Skylanders: Trap Team doesn't reinvent the franchise that first brought toys to life in a videogame, but it does mark a significant departure for the series by introducing a second element into the mix: the titular traps.
It's easy to assume that the sudden introduction of traps as a reaction to Disney’s Infinity games - which themselves allow players to bring an almost confusing array of plastic heroes into the virtual environment - but in practice their addition to Skylanders feels like a logical and comprehensible extension to the system that previous entries in the series established.
If you’re not familiar with Skylanders, the basic premise is simple enough. In addition to the game software, there’s also a “Portal” device you connect to your console. Placing real plastic Skylanders toys (each of which are sold separately, of course) onto the Portal puts a videogame version of that same toy into the game. You can swap them any time and you’ll need to mix and match their various abilities to get the most out of the experience.
The new Trap Team Portal (which is required to play - you can’t use last year’s) now allows you to pop plastic “Trap” objects into a special slot; using them at the right time, you can trap certain defeated “boss” enemies and then control them yourself. To catch 'em all, however, you’ll need to - you guessed it - break out the credit card. There are only two traps in the box, so unless you start spending, you’ll not be able to corral all the bad guys. There are also only two Skylanders in the starter pack, one “Trap Master” and one regular Skylander. You can use Skylanders from previous games, of course, but many elements of the game are only accessible by Trap Masters - who sell for $25 each. Each of the “bought separately” components of the game are advertised fairly heavily throughout, so if you’re of the obsessive compulsive personality type - or you just can’t say no to your kids - be warned that it’s possible to spend serious cash maxing out the game.
Fortunately, it’s actually not required to spend any more than the entry price to have a good time with Trap Team: it’s a lot of fun. It’s clear that Activision is doing more than the bare minimum that many kid’s franchise games get lumped with, as the production values here are mostly very high. It’s a good looking game, which also sounds great and even the plastic bits are top quality. The new portal, for example, has colour-cycling lights in it, which look great in low light conditions, and the in-built speaker allows your trapped bad guy to chat away to you - often directly referring to actions you take in the game.
The gameplay, too, is very sound. The combat is pretty basic but there’s a lot of variety in it, and you can customize the skill path you choose for your Skylander, resulting in a great variety of abilities - even between the two that come with the starter set. The levels are lush, well laid out, and packed with secrets - even the studiously observant will miss things the first time through.
Bonus games are also plentiful, the best of which is an outstanding tower defense game that manages to be better than just about any take on the genre, all while folding in the Skylanders toys to maximum effect.
There’s plenty of content - even if you don’t opt to spend the hundreds of extra dollars required to complete your set of Traps and Skylanders - and it’s worthwhile playing for all ages. Recommended.