Skylanders: Trap Team is the newest installment of the Skylanders franchise from Activision. A descendant of the Spyro franchise, the Skylanders series incorporates physical toys into the gameplay. You plug the “portal” into your console and put the figurine on it, and the portal reads information in the figurine’s chip to import that information into the game.
It’s complicated to understand but easy to play. Put toy on shiny platform, character appears on screen! Magic.
Skylanders: Trap Team is rated E10+ for cartoon violence, and it’s available for Xbox, PlayStation, and Wii as well as Nintendo 3DS, Android, Fire OS and iOS. We played the Xbox 360 version of the game.
Trap Team opens with the revelation that Kaos, a familiar nemesis if you’ve played previous Skylanders games, is breaking a group of villains out of Cloudcracker Prison. Kaos is all about sowing discord and causing trouble, but he quickly finds himself shunted aside by the very villains he rescued—including the big boss, Golden Queen.
Of course, someone has to trap all these villains, so the Skylanders call in, well, the Trap Team. The player (or Portal Master, as the game calls you) accompanies the Trap Masters on a series of quests to stop the villains from wreaking havoc in the Skylands.
The plot is simple, but the writing makes it shine. The dialogue in Skylanders is just plain funny, and I found myself laughing aloud more often than not—the cutscenes are quite long, which makes it feel like watching an episode of a cartoon while you take a break from playing. It helps that Kaos, the main villain, shares a voice with Invader Zim. All the characters have larger-than-life personalities, and while your own Skylanders don’t have much to say, I quickly grew attached to Flynn, a catlike pilot voiced by Patrick Warburton. (If you want to feel old, know that if you ask your kids whose voice that is, they’ll no doubt say “Kronk from ‘The Emperor’s New Groove‘!” while you will recognize him as David Puddy from “Seinfeld.”) Flynn is overconfident and self-important, but sweet all the same.
The other characters are equally colorful and quotable, and at this point in the series the worldbuilding is down pat. It’s a mix of sci-fi and fantasy that hits all the right notes, culminating in a world that captures the imagination.
Over the course of the game you go through many, many levels to hunt down the big bosses and the various underlings they employ. In between each you find yourself back at Skylands Academy—an enormous castle in the sky that offers about as much to do as a regular level of the game.
As you go through the levels, new sections are added onto Skylands Academy. There’s a fighting ring where you can practice your moves, an underground rap club (I’m not kidding. I almost wish I were, but I’m not), multiple platforming challenges, and so many more. The growth of Skylands Academy mirrors the growth of your characters, and I found myself exploring this area just for fun instead of moving forward with the plot of the game.
Skylanders: Trap Team is as solid an action adventure game as you can get. You move through lush, detailed levels, taking out baddies and discovering secrets built into the landscape. There are tons of hidden areas to explore, treasures to find, mini-games to play—each area feels massive, while still being easily navigable.
There’s always a central path to follow towards the final boss of each level, but if you deviate from it you get big rewards. In some levels I would jump off a ledge into what looked like open sky, only to find myself falling to a hidden area full of loot. Each level is pretty unique, too. They range from the more industrial Mystic Mill, with its log chutes and saw-blade enemies, to the psychedelic Telescope Towers—a colorful dreamscape where you contend with disappearing blocks and doors that teleport you from area to area.
The enemies are as diverse as the Skylanders themselves are. No matter who you’re facing, the strategy does boil down to whacking them long enough with whatever weapon you have, but when you’re brawling with multiple enemy types at once you have to think on your feet. For example, enemies with ice guns can freeze you where you stand—so it’s good to take them out first. Certain obnoxious electric enemies turn fighting into a dance of leaping over strings of electricity while you bash at your foes.
It’s absolutely a blast. And with so many different Skylanders to choose from, how you approach each battle will change depending on what moves are available to you.
The titular traps add even more complexity.
I’ll admit, when I first opened the box and looked at the huge cardboard sheet detailing how many villains I could capture, I groaned aloud. The starter pack comes with two elemental traps—a Life trap and a Water trap. Each time you defeat a boss or a mini-boss, you are given the opportunity to trap them.
No worries if you don’t have the proper trap—the villains still get locked up in a prison at Skylands Academy. But if you do have a trap of the appropriate element, you get to listen as the villain is unceremoniously locked in your trap. The villain’s voice fades from your TV’s speakers and emanates instead from the speaker in the portal that holds your Skylander figurines.
It’s such a cool gimmick I really can’t fault it. The first time I trapped a villain and heard yelling from the toy piece on my desk, I shrieked with glee. The villains will also occasionally talk to you and comment on your gameplay, telling you if they thought a move was cool or asking to be let out to play.
You can swap the villains in your trap any time you’re back at Skylands Academy. With a starter pack, this means you get a chance to use any Life-element or Water-element villain. And of course, that means you can play as that villain.
This adds a great new strategic level to the gameplay. You can select a villain whose powers complement your Skylander’s, or just whatever villain you like best. At any point you can switch between your Skylander and your chosen villain—the villain is on a timer so you can’t play as that villain permanently, but it’s just long enough to get you out of a pinch in a battle or just shake things up. There are also mini-quests for each villain that you can unlock, making it worthwhile to go back through levels once you have the proper villains.
Like Disney Infinity, Skylanders: Trap Team is constructed to make you want to buy more. Of the two games, I found Skylanders hit the right beats more often.
A Starter Pack for Skylanders: Trap Team comes with two figurines, a Trap portal (which you can use with figurines from any Skylanders game), and two traps.
The game is not shy about tempting you to buy more figurines. You can find “soul gems” throughout; each soul gem lets you see a preview of a new character that you can buy for $17 a pop. There are also locked sections of each level that can only be opened by a Trap Master of the correct element.
Knowing this, and knowing that Trap Team adds over 50 new characters, plus more special figurines that you can buy only at certain stores, I came to the game with a lot of reservations. Would the product live up to the price?
After living with the game for awhile, I can definitely say I want more Skylanders, but I personally can’t spend that money. I look at the game as an investment: a Skylander figurine is both a toy and a game. It’s up to you to decide if that investment is worth it.
I talked to two sets of parents and expressed my concern about the expense of the game. Two of the parents were quick to tell me that their daughter played with her Skylander figurines all the time, and the other set of parents agreed. They all liked how durable the figurines were and approved of the game. As for me, I picked up some gently used figurines from previous Skylander games for about $5 each. They worked perfectly with my game, and I had a lot of fun getting to know the characters.
Leaving aside my collector instincts, the game is playable and fun with what you get in the box. However, at every point you will be shown things that you can’t have: The villains, waiting in prison for the proper traps so you can play as them, the new characters with their demo reels of fantastic attacks, and locked areas with collectibles that you can’t access without the proper elemental Trap Master. You don’t need these things, but the game wants you to want them.
It’s actually a miracle that Skylanders: Trap Team feels so good to play, when it’s so drenched in consumerism. But it does feel good.
It’s fun, it’s funny, and it has a lot of heart. The characters are colorful and imaginative. It makes you want to explore the Skylands—they feel organic, lived-in, and magical.
As a kid, I would have loved to inhabit this world. As an adult, no matter how I tried, I couldn’t resist its charm. Skylanders doesn’t cut corners and then sell them back to you. It gives you a complete, engrossing experience and then asks you if you want more.
Correction: This article previously stated that you needed a second Portal to play co-op.