From the moment I hear a certain voice, I know exactly how my session at Activision’s Skylanders: Trap Team preview will go. Seated behind me, just one row back, is Richard Steven Horvitz, the voice of the series main antagonist Kaos. He just happens to wander in to our meeting, having spent the morning doing interviews and media sessions. He’s loose and firing on all cylinders. “Oh you Portal Masters!” he yells as we watch the game’s producers drop figurines on the portal. “You don’t pay me enough to take your abuse!” The entire demo session is full of his jabs and comments, and it gets more amusing as more is revealed about the game. He *is* Kaos.
It’s fitting that he reacts so perfectly to the events we witness. He breaks the fourth wall, much like the game is designed to do. Instead of just dropping figures onto a little round plate, the newest Skylanders takes the characters out of the game for the first time, out of the digital space as we capture them, and into our world.
How do they manage to keep ramming more into Skylanders each year? It could have simply been just snazzy new characters each time, but since their inception they’ve gotten bigger, glowier, and split in two halves. It’s like they want me to continually go broke. There must be a giant whiteboard at developer Toys for Bob labeled “How to Make Dali Go Broke” and a list with a hundred ideas on it.
It looks like it might work again with the upcoming Trap Team. Yes, there are some awesome new characters, full of the life and animated feel that the series is known for, but there’s less of a gimmick in the actual toys now. Nothing is bigger, nothing is glowier, nothing is split in half. The magic this time comes from new pieces, known as “Traptanium Shards”, that allow us to capture in-game enemies and store them as needed. Our only limit is to how many of the shards we have at home; with up to 40 villains available, that means we’ll be buying a lot of the little packages, in addition to the typical thirty or so character figures that arrive with each new iteration.
The shards come in several shapes and colors, and slot neatly in (yet another) new portal. If you’re keeping track, this is the third new portal to grace the series, after the first two games used the same technology. As ideas are added, so is needed a new device to realize them. Further breaking that fine line between digital and reality, the shards emit audio based one what character is inside. They’ll yell and shout and chatter as different things happen in the game, much like Horvitz seated behind me.
It’s a constant peanut gallery.
As I take my turn with the game, I rampage through levels, capturing enemies during “encounters” and locking them into Traptanium Shards.
What’s Traptanium? Well, the Skylanders plot this time revolves around Cloudcracker Prison, a jail full of the worst villains in the Skylanders universe, demolished by Kaos in efforts to build an ultimate army. Players are tasked with capturing the villains to help bring peace back to the realm. Enemies I came up against include a werewolf with a guitar named Wolfgang, and a piece of freakin’ broccoli named “Broccoli Guy”. Amazing. As encounters take place, I’m timed to get the villain back into the shard.
Using the them afterwards seems seamless. Drop a shard in, and the enemy pops out onto the screen. Send him back to the shard and his voice shifts from the display to the portal, letting me know I’ve recaptured him. It’s as cute as Skylanders always is.
Though the game is based around the new Trapmaster characters and figures, they don’t appear too different from the typical Skylander. In fact, there isn’t much during my demo to even hint at the Giants and the Swap Force characters having much of an environmental effect. No gates, no special zones for the toys of the last two generations. “We’ve found that kids don’t usually play with the older toys. They like to use the new characters and discover what they can do in the world that’s different,” Design Producer Michael Graham tells me. Though level caps and abilities will increase, new characters take precedence. The classics will still be usable, but probably nothing beyond “hey, they still work” type of utilization. So yeah, don’t expect the Giant gates.
Everything else functions exactly the same as previous installments, albeit with great new visuals (yay, Next Gen!) and improved audio. The worlds are bigger, too, including the giant new hub world Skylanders Academy. There are even a ton of new and updated mini games, including the card game from Giants (now similar to “that game by Turbine”) and vehicle-based areas.
Skylanders: Trap Team seems to go back to its roots a little. Instead of expanding laterally and altering the figures, Toys For Bob have moved vertically, adding an entirely new mechanic to the game that creates a completely different experience. It’s the Skylanders Pokemon, and it could end up being a great new collectible layer for the series.
“You can even trap me, though why would you want to?” screeches Horvitz in his Kaos voice behind me. “I’ll break out, and Skylands will finally be mine!” His energy is infectious, and I want to believe him, though I know I’ll take joy in finally being able to play as the game’s prime enemy and run him through the paces. “Curse you, Portal Master!”
Skylanders: Trap Team arrives this October.