As a child with a bit of an over-active imagination, I spent most of my time hunting for Narnia in the back of the wardrobe, lost in a book or inventing stories, songs or dances. And like most children, I went through a phase of believing my stuffed toys and dolls were real, and that they lived their own lives whenever you were out of the room. Something which I frequently tried to sneak in and catch them doing, well before the likes of Toy Story hit the cinemas in 1995 and stole the idea (I was 6, almost 7 at the time). It's this magical world of living toys that the Skylanders series tries to replicate, bringing little plastic figures to life in a game.
The 'toys to life' game that started it all, Skylanders: Trap Team is the latest instalment in a series that's been burning a hole in our purses for many a year. Unique in that players purchase plastic figurines, and then place them on a portal to play as that character in the game (i.e. - it brings your toys to life!), the series has gone from strength to strength, with roughly a bajillion figures sold since 2011's original game (scientific term). However, what fewer people realise is that there are actually two different Skylanders games released every year. While the home console version (found on the Wii U/360/Xbox One/PS4/PS3) is arguably the main event, the 3DS iteration is a totally different, stand-alone game. With its own story, own levels, and own special features, the handheld games have always been a solid way of getting some extra mileage out of your figures, or as a way to play some Skylanders on the go - and Trap Team is no exception.
Available only in its own special 3DS 'Starter Pack', the bundle comes with everything you need to get going - a copy of the game, a portal that lets you scan your figures in, and two brand new figures - the Mini Skylander Barkley, and Trap Master Gusto. Handily, as an extra incentive, the figures you get in the home console starter pack are totally different to the ones that come with the handheld copy, too - so if you do double dip in both versions, there's no risk of doubling up on your figures.
Trap Team begins when a bespectacled (and apparently, gullible) mole-like critter named Hugo gets tricked into reading from a cursed book, and accidentally opens a gateway to another world. Stumbling out of the gateway comes the nefarious Dream Sheep - a bad bad black sheep if ever there was one - and his minions, who put a sleep curse on the whole of the Skylands, sending the residents into an endless slumber. As a Skylander, one of the Skyland's sworn guardians, it's up to you to put a stop to his evil scheme by finding and ringing the three Bells of Waking scattered across the land in order to lift the curse, and save the day.
Essentially a platformer, you'll spend most of your time in Trap Team beating up the Dream Sheep's minions, jumping between moving platforms, over spikes and onto bouncy blocks, while hunting down the game's large number of collectables as you go. With plenty of variety in the stages, whether it's navigating a load of rotating platforms, struggling against strong winds or riding around on top of giant snow balls, no two levels are the same, and there's plenty to see and do. Levels culminate in a boss fight against one of the nightmare villains, from fire-breathing chompies to burly birds and arrow-firing elves, which - as the game's name suggests - you can then capture, and call on for help in the main levels.
However, perhaps the strangest thing about Trap Team on the 3DS is that it doesn't actually let you use the titular traps to catch the villains. A major feature in the home console version of the game, the traps are little plastic crystal toys (sold separately) that plug into the portal, and are used to 'store' your defeated villains in, ready to be called on in battle - but there's nowhere for them to plug into the 3DS portal, and no way to use them in game. Instead, your stable of villains are stored in a giant, virtual traptanium crystal in the hub - which, if nothing else, is a cheaper way of doing it.
While on the home console version of the game, catching a villain inside a trap lets you swap it out with your Skylander mid level, and take control of it directly, playing as it in the level for a short period of time, in the 3DS version things work a little bit differently. You can't play as the villains directly, but you can call on them at any point to make use of their massive special screen-clearing attack - although they do need to rest between uses. Meanwhile, Trap Masters, the new, bigger figures that wield powerful traptanium weapons, also have a distinct advantage over the end-of-level nightmare bosses, dealing way more damage than your average Skylander. They're also the only characters capable of breaking their way through the traptanium crystals that encase some of the treasure chest collectibles hidden in the levels.
Between each of the main levels is a shorter 'Villain Bootcamp' stage, where you get to use your recently captured bad guy to break into the Dream Sheep's headquarters, and complete a challenge to 'show your loyalty' to him, earning a shiny gem in the process. Each only a few minutes long, you'll find yourself bouncing bombs back at cannons, sneaking past guards and destroying Mabu statues with each new villain you enlist, in a kind of mini-game challenge mode. They make a nice change of pace from the regular levels, with less emphasis on beating up baddies, and more on puzzle solving.
As always, the main levels themselves have plenty of extra things for you to do along the way too, with plenty of rewards for those who stray off the beaten path. Each stage has two sets of bonus challenges to be completed, awarded for things such as opening various elemental gates (by attacking it with a Skylander of the right element), winning at a Skystones mini-game, beating up a certain number of chompies or completing a time trial. There's also loads of collectables for you to track down too - treasure chests filled with a load of crystals, nightmare scrolls that give you a bit of a background story to the villains, and, of course, the all important hats. A way of customising your Skylanders, as well as giving them all important stat boosts and bonuses, hats have been a staple collectable since the original game - from Napoleon hats to Viking helmets, from top hats to Rasta beanies, and even animal themed sharks and toucans, with some 240(!?) to collect. Oh, and a Fez. Because Fezzes are cool.
As with the previous games, you can buy extra Skylander figures from your local games/toy store, and can scan them in to play as them in the game. With more than 50 new figures available for Trap Team alone, from the cute Minis, to powerful Trap Masters and everything in between, there's a wide range to choose from - but buying additional figures is wholly optional. Every Skylander from every previous game is fully compatible with Trap Team, and it's entirely possible to complete the game using just the two characters that come in the box. The only thing you might miss out on are some collectibles, which are hidden behind special elemental doors. With eight different elemental types, you'd need to buy at least another six figures, one of each type, in order to see 100% of the game - although collecting the different Skylanders is definitely part of the fun, especially as you'll be able to use them on all the future games too (and past, depending on the game the characters originate from). As a side note, because we're
lazy couldn't find a screwdriver to get the battery compartment open, we found the old 3DS Giants portal works with Trap Team too.
One big difference between the console and handheld versions is that you don't collect money to spend on upgrades. Each level has a number of crystals to collect, but rather than adding to your wallet, they're instead converted to experience at the end, levelling up your active Skylander and making them more powerful in the process. Whereas in the home console game you can pick and choose the upgrades which upgrades you want for your Skylander, the 3DS version dishes out improved moves, health bonuses and damage increases when you reach various Skylander level milestones. It means your Skylanders do lose out on some of the customisation aspects, as you only have access to the moves as and when it decides to give you them, but it's not really a huge deal. However, it is a bit strange when you transfer your Skylander from the 3DS to the console game, only to find they've kept their higher level, but are flat broke with no upgrades to their name, as they don't carry over either. At least you get to keep your hat though.
If you've got a hankering for a portable Skylanders game, want to get some more mileage out of your collection, or simply want more Trap Team to play through, Skylanders: Trap Team for the 3DS is certainly worth a go. Solidly fun, with a totally new story to play through, funky villain bootcamp puzzle stages and a currently-not-in-stores Barkley figure, this is well worth a look - although whether it's worth paying the same £50 RRP as the home console game for what is essentially the "little brother" version is up to you.
Format Reviewed: Nintendo 3DS