As we may have mentioned once or twice on the site before, when it comes to Skylanders, we have a weakness. A large, wallet destroying, "gotta catch 'em all" weakness that's led to a massive box (now two boxes) full of the figures taking up space we don't really have - because when it comes to collecting things, collect them we must.
Part real-life toy collecting extravaganza, part LEGO-esque action adventure game, Skylanders: Trap Team is the latest in the long running "toys to life" series that mixes the physical and virtual worlds.
Coming with everything you need to get started - a Skylanders base, two figures (a water Trap Master, known as Snap Shot, and a little vegetable/tomato Skylander called Food Fight), and two traps (more on that later), the big trick here, as fans of the series well know, is that the figures are more than just toys. When you plug the base into your console, and place a figure on it, a little bit of magic happens, and suddenly, you'll be playing as that character in the game. And that's a trick that doesn't get old. While previous games have been something of an incremental upgrade, Skylanders Trap Team promised to push the boat out much further, with a whole host of brand new features. Along with the now standard support for two player co-op, plus the ability to use every figure you've ever bought, Trap Team also came with two new lines of toys - the fantastic minis (which we covered in huge detail here), and the slightly less impressive traps, the latter of which were promised to be the big game changers. Now, not only did you have the ability to play as the goody two shoes Skylanders in game - but you could play as the villains as well, by beating them in battle, and trapping them inside one of the elemental traps.
As always, there's a handy tale in place to explain why the Skylands have found themselves in trouble once again, and why you've been drafted in to help. As per usual, the series perennial baddie Kaos is up to no good, and has led a bit of a daring raid on the Cloudcracker prison, a magical fortress made out of a mysterious substance known as traptanium, that houses some of the Skyland's biggest rotten eggs. Being the evil genius that he is, Kaos manages to blow up the prison, and releases the baddies, to form his own kind of villain super squad, with the intent, as always, to take over Skylands. Unluckily for him, you'll be standing in his way.
What follows is a typically brightly coloured, eminently playable, and fantastically fun adventure, as you (and a friend!) team up on a quest across the Skylanders to bring all the baddies to justice. Far from being gigantic, screen filling monstrosities that need taming, though, instead your foes here are a mixture of returning favourites and new, devious foes. From the Chompy Mage - an old man dressed up as the game's weakest enemy who can summon the mostly useless green things at a moment's notice, to Sheep Creep, a baaad (sorry) villain that's basically a sheep with two
rocket launchers cork launchers strapped to either side of it, and the sweet rainbow fun of Painyatta, there's a great variety of foes on offer, each with a puntastic name, each becoming a kind of mini-boss in the levels - and each available to be caught.
As you can probably guess by the name of the game, the traps are this year's new big thing, and they're certainly impressive when you see them in action. On beating your first mini-boss villain, you'll be prompted to plug a trap into the portal, to "catch" the villain. As the base this time around has a speaker in it too, you'll hear the boss' yelling move from the TV to the trap, in a fantastic little touch - and one that's bound to entertain the kids.
As the main part of this year's game, a lot of work's been put into the villains, with each one not only having their own distinct look - but also their own personality. From their newly narrow confines, the villains will randomly commentate on your adventures, either begging to be let out, or offering a witty one liner about something that's happening on screen at that time. Better yet, at any time, you can "hot swap" with the villain at the touch of a button, switching your Skylander out, and letting you take control of the bad guy. Each with their own range of moves - although, sadly, not the ability to level up, the villains are a lot of fun - and can really make some of the later boss fights a lot easier, if only as a handy damage sponge!
Still, one of the biggest downsides to the villains is that you won't be able to get them all out of the box. Instead, in order to catch them, you'll need a trap that matches that villain's element - which means if you want to catch every villain, you'll need to buy six more traps. Luckily, they come in packs of three, and individual traps cost a not too unreasonable £5.99, so it shouldn't be too expensive to get them all. On the plus side, if you don't have the right elemental trap available when you beat a baddie, the villain doesn't just run free either - instead, they'll be sent to a prison in the hub, where you can download them to your trap at a later date.
Another issue, and perhaps the biggest one we have with the game, is that more steps have been taken to lock things off behind pay walls in Trap Team than ever before. While previous games have locked off special areas behind elemental gates, all you've previously needed to access them was a Skylander of the right element. That means that, at most, you'd have to buy six other Skylanders, one of each additional element - and as all Skylanders are forwards compatible, you could just bring your old figures over to the new game, and access everything. All that's changed for Trap Team, as these are now locked off behind specific, Trap Master elemental gates. This means that not only do you need a character of the right element to unlock them - but they'll need to be a Trap Master too. Bigger than the other figures (and with a higher price tag to suit), there are only eight Trap Master figures available, so there isn't even any room to pick and choose your favourites - if you want to access all of the game, and play through the hidden areas, you have to buy the Trap Masters.
Luckily, there's still plenty to do out of the box, and it's entirely possible to play through the entire story mode, and every level with just what you get in the box. Unlike its closest competitor, Disney Infinity 2.0, there aren't any weird restrictions put on which Skylanders can play in which levels, and you're getting a full game here, with eighteen levels, out of the box - unlike Disney Infinity, which only gives you a third of its story driven content, with the other two thirds sold separately. Purely from a value perspective, Skylanders is the clear winner over Disney Infinity.
And for the most part, the game's every bit as enjoyable as it's ever been, too. Whether you're bashing enemies about, collecting experience and levelling up as you go, solving the game's rudimentary puzzles (or the slightly more challenging lock-picking ones), hunting down collectibles, and customising your Skylanders, there's a lot to do - and it's a lot of fun. There's even new options for customisation in Trap Team, with the much loved hats being joined by trinkets - little bits and pieces you can attach to your Skylanders, one of the best being a bubble pipe.
When you have some downtime from the levels, there's a whole host of minigames to complete too. Head down certain corridors or through certain doors in the castle-like hub world, and you'll suddenly be dropped into a side scrolling platform level, full of gems to collect. If you fancy a combat heavy challenge, you can take on Kaos mode, which basically throws wave after wave of enemies at you, in a kind of survival mode. Better yet, there's even a random rap battle mini game to be found, where you have to press buttons at the right time to lay the smacketh verbally down on an opponent. It's all a little bit crazy - but helps add that bit of variety to do the game.
Still, despite Trap Team being mostly more of the same, there's something that feels oddly... incomplete about it. The levels, while varied and detailed, feel oddly empty for the most part, with a dearth of enemies for you to beat up. When a lot of the fun of Skylanders comes from upgrading and levelling your character, buying new moves along the way, it seems a bit weird that the levels are often so empty. Instead, you're left wondering around hunting for collectibles and trying to figure out where to go next, but with no enemies to bash along the way. It's weird.
Perhaps last year's game, Swap Force was simply exceptionally good, but, though it comes close, Trap Team never quite manages to recapture the magic that game brought with it, despite all the extra features. While it's in no means bad, Trap Team seems to have stumbled slightly, and made a minor misstep. Here's hoping that things are back up to speed next year, and that we haven't already reached peak Skylander.
Format Reviewed: Xbox 360