Capturing Monsters With Monsters in Skylanders Trap Team
Gotta catch 'em all!
As toy franchise lifespans go, Skylanders entering its fourth year is no small feat. Creator and main developer Toys For Bob has managed to avoid stagnation partly due to the series’ ever-evolving roster of new characters. Every year sees a roster twist, whether it’s extra large figures or creatures with swappable halves. Fans now expect that the fall season means something different with each new cast, although Toys For Bob has always added some first year-style “core” characters as well. These are the smaller, basic characters who lack enhancements but are no less useful in the battlefield. This mix of new and old figure styles complements the series' "forwards compatibility" value, where you can use older figures in all future installments.
Skylanders Trap Team’s theme compels kids and adults to dabble in the dark side. Fans got a taste of this last year with the GameStop-exclusive Dark Edition Starter Pack, which was a reskin of five fan-favorite characters: Dark Washbuckler, Dark Blast Zone, Dark Stealth Elf, Dark Spyro and Dark Lockjaw. They were enhanced with dark powers, but they nonetheless still fought for good. With Trap Team, fans now get the opportunity to play as actual Skylanders bosses. That’s where the 16 Trap Masters and their Traptanium crystals come in. The crystals are needed to capture bosses, provided a given villain is elementally aligned with one of the crystals you own. If you defeat the water elemental Cross Crow, you can only capture him if you have a water elemental trap crystal. While that might mean completionists will be spending more money this year, Activision’s packaging plans doesn’t seek to alienate the Skylanders fanbase. You can get different styles for each crystal, but you only need one crystal for each element. So if you manage to complete the foursome of air elementals (Dreamcatcher, Buzzer Beak, Bad Juju, Krankenstein), you only need one air crystal, since you can only use one villain at a time. Activision, given their prerogative to make money, could have forced consumers to buy one crystal for each boss. The current set up makes Trap Team appealing, especially since you can still complete the game using everything in the Trap Team Starter Pack, which includes two starting crystals.
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I was recently given the opportunity to engage in a Trap Team mission that pits the Skylanders against a zeppelin. This was a two-phase level that began with an on-rails shooter sequence where you’re thinning out the ship’s exterior defenses. The second half of the mission involved infiltrating the zeppelin itself and the inevitable boss fight. The owner of this zeppelin is Chef Pepper Jack, a living jalapeno who can also be mistaken for a deformed lobster. Transitioning from the outside to the inside of the flying ship is a superb trick in level design, where the interior feels much more expansive than the exterior implies. In between brawls--of which there are many--you’re tasked with typical Skylanders problem solving: puzzles that are hardly brain teasers for teenagers or older. If your progress is blocked by a sturdy wood barrier, there’s a good chance a barrier-breaking cannon is nearby.
In a ship stocked with giant forks, kitchen tools, and Norwegian chefs, I had to ask a Toys For Bob spokesman if most of the game’s art direction is centered on food. He replied that, “Food is just one of many visual themes in a game of many themes.” True, none of the other villains in Trap Team give off a foodie vibe like Chef Pepper Jack. The notable exception is a new core Skylander named Food Fight who happens to be a living artichoke. It is both amusing and disturbing that a walking, sentient artichoke is wielding a gun that fires tomatoes. To draw a mammal analogy, this would be like a human firing a gun that shoots monkeys, or the other way around depending on your fondness for tomatoes over artichokes.
It is both amusing and disturbing that a walking, sentient artichoke is wielding a gun that fires tomatoes.
Toys For Bob’s wild imagination is on full display even beyond Trap Team’s partial food theme. The oversized horns of the Valkyrie-inspired Head Rush Skylander is emblematic of the studio’s talent for abstract character designs. On the other end of the spectrum, you have the plain-looking Bushwhack, who stands out for looking like the most human Skylander in the series’ history. Then there’s Hood Sickle, a villain who is sure to be a fan favorite since he’s the possibly the cutest sickly-wielding executioner you’ve ever seen.
Going back to the Traptanium crystals, one has to ask: Can you replay a previously-beaten area using the boss you’ve just captured to beat the same boss again? Absolutely. Chef Pepper Jack doesn’t blink an eye in having to fight against Chef Pepper Jack. It’s easy to see these playable villains enhance Trap Team’s replay value, especially if they can access previously locked areas. Skylanders has always felt inspired by Pokemon, but with Skylanders Trap Team, it’s as if the pocket monsters finally get to catch other pocket monsters themselves.
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