It’s amazing that a concept once meant to reboot the struggling Spyro franchise has grown into such a phenomenon. Yet Skylanders’ popularity quickly outgrew the Spyro moniker to the point that it was outright dropped from the sophomore year of the series, relegating the once iconic purple dragon to little more than another Skylander. While the series has been around only three years, it’s already become a video game staple and it’s hard to imagine a world without. In fact, it’s even spawned a formable opponent in Disney Infinity. With the fourth incarnation of the franchise, Skylanders Trap Team, Activision hopes to fend off any territory encroachment while redefining the series enough to keep it relevant.
The most notable aspect in Trap Team are the traps themselves, so let’s get right to them. While before the series allowed players to bring characters into the game by scanning in figures, traps allow players to take characters out of the game and into a figure. Traps come in nine elements: Air, Undead, Fire, Tech, Magic, Earth, Life, Kaos and Water. Throughout the story mode, enemies will be encountered that can be captured once defeated. To capture an enemy, a Trap is placed into a special slot on the Traptanium Portal. Once captured and inserted into the slot, players can swap between enemies and Skylanders at any time with the press of a button. One neat aspect to this is that there is a speaker built into the Traptanium Portal that the captured enemy will speak through at various times. The voice acting and dialogue is strong and funny, truly making it feel like you’ve captured a character. The Trap used to capture the enemy must correspond with that enemy’s element and only one can be stored per trap. Enemies can be swapped out of traps at Skylanders Academy, but this still means that at least one of each of the nine elemental traps is needed to capture all 47 possible enemies.
Thankfully, traps are more than a mere gimmick. While their most enduring element is the aspect of collection, enemies can be useful in combat and serve specific purposes. There’s special zones throughout levels where enemies get a damage boost as well as treasure chests that only they can open. More still, there are special side-missions for specific enemies that can also be completed. Added to the fact that traps can be swapped between friends and it introduces a refreshing new element to the series.
I know what you’re thinking though, parents — how much is this all going to cost me? There’s more physical elements to Trap Team than ever before in Skylanders, so let’s break it down. $74.99 will need to be spent for the starter pack, which includes the game itself, a Traptanium Portal, a Trap Master, Core Character and two Traps. There’s also a Dark Edition Starter Pack retailing for $99.99 that includes Dark variants of everything as well as an extra Trap Master and Kaos Trap (currently the only way to secure the one-off trap). Trap Masters are the largest of the figures and the main characters to play as through the game. There are six Trap Masters available at launch — each representing one of the main elements — retailing for $15.99 each. Ideally they should all be purchased as there are special portals throughout levels that reward players with bonus items like hats that increase stats that can only be accessed by a Trap Master of a certain element. Core Skylanders are available for $9.99 each and are simply basic Skylanders. As these aren’t as strong as the Trap Masters, they need only be purchased for collectibility purposes; same goes for the $14.99 Minis Two-Packs. Finally, there’s Traps. Traps can be purchased individually for $6.99 or in three packs for $15.99. Both packs should be secured to ensure every enemy can be captured.
When it really gets expensive is if you want to capture and continually hold every single one of the forty-seven available enemies — the only way to swap between all of the captured enemies outside of combat. Doing so would cost a whopping $250. While this may seem impractical, the Starter Pack includes a labeled Trap Tray to hold all forty-seven baddies, so it’s encouraged to collect all of the enemies individually. So parents, hide this tray if this isn’t a road you want to go down. So to recap, successfully experiencing everything the core game has to offer will take a Starter Pack, six Trap masters and six Traps, which is an investment of about $200. While steep, there’s a lot of bang for the buck considering that includes hours of playtime likely both physically and virtually.
In Trap Team, players again assume the faceless role of the “Portal Master.” The story is that once Skylands was under siege from a group of powerful villains known as the Doom Raiders. Fortunately, an elite team of Skylanders known as the Trap Team brought these evildoers to justice, locking them in Cloudcracker Prison. All was safe until the evil Kaos destroyed Cloudcracker Prison, hurdling the Trap Team, enemies and shards of Cloudcracker to Earth. With the Doom Raiders loose again, the Trap Team must track down and capture them with the shards of Cloudcracker (the aforementioned Traps) before its too late.
The story is surprisingly fleshed-out for a game of this nature and features biting satire along the way. Thanks to great voice acting turns from the likes of Patrick Warburton, there will be numerous times where kids and adults alike will laugh at the self-aware, fourth wall-breaking humor. The plot is further fleshed out with hidden Story Scrolls discovered along the way.
Trap Team is broken up into three main modes: Story, Kaos Doom Challenge and Battle Arena. The story mode is the premier mode and features a surprisingly robust 3D platforming experience. Levels tend to be over half an hour long and there’s a large amount of them. With side-missions to complete, enemies to capture and secret areas to discover and explore, the experience feels more like a full-fledged platformer and less like a game to support the interactivity (which is a pitfall Disney Infinity 2.0’s Play Sets has begun to fall into). Kaos Doom Challenge is a tower defense mode that features multiple levels with increasing difficulty that challenge players with multiple waves of enemies that must be defended against with the help of towers that upgrade each time they survive a wave. A Skylander of a certain element must be deployed to activate towers, so this mode will require multiple Skylanders to properly experience. Battle Arenas are special combat arenas that feature different objectives and hazards and can be accessed after Chapter 4. In addition, there are multiple mini-games and other challenges that can be accessed through the central hub, Skylanders Academy, or throughout story missions. There is a ton of content to keep players busy — between fully completing the modes, leveling up Skylanders and collecting enemies — so much so that you can almost be guaranteed even kids with the shortest attention span will get at least a year of use out of everything.
Part of a surprisingly strong series, Skylanders Trap Team is arguably the best iteration yet. Although Traps are a way to further increase merchandising, they add both a enjoyable layer of depth to gameplay and a fun new aspect of collectibility that will encourage players to trade/loan their captured villains amongst friends. 3D Platforming isn’t dead, it’s just been taken over by Skylanders and this adventure is strong enough to stand on its own as an inventive and creative throwback to some of the most memorable games of the late nineties/early aughts. With strong gameplay and lasting appeal plus creative and collective physical figures, Trap Team is a Toys-to-Life recipe for success and one that keeps the series fresh for yet another year.
Version Reviewed: Xbox One