Every year, the Skylanders team somehow surprise me. Even in the year 2014, I expect games aimed at children to be average, or worse, yet every single year, Activision has released a Skylanders game that is entertaining for all ages – and to hell with my street cred, those toys are still cool, I’d have loved them growing up.
Where they once relied on the Spyro name to sell a new franchise, Skylanders has taken on a life of its own, and with the new consoles now on the market, they’ve taken a visual leap, as Trap Team looks gorgeous. The colourful imagery is everywhere, and it’s the antithesis of so many modern games. It’s vibrant, and the action pops off the screen for all to see like an explosion of sugar and sweets.
But the basics of Skylanders are now set in stone. Since Swap Force introduced a jump button, there’s not a huge amount that feels missing – though I’d still like to see camera control and online multiplayer at some point in the future. You’ll still go to levels, move objects about, go up lifts, and attack everything that isn’t nailed down.
So really, it falls to whoever comes up with the toy ideas to create something new and interesting that will make us want to collect them all over again. Initially it seemed an odd idea, too. The ability to trap your enemies and have them fight for you? Requires a new portal? Uh-oh, this doesn’t sound good, right? Luckily, the joy these simple touches bring to a child are better in action than they sound on paper, and create a whole new way to play and explore.
The basic concept is that you have traps you insert into the portal, and you can capture enemies instead of killing them, and there are around forty to trap. Once captured, you hit the L2 button and your Skylander will be swapped out for the baddie. This is amusing, but it’s when you start taking down the big bosses that it gets really interesting.
Of course, the characters are all daft and are there mostly for comedic value, but the first boss you fight (a weird little man who controls the Chompys) is enough of a challenge that it doesn’t resort to simple button mashing, and it’s rewarding because you’ll get to trap him and then use him against other enemies. Speaking of difficulty, while it’s not overly taxing (there are hard battles, though), it’s not too easy either – it’s well balanced, as you’d hope.
Thankfully, traps are reuseable, and you can go to a larger trap and swap out villains at your leisure, though obviously only one character can be in a trap at any given time. The portal talks to you, as well, and the bad guys will comment on things as you play along. Having a Sheep Creep “baa” at you randomly doesn’t get old, and Chompy Mage never stops being annoyed that he is incarcerated.
You can’t play as them forever, though, and each time you swap one out, you can only use them for a limited time, with damage taken reducing that time. What’s especially interesting is that the variation in attacks means you can have a Skylander on the portal that shoots (thus has ranged attacks), then swap to a trapped villain that is more melee based.
There’s a raft of new toys to collect, then. New Skylanders (series four), and now traps as well. Each trap is specific to an element, so you can’t use a life trap to capture an earth enemy. It might seem cynical, but as with previous games locking off areas to certain elemental Skylanders, it’s merely an extension of that idea. And there’s no shortage of content, with wave based modes like Doom Challenge, and Arena battle giving additional things to do outside the main campaign. The hard truth is that you’re going to want to collect them anyway, I’m sorry you had to hear that, but you knew it deep inside. As always, your previous Skylanders work on the new portal, and they keep their levels and skills from the other games. It’s a small thing to note, really, but one that is continually worth mentioning.
Kaos returns, as you expect, and this time there’s a band of evil-doers possibly more villainous than him. His plan is to undermine them secretly, so they fail and turn to him as the one-true king of evil. Being a bumbling fool, I’ll let you guess how that goes. It’s full of charm, and the voice acting is excellent, with returning characters everywhere.
Like The Simpsons (well, older Simpsons, anyway) there is plenty for all ages to laugh at, and even some more cheeky nods to the older audience. Some of the toys themselves will make you laugh – for example, Chopper is a small dinosaur with a helicopter on his back, and Food Fight is a small green chap that has a gun which shoots tomatoes. It makes no sense, but it also makes complete sense. There are minis to collect, too, and the giant called Eye Brawl is now available as Eye Small. Such a silly name change, yet for some reason it really tickles me.
It’s weird to think that with the fourth game, Skylanders has fully earned my trust. Games aimed at children don’t have to be rubbish, and they can engage with them on multiple levels. As well as the game itself, the toys are highly collectible (still) and there are even trading cards that come with each toy. I harp on about this because it’s true, but as a kid, the Skylanders would have been the coolest thing I could have imagined in game form, and the quality every year stays high.
The toys still aren’t cheap, and jumping in here (the new starter pack only has two Skylanders, as it also has two traps) means you’re probably going to want to get a few extra toys right out of the gate. But Toys for Bob continue to hold fun in the highest regard, and that’s worth championing. But Lord only knows where they go next.
VERY GOOD. An 8/10 is only awarded to a game we consider truly worthy of your hard-earned cash. This game is only held back by a smattering of minor or middling issues and comes highly recommended.
Review code provided by publisher.