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Skylanders Trap Team Review – Fun and Engaging

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Skylanders Trap Team is the latest installment of Activision’s epic toy-meets-game series, promising to push the franchise to the next level with new characters, powers, and all that we hear whenever a new game in a long-running series hits. As with previous iterations, expect to plunk down quite a few bucks in order to get the full experience – not only do you need to buy new characters, but now you need new traps, too. And while the latest Skylanders romp delivers on pushing the gaming franchise ahead with its fun gameplay and neat characters, your wallet/purse will likely take a bit of a beating in the process.

For those unfamiliar with the popular all-ages platformer, Skylanders has players use an electronic platform connected to their video game console to bring plastic figures – some available with the game, the vast majority sold separately – to “life” in the game. The figures become playable characters once placed on the platform. It’s an ingenious idea that neatly combines collectible figures with video games, creating a novel concept, but one that gets pretty expensive the the more fully you want to explore the world. Now, we’ll touch upon the external aspects of the game later, but first let’s take a gander as to what’s on the actual disc itself.

What you find inside should be no surprise, especially if you’re a veteran to the series. Activision gives you what you’d expect, but adds a nice shiny coat and refines the formula. I had to chase down a friend of mine and play his copy of Skylanders Swap Force for a few hours to get an idea of how the predecessor played, but I feel my assessment is correct. It feels like a logical step in the franchise, with the new wealth of playable character options warranting this being a new title and not just DLC. Now, there aren’t any massive changes between the two, it just feels like the next logical in where this undoubtedly long, ongoing franchise for Activision should go. Getting to play as one of the bad guys, and even taking them on some pretty neat “redemption” story missions is fun.

As you might guess , this game is all about the bad guys! Picking up after Skylanders Swap Force, big baddie Kaos unleashes the worst villains in Skylands by blowing up Cloudcracker Prison, blasting shards of Traptanium to Earth in the form of Traps at the same time. Portal Masters now need to recapture all of the escaped villains using powerful Traptanium Traps and defeat Kaos before their world is overrun.

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The story is pretty enjoyable for such a basic, simple premise. The script is great, and works on a couple of levels, as it’s clearly meant to appeal to new players to the franchise along with the younger set. Adults get to enjoy some well-aimed jokes and yes, that also comes with the now-standard pop-culture references and clever wordplay, but it’s nicely mixed with some enthusiastic acting and colorful banter which helps balances out the vanilla personalities of some of the heroes. The bad guys, of course, seem a shade cooler than our regular Skylander buddies. It’s definitely entertaining enough to keep both adults and kids thoroughly engaged. The ten-hour story moves quickly without dragging, but I’m sure many players will be more focused on the characters and gameplay than the actual story.

Now, looking at the game’s main story campaign, it’s pretty fun. By no means does it reinvent the wheel. It plays it safe by sticking to what the previous games offered. Certain characters unlock certain areas, others have fighting advantages over others, and so forth. It’s easy to pick up, fast to master, and a blast to mess around with. Honestly, messing around with the figures, and switching them out to see how different characters fare against different opponents, offers quite a bit of playing time right there. The use of said figurines never seems forced, and the portal feels pretty organic to the game.

Given this is the fourth installment of the franchise, the polished gameplay shouldn’t be a surprise. The game is quick to pick up, and the control mapping is well handled on the controller. I wasn’t fumbling around the controller to make my moves, but the trigger and button placement seemed nicely thought out for the easiest, quickest execution. Even the introduction of new gaming mechanics (the “trapping”) is slipped in without a hiccup. The play modes are nice and provide some fun avenues to level up. They’re the pretty basic Challenge, Versus and Online modes, nothing fancy, but it does the job. You can fight wave of enemies, build towers, or fight against fellow Skylanders for dominance. For a game directed at the all-ages bracket, it does serve as a nice introduction to the more complicated platformer, RPG and online titles we hope the little ones might grow into in the future.

In terms of graphics and presentations, it’s pretty stellar across the board. Now, this isn’t as polished as some of the bigger games to come out for the new generation so far, but it does seem like a step up, graphically, from the previous game. The graphics seem more polished and smoother on the PS4. I assume that has something to do with the console’s ability to handle more than the last generation. I didn’t notice any lagging, slicing, or any types of interruptions while playing the game. No stutters or weird jumps in the animation. It all flowed nicely. Basically, it’s a more refined, elegant experience over the last gen version.

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The creativity behind the character design is on display in full-force and even a little addictive. While a lot of the characters may be pretty bland in the personality department, their physical designs are great, and usually pretty inventive. I found myself eager to see what each new character would look like as I came across them, be it the heroes, one of the main villains (especially the villains, as they had some great design work) and even some of the nameless minions.

And yeah, these result in some pretty cool looking figurines.

And speaking of which, you will likely be dropping a lot of coin on those figurines. There is a lot of bonus content in Skylanders Trap Team, with a lot of areas requiring different characters to unlock. However, the extra money you’ll be putting into getting the extra figures is no different than the DLC or Season Pass options that come with the vast majority of games nowadays. Or, to make a different comparison, having to pick up new figurines is akin to all those trading card games from a decade or so go. “Gotta Catch ‘Em All,” right? Not really different here. Or even the the assorted tablet/smartphone games that require money to unlock features – same thing. The vast majority of our games now require far more than the initial price we pay, and Skylanders is no different. Some see it as a more obvious cash-grab than previous games, and maybe it is, but it seems par for the course given the current gaming environment.

Regardless of your thoughts on that, Activision didn’t skimp on the bonus peripherals. There’s something admittedly cool about seeing a character get trapped, moving from the television to you actual trapping peripheral, and hearing the character “speak” through the little device. It’s a neat little move that should illicit a couple smiles and validates the extra cost.

I had more fun than I was expecting with this game. It’s a breathe of fresh air. Given the small catalog of games out there for the current gaming systems, and how the majority of them are massive, dark, serious affairs, it’s great to smile and chuckle along with your characters. And there’s something about the sheer cartoony creativity on display that makes the game look pretty gorgeous. By no means are the graphics equal to a big budget title like Destiny or Call of Duty, but they’re so bright, bubbly, and even full of life. If anything, it kind of reminds me of the Super Mario Bros. 2D titles. The story isn’t anything to write home about, and the missions are pretty standard fare, but it’s presented in such a great package that you really don’t care – you’re just having a bit too much fun. I get the cost behind the game might turn some people away, but it’s worth the investment. Besides, it’s not like you need to buy all the figures right away. Space it out and expand your gameplay little by little overtime, perhaps.

Skylanders Trap Team is a great experience, and offers some fun gameplay and easygoing adventures. If I had to compare it to something, I’d personally rate this above the recent Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Super-Heroes, which I found to be a bit bland and lacking creativity. Bringing in the bad guys here definitely boosts up Skylanders roster quite a bit, and should provide quite a substantial amount of gameplay. And yes, that gameplay would be extended even more with the purchase of figurines which, while somewhat frustrating, falls along the lines of the additional purchases that most games come saddled with today. And honestly, given how addictive this game is, you might not even notice after awhile.