Fall is here, and with it, a new Skylanders title. The multi-million dollar series arrives every year, when the apples are piling up and the leaves are changing, arriving just in time to show up on every gamer kiddo’s Christmas list.
Coincidence? Hardly. The figurines are made to be stocking stuffers and “just because” rewards. They range in price from $9.99 to $14.99 which puts them in that sweet spot for a no-brainer gift.
Since it’s inception, Activision and Toys For Bob have created a juggernaut in kids entertainment; if you’re unfamiliar with the series, here’s the basics: in the storyline, there exists a fantasy land called the Skylands, where Spyro (who has taken a hell of a backseat through the years) hails from. The creatures in the Skylands have been sent through a portal into our world, where they’re “frozen” as inanimate toys…however, resourceful children can aquire these toys, place them on the included “Portal of Power”, and free them from their captivity.
On the technological side, each figurine has a RFID chip which activates when placed on the portal, and also saves all of the players exploits: virtual wallet, items found, special hats and special abilities…and keeps them tethered to that exact figure. So, if your kiddo happens to bring his Skylander to a friend’s house, his progress will show when placed on his friend’s portal. It’s a snazzy bypass to the traditional hard-drive save, and adds credibility to the game’s Mannequin-like storyline.
This time around, the story is actually the most compelling yet. Lord Kaos, the diminutive, Vizzini-like villain of the franchise, decided to break out the most notorious elemental inmates of CloudCracker Prison, which results in Traptanium shards and Mythical Trap Masters being exiled to Earth. Kaos then unites this squad of enemies into his own League of Doom. Of course, Kaos being Kaos, he completely bungles the scheme, resulting in him being booted from his own Evil League , where he’s forced to team up with the Skylanders in a thinly-veiled attempt to regain his throne.
During the campaign, you’ll be flown throughout the Skylands by the always entertaining Flynn, voiced by the incomparable Patrick Warburton. He’s bolstered by a MASSIVE cast, including BOTH Nolan “Batman” North and Troy “I’m in Everything” Baker, the always feisty Cch Pounder, Billy “Futurama” West. And those names don’t even begin to scratch the surface. The Skylanders voice team reads like a Who’s Who of voiceover talent in both Hollywood and videogames proper. Seriously. Check out the IMDB page and tell me you’re not floored.
In your travels to the corners of the Skylands, you’ll do battle not only with the standard crop of Skylanders enemies, you’ll also come up against mini-bosses and big bosses which can be “trapped” inside “Traptanium shards” once they’re defeated. Like the Skylanders figures, these clear plastic jewels contain an RFID chip, which will allow you to save ONE “boss” prisoner per “Traptanium shard”. The game comes with two (Life and Water), but the remaining six (seven if you count the “mystery” element) must be purchased a la carte.
Upon defeating a boss (aka one of the dozens of escapees from CloudCracker Prison), you’re given the option to insert the corresponding elemental shard a “trap” them. Once trapped inside the shard, you’ll be able to summon them in battle by pressing the L2 trigger. Once summoned, you can control the villain for a limited time (shown as a slowly-decreasing time bar) as you would your normal Skylander. It’s a nifty addition that will allow you to switch out your hero without having to physically remove your Skylander from its portal. It can be an invaluable move during difficult horde-mode battles or as a quick breath of air during boss fights. Skylanders fans will appreciate it, and it makes you continually reevaluate which enemies you’ll keep “trapped” in the shard.
The trapping itself is also an interesting concept, and will definitely delight younger players. When you insert the crystal into the base after defeating a boss, you’ll be treated to an audio effect that “drains” from your TV/theater speakers into the speaker on the portal trap. Plus, during regular play, the trapped villain will quip from the trap, begging you to let them out (or to comment on your gameplay). Given the insane amount of enemy voice talent, the fact that each boss has 5+ dialogue soundbites, it’s a nifty effect during gameplay. Plus, the portal itself looks a LOT cooler this time around, favoring a clear plastic, backlit base as opposed to the previous opaque iterations. Of course, thanks to the trap, it’s also significantly wider, and the cord placement is odd, especially if you want to keep the trap speaker pointed towards you, so as not to miss out on dialogue.
Graphically, Skylanders Trap Team really pops on the PS4/Xbox one. There’s a noticeable visual upgrade, especially when looking at textures both in the CGI segments and during normal gameplay. As always, the color palette is ridiculous, and really makes the kid-friendly, and really gives family-friendly companies (*coughNintendocough*) a great run for their money.
Gameplay-wise, aside from the standard Skylander (and “trap”) mechanics, it features a low difficulty curve and an assortment of easy-to-decipher puzzles (with the exception of the sometimes insane door-lock mini-game!). Honestly, the main thing that holds it back from being a 9 or 10 is the isometric camera. Not being able to pan the camera around your player means you’ll often miss doors or treasure opportunities, and they’ll taunt you as you’re whisked away to another part of the level. Also, BEWARE OF TALKING TO NPCS: if you’re in an area and not ready to leave, avoid the NPC’s, as they’ll often move you to the next section of the game without giving you the option to back out. It’s especially odd that they don’t give you the option to back out, since it’s part of every exchange with Flynn back at HQ.
Skystones makes it’s return as an in-game mini-game, and you’ll often have to best a NPC in a match if you want to move forward, as they will hoard keys, buttons and other necessary items until you beat them. Luckily, each boss you beat also gives you a new Skystone, and you’ll be able to customize your “deck” before each match. It plays out like a simplified version of Magic: The Gathering, and can provide a nice respite from normal gameplay moments. Plus, you can play it whenever you want at Skylanders HQ, once you unlock the corresponding tower.
All of that aside, there’s one major shortcoming in Skylanders: Trap Team–you’ll need to put a LOT more money into it, if you want to get the full experience.
**BEWARE! FINANCIAL SPOILERS AHEAD**
Unfortunately for parents each game can’t be 100% completed without purchasing additional figures, since you’ll encounter “locked” doors, which can only be unlocked by placing the appropriate Skylander on the portal. This itself is nothing new to the franchise, as it’s been a staple in every game. However, like Swap Force before it, you’ll need to purchase Trap Team “Trap Masters” if you want to get through each door. Skylanders Trap-Team blasts that sales model into hyperdrive.
In addition to the previous eight elements, Trap Team features two additional “Mystery Elements” which are Portal Masters and trap crystals that have yet to be released. But that’s not the crazy part: there are 36 lesser villains and 10 “Boss” villains to catch.
As mentioned before, the only way to bring order to the Skylands is to track down the escaped baddies and re-imprison them in Traptanium shards. When you trap a villain, you’re prompted to insert a trap crystal to “lock in” the villain, which you can then use in combat by pressing the L2 trigger. The starter set comes with two elemental crystals: Water and Life…but there are SIX other elemental crystals that you’ll have to purchase a la carte…and each one will set you back $5.99 each, or you can snag a three pack which is $14.99.
The real rub is included in the starter set: a cardboard trap organizer which allows your kiddo to catalogue which villains they’ve trapped…as well as all of the crystals that they don’t yet own. Each time you trap a villain (provided that you have the right trap crystal), you’re given the chance to load them into your trap, for use in the level. PLEASE NOTE: you do NOT need to have a crystal for every villain…you technically just need one trap per element, which you can use to switch out villains from their impromptu prison at Skylanders HQ (which acts as a Ghostbusters-like containment unit).
If your kid wants to use each of the villains interchangeably (and why wouldn’t they, after seeing the trap catalogue?!), they’ll need…er…you’ll need to buy additional trap crystals.
So, like the other games, if you want to 100% the game (and use each of the trapped enemies), you’ll need six additional Traptanium shards ($29.98 if you buy ‘em in their convenient three packs) and SEVEN additional Trap Masters (@ $14.99 each = a cool $104.93. So that sets your total to around $134.91 in addition to the $74.99 starter set.
So, all together, you’re looking at $209.90. Before the “Unknown” Skylanders.
Now, that seems like an awful lot of money. Hell, it’s more than half of a PS4.
If you’re a savvy parent, you’ll be able to make this game last far beyond it’s 8-10 hour initial play-through.
On one hand, you might use the Skylanders Trap Team to foster the concept of sharing with your kids, as you can always revisit previously “element locked” areas with borrowed Skylanders…and you can always play with the trapped bosses on borrowed crystals, as they’re stored at Skylanders HQ just begging to be let out.
Still, as cool at the trap concept is, it just doesn’t feel as fun as the “swap” concept of it’s previous iteration. However, you could argue that getting three “traptanium” shards for the cost of another character gives you more options for less money. Plus, like previous versions, all of your old Skylanders will work with Trap Team, and will port all previous hats and upgrades into the new game. It’s nice getting to use familiar characters…especially if you’ve maxed out their abilities and need an extra edge in combat. Of course, keeping all of them nearby while playing will make you look like a crazy BINGO grandmother with her lucky fetishes.