Turning heroes into villains is Skylanders’ new party trick, as it looks to spice up the formula entering its fourth consecutive year – although like a myriad of high-performing kids shows within the same realm, Skylanders is destined for long-lasting success with relatively minor tweaks as it captivates its revolving audience for only a couple of instalments before they inevitably outgrow its childish charms and the next generation is ushered in to replace them.
The Skylanders premise – bringing real toys to life in a video game – has been successfully emulated by Disney, and Nintendo is getting in on the party later this year. You know what they say: imitation is the greatest form of flattery.
But the joy for kids starts long before pressing start. That’s the genius behind crafting beautiful figurines that kids, and big kids, just have to have. The son of one of my colleagues has only recently been given passage to Minecraft, but not yet introduced to Skylanders – apparently kids these days are all over tablets when they’re still too young for console gaming. Speaking of which, the full Skylanders experience is on tablets for the first time this year. However, he loves the hand-me-down Skylanders figurines we had lying around the office, just to play with them as toys, and will inevitably graduate to the full game when dad decides it’s time.
What a fantastic gateway drug.
While Disney undoubtedly has the more recognisable characters, its focus on creativity means Skylanders reigns supreme when it comes to scripted gameplay. The basic movements are simple enough for kids of under 10 to master, ideally cooperative with their parents, and make for a solid action platformer. While it has been made kid-friendly, parents and older siblings will slip seamlessly into the fluid gameplay, which teaches kids the fundamental elements they’ll see time and time again in more mature games for the rest of their lives. The polish and accessible gameplay have always been high points of Skylanders, and it hasn’t skipped a beat in Trap Team.
With a bunch of new characters to collect – as always Skylanders is very expensive if you need to have everything – including a new baby Spyro, which is a nice hark-back to the original. I’d almost forgotten he’s where it all started. The starter pack comes with just two characters, and as side-quests are hidden behind elemental doors, you’ll need to buy more if you want to access all of the game’s content. Otherwise you’re restricted to just the main story, and the water and life character-content that comes in the box.
However, Trap Team does ease the burden on parents, more-so than in previous years, by including its new trapping mechanism. Being able to play as villains, who join the good guys once defeated in battle and “trapped” with a trap toy on the Portal of Power, immediately adds a roster of additional characters. While they don’t have the same upgrades or staying power as the Skylanders, there are more than 40 extra playable villains, ranging from a projectile-powered sheep to a broccoli man. The villains add a much needed new layer to player progression, and their dedicated side missions flesh out the content, but inevitably the “toys meet game” element is lost on them, since there is no physical figurine – not that kids will really notice, and parents will rejoice at being able to save money, if they’re game-savvy enough to point out the villains add extra characters.
Unfortunately, for all it does well as an all-ages platformer, Trap Team dilutes loot a little too much. The abundance of Treasure is now shared between players in co-op, so there’s no more fighting over upgrades, but if you have just two new characters, they’ll max out their level within the first few hours. Even with all six hours, I can’t imagine it’d take close to the entire 10 hour story, which makes all the Treasure scattered across the levels redundant from about hallway through. While Skylanders is normally on the ball when it comes to balancing complete gameplay with accessibility for young children, it doesn’t give 6-year-olds enough credit when it comes to levelling up – especially those returning from previous games that know what they’re doing.
While old Skylanders figurines are compatible, there has been no level cap increase, which compounds the useless extra Treasure. You can use your old suitcase of Skylanders figurines, but if they’re already at level 20, that’s where they’ll stay and, of course, the titular Trap Team characters are required for the elemental doors. Developer Toys for Bob says the level cap hasn’t been increased for balance reasons, and that may be so, but the inherent consequence is little benefit for returning players.
The Final Verdict
Skylanders: Trap Team returns with the same polished, kid-friendly, gameplay the series has become renowned for with a neat new twist that adds variation to playable characters, but doesn’t reinvent the wheel. It’s still expensive for the complete package, you’ll need to fork out for more characters to access all content, but on the flip side, the addition of villains adds playable characters that don’t require a figurine. There mightn’t be much for returning players, but there’s an abundance for newcomers, and when it comes to Skylanders you’ve just gotta have ‘em all.