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Skylanders: Trap Team turns game characters into real-world toys

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Skylanders Trap Team

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Chopper from Skylanders: Trap Team.

Parents might not understand exactly how Skylanders works, but they most certainly understand what kind of damage Activision’s mega-popular franchise can do to a checking account.

The pioneer of the “toys-to-life” genre has made a mint selling mountains of collectible toys, which gamers then warp into virtual worlds by way of a handy little portal device connected to their console of choice. It’s been wildly lucrative for Activision and mildly debilitating for those of us sucked into its OCD world of collection and completion.

But for its next trick, the game that brought real-world toys into video games will attempt to reverse the magic.

Due out October 5 for pretty much every console under the sun, Skylanders: Trap Team will assault your poor wallet with new toys, a new adventure, and one very cool new shtick: the ability to ‘trap’ in-game villains inside of real-world toys.

“In the past we brought toys to life. Now we’re bringing life to toys,” Jeff Poffenbarger, executive producer at game developer Toys for Bob, told Yahoo Games.

That’s a million-dollar marketing line, but he pretty much nails it.

Here’s how it works. Trap Team takes players back to Skylands with a new mission: track down and capture 40 particularly nasty bad guys released from a prison by series mainstay Kaos. To cuff ‘em, players must defeat the villain in battle and place a toy trap on the ‘Traptanium Portal’ (it comes with the game), at which point the evildoer is vacuumed up Ghostbusters-style and zapped inside the real-world toy. Cue the vaguely misleading trailer:

I sat through a demo of Trap Team and the new trap mehcanic is nearly as impactful as the first time I warped a Skylander action figure into the game. Developer Toys for Bob brilliantly added a built-in speaker to the new portal, letting the captured villain deliver some witty banter (“Where am I? It’s dark in here and it smells like mustard!”) from inside the toy. The sound even subtly transitions from the TV to the toy while the character is being trapped. If you didn’t know any better, you’d swear the soul of some tiny creature was actually stuck inside a little plastic hammer.

It’s not just for show. Trapped characters can be warped back into the game just like regular Skylander toys. Solo players can play as one Skylander and one trapped villain as a sort of tag team, though they can also be played by two players through same screen co-op -- a boon for families heavily invested in the series.

And that’s really who Trap Team is for. Over 50 new collectible Skylanders figures will be released alongside the game, including hefty Trap Masters, core Skylanders, reposed versions of older characters, and the eight trap toys (one for each element). Bad news for your savings, surely, but Trap Team is mercifully compatible with all 175 older Skylanders toys (Trap Team figures won’t work in older Skylanders games, though).

It’s that “collectible” element that turned Skylanders from a cool idea into a cash cow. Over 175 million Skylanders toys have been sold since its 2011 debut, good enough to make it one of the Top 20 highest earners in video game history in a mere three years.

It’s no longer alone, however. Competing toys-to-life game Disney Infinity was a legitimate hit last year, cracking 2013’s Top 10 and standing toe to toe with Skylanders: Swap Force. While critics prefer Activision’s franchise, Disney has a massive stable of recognizable characters to lure in new fans. Star Wars, Marvel, Frozen – the company has some serious firepower at its disposal.

Trap Team’s ‘life to toys’ reversal is compelling, though, and should make legions of obsessive Skylanders fans (including yours truly) fork over their paychecks for more glorious toys when it launches this holiday. Trapped, indeed.

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