the slot you can capture villain characters in the game and transfer them to the trap. Once you've captured a villain you can play as that villain in the game, and that's where the life to toys feature comes into play.
The life to toys aspect of the game goes beyond simply making villains playable characters. When a villain is captured, you'll see the villain get sucked into a vortex on the screen and hear it as the sound transfers from your TV speakers to the trap itself. A small speaker is embedded in the portal near the trap slot, and trapped villains will speak to you as you play the game. 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. When you switch to playing the villain, the audio transfer effect is played in reverse as the villain's voice seems to move from the trap back to your TV speakers. It's a neat little bit of audio trickery that gives the illusion that the sound is moving with the villain and not that the speakers have simply been switched.
Obviously all this means that you'll need a new portal even if you've been playing Skylanders since the beginning. The good news is that your entire collection of Skylanders figures is compatible with the new portal and game (the new Skylanders won't work with older games, though, because the character models for the new characters aren't on the older game discs). I also have to say that the new portal looks more magical than those of past games. With the old portals it was pretty obvious that the electronics that detected the figures sat under the platform, but the new platform features a completely clear base surrounded by a ring of lights that constantly change colors while you're playing. The "how did they do that" technical wizardry of the new portal gives it more of an air of mystique than the older ones.
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. The starter set comes with one Trap Team Skylander, Snap Shot, a crocodile-like warrior who shoots traptanium swords from his traptanium bow. Don't dismiss the pack-in character as a throwaway, though, because Snap Shot is a lot of fun to play with and is a pretty powerful character as well. His combination of a ranged attack and a powerful melee sword attack make him quite versatile and I found that he quickly became my go-to guy in tough situations. Also included in the starter pack is a regular Skylanders figure, Food Fight, a little vegetable-looking guy armed with a tomato gun. He might not be as tough as Snap Shot, but he certainly is entertaining. The inclusion of two figures allows for co-op play right out of the box, as two Skylanders figures can be placed on the portal at once when you're playing with two people. Also included are two traps, one of the life element and one of the water element.
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 provid 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.
That's a lot of information on portals, traps, and figures, but let's not forget that there's a game behind all of this. 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. An enjoyable story, memorable characters, and imaginative worlds to explore make Trap Team a treat for young and old alike.
Final Rating: 90%. The villains steal the show, but at least they're on your side this time.