- Play as both Skylanders and villains
- Use Traptanium traps to bring villains over to your side
- New range of toys and figures
- Lots of new adventures and gameplay types
Sometimes when you’re reviewing games within a small (‘select’) editorial team, you’ll encounter something which just isn’t aimed at you. I’m not that into the look and feel of Bayonetta 2, for instance, and Alien: Isolation was just a bit too intensefor my weak and fragile mindset.
Skylanders Trap Team is another example, because I am a 29 year old man and not a nine-year-old techno-obsessed, pocket-money guzzling demon child.
That’s right, Activision’s multiple billions-earning cash cow is back for another year, complete with new physical toys, gameplay gimmicks and genuinely cool additions to the increasingly mind-meltingly enormous franchise.
This year the hook is Traps — by which players can use crystals on their new USB Traptanium Portal to suck defeated enemies of different types into (plastic) crystals (complete with cool light and sound effects).
You can then play as these villains, and upgrade them by completing ‘redemption’ missions and turning them to the good side. There are 46 of them, they’re all extremely inventive and funny as characters (more so than the slightly dull Skylanders) and you can have several in a crystal of the right element. You don’t even have to buy them! … Kinda. Well, in fact while you get two crystals in the starter pack, and can unlock all the villains without buying anything, you do have to buy more elemental types to actually capture them, and play as them. Complicated? Not to the kidz it won’t be.
In fact it’s a very neat trick, commercial implications aside, flipping the Skylanders mechanic. In addition to physical toys sucking themselves into the action, you can now take them out. (Kinda). From there they can take equal part in the platforming-fighting-and-occasional-minigame melee which makes up the meat-and-potatoes of the series.
It’s a slight shame, however, that this core gameplay formula remains pretty much untouched. There are new styles of action and levels to be found, but it’s not incredibly different from what you (or your kids) have played before. There’s nothing here to match Nintendo’s best moments in straightforward gaming terms, and that’s a shame.
That’s not to say the Skylanders themselves aren’t changing though. Last year’s Swap Force gave you the ability to break apart and recombine the figures into new variants. This year you have Trap Masters, bigger figures with cool crystal weapons. The included Snap Shot crocodile figure is neat and powerful, and definitely feels like an objective upgrade in pure gameplay terms. The figures themselves are great too – very detailed, weighty and impressive on a shelf.
Alas, again, there is money involved: you’ll have to buy at least seven more Trap Masters to unlock the elemental gates and see the whole of the game’s content. While you can use older Skylanders with the game (and to buy you extra lives by swapping them out mid-fight) they can’t unlock the gates, and that means your toy collection is going to grow. Last year it was possible to see most of the game just with the new starter pack and your old figures. This year you’re paying through the nose to see it all.
What’s good about Skylanders is still present and correct here. The levelling-up and upgrading is just as addictive, the gameplay is just as straightforwardly enjoyable and action-packed, and the writing is often funny and clever, even for adults. The graphics on the next-gen consoles are sparkling, and it still works cross-platform where the toys are concerned, which is ace. It’s an investment, but an investment that will probably pay off in terms of longevity for younger players., especially if there’s more than one in your household.
The downsides, though, are equally obvious. It’s more expensive to complete than last year, the basic gameplay is roughly the same, and there’s no feeling playing it that this is a classic video game in its own right. It’s not as inventive as Disney Infinity’s Toy Box, or as well-designed as Nintendo’s best moments, and while it’s a better all-around action game and ecosystem than the other Toys To Life equivalents, it feels like it needs a big rethink if it’s to keep the magic going for much longer.