Kept Kaos in a plastic box.
My fondness for video games grew partly out of the interaction it afforded my brother and I, though the more I came to understand the value of a dollar the more I came to see them as value propositions that trumped nearly every other form of entertainment. Clutching a few bills and wandering into a game shop or renting a game for the same price as a movie often meant I could start estimating the cost of an hour of entertainment in pennies. That holds true today with online multiplayer, ever-increasing ambient objectives, and gameplay mechanics that encourage more experimentation than outright progression down a linear path.
Look no further than the likes of Minecraft or even last month’s Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor. What would have been a fairly entertaining albeit obvious rip-off of Batman: Arkham–wherever and Assassin’s Creed turned into an opportunity for players to set up their own epic clashes between the blurred columns of good and evil. I suppose it’s that awareness of a growing trend in innovative mechanical extensions of gameplay that has left me a little disappointed with Activision’s latest effort in the Skylanders franchise, particularly following the magnetic attraction toys in the Swap Force line held over fans and newcomers alike.
While my experience with Skylanders started in the second release featuring Giants characters, I had the opportunity to visit both Vicarious Visions and Toys For Bob over the past two editions of the franchise to discover the fine process of game development. Each visit has afforded me time with individuals in charge of graphics, animation, toy production, character art, and even musical development and each visit has impressed me with the amount of work that’s gone into creating an engaging video game for people of all skill levels and gaming backgrounds.
It’s to that end that I won’t waste time in recommending Skylanders Trap Team to existing fans, especially those with a wealth of characters and toys at the ready. If you’ve got Swap Force characters, series one figures, Giants, or really any previous Skylanders product released thus far, it’ll all work in Skylanders Trap Team in some form or another, though you may not want to count on dedicated zones for the likes of Tree Rex who led the charge two years ago in Skylanders Giants. It’s those figures that’ll get play after this Starter Pack’s Trap Master and dual trap gems, used for capturing and containing one of several dozen enemies who will join your side once defeated in-game.
With this in mind, I’d like to subvert the kind of review process I’ve gone through in the past to focus on Skylanders Trap Team as a product. My biggest issue with the title is that it feels like a slightly wasted effort in light of the totally inventive and truly innovative (by definition) Swap Force figures that landed on store shelves last year. Where those toys utilized magnets to combine top and bottom halves and therefore elemental affinities between Skylanders characters, Trap Team relies on the aforementioned plastic gems to add a layer of gameplay that has existed by design since the brand’s conception: literally switching characters as you play.
There are four different products parents will want to look for when they go holiday shopping or if they’re hitting Target and Walmart a little late as this review arrives about a week after the game’s launch. While we had the opportunity to visit Toys For Bob, we didn’t receive the game until after release day and in all honesty as a twenty-six year old man with no children I’m a little intimidated when a box full of toys appears on my doorstep. I’m grateful for receiving the complete package but faithful readers of GameRevolution probably already understand my frustration in going into detail and finding no enthusiasm from the audience of consumers that typically visit this website. With that in mind, I’ll address anyone hoping to combine two loves, gaming and child-rearing. If you don’t love the latter now, you may soon as Skylanders does provide an ageless interactive experience with light RPG mechanics and a wide variety of characters.
Consumers should waste no time in buying the Skylanders Trap Team starter pack as they’ll need the new portal device within to use any of the trap gems and the new tech includes a speaker through which characters can spout off funny dialog. The portal lights up and looks nice next to a PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, though the tablet version of Skylanders Trap Team also offers an attractive portal with a stand for your mobile device. That product also comes with a controller for play on-the-go, so figure out which your child (and your man-child) will get the most use out of before shopping.
The starter pack comes with a Trap Master figure, required for the elemental gates that hold gameplay specific to each character type, a standard figure, and two trap gems of distinct elemental affinity. Enemies align with the same elements as Skylanders themselves so you can only contain one water-type enemy in a water-gem at a time, though buying additional gems of the same element would allow players to swap as they like.
Following this, Trap Master figures are sold separately to the tune of $14.99. With these unlocking the elemental gates, you’ll have a slew of new toys to buy if your kids are smart enough to know they’re missing something and they absolutely will. As with past games, collecting certain items throughout the world offers a preview of every character you haven’t bought yet. You can skip these preview videos though the menu option defaults to “Preview”, so good luck! After Trap Master figures come standard figures that offer new poses or variants of older Skylanders characters you may already own. These come in a range of prices thanks to multi-packs and the fact that even a younger child won’t want to buy new versions of the same character for the fourth year in a row. There’s a reason high school doesn’t stretch as long as Activision will ride this franchise.
Finally, the Trap Gems themselves come both individually packed and in groups of three, though at $6.99 for a singular elemental gem you’ll probably question exactly how much gameplay can be reaped from yet another individually packaged toy, replete with frustrating plastic gating, cardboard, and the remaining environmental expense of distribution. As a younger, yet maturing gamer with a professional career in the industry I have to reach back to the beginning of this review and remind everyone that I love video games for their ability to entertain at a low cost. I’ll leave it at that and let consumers make their own choices with regard to what is and isn’t responsible in Skylanders buying.
I don’t want this to come across as a complete and total teardown of the Skylanders brand. The gameplay and overall personality in-game continues to shine with humor and self-awareness. Voice overs from individuals within Toys For Bob and the likes of recognizable reoccurring characters deftly step over more obvious poop and fart jokes to break the fourth wall or simply tickle a funny bone, casting a grin or a giggle. Skylanders has, without fail, continued a trend that seems to have died with iCarly’s first season on Nickelodeon. Kids and adults can relate in humor if one really tries to accomplish such a thing and I’ll always applaud Activision for avoiding the lowest common denominator with this brand.
Still, the Trap Gems themselves can’t approach the inventive magnetic Swap Force characters of 2013’s game. For one, it feels like a slightly more obvious reach for the wallets of millions of Americans who’ve been suckered into the series like I managed to accomplish for Nintendo with Pokémon trading-card booster packs priced at eight dollars for eleven cards. I don’t care what the price was supposed to be, my local shop charged eight bucks and even at the age of ten I understood that I wasn’t getting my allowance’s worth. It was a sheepish sort of surrender on both my part and my parents. If that’s how you feel about Skylanders now, it might be a good year to skip and focus on a different Christmas gift or after-school distraction.
As I said, I’m not a parent. I don’t have children though I’ve got responsibilities and more often than not I can see through some of the garbage the video game industry tries to lure the wrong type of consumer. In this case, Skylanders continues to subvert traditional gaming trends but it lacks the means of propelling children into newer, perhaps healthier or more profitable endeavors. At least with Swap Force there was this excuse or potential for curiosity that would push a child to investigate magnets and science to some degree. For that to happen with Trap Team, every kid playing the game around the world would need to visit Toys For Bob and learn about the science of technology that powers the portal each Skylander sits on or hear about how each Skylander character is drawn and then 3D-modeled for a 3D printer before manufacturing in some factory where hands bleed for those pennies on the dollar. Unfortunately, the developers related that visitors were no longer welcome.
Knowing what I know about the series thus far tells me that Trap Team will remain a solid product and gift for any child with video games in the living room. It doesn’t change the fact that the promised innovation of a yearly franchise falters in 2014 while retaining every opportunity to impress in the same way Skylanders Swap Force did in 2013.
Starter pack, three Trap Master figures, three standard figures, and nine Trap Gems provided by publisher. Review based on PlayStation 4 version. Also available for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo Wii U, Nintendo 3DS, and Mobile devices.