Sunday, December 28, 2014

Skylanders: Trap Team turns the wackiness up to 11

Although my kids and I have been playing a lot of Disney Infinity 2.0 lately, we have been Skylander fans for a lot longer and it was inevitable we would get the new Skylander: Trap Team when it was released. Each iteration of the Skylanders franchise brings with it some new gimmick. The original Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure introduced the "toys-to-life" concept whereby collectible figures with embedded RFID chips could interact directly with a video game. A world of floating islands with a force of defenders known as the Skylanders is being menaced by a diminutive, would-be conqueror known as Kaos. Many races including elves, dragons, trolls and robots inhabit the world and many of the Skylander characters are derived from these races. Next came Skylanders: Giants which introduced a new story involving the indefatigable Kaos, a giant robot voiced by George Takei, and a new group of special extra-large figures. The third installment, Skylanders: Swap Force, introduced a new group of figures that had separable upper and lower halves, each of which had its own RFID and which could be interchangeably attached to mix and match capabilities. Once again, the Skylanders battle Kaos, but this time, his mom shows up.

Finally, in the most recent version of the game, we have the "Trapmasters", a special team of Skylanders who have mastered the power of traptanium. a magical crystalline material that has the power to trap villains and turn them to good. Extra crystal traps are available to allow the player to call up trapped villains as needed to either fight or engage in certain side quests that only the villains can do. Obviously, there are a lot more unique villains in this game than in previous Skylanders games in order to utilize this new game mechanic and some are pretty crazy. The elite villains are a gang called the "Doom Raiders" led by the imperious Golden Queen and included among their ranks are a giant disembodied doll head with a Vally Girl accent, a leather-pants-wearing rock star wolfman and a Cajun chef who is an anthropomorphic chili pepper. Of course, Kaos is also back (this guy has more lives than a cat which has been genetically spliced with a cockroach). When you are carrying a trap, the villain can talk to you through the portal. It's generally quiet enough to ignore, but some of the chatter is quite entertaining. Spend a few minutes carrying Broccoli Guy around and you'll never want to bring anyone else.

After spending a fair bit of time playing both Skylanders and Disney Infinity, I have come to some conclusions. First, I like the two-person split screen play of Disney Infinity better than the single screen two-person play of Skylanders. My oldest daughter is a better and more aggressive player than the younger one and she often finds the tether to the other character very frustrating. Hence, they don't play it together very well. However, in Disney Infinity, my younger daughter can interact with the game environment at her own pace while the older one can charge ahead and do as she pleases. On the other hand, the linear adventures of Skylanders seem to be more playable for my kids. The adventures in the DI playsets are often quite challenging even for me and nearly impossible for my kids, while the worldbuilding opportunities of the toybox mode just don't appeal to anyone in my family. After twenty minutes of putting up buildings and laying down racetracks, we are pretty much bored to death. So overall, I give a slight edge to Skylanders as far as playability is concerned.

But damn, those Disney figures are sweet!