Skylanders is a franchise that has always somehow managed to elude me. Sure, I’ve witnessed younger relatives gleefully receive mountains of them at birthdays and at Christmas, but in terms of seeing the actual game? Well, impressively, I’ve managed to reach 2014 without my eyeballs ever encountering a single bit of footage.
The reason for this? To put it simply: I’m 23 years old, and I’m not a parent.
This all changed, however, when I paid a visit to Activision for the reveal of Skylanders Trap Team. Well, the not seeing Skylanders part changed anyway – and I’m pretty sure I didn’t father any children there.
My first glimpse into the Skylanders universe was of course, seeing the game’s core selling point – the portal of power – in action. For the uninitiated, the series requires you to place little toys onto a portal, and each toy becomes a playable character in game. Every toy is different, and retailing for around £10 a pop, you can imagine what a little gold mine this game really is.
So as a complete newcomer, my first experience of this in action, was seeing one of the game’s signature new characters (the Trap Master) being placed onto the portal. As anyone who’s witnessed this before can attest, the seamlessness of the transition is pretty awe-inspiring, and mere seconds after hitting the portal the cartoony looking beast was playable – and leaping and fighting his way across the screen. The beautiful visuals that Trap Team boasts on the demoed PS4 build certainly didn’t hurt, and helped to make the experience even more impressive.
Upon entering the world of the Skylanders, the Trap Master was surrounded by a bunch of cuddly looking trolls. After defeating the cutesy horde with his bow, the Trap Master proceeded to fight the game’s first boss: the grass powered Stompy Mage.
While the boss battle itself was nothing revolutionary, the game’s dialogue was surprisingly meta and hilarious. After the third stage of the boss fight and the continuous arguments with the sock puppet on his hand, Stompy Mage proclaims that he realizes what the problem is – he should have just used his full power immediately rather than incrementally getting stronger each battle. This level of self parody and tongue in cheek humour wasn’t just a one off though, and there were lines to tickle your funny bone littered throughout the game.
Most importantly, though, that humour carries over to the game’s key new feature, which is by far the coolest part of the game.
As you may have guessed from the Trap Master and, well, the name of the game; the focus of this game is on trapping your enemies. After defeating Stompy Mage, the player inserts a piece of Traptanium into the portal – a crystal-esque toy hammer – which unsurprisingly, traps the defeated villain. Once the villain has been confined, however, the fun doesn’t end there. As he is yelling about his freedom and whisked off the screen, Stompy’s moan suddenly emits from the portal’s speaker, cursing the player and complaining that his new toy prison smells like mustard. This made me grin like a disturbed person.
While adding a speaker to the portal may be a pretty simple idea on paper, it is an incredibly effective way of immersing you into Trap Team’s world, and helps you imagine the villains actually being trapped in there. As this a game based around buying toys, having to buy forty of these trap crystals to ensnare all the villains would be a wallet destroying nightmare. Luckily for us, Activison has decided to be merciful. While each trap toy can only contain one villain at a time, you can swap the primary villain in the trap whenever you want at a location in game. That’s about £400 saved there, so be grateful.
But what’s the point of capturing these villains you ask? Well, once captured, the villain can be summoned to join you for drop-in local co-op, or if left unsummoned will provide amusing commentary on your actions from the portal’s speaker whenever they see fit. I was pretty impressed with this feature, as again, it was entirely seamless, immersive, and most importantly, a lot of fun. It seems like a great piece of game design, and it’s hard not to imagine children absolutely loving this.
All of the villains seemed to be based on a different element, and contain their own unique combat abilities. Stompy Mage is grass based and can help you create bridges of leaves, while Chill Bill stuns enemies with the smoke from his ‘special’ cigarette. OK, he actually blasts people with ice – but you can have that element on me Activision.
Each of Trap Team’s forty villains will have their own unique personality as well as play-styles, and look to provide the player with a fair amount of variety, especially for a game where you’re usually expected to shell out for this privilege. Equally commendable is the announcement that (as usual) your old Skylander toys will be compatible – keeping their stats regardless of the previous platform you used them on.
Overall, my first experience with Skylanders was a surprisingly positive one. Instead of choosing to completely milk consumers, Activision seem to be offering the player a generous amount of content included in Trap Team’s starter pack, and a decent amount of backwards compatibility. Not only that, but the team seem to have gone out of their way to make the experience amusing for older gamers, and while humour in games can often be hit and miss, from what I’ve seen so far they’re definitely on the right track.
Trap Team’s title mechanic looks like a brilliant addition to the franchise, and it’s left me itching to get hands on with the game’s co-op. Maybe its time to have that kid after all in time for the October release (on all platforms)
Preview based on hands-off viewing at an Activision held preview event.