If there’s one thing the Skylanders and LEGO franchises prove, it’s that not all kids’ games are shovelware. While both series hardly evolve with each new release, their level of polish and gameplay value are rarely replicated in titles geared towards younger gamers. I’ve played Skylanders since they first launched in 2011 and I still can’t get enough of them. This year’s Skylanders: Trap Team introduces subtle gameplay tweaks, namely the traps, and it makes collecting the charming toys even more alluring. While it offers a fundamentally similar experience to its predecessors, Trap Team is the most refined and visually impressive Skylanders game to date. Whether you’re four or forty, this lovable series continues to awe with beautiful level and creature designs, a great sense of humor and fun, albeit simplistic, gameplay mechanics.
"While it offers a fundamentally similar experience to its predecessors, Trap Team is the most refined and visually impressive Skylanders game to date."
For those unfamiliar with Skylanders, it’s basically a cross between Pokemon and Diablo for kids. The base set comes with two different figurines (and two newly introduced trap crystals) and a power portal. Gamers place figurines onto the portal and they appear as playable avatars on-screen. The figurines are unique in that they store gameplay data, such as character levels and upgrades. This makes collecting and upgrading Skylanders incredibly addictive. Only specific figurines can access bonus areas, so they’re more than just accomplishment trophies. On one hand, this seems like a cheap hook to get parents to buy more of the expensive toys for their kids. On the other hand, gamers who enjoy collecting hundreds of Skylander figures get more value out of them.
The good news is that gamers who’ve already collected and upgraded Skylanders in past games can use them when playing through Trap Team. On the downside, the introduction of “Trap Masters” prevents gamers from fully utilizing their collection. Trap Masters are the only ones who can open special areas throughout levels, so gamers who own toys for the appropriate “portal-types” will need to either upgrade to new figurines, or entirely ignore these sections. Skylanders: Trap Team tries to liven up its formula by introducing traps. Players can capture and play as the bosses, although specific traps are needed for each type, meaning there goes another $6.99 per trap. Despite being a hefty investment, Skylanders still offers plenty of value to those who can only afford a fraction of the collection.
"The Skylands are filled with likeable creatures, but Flynn and Kaos once again steal the show."
As with all previous entries, the plot’s complexity is akin to a saturday morning cartoon. Kaos, voiced by the hilarious Richard Steven Horvitz, frees a group of powerful villains from prison in hopes of becoming their leader in order to conquer the Skylands. Things don’t go according to plan and the freed bandits decide to take matters into their own hands. Now it’s up to the player to recapture each villain using various Skylanders and the newly acquired traps. The game’s charm, excellent writing and superb voice acting is what keeps the narrative engaging. The Skylands are filled with likeable creatures, but Flynn and Kaos once again steal the show.
The gameplay remains simple, but playing on the hard difficulty setting is no longer a walk in the park. The hardest setting significantly increases attack speed and power, making the game more suitable for adult gamers. But let’s be honest, this is no Bayonetta or Dark Souls. Skylanders won’t challenge seasoned players, but it’s also not trying to. This game is all about kicking back, relaxing and having a good time with your kids (or, well...adults who are still kids at heart). Running around the Skylands, gaining new upgrades and trapping various bosses is undeniably irresistible. In addition to the story mode, Skylanders: Trap Team offers a tower-defense horde mode called the Kaos Doom Challenge, and it’s exactly how it sounds. Players have to defend chests while Kaos’ minions swarm the playing field. After each wave, players can build defense towers, which are upgraded every time they survive a round. The mode is a fun little distraction, but the early stages can be absurdly easy for those who already own leveled-up Skylander figures from previous sets. And as always, co-op plays a big part and having a buddy on your side makes everything double the fun.
"Environments radiate with color and superb art direction, and each character animates with masterful fluidity."
Visually, Skylanders: Trap Team is gorgeous. It’s not only the best looking release in the series, it may the best looking kids game ever made. Environments radiate with color and superb art direction, and each character animates with masterful fluidity. The Skylanders themselves are more intricate than ever, boasting some truly unique and bizarre designs. There’s still the annoying vignette effect around the screen and there’s a strange small black bar resting in the top left corner on all platforms. But these are just minor quirks. Skylanders: Trap Team looks beautiful and runs with a rock solid frame rate without any hiccups or crashes.
You’d think the Skylanders would have gotten old by now. After all, aside from newly introduced Skylander figures, the gameplay has remained practically unchanged since 2011. But that’s just it. The basic formula works so well, the series doesn’t need a drastic overhaul to entertain. Skylanders: Trap Team feels as fresh and is just as fun all these years later. Longtime fans will appreciate the graphical boost and the addition of traps, even if it leads to an empty wallet. And to those new to the series...well, Trap Team is the perfect place to start, as long as you’re aware of the addictive side-effects.
Review by: Tin Salamunic | Reviewed on: Xbox One