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Top 50 Challenge 2014 – Skylanders: Trap Team

I’ve seen too many bad games foisted off on young gamers, shoved aside with the phrase “It’s not good, but kids might like it.” Kids don’t deserve bad games any more than you do, and Skylanders: Trap Team helps prove that they don’t need to settle for them.

Learn more about the Game Informer Fight For The Top 50 Challenge 2014.

I didn’t expect to be defending Skylanders. When Jeff issued the challenge to play Trap Team, I can’t say I eagerly jumped at the chance. However, I have always been curious about this series’ appeal; I couldn’t tell if it was legitimately good, or just a clever gimmick to sell action figures. Even if one day playing Trap Team isn’t enough to fully absorb everything about Skylanders, it’s definitely enough to understand why the franchise is such a phenomenon.

I'm a fan of Traveller's Tales Lego games, and Toys for Bob taps into the same breed of charming, low-impact, family entertainment with Trap Team. I can't speak to how this particular iteration improves over the previous ones, but the fantastic visuals and polished gameplay leave little room for complaint. The combat and platforming are simple, but the character progression adds a bit of unexpected depth. Choosing an upgrade path isn't groundbreaking or anything, but it adds a little bit of ownership and entices you to keep playing to keep learning new skills. 

Of course, the biggest component (or gimmick) of Skylanders is the portal, which transforms action figures into in-game characters. In order to get more characters (which unlock different secret areas and other stuff), you need to buy more toys. On this front, my experience wasn't typical of most newcomers. We have a huge box of Skylanders toys that have been used to review all of the entries up until now, so I was a novice with all the benefits of a long-dedicated collector. That made it easy to enjoy the thrill of swapping out multiple characters, watching them come to life, and trying out a variety of different abilities. I had a good time playing through the first several levels, completing various objectives and capturing villains. 

However, I couldn't help but think of how much less fun I would be having without that huge box of toys on my desk. The game only comes with two figures. If you want more characters (and the game is better the more you have), you need to buy them. Even though I was enjoying Skylanders, I realized that the experience isn't about providing a great game – it's about providing a good enough game to tempt players to make it better by sinking more money into it. 

Am I going to go out and start buying Skylanders toys? Nope. Was I surprised by how much fun I had during my day of playing Trap Team anyway? Absolutely.

My Vote
I was prepared to dismiss Skylanders as a ploy to make parents buy junk for their kids, but I am ultimately in favor of Skylanders: Trap Team making our Top 50 list. It’s a charming and well-made adventure that uses its remarkable technology very well. My only reservation is the fact that getting the most out of this game requires a significant investment beyond the initial purchase. Amassing a sufficient army of figures is not cheap, but if you’re playing this installment, you also probably have a box of figures from previous titles already, and you know what comes with the territory. Thankfully, Trap Team makes your devotion pay off with fun and accessible gameplay that is easy to enjoy.

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Fight For The Top 50 2014 – Skylanders: Trap Team

Whittling down all of the year’s releases down to 50 is a difficult – some might say futile – task. The point of today’s challenges are to give editors a reason to spend time with a game that they might not ordinarily play. I can’t think of a better game for our annual Top 50 Challenge than Skylanders: Trap Team. Reiner and I have both played it (he actually reviewed it for us), but it’s a blind spot on the rest of the staffer’s rear-view mirror. I get it; it’s geared toward younger players, and if you don’t have kids, it can be difficult to justify the time (and obvious monetary) investment. And that’s a shame.

Learn more about the Game Informer Fight For The Top 50 Challenge 2014 here.

I’ve had a lot of fun with the Skylanders series over the years, and our family’s collection has expanded to an embarrassingly large pile. My kids have grown attached to characters like Gill Grunt and Trigger Happy, bringing those first-wave characters with them from release to release. I get a kick out of the co-op play, which is reminiscent of a mashup of Ratchet & Clank and the Lego games. I also appreciate how Activision has diligently worked to ensure that older characters keep pace with their shiny new counterparts, adding new animations and abilities to them as each installment comes out.

I won’t pretend to argue that the series is flawless. I thought Giants was disappointing, both as a concept and as a toy line, and the introduction of light-core figures still baffles me. I wish the co-op allowed more distance between players. And if I never push another turtle again, I’ll be completely content. For all those annoyances, the mix of charm, adventure, and nicely tuned difficulty keeps me coming back.

Skylanders: Trap Team does a lot of things right. The concept of trapping bosses is clever, and it’s also a clever concession to people who are getting burned out on buying more and more figures. Once you have an elemental trap, you can suck up certain enemies of that type and add them to your library. You can swap them out at will, eliminating the need for a dedicated library of new characters over and above the traditional product lines of new faces. It’s also a remarkably nice-looking game, particularly on new-gen consoles. Swap Force’s cutscenes showed off the potential of Pixar-like games on the new hardware, and the in-game quality of Trap Team approaches that benchmark. 

Ultimately, however, it’s all about the game itself. Trap Team is a huge, highly polished adventure that’s earned its spot on our top 50. Now I just need another supporter in my corner.

The Top 50 Challenge
Joe accepted my challenge, which surprised me. He’s a bit of a curmudgeon, and he wasn’t high on my list of editors who I thought would jump at the chance to play the game. I made a point of walking past his desk several times throughout the day, and I didn’t hear any cursing or the sounds of toys being thrown against the wall. That’s a victory, right? I’m really excited to hear his thoughts on the game. Maybe he’ll ruin his marriage by spending all of his family’s money on collectable toys! Fun!

Joe was given one day to play Skylanders: Trap Team. Come back tomorrow at 9 a.m. Central to read his impressions and see if it’ll get his support for Game Informer’s Top 50 Games of the Year.

www.GameInformer.com – The Feed

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