My kids and I have adored the Skylanders franchise since it first launched, as have millions of other families. Swap Force was a wild hit in our house, so Skylanders Trap Team was atop the kids’ must-play list. I purposefully held this Skylanders Trap Team review to give the kids ample time to play the game and provide their impressions too. After all, Skylanders Trap Team, like all of the games in the series, is fun for parents but will really take off or flop based on the kids’ experience.
As a parent, I look for a game that my 5- and 8-year-old kids can play on their own if I need some “me time” but will generally want or need to play with me. Fortunately the Skylanders franchise is one that I enjoy playing myself, so watching them navigate their way through the game world is fun even if I’m not controlling one of the characters. With Trap Team they had a bit more trouble, though.
As I wrote in this preview before Skylanders Trap Team shipped, the level design is much more vertical than in games past, and Toys For Bob’s decision to make the levels shorter is both welcome and keeps the kids feeling like they’re making progress. In that sense, the chapters and overall design are great. Within each chapter, though, there are a few mechanics that frustrated the kids more than excited them.
With more-vertical levels, my kids both wanted to jump around and explore different directions. This caused two issues that hampered my kids’ overall enjoyment. First was the camera angle, which doesn’t accommodate the charaacters’ on-screen spacing when platforms or other elements obstruct your view of the character. There’s a technically-nice ghost effect that keeps the Skylander visible, but any obstacle that may be behind a platform remains hidden, so the kids often didn’t know why their Skylander was “stuck behind” the landscape and couldn’t get out.
Toys for Bob tries to minimize this by creating a pretty short leash between players. This has been present in previous Skylanders games, but the distance that characters are allowed to be apart is much shorter in Trap Team and caused the kids to actually argue (“no, come over here!”) more than I’ve ever seen them in the past — Skylanders game or not. In many instances the rubber-band effect also caused them to fall off a platform and then re-spawn at the bottom rather than at the top, effectively negating their progress. This was especially frustrating for my older child. Often he will make it past certain parts while his younger sibling, who can’t make the same jumps, simply stays put and waits to respawn at the top. Trap Team doesn’t seem to allow that, so I had to intervene in many cases to help them literally make the leap.
Platform and rubber-band issues aside, the kids’ Skylanders Trap Team review was pretty good. Both kids enjoy the new toys, though there’s no real benefit to playing as one of the larger (and more expensive) Trap Masters. The kids at times reverted to their “old faves” from Swap Force and Giants, though they were a bit disappointed to see they couldn’t upgrade their toys further due to no increase in the level cap.
The trap and trapping mechanic were both a huge hit, as you’d hope and expect would be the case since that’s the game’s big draw. They (and I) appreciate that you can overwrite a previously trapped enemy if you don’t have multiple traps of the same element, then simply return to the main hub to trade-out for whichever trapped elemental enemy you want to use. It forces a little bit of strategic planning on kids’ (and adults’) part but doesn’t set them up for failure if the “wrong” elemental enemy is in the trap.
With regard to those enemies, each one is incredibly well executed and a blast to play. Some of the special attacks are a downright riot, and the time limit by which you can play as one at any given time is perfect. It’s not so long that you feel like a demigod, but not so short that you don’t get to feel like a total stud. It also baby-steps the kids into a certain level of strategic thinking against certain enemies, which is nice.
Even better is the audio commentary, which is second to none whether they’re on-screen or in a trap. When you trap an enemy there’s a doppler effect that implies the enemy is being transported from the TV into the trap. From that point onward the enemy will make snarky comments from the Portal via an embedded speaker, even if you’re not playing as him/her in the game. My kids thought this was darn near magic. Even as an adult I have to admit it’s one of the most creative ways I’ve seen a game developer smash through that proverbial “fourth wall.”
In addition to the core levels, Trap Team has a host of diversionary content that provides an outlet for “creative play” and simple fun. For instance, I watched the kids enjoy playing the new Guitar Hero-like rhythm game and just dinking around with the jukeboxes sprinkled around the Trap Team world. I, on the other hand, found the Kaos Doom Challenge mode to be a nice diversion, as it hearkens back to the Horde mode we’re all familiar with from the shooters we play once the kids go to bed.
But something is missing in Skylanders Trap Team that neither I nor my kids could quite put our collective finger on. The characters have incredible personality, animation and gameplay variety. The audio quality is great. The narrative has some interesting twists and turns that hold cool potential for the inevitable next SKylanders game. Everything associated with trapping is very well executed. But still, the kids aren’t quite as hooked to Trap Team as they have been to Swap Force.
The rubber-banding effect is certainly a drawback, as are the occasional camera angle issues. And while the replayability is technically high due to a bunch of areas you can’t unlock at the beginning, my kids often forgot about those areas once they had the elemental characters or trapped bosses required to access them. They just haven’t seemed as “invested” in SKylanders Trap Team as they have in Swap Force, even though the magic of trapping hasn’t worn off even now.
As such, this Skylanders Trap Team review score is the lowest we’ve awarded any Skylanders game to date. It’s not that it’s not enjoyable, but Trap Team gets so caught up in the toys and real-world monetization that it misfires on a few elements that seem minor but were really big for my kids.
Platform reviewed: Xbox One (game provided by Activision for review purposes)