Skylanders Trap Team – the billion dollar series gets a new generation

Snap Shot, one of the new characters from the latest Skylanders title, this time based around trapping and controlling enemy character...

Snap Shot, one of the new characters from the latest Skylanders title, this time based around trapping and controlling enemy characters
The business idea was perfect, really. Mix a child-friendly fantasy game based in a magical kingdom with a line of action figures that could be placed on a 'portal' to interact with the on-screen action. Then stand back and watch the money roll in. 
And boy, has it rolled. Activision's Skylanders series of games and toys has made over $1.5bn since the launch of the original title in 2011, with over 175m toys sold alongside the video game component. And this week, the publisher arranged events in New York and London to announce the next instalment: Skylanders Trap Team. 
Once again, players control a range of magical anthropomorphic heroes as they attempt to protect their floating kingdom, Skylands, from the invasion plans of the evil "portal master", Kaos. But here, as rumoured on specialist retail news sites for several weeks, the latest title offers its own innovation in the form of a new trapping mechanic.
In short, a range of 40 enemies encountered in the game can be trapped and turned into playable characters. Once an enemy is defeated, placing a translucent Trap token of an appropriate Element in the new “Traptanium” portal peripheral triggers the trap.
These ensnared enemies can be brought into the game as controllable characters by reinserting the Trap element into the portal. Converted enemies all retain their unique abilities and are upgradeable through the game. Essentially, this offers a secondary way of collecting characters without having to buy more toy figures – although you will need Trap tokens in each Element to collect them all.
The portal itself looks substantially different in Skylanders Trap Team with a ring of light that pulsates as the trapped enemies talk. Like Swap Force last year, this is provided in the Starter Pack and replaces the previous version. Parents may well balk at havin to buy another peripheral but according to Jeff Poffenbarger, the game's executive producer, the update was necessary to support the new features. “We’ve added so much innovation in the experience of bringing life to the toy," he said. "And the sound of moving from the digital world to the physical world is so important to the key concept that the new portal is needed to bring magic to that moment.”

Skylanders: Trap Team
The new Trap Team portal, which replaces the previous models – to the possible frustration of cash-strapped parents

Alongside the Traps there are also a new set of Trap Master characters. These Skylanders wield large translucent weapons and are most effective at defeating and trapping the different enemies, although exactly how that plays out is yet to be explained. It seems that they also have their own special set of upgrades that relate to their “Traptanium” weapons.
As usual, Skylanders Trap Team rolls out new and returning Skylanders too. A total of 50 playable Skylanders will slowly be drip fed onto store shelves once the game is released. These comprise the new Trap Masters, new Core Skylanders and new re-posed returning Skylanders. No mention at this stage of the illuminating Light Core Skylanders but these seem a likely inclusion as well — unless perhaps their absence from the current details suggests another innovation that is still to be unveiled.
Gameplay itself, demonstrated on the PlayStation 4 version at the London event, extends the familiar action and puzzle platforming challenge with new environments and minigames. Fans can also expect a return for Sky Stones from last year's hugely successful Skylanders Giants. Largely though, Trap Team resolutely sticks to the familiar two-player shared screen format – online play has not been mentioned.
As for the plot, the game once again takes players through a series of levels as Kaos continues his quest to rule Skylands. This time he has discovered the Cloudcracker Prison and in an attempt to build an army with its inhabitants, inadvertently blows it up releasing the baddies and showering Earth with shards of Traptanium.
While much is made of the new trapping mechanic bringing “life to toys”, the corollary of Activision’s “toys to life” moniker, the physical side of the Trap Team experience feels less compelling than the excellent mix and match play possible with last year's Swap Force figures. Character director I-Wei Huang’s designs are excellent though with another set of endearingly mischievous figures.
At the event we got hands on with Food Fight and Chopper, two new core Skylanders along with Snap Shot, Wollop and Wildfire, three of the new Trap Masters. Even with the considerable war chest of family favourites that Disney is plundering for its rival franchise, Infinity, the Trap Team characters we saw hold their own both in terms of in-game characterisation and the quality of the physical toys themselves. As has been the case in all Skylanders games, it’s not until you get the figures in your hands that their tactile nature can be appreciated.
Although there was certainly a lot to take in at the launch, Activision was being more reserved with information this time around, perhaps keeping a few secrets in reserve. After all, on 30 April, Disney is making an announcement about Infinity which will involve the arrival of Marvel and possibly Star Wars play sets. The next Skylanders titles will need a few enticing new features to compete with that. 
Until then, while there is plenty of creativity on show in Trap Team, some will criticise the new title for over complicating the beauty of its simple toys-to-life mechanic. Furthermore, there is a pressing point about how the game will deliver good value. Requiring a new Starter Pack (rather than reusing the Portal like in Skylanders Giants) isn’t a great start. Also, the translucent Traps are purchased separately with “different sculpts available for different elements” as Poffenbarger put it, which introduces a new retail line into Skylanders potentially on a par with the Power Discs of Disney Infinity that are sold in foil blind packs.
Provided you can complete the game with just the Starter Pack, as has been the case in previous iterations, and the additional Traps, Trap Masters and Core Skylanders are optional extras, Trap Team should still plenty of gameplay for that initial outlay. Nonetheless parents should steel themselves to say “no” to the inevitable supermarket aisle pestering from their offspring.
Certainly, parents will be unable to complain that the game is unavailable on their machine. Original Skylanders developer, Toys for Bob is looking after the Wii, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 version while Beenox will take on the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Wii U and 3DS.
This attention to Nintendo platforms will be pleasing to Wii-owning parents who have been neglected of late – mostly due to the poor sales of the Wii U. "I believe it’s still a very viable platform and is very important for us," said Poffenbarger. "A PS4 or Xbox One is going to run a little bit faster than the Wii but we want the experience to be the same across all platforms”.
Although it may seem like a minor point amongst the more exciting headlines, this impressive approach to wide platform support is beyond what has been achieved by competitor Disney Infinity and will certainly put the pressure on Disney for their “2.0” announcement next week.


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