Skylanders Trap Team (Wii U) Review
I’m a grown man who loves playing with toys. Clearly I’m not alone, as in recent years we’ve seen the emergence and dominance of video games that necessitate the purchase and playing of Skylanders.
Sure, Disney has gotten into the mix with their Infinity franchise, and Nintendo are set to enter the fray with their mysterious Amiibo figures. But Skylanders was the innovator of the Toys to Life category, helmed by developer Toys For Bob and bankrolled by Activision.
Now in its fourth iteration and second console generation, the Skylanders return with Trap Team; a Toy-based game built around adventuring and bounty hunting. The Trap Team Skylanders and the portal trap are the newest addition to the series. A crack squad of Skylanders with glistening weapons made from mystical Traptanium crystal; The Trap Team are powerful. Aside from providing a gorgeous point of difference on the new figures, the crystals serve as a hook for the best gameplay innovation seen in the series.
The portal used to activate your toy figures has been transformed into a living breathing Ghostbuster’s trap. Placing (purchased separately) Traptanium crystals into the slot on your portal allows certain enemies to be captured when defeated, stored in a vault where they can be brought into play. Villains are playable characters (sans the toys, which is kind of disappointing), replacing the active Skylander with a villain mid level with the push of a button. Playing as villains adds a good amount of variety to gameplay, and opens up opportunities to experience adventures as bevvy of baddies with wonderful new powers.
Veteran Skylander archenemy Kaos returns in Trap Team, joined by a range of colourful rouges, most notably a giant anthropomorphic red capsicum named Pepper Jack. Villains are beautifully designed, thematically in sync with their environment, and have their own wonderful theme tunes that replace music in levels when they are activated.
To capture a villain in your trap, you’ll need to defeat them in combat, storing them in their corresponding elemental crystal. Their transfer from game screen to physical crystal is realized through excellent sound design, as the wail of a pleading defeated boss rises out of the television speakers and plops audibly into the crystal, echoed by the portal’s speaker. Voice acting in Skylanders has been rock solid since it was introduced in Giants, and Trap Team delivers some wonderful banter between villains and Skylanders, especially when villains beg from within the trap to be called into combat.
When not lurking within tiny plastic crystals, villains are contained in a vault at the centre of the new hub world, themed around a floating Skylanders training academy. As with the best Skylanders games, the hub world evolves and grows as missions are completed, unlocking secrets and rewards to help upgrade your Skylanders. It is clear the developers love the Skylanders series, and jovial references to previous games fill the world. Familiar and obscure characters reappear in hidden nooks and crannies within levels, and in jokes have warmth, which will engage new and existing fans.
The real joy of Skylanders remains co-op play, and the experience is made better still when playing as the villains. While it may be a limitation of the new portal, it is disappointing two crystals can’t be active at once, and not all villains are created equal. Bosses have received the lion’s share of the design attention, and ageing character models from previous Skylanders games feel like they are holding Trap Team back. Regardless, being given yet more choice in a series that now boasts hundreds of character variations is welcome.
The Trap Team Skylanders and villains aren’t the only new additions to the roster. Formerly known as Sidekicks, the new Minis are miniaturized versions of existing Skylanders and Giants from previous games. While these characters are little more than palette swaps, a miniaturized Gill Grunt is adorable. And that’s what Trap Team leans into heavily, your love of Skylanders.
Like most big annual releases, you can often bet on an on/off year cycle for game quality. Fortunately, thanks in part to the experience of Activision with their Call of Duty series, and the evident passion to make great games of Toys For Bob, Vicarious Visions and Beenox, Skylanders Trap Team is a triumph for Toys to Life games. Sure, I was cautious of a game requiring me to buy yet more plastic toys, and that elemental gates are now specific to Trap Team Skylanders and villains. But I don’t care. It’s excellent. Be a grown up and double down on plastic toys, you know you want to. We all do.