Skylanders Trap Team review: figure study

Skylanders Trap Team is an enjoyable investment

Game Info
Platform 360, PS3, Wii U, Wii, 3DS, PS4, Xbox One
Publisher Activision
Developer Beenox
Release Date Oct 5, 2014

Skylanders Trap Team balances two clear goals.

First, and perhaps most important to Activision, it’s a mechanism for selling expensive, high-margin toys to a large audience of children and dedicated collectors. There are few properties that have been able to take over both the electronics and standard toy sections of retail to such a degree. The game goes out of its way to push these toys on you, and a large amount of content is gated in such a way that you need a wide array of toys and accessories to see everything the game has to offer.

Trap Team is shameless about using every hook it can to get you to buy toys, as you’ll need to buy new figures and the titular plastic traps to play the game in the most enjoyable way. Which is the second, and perhaps most important aspect of this game to players: It’s fun, especially when played with a friend. The development team clearly cares about the game and its presentation, and it offers much more variety and gameplay than it needs to in order to sell those ever-present toys. Trap Team delivers on the high price point, and then some.

skylanders trap team

Trap Team has learned a few new tricks to get you to buy as much as possible

The Skylanders series consists of basic combat and exploration in a bright and colorful world filled with interesting and broadly-drawn characters. You aren’t simply given an army of pocket monsters with which to do battle, you have to place specific toys on a physical portal to play as that character in the game, and when a character loses all their health they have to "rest" while you play as another Skylander.

If you were worried that the Skylanders franchise was going to ease up on the hard sell when it comes to toys, don’t worry: Trap Team has learned a few new tricks to get you to buy as much as possible.

Each Skylander still has a type, and some bonus areas or items are hidden behind gates for each specific type. If you want to see what’s behind that fire gate, you’re going to need to go to the store and pick up a fire character.

Trap Team takes that well-worn mechanic and updates it so that only "Trap Master" characters can open many portions of the game, meaning the plant-type toys you already own won’t open these sections. This is an arbitrary change, it exists to make sure your current collection can’t get you to all the content. You can either ignore that content or head to the store to pick up a $16 "Trap Master" of each type.

Trap Team introduces the ability to play as the boss characters of the game, although you’ll need a $6.99 "trap" of each type as well to take advantage of this feature.

You have to place the correct trap into the slot on the portal for each type of character to trap them, and you can hold one character per trap. So for every element in the game you’ll need a Trap Master character and a trap if you want to have a chance at seeing everything in the game. You begin to see why this series can make parents grumpy.

skylander trap team
It’s a system designed to separate you from your money

Trapping a character leads to a neat audio illusion where the sound of their voice fades from the television speakers and begins to come through the built-in speaker on the portal as a hidden light causes the plastic trap to blink along with the words. It’s a simple magic trick, but it gives you the feeling of bringing characters from the game into the real world.

It’s fun to dig through your pile of traps to find the right one to grab an enemy you can later use in the game itself, but it all begins to add up when each of those traps costs $7. Children will be asking for more traps so they can play as their favorite enemy, and of course they’ll want at least one toy of every type so they can find all the hats and trinkets that allow you to customize each character. It’s a system designed to separate you from your money, and it’s brutally efficient at doing just that.

skylanders trap team

The game is excellent at rewarding you for spending money, but it’s also a sort of transitional game for players who are getting ready for more complex titles.

Trap Team almost acts as a sort of training device for young children who may grow into other genres as they get older, as the game provides basic versions of tower defense games, trading card games, simple flying levels, side-scrolling classical platforming and even sly references to MOBA design and bullet-hell shooters. It’s not such a large leap from the newest version of the "Skystone" card game in Trap Team to Hearthstone, after all.

Toys for Bob felt comfortable ransacking the world of gaming for ideas and concepts, and every one of them is integrated into the game in a way that’s inviting and fun rather than frustrating. Every mechanic and concept is explained clearly, with copious voice-acting for younger children who may not be able to read, and you can even buy inexpensive keys with in-game gold to bypass some of the trickier puzzles or minigames.

Trap Team is a game that knows how to weave all of its elements together into moments of wonder, and you’ll often notice the game’s music, art, level design and puzzles work together to present a level’s theme in a way that feels effortless. Combine these moments, of which there are many, with a wide variety of for-pay characters each with their own attacks and means of locomotion and you have a game that consistently plays with its own formula to show you something delightful.

Trap Team is a game that knows how to weave all of its elements together into moments of wonder

Trap Team also mimics family films that hide clever jokes for parents. "I have not been using all my powers to defeat you," one villain tells you during a fight, "I have merely been incrementally increasing the difficulty!"

skylanders trap team

The game’s design talks to children, instead of down to them, and its sense of adventure and polish is rare in family games. It will "only" take you eight to 10 hours to play through the game’s story the first time, but trying to find every item while mastering these levels, each with its own list of challenges and time limits, will take even the best player weeks, if not months.

Even adolescent players will likely recognize all the classic gaming tropes such as reflecting lasers to a specific target or pushing boulders this way and that, but the game slowly introduces more ideas and concepts to the player and then gradually ramps up the difficulty of each until you’re solving complex problems and struggling from time to time with the combat, especially on the harder difficulty levels.

Captured villains are also given the chance to redeem themselves by doing good deeds in their own side-missions, and from time to time they discuss the rewards of doing good things for others. This balances out the sometimes annoying running commentary each boss gives you from the speaker in the portal. Trap Team feels like video game boot camp, which is the perfect thing for children growing up in houses filled with gaming consoles. I’ve played with my five year-old all the way up to my 12 year-old, and later finished the game by myself. It was enjoyable in each context, and I plan to go back and play on the higher difficulty levels to level up my characters even further.

Wrap Up:

Skylanders Trap Team is an enjoyable investment

Skylanders isn’t a series you can dabble in, and $100 or more on the first day is a small investment towards how much the game could potentially cost as you add new characters and toys. But you’ll be rewarded for that investment. Trap Team will give your kids a crash course in gaming basics — and you’ll get an enjoyable and surprisingly deep game to play with a wide range of age groups.

Skylanders Trap Team was reviewed using a retail PS4 copy of the game provided by Activision. You can find additional information on Polygon's ethics policy here.

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8.0 PS4