By now the formula for a Skylanders game shouldn’t surprise anyone: you purchase/use toys in the real world to use the digital version in the game world. Gameplay is your standard action RPG blend of combat, level progression, light puzzles, and boss battles capping off each stage and world. I was pretty happy with the very first game, but thought after Giants came out the following year that the fad was done. Surprisingly, Swap Force released and it was somehow the best game in the series. Well surely after three games Activision and Toys For Bob have put all they could into the game and couldn’t possibly make it any better, right? Hmmm…
The big draw in the first game was the novelty of the then-new toys to life sub-genre. It’s sequel featured special Giant Skylanders which were necessary to unlock specific portions of the game, Giants followup came in the form of the Swap Force, again special Skylanders who could exchange top and bottom halves to become even weirder entities. With Trap Team there are new Trap Master Skylanders as well as traps, which can be used to encapsulate the game’s various bosses who can then be used as part of your team. I felt the new Trap Master Skylanders were largely the same as the Giants, having physically bigger toys (and price tags)but not offering a big gameplay difference like the SWAP Force did. That being said, the bosses you could trap in the traps were awesome! They essentially acted as a second or sub-character you could bring into battle. What’s nice about them is that they allow you to switch to them with the push of a button. So if you’re running low on health and can’t change your figure on the Portal of Power fast enough, you can just switch to them to use as a meat shield. It also helps that they have their own personality, sometimes deal great damage, and are actually useful! Now if finding all the requisite traps wasn’t so damn difficult!
I’ve always thought the Skylanders series as a cash cow, and Trap Team is no exception. Aside from the aforementioned Trap Masters and actual traps, the game adds two new elements. Apparently eight elements wasn’t enough elements to make toys for, so the game adds Dark and Light to the mix. These new elements offering no change to gameplay and aren’t required, but are necessary if you want to unlock every ability or accessory, as well as exploring every inch of an area map. This should come as no surprise to seasoned Portal Masters, but it still hurts the wallet and the ego to see Activision kind of pooping all over their fanbase. On top of that, the elemental gates of previous games which required any Skylanders of a certain elemental type to open (such as a Life Gate requiring a Skylander from the Life element to be opened) are completely replaced by gates that can only be opened by Trap Masters of specific elements. It’s another way to make you buy toys, and seeing as the Trap Masters don’t offer any change to gameplay, this is a big letdown.
And that’s all of the negative comments I have about the game. Seriously. Everything else I can think about the game is solid or better. From a sheer gameplay standpoint, Trap Team has refined the formula to near perfection. Awkward platforming sections where you couldn’t actually jump with the push of a button are totally removed, the puzzles aren’t as in your face as past games, the lock puzzles are back but are actually challenging at later stages, the boss battles feature a huge variety of gameplay changes, the incorporation of “Traptanium” and trapping and using villains adds a lot to the experience, and the list goes on. What started as a nice introductory game for newcomers to RPGs has evolved into something bigger, something I was actually greatly enjoying until the very end! And yes, changing toys on the little Portal of Power is still oddly satisfying.
Speaking of the Portal of Power, it again has been revamped. The new Trap Team portal not only looks the most badass of all the portals, but it also features a special slot to insert your traps. Even cooler, when you’re playing with a trapped villain, if they aren’t in use and are theoretically still “inside” the trap, they talk to you from the Portal itself! I was all smiles the first time I heard a newly captured villain speak to me from the portal and not my television. It’s cute and gimmicky, but it’s a great way to make the whole “You’re the Portal Master making this all happen” vibe feel realistic. I won’t spoil anything, but they do some pretty clever stuff with this concept late in the game. Also for those of you forecasting for the newly released Skylanders Superchargers, I believe with that new game you can still use the Trap Team portal. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think this is the case, and if it is it’s the first time they’ve done this for the series since Giants.
If you haven’t gathered, Trap Team puts a lot of emphasis on bosses. So much so that they really steal the show from series main bad guy Kaos. Once the Doom Raiders break out of their Traptanium infused prison, they immediately enact revenge upon the Skylanders and all of Skylands. Lead by the Golden Queen, the Doom Raiders act as the main antagonists and are pretty awesome characters! I thought their variety and design made them great. Chef Pepper Jack is an anthropomorphic chili pepper who is also a chef (go figure), Wolfgang is a werewolf who loves rock and roll, and the adorable Chompy Mage is an old wizard who uses and communicates through hand puppets. Aside from being cool in and of themselves, each Doom Raider has a similarly themed level. The floating head Dreamcatcher, for example, plagues the land causing it’s inhabitants to fall asleep and only have nightmares, which then makes the actual landscape psychedelic and dream-like. The attention to detail and variety among the levels is spectacular. And even though this is a game targeted at a younger audience, older gamers will find a lot to love here as well!
Adding to that variety in level design are the additional modes. Outside of the story, there’s an interesting tower defense survival mode. Each tower needs a specific element to be built (and sometimes even requires a Giant!) and you have to survive 100 waves of enemies to reign supreme! It’s a fun twist on the gameplay, and offers up a great challenge as well as tons of treasure! The arena mode from past games is back, and it has you taking a single Skylander into a battleground to defeat waves of enemies under special conditions. Not as fun in my mind as the tower defense portion, but still nice for added content. There’s a strange Rock Band-esque music mode which is pretty much garbage, as well as small hidden areas to repeatedly explore in your hub world for bonus coins. I beat the game on the Hard difficutly, which was quite challenging near the end, but if you beat the game and like torture, you can play the new Nightmare mode for even more difficulty. Overall there’s a ton to do after the credits first hilariously roll.
So here’s the inevitable discussion one comes to when talking about NFC toys and video games: Which is the best? I started with Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure back in 2011 and absolutely loved the idea of little toys being used in video games. It was fun, novel, and a great way for kids and adults alike to fall in love with a video game. Disney got into the foray next with their Disney Infinity figures a year later. While I skipped out on the first game altogether, I actually enjoyed Disney Infinity 2.0 quite a lot, and am greatly interested in 3.0. Then Nintendo brought our favorite video game characters into the battle with their highly collectible amiibo figures. And most recently the Lego Company of all things has a new toys to life video game in LEGO Dimensions. So, which one is the best?
Without a doubt, the greatest value you can get from your toys is with the Skylanders franchise. I can’t actually speak truthfully about the LEGO Dimension figures though because I haven’t played with them. If you’re looking at longevity in games, Skylanders wins because it just has more games already out (5 console games, 5 handheld games, and a couple mobile/iPad games). When writing my article on Skylanders: SWAP Force on 3DS I pointed out how it’s impressive Activision has made a wholly enjoyable Skylanders franchise separate of the console games on the 3DS, which is something Disney and even Nintendo can’t claim. Disney’s figures go a long way in each game, but their limited by playsets, toy box mode, and the version of the game you have. Nintendo’s amiibos are by far the coolest looking and most detailed of the toys, but they don’t do all that much in a game. Yeah, it’s cool to have a sweet ass Marth dole out the pain online for me, but it’s not very interactive. With Skylanders, though, I feel more engaged in the whole toys to life experience, and I feel like they’re being controlled by me (hooray for being a Portal Master!). I think this stems from the originality of the Skylanders: aside from the sparse references to past Spyro characters, all the Skylanders are new and unique to the Skylanders franchise, meaning my only perceived ideas of them come from this world where they are always and will always be toys I can use in my video games. This goes a long way for making me literally care about the toy itself. I think Nintendo is getting there with some of the fancier amiibo (Yarn Yoshi!), but right now Skylanders reign supreme.
This was a two-fold piece: discuss why, against my own expectations, this fourth game in the Skylanders series is somehow the best one, and explain how the Skylanders line of toys still reigns supreme as the definitive toys to life set. I am excited to see what the future holds for all of these toys and franchises, but I know I’m waiting with anxious breath for the holiday season to come so I can hopefully open up a new copy of Skylanders Superchargers and enjoy the hell out of it more than should be expected of someone my age.
And if there is still any doubt as to why Trap Team is the best game in the series, all you need to know if this: one of the villains you can catch is called Broccoli Guy. He’s a broccoli-wizard with a ton of sarcasm who constantly talks in the third person and is literally the funniest thing in the whole series.
Broccoli Guy Rules,