Skylanders Trap Team Review – PlayStation 4

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When I think five years in gaming’s past, I find myself utterly amazed by Activision and Toys for Bob’s Skylanders franchise. Who would have ever thought that a new IP based on the then-flailing Spyro the Dragon license would ever evolve into the gaming powerhouse that Skylanders has become.  Now on its fourth iteration, each successive Skylanders release has presented a new and innovative twist on the gameplay of the prior releases, while maintaining the top-notch gameplay that has become a cornerstone of the series.

Skylanders Trap Team is the perfect example; 2013’s Skylanders Swap Force had some big shoes to fill with its fantastically innovative two-piece magnetically connected characters that could be mixed and matched to make hybrid super characters.

Trap Team fills Swap Force’s mighty sneakers with the addition of an inventive Trapping mechanic which gives gamers the power to imprison defeated boss characters within Trap Crystals. Much like the Skylanders figurines themselves, Trap Crystals are tangible real-world objects containing hidden memory chips that communicate to the virtual world via Near Field Communications (NFC) when inserted into a port on the newly designed “Traptanium” game Portal.

The benefit to having a villains trapped within the crystals is that it allows the gamer to use the incarcerated creatures as allies in their conquest, swapping back and forth on the fly between the main portal character and the crystal-contained baddie. The villains comply in an attempt to redeem themselves and gain their eventual release – think of it as being out on good behavior, in jail terms.

The catch – and there is always a catch – is that like the Skylanders, the villains are elemental in nature and can only be incarcerated in crystals comprised of elements matching their own, and only one at a per crystal at any given time.

With only two crystals included in the starter pack, that means that only a quarter of the eight basic Skylanders elements (air, earth, fire, water, life, magic, tech and undead) are covered at the outset. Of course, additional Trap Crystal figurines can be purchased for about $7 – so gamers can get their hands on all eight elements for an additional $50 or so.  And that’s if the gamer doesn’t mind going through the additional trouble of swapping some of the 47 villains between the Villain Vault and the Crystals – some folks might want to buy multiple versions of the crystals to always keep specific villains at the ready.  Cha-ching!

If that weren’t daunting enough on the pocketbook, considering that new trapping mechanic can only be performed by one of the eighteen designated “Trap Master” characters at $15 a pop, then there is also the thirty-plus new edition Skylanders characters at $10 each, and you can see that the Skylanders cash cow definitely has horns.   Add to that the numerous variants, magic items, and level packs for sale, and a Skylanders completest could easily find himself in for hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.

Granted, like any Skylanders game before it, there is plenty of fun to be had with the starter pack. Gamers can play through a large portion of the game with the two standard pack-in characters (standard character “Food Fight” and Trap Master character “Snap Shot”) and the two Trap Crystals – and even with a friend in co-op mode.  But chances are, most gamers will be driven to pick up one at least a couple of additional add-ons to augment their enjoyment; if not simply for the collectible factor, then to open more of the alternate missions and pathways requiring characters of various elements.

Skylanders Trap Team sees a return of series originator Toys For Bob in the development seat, although any difference from last year’s Swap Force – developed by Vicarious Visions – is hardly noticeable. Obviously, Activision is employing their time-honored alternating developers system (as they did with the Call of Duty series) to allow multi-year development cycles while maintaining annual releases.

So why are gamers trapping villains in the first place?

It seems that the prime bad guy Kaos was a bit angry with how things were left upon the conclusion of the events detailed in Swap Force. As a result, he decides it to get back at the Skylanders by blowing up the infamous Cloudcraker Prison, thereby releasing its menagerie of evil villains on the now-peaceful Skylands.  The only Skylanders with the mettle to defeat and capture these heinous criminals is a crack force of specially-trained Trap Team Skylanders, who are called in for help.

The story is told through a series of entertaining film-quality CGI cutscenes that highlight the constant infighting between the villains, who just cannot seem to get along (surprise, surprise). Kaos quickly realizes he might have opened Pandora’s Box with his actions – and hilarity ensues.

Trapping does come in handy, as most villains come with special powers and attacks that are tailored for specific obstacles and/or enemies. For instance, the first villain Sheep Creep appears friendly enough – until his two back-mounted turrets pop out from under his wooly coat. These projectiles are serious enough stuff, as are the landmine secondary weapons he leaves behind (yeah, cute).  But once leveled, Sheep Creep has some downright devastating wooly bombs that effectively clear waves of enemies in a single blow.

Villains that have been sealed in Trap Crystals can be called upon at any time, but their use is limited by an onscreen meter that requires a recharge period once depleted (or maybe that should be deBLEATed in the case of Sheep Creep). This means that gamers still need to be a bit expeditious in their usage of villain allies, because it always seems like recharges never come at the most opportune times.

The rest of the game is standard Skylanders fare – which is definitely not a bad thing. Sure, it’s never going to compete with a classic platforming series like, say Sly Cooper or Ratchet and Clank – but the sheer sense of interactivity and engagement that comes with swapping the highly-detailed figurines on and off the Traptanium Portal and seeing those characters appear onscreen makes up for any shortcomings in the gameplay department.

Aside from the standard story mode, Trap Team offers up a handful of additional gameplay modes – the most entertaining of which is the Kaos Doom Challenge, which introduces a wave-based tower defense mechanic into the fold. Battling the waves of enemies using brute strength and constructed towers is surprisingly rewarding, and serves as the perfect loot mine for leveling up characters.

That being said, it is a bummer that it seems like the difficulty has been toned down a little too much –never has it been so effortless fully level up characters in such a short period of time. It seemed like every time Persephone the level-up fairy appeared there was always enough loot to make a major upgrade.   Leveling up is fun, but sheesh – let’s make it at least seem rewarding, eh?

It is also a bit of a downer that the game only ships with one actual Trap Team member, Snap Shot. Food Fight is also included in the package, but he is merely a standard Skylander.  And while Snap Shot is fairly badass in his own right, the fact that last year’s Swap Force came with two swappable Swap Force characters as well and an additional standard Skylander, it almost doesn’t seem fair.  Some would argue that Trap Team also comes packed with two Trap Crystals to house villains, but this hardly makes up for nagging sense that something is missing.

Then again, Skylanders continues the trend of supporting all previous Skylanders characters dating back to the first game. That includes the Skylanders Giants and the Skylanders Swap Force characters and all of their special abilities.  So while there is a sense that maybe an additional Trap Team character might have been nice, the fact that an entire collection of four years’ worth of characters is still relevant is astonishing.

Every game has its warts, but at the end of the day Skylanders Trap Team is every bit as enjoyable and addictive as any Skylanders title that came before it. It may be a tad on the easy side (even for a kids’ game), and it might be more geared than ever at squeezing every last drop of green out of your wallet this holiday season – but Skylanders Trap Team still stands as a technological marvel in the gaming world and an experience that gamers of all ages will thoroughly enjoy.

I am not sure when exactly this Skylanders train is going to run out of coal, but for the time being Activision and Toys for Bob have their arms solidly embraced around the golden goose of the gaming industry.

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