The Skylanders franchise has captured not one but two markets. Combining the in-game action with tangible toy creatures, the team at Toys for Bob have created a sensation. Selling over $500 million dollars worth of toys, figures, and accessories – a milestone they reached faster than any kid-focused gaming property, ever. Today we sat down with the team to take a look at their recent installment in the franchise: Skylanders Trap Team.
The largest innovation this year, other than a serious upgrade in graphical fidelity on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, is the ability to capture villains. Part and parcel to the game name, a group of guardians called the Skylanders Trap Team have been charged with securing Cloudcracker Prison – a building made of Traptanium that houses the most nefarious of villains in the Skylands. When the prison blows sky high, all of those ne’er-do-wells are released, and it’s your job to trap them with the help of the Trap Team.
The game’s primary feature, the ability to trap villains and turn them to the good side, comes courtesy of a new portal. This “Traptanium Portal”, sold as part of a new starter pack, allows players to utilize not just the new Skylanders Trap Team, but also the crystals that enable them to snare their foes. These physical crystals represent the pieces of Cloudcracker Prison that have landed in our world, giving players a tangible device that they can use to capture foes and take them to their friends’ house to play with, just like they could with the original Skylanders and Giants figures. Beyond that, the new pedestal has an entirely new immersion element – voice.
Courtesy of the game’s portal-embedded speaker, when you capture an enemy you’ll hear them shout on the screen which then carries over to the pedestal. They’ll chime in with comments on your current situation, foes you might encounter, and other flavor voiceover work. But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself.
The first foe that Lou, our Toys for Bob demo driver, encountered was a villain named Shrednaut. This mechanized vehicle looked like it had stubby spider legs with a giant sweeping chainsaw underneath it. For demo brevity Lou took him out quickly and trapped him after putting a element-matching crystal into the Traptanium Portal. You see, you’ll only be able to hold one of the 40+ villains (including Kaos, the boss from the previous games) per crystal, and they are bound to the specific element type. You can swap them out at the Skylanders Academy, a central hub for the game, or you can purchase additional crystals, depending on your play style. Once captured, Lou was able to, with a single button press, transform into Shrednaut, cutting down critters. This ability does come with a timer though, encouraging players to switch back and forth between heroes and villains.
The whimsy and character of the game comes from the incredible creatures we get to summon, so Lou did us the solid of showing us plenty more of the new cast of characters. “Food Fight”, a character that looks like an anthropomorphic artichoke, uses a tomato launcher for a weapon. His tomato launcher either caused splash damage on a hit, or planted smaller tomatoes that could be picked up for an even larger projectile, rewarding, say, a younger player even when they might not be the most accurate. Showing another trapped creature, Lou brought out Buzzer Beak – a small bird with a propeller on his head that he was able to use to fly up and then slam down for a big attack. Next up on the roster was Broccoli Guy – a Life Mage that is able to drop healing glyphs that can mend the wounds of your Skylander when you switch back to them. This character could also be very useful when playing cooperatively, of course.
The next toy we saw was one of the new Trap Team characters – Jawbreaker. This mechanical beast looks like a mech with oversized fists. All about energy management, Jawbreaker is able to trigger his inner spark to give him extra speed and damage for short time, as well as a power area of effect attack rather than his basic fist slam.
Saving the best for last, Lou pulled in a new member of the Trap Team that had us in stitches – Painyatta. Painyatta is a giant goofy looking piñata that looks entirely too excited to be in the game. Holding a giant sucker as a melee weapon and smashing enemies with a “candy slam”, Painyatta’s primary attack seems to be to barf out lots of shredded paper to stun his foes. Also horking up small piñatas that act as little bombs, Painyatta is already our favorite in the expanded cast of characters.
Like its predecessors, Skylanders Trap Team seems to be all about the little things. Each villain has their own theme music and voice work, as well as the previously mentioned comments. Painyatta, for instance, might comment “I don’t know how to solve this, I’d probably just barf candy on it” when facing a tricky puzzle. All of the villains also have their own theme music, and why shouldn’t they? Since the game is also forward-compatible with all of the previous toys, the team also went back and animated a new jump-attack for all of those characters. A lot of work, to be sure, but part of the charm of the new title.
The team also put a bit of polish on the lockpicking mechanism from the previous game. Opening locks still involves the same little goblin, but now with a bit of a puzzle twist. Not unlike the Android game Quell, the goblin now wears a jetpack (that he can’t really control), shooting him across the screen until he hits a solid object. This allows you to drive the goblin through new puzzle elements. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out in a cooperative game as players will have two goblins that will bounce off of one another when they collide.
The next area of the demo is the Secret Sewers of Supreme Stink. Inside we encounter Verl – a sewer resident who believes that the outside world was destroyed, and that we might be carrying germs into the sewer. Pulling in another trapped bad-guy-turned-good we summon an undead rock and roll werewolf named Wolfgang. This Aussie wolf plays a guitar that shoots music notes at his enemies, augmenting his attack with an 80’s hair metal knee slide as a secondary attack. This area will be playable further on the show floor, so stay tuned as we dig further into this bog of stench.
The final area of the demo for the day is the Skylanders Academy – the central character hub for this year. Starting off simply, this area grows with more buildings as you progress through the game until you have a fully populated Academy. Inside, the Villain Vault allows you to choose what creatures are trapped (and thus able to be summoned from) your various crystals. Persephone also returns to handle your character upgrades, though your trapped denizens ramp up through their own personal story rather than character XP.
One very positive change this year is that the Traptanium Weapons wielded by the Trap Characters are able to break any Traptanium fragments you find in the world. More plainly, you no longer require a specific elemental class to unlock a side area as you did in the two previous games. Parents and their wallets rejoice!
The final goodie Lou had to share with us today is an item called Skystones Smash. This side game is a collectable card game, not unlike a basic Hearthstone knockoff. You’ll get three sky stones (read: cards) that have attack and health values, and each side has ten hitpoints. If you’ve played any CCG in your lifetime, you know exactly how this works, but the simplified mechanisms and limited cards in your hands makes it very easy for kids to learn, introducing a small amount of complexity and strategy without turning off players new to card battling.
From the quick demo we saw it is very clear that Toys for Bob hasn’t just thrown a new batch of minions at Trap Team, instead touching every aspect of the franchise thus far. New characters, fresh gameplay mechanisms, a collectable card game, and an all-new cast of characters to join the 170+ previous Skylanders await gamers on October 5th in the United States, and October 10th in Europe. Stay tuned for our hands-on time with the title at this year’s E3.