Activision's philosophy with its Skylanders franchise is to tie new gameplay mechanics to innovations in the design of the series' figures.
Skylanders Trap Team, the upcoming fourth entry in the franchise, gives players the ability to capture villains with special elemental trap toys and then use the characters for good. This introduces more than 40 new characters that can be leveled up like traditional Skylanders, and we saw some of them in action during a demo at E3 2014 today.
Executive producer Scott Kraiger loaded up a level called Phoenix Perch and a new character, the Skylander Trap Master known as Snap Shot, who's equipped with a sword that doubles as a bow and arrow. All the Trap Masters feature special weapons imbued with traptanium crystals, which allow the Trap Master to capture villains of the proper element (there are eight different ones).
Snap Shot is a tech trap character, so he was able to do battle with Shrednaught, a lumberjack tank featuring a rotating chainsaw that's run by two trolls. After the player caught Shrednaught, we were able to hear the two trolls complaining inside the physical trap sitting on the Skylanders portal — "it's so cramped in here, I can't even tell which troll I am," one of the creatures said. At that point, Kraiger transported Shrednaught back into his game and was able to blow through a group of enemies with the chainsaw.
Kraiger then showed off a number of the other Trap Masters and capture-able villains, with the highlight being Painyatta, a magic villain that takes the form of a walking piñata that whacks things with a rainbow lollipop. Painyatta also has a secondary attack in which it vomits candy. In addition, we got a look at the Skylanders Academy, a hub world between levels that features a vault with which players can manage the villains they've captured.
The creativity on display in the dozen or so characters we saw was impressive, and according to Josh Taub, vice president of product management at Activision, that's one of the most special elements of Skylanders. Unlike Disney Interactive's Disney Infinity franchise and Nintendo's upcoming entry into the toy market with Amiibo, the developers of Skylanders don't have the advantage of working with beloved characters from established brands.
"The piece that makes us incredibly unique in this environment is, we're creating characters and gameplay from the hearts and minds of our developers that has that AAA quality across it, and that's our barometer. We don't rely on a stable of older IP, and we don't rely on [...] people recognizing those characters," said Taub in an interview following the demo. "Of course it's challenging, but it's the challenge that makes Skylanders unique."
Skylanders Trap Team is set for release Oct. 5 on Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Wii, Wii U, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.