One of the big reasons Skylanders: Trap Team works so well is the excellent script. It rides that line between obvious explanations so kids can follow the plot and jokes written for the adults playing with them. There are subtle pop-culture references, wordplay and over-the-top exclamations. In Trap Team, the Skylanders contend against a team of violent criminals who've escaped from Cloudcracker Prison. The colorful characters like Flynn the pilot, voiced by Patrick Warburton from The Tick and Seinfeld, and the antagonist Kaos, keep the narrative grounded even though the main characters are interchangeable. I wouldn't say its laugh-out-loud funny, but Skylanders consistently makes me smile knowingly with its mastery of dad jokes.
It's crazy to say this, but Skylanders: Trap Team works amazingly well on a tablet. Yes, the entire AAA game is playable with only a few concessions for more minimalist textures and visual effects. I played it on an iPad mini with a Bluetooth Portal and its own little controller. All the Skylanders and the traps work using this portal - including legacy toys from the previous games. There's a short download for each new toy you put on the portal, but other than that it is seamless. It just works. That's majorly useful if you have a young kid. The tablet version is built for portability - the controller clicks into the bottom of the Portal, and there's an "offline" mode that lets you play with the two Skylanders from the starter pack if you can't lug around a sackful of toys.
Even though you don't need to have a ton of toys to play Skylanders: Trap Team, it is certainly an advantage. You can progress through the entire game using the pieces provided in the starter pack - Portal, two Traps, two Skylanders called Snap Shot and Food Fight. Skylanders from previous games will work with Trap Team's new portal just fine so it helps having a bunch of toys in reserve. And like cartoons on cereal boxes and brightly-colored candy-wrappers, each level in Trap Team is rife with reasons to have a collection of toys at your disposal. There are areas in which you need a Skylander of a specific element -the eight elements of Skylands are Air, Water, Earth, Fire, Tech, Magic, Life and Death - to access. Some of the collectibles you're encouraged to chase down are Soul Gems, which are effectively commercials for other Skylanders you can buy. Gamers used to maximizing buffs will want more toys because each area in the story campaign is associated with an element and the attacks of Skylanders of that element will be more potent. It is easy to get frustrated with how often you're presented with content you can't access because you don't have all the toys.
The toys aren't cheap either. The new Trap Team figures cost $16, and the traps will set you back $7 each. There is a new Mini Skylanders line coming out at the same time - the pack-in Food Fight is a mini - but even they cost $15 for a pair. With Trap Team already retailing at a higher price point ($75 for consoles & tablet, $65 for the 3DS), you can easily spend $300 for a game and some pieces of plastic.
But what exquisite pieces of plastic they are! The designs for the Trap Team Skylanders all have a translucent weapon that's undeniably cool. The expressions on the faces and the poses of the figures telegraph movement and style, and the new Mini Skylanders are all cute as hell. There's a reason children are drawn to these toys - they are pleasurable to merely hold and handle. Like Warhammer 40K miniatures or Magic cards or digital Pokemon, collectors enjoy collecting well-made things. It is no different with Skylanders: Trap Team.
Bottom Line: Trap Team delivers a new gimmick on top of an old gimmick and does it damn well. The strong scriptwriting and voice work keep both adults and children interested in the story, even if you have to spend a lot of money to get the full effect.
Recommendation: Buy Trap Team to play with your kids or if you're prepared to be a collector.