I’m one of those people who will see something or follow a particular brand and think to himself “wow, how will they top themselves after that”. I honestly thought the same thing with Skylanders. First we had Spyro’s Adventure that introduced the whole “toys to life” concept by putting figures onto a portal that will transport those characters into the game. Next we had Giants, larger and more powerful characters to help defend the Skylands from evil. That was followed up with Swap Force, where you could interchange the top and bottom halves of characters to create entirely new characters to use. So how does one top that while keeping things fresh? Enter Skylanders: Trap Team.
I recently had a chance to fly out to Novato, California courtesy of Toys for Bob and Activision to get some hands-on time with Skylanders: Trap Team, but that’s not the only thing we learned about on the trip. While at Toys for Bob we also had the opportunity to see just what goes into the making of a Skylanders game, from portal creation to character design and printing to animation. I’ve always known that there’s a lot that goes into making a video game, but seeing it all in person was quite the educational experience. It was interesting to see some of the prototypes and initial designs of some of the characters, how the 3D printing process works (when my group went through a character was currently in the printer), and even learn a bit about the animation and audio that goes into the game. It was definitely a highlight of the trip…but you’re not here to read a lecture on game design, are you?
Nope, you’re reading this to hear about the game itself, right? Going into the trip I had the general idea of how the “Trap Team” concept would work; you’d basically capture characters to use in the game. How that all comes about I initially had no clue. It’s actually rather interesting. The past three Skylanders games were all about the magic of bringing the toys to life. With Trap Team though it’s the complete opposite: you’re bringing life to the toys.
In Skylanders: Trap Team, Kaos discovers the location of the Cloudcracker Prison, a fortress built entirely out of a substance known as Traptanium that holds the most nefarious villains in the Skylands. In an attempt to build his own army, Kaos blows up the prison and releases the villains and some shards of Traptanium to Earth in the form of traps. Now it’s up to the Portal Masters to recapture the villains using these new traps and to defeat Kaos himself.
You’ll still be able to purchase new Skylanders figures to use in the game as well as use your existing figures, but now you’ll also be able to purchase crystal shards that will interact with the new portals. When you defeat one of the “major” enemies (ie. Not just a little monster but one of the bigger villains) you’ll get a chance to insert a crystal of the matching element into the portal to capture the villain. For instance, when you defeat Pepper Jack (a fire elemental enemy), you can insert a fire crystal to capture him. There are a lot of villains to capture, but don’t think you’ll have to run out to the store and spend a truck load of money on crystals. While you can only hold one villain per crystal, any extra villains will go to the Skylanders Academy for storage until you wish to use them, so essentially you’ll only need one crystal per element unless you really don’t want to bother going to the Academy each time you want to use a different villain.
Before I get too much into the stages we got to demo, a bit about the new portal. The new portal will sport two new features: a slot for the crystals and a small speaker. The purpose of the speaker is where the “life to toys” concept comes into play. When you have a crystal in the portal that has a villain trapped in it and you’re not currently playing as that villain, they’ll occasionally say something that you’ll hear on the speaker, including when you first trap them. When we were talking to the audio team they showed us a few examples of this, and it’s interesting to hear just how smoothly the villain’s voice transitions from the game to the portal’s speaker. The reason behind the concept is so that kids can imagine that the villain is actually in the crystal, and it’s a nice effect.
As for the game itself, we got to demo a couple different stages. The first one I tried had us running around on a zeppelin, but before that we had to get to the zeppelin by flying to it on a ship while taking down the zeppelin’s defense cannons. Once on the zeppelin i took a couple of minutes with the controls and swapping characters in and out, which can still be done on the fly. Something I noticed is that as I moved about the zeppelin, I kept getting messages that a certain element was stronger in the current area. Not sure how that works logically, but it definitely plays towards having multiple Skylanders at the ready to swap out when needed.
Speaking of swapping out, when you have a crystal in the portal, a quick hit of a button will swap out the Skylander for the villain. The villains have their own attacks and actually cannot be defeated…sort of. You’ll notice a bar at the bottom/left of the screen that will gradually decrease. Villains can only be used for a certain amount of time until they’ll automatically go back into the crystal to recharge. Getting hit while using a villain will decrease the remaining time a bit. This is a nice feature as it allows you to swap out your Skylander if they lose too much health and bring in some backup. It’s also kind of funny to use a villain while fighting the same villain (ie. Pepper Jack vs. Pepper Jack).
If you remember in past Skylanders games you level up each character as you used them. It’s the same here, but you can also power up the villains a bit. Each villain you can capture has a specific challenge somewhere in the game and completing that challenge will power up that villain. Some challenges will be timed while I was told that not all of them will be. The one I did had me turning on some fans within a ten minute time limit. It wasn’t all that difficult and I had a few minute to spare at the end, but it’s an interesting way to level the villains.
The other stage we demoed was a Kaos Doom Challenge that’s actually like a mini tower defense game. You start off each wave in the Build Phase where you can build a couple of towers (the level we did had a limit of three), then you move onto the wave itself. The goal was to defeat all of the enemies in each wave while protecting your towers and, more importantly, a treasure box. You can also freely swap out Skylanders here so if one’s not working as well as you’d like for a wave, you can swap him out on the fly, even during the wave itself. While I did enjoy the challenge, it wasn’t much of a challenge depending on which Skylander you used and how powered up he was. Case in point, once I swapped out to Lob-Star, who had been used quite a bit and was Level 13 at that point, the waves went by rather quickly as I just spammed his ranged attack from a distance and neither myself nor my towers were in any real danger.
Overall, I enjoyed what I played of Skylanders: Trap Team. While I skipped out on Giants and Swap Force, I’ll be keeping an eye on Trap Team when it comes out. While I played the game on the Wii U, it’s being released on the Wii U, Wii, PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, 3DS, and for tablets, and from what I understand it’s the same across all platforms. My concern at the moment is the purchasing of multiple crystal trap toys, but at only $6 apiece it’s not all that bad to get one of each element. Still, with the success that the Skylanders franchise has seen in the past few years, I can see Trap Team being just as successful. If you’re ready for the next iteration of Skylanders, you won’t have much longer to wait as Skylanders: Trap Team launches on October 5th in North America and will cost $79.99 for starter packs, $99.99 for Dark Starter Packs, $14.99 for Trap Master toys, $9.99 for the core Skylanders toys, and #13.99 for a Skylanders Minis two-pack.
Editor's Note: Activision paid for airfare and lodging for this trip
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.