There are many reasons to be thankful for visiting the studio of Toys for Bob, creator of the Skylanders series. One of those reasons is for having the opportunity to get hands-on with Skylanders Trap Team before its release — and shortly after it had apparently gone gold.
Coming out of that hands-on time with the Xbox One and PS4 versions, several things became clear about Trap Team’s evolution beyond Swap Force. One that stands out is how much the Skylanders Trap Team level design has improved upon the levels in last year’s outing.
Vicarious Visions did some impressive things with Swap Force even without considering that they figured out how to make the top and bottom halves of the Skylanders toys retain their gameplay data. Yet for all they accomplished, one the game’s shortcomings was the length and overall design of some of the levels.
Skylanders is designed for kids between 5-10 years old, so it’s understood that you need to look elsewhere for a complex dungeon-crawling experience. However, even for my two children the levels seems surprisingly linear and, dare I say it, far too long.
It’s been known for some time that the Skylanders Trap Team level design team would create shorter levels. For that, my active five- and eight-year-old children say “thank you.” But Toys for Bob is doing far more than just shortening the chapters for Trap Team. They’re taking the game’s overall level design to a new level. Literally.
Save for a few chapters or a few instances, most of the levels in Swap Force took place on a pretty horizontal plane. Those planes had a few hills and valleys, but by and large they just went on for eons in the same basic direction. With Trap Team, the levels feel much more vertical and seem to inspire more exploration, something the series has always offered but never quite to this degree.
For instance, in Chapter 4: The Phoenix Psanctuary, players need to stop Chef Pepperjack from stealing the Phoenix Chicken. Doing so requires going to areas of varying heights, not unlike exploring the main hub from Swap Force. Likewise, Chapter 12: Time Town has Skylanders traipsing up a clock tower and jumping up and onto gear platforms to reach the end of the level.
Never does this feel like a cheap “stairway” mechanic, nor does it feel like Toys for Bob is forcing verticality on anyone. It all feels natural within the context of each level, and it comes across as a sincere effort to make the Skylanders Trap Team level design account for all the space a level offers.
None of us in the studio tour had the opportunity to play the whole game, nor did we get the chance to play with more than a dozen Skylanders and villains combined. Still, I don’t think the improved use of space is going to be limited to the levels we played. Considering the new Skylanders and their skillsets, not to mention the skills and attributes of the trappable Villains, there is no shortage of opportunities to try new things and play in new ways in Skylanders Trap Team.
Even simple additions to each level, like the jukeboxes sprinkled throughout like a Skylander-ized GTA radio station, add a layer of intrigue that hasn’t been in previous games. Heck, the radio stations even have their own call-sign (K-Troll), with gags, music and lines specific to each level.
Nobody would fault you for thinking the only “new thing” in Skylanders Trap Team is the ability to trap villains. After all, that’s in the game’s name. But that line of thinking does a disservice to the other creative things Toys for Bob is doing with the game, including with the level design. My kids are bound to enjoy checking out the new Skylanders and trapping villains, and I’m sure they’ll want to get their hands on every possible toy. But it’s just as likely that for the first time in a Skylanders game my kids will notice — and appreciate — the level design as well. As a parent, my kids’ deepened appreciation of the entire gameplay experience is something I can’t wait to see.