Each year, Skylanders developer Toys For Bob capably marries escapist thrill of playing a video game with the physical joy of collectible action figures. For the franchise’s 2014 release, Skylanders: Trap Team, the studio goes a step further. Joining a whole new assortment of lovingly detailed figures are “crystal” Traps, which allow players to capture and play as the game’s enemies.
It’s a smart nod back to the series’ gameplay. The Skylanders figures and the new Trap Masters that join them scratch the collectibles itch while the Traps serve to unlock more gameplay potential. The more Traps you have, the more monsters you can potentially switch between in a short period of time. As an expansion to the existing franchise, it’s a genius step, effectively driving that hook in just a little bit more.
Traptanium troubles. The Skylands are in trouble, threatened once again by the nefarious machinations of Kaos. He’s blown up Cloudcracker Prison, which houses the worst of the worst criminals, and freed its captives. The explosion sends all of the Trap Masters to Earth, as well as Traptanium, the material the prison was constructed out of.
Players, as the so-called “Portal Masters,” use the new Trap Masters and their Traptanium weapons to hunt down the escapees. Once defeated, these rascals can be captured in the new Traptanium shards and used in the game just like any other character by placing the physical Trap piece into Trap Team‘s new portal (included with the game). There are some rules governing how all of this works, but that’s the basic setup.
Trapped. It’s not enough to simply defeat a villain if you want to capture it. For one, you’ve got to have a Traptanium shard of the appropriate element. The starter pack that comes with the game includes two crystals, each of a different element, meaning players have the potential to capture as many as 8-10 enemies right out of the box.
You’ve also got to be willing to ditch whatever villain you might have trapped already. Once an enemy’s been captured, it’s stored back at Trap Team‘s Skylanders Academy hub for easy access, but you’re stuck with whatever you have trapped when you’re out in the world until you capture something new.
Here’s where the hook comes in. While you can only have one villain in a trap at any given time, there’s no limit on the number of traps you can own. So if you want to have more flexibility out in the field, or want to be able to capture a wider range of elements, you can always buy more trap figurines at $6.
Ticking clock. The villain characters all bring along different sets of powers. The Shrednaught is a larger, four-legged machine with a spinning buzz blade circling its base. Buzzer Beak is much smaller, an orb-shaped bird with a propeller hat that’s used for both direct attacks and hovering jumps that end in a butt stomp. Painyatta is a piñata monster that barfs candy and swats enemies with his lollipop.
To keep these wide-ranging abilities from giving players too much power — and to encourage lots of character switching — Toys For Bob placed a timer on playing as a villain. A meter at the bottom of the screen drains as you use one, and there’s no way to switch until that meter refills (automatically, over time) at least halfway. You can switch whether you’re using a regular Skylander or a Trap Master, but the meter refills more quickly when you’ve got one of the latter in play.
Diversions. The combat-and-platforming that’s at the heart of Skylanders is still the focus in Trap Team, but Toys For Bob included a few extras to keep things from getting repetitive. A lockpicking minigame offers some light puzzle-solving, with a tiny, jetpack-equipped goblin zipping around on a series of grids.
The goal is to reach a specific square, but the goblin always moves in a straight line until it comes into contact with an obstacle. So you’ve got to carefully maneuver around each board until you reach the exit location.
There’s also a card game called Skystone Smash that you can play when you visit Skylanders Academy. It’s basically a simplified twist on Blizzard’s Hearthstone, with cards that have different offensive/health values attacking one another, and eventually breaking through defenses to chip away at the card player’s hit point pool. These don’t appear to be major parts of the game, but they add some extra flavor.
Back to school. Skylanders Academy is the hub location in Trap Team. It’s just a central building and a courtyard, but it expands over time into a bustling house of learning filled with beings to interact with and secrets to uncover. Toys For Bob really let loose in this space, with lots of nods to past games and guest appearances from various denizens of the Skylanders universe.
It’s the little features that stand out most. Walk by a brazier with a D&D-like die in it, and it’ll spin around to reflect the element of the character standing near it. Sidle up to a player piano and the game’s music changes. In addition to hiding all manner of secrets and unlockables, the Academy is also where you return to when you want to swap one trapped villain with another that you’ve previously captured.
Talking toys. The physical Traptanium shards that contain your enemies are decked out with some nifty tech. The portal reads nearby shards — even when they’re not directly plugged in — and colors your play with occasional remarks from your newly reformed villains. It’s tonal shift for a game that’s always embraced its kid-friendliness. None of the villains use foul language, but there’s a darker sense of humor at play than we’ve seen from the series before.
Each captured villain has his or her own set of lines, providing even more encouragement for players to mix and match their setups. Even Kaos himself can be captured and used as a playable character, and he’s got his own in-crystal dialogue once you add him to your roster.
Toys For Bob understands what makes Skylanders tick, and Trap Team appears to build on the studio’s successes to date by strengthening the feedback loops that’s created a robust audience of collectible-loving gamers. Capture villains, use them in the game, buy physical traps to have more immediate access to different villains. Rinse, repeat, take it to the bank. Look for Skylanders: Trap Team on October 5 for PlayStation, Wii, and Xbox consoles.