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Skylanders: Battlegrounds Mobile Starter Pack

Score: 82%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Vicarious Visions
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Real-Time Strategy/ RPG

Graphics & Sound:

It is amazing the difference one update can make. At launch, Skylanders: Battlegrounds Starter Pack was a bit of a mess. I wouldnít call it completely "broken," but a lot about the game wasnít working. Even after the update, there are still a few loose ends that need patching Ė particularly for anyone who takes the high-priced option Ė but it is a much more complete experience.

Skylanders: Battlegrounds is the most visually impressive of the Skylanders games released for iOS devices. Each game has its own style, but I swear the character models, with some nips and tucks, have to be pulled from the 360 or PS3 version of the game. Each Skylander looks spot on, right down to smaller details like the spinning gear on Bouncerís back.

Environments arenít as impressive, though they still manage to look cool thanks to some really neat lighting effects scattered through each area. You wonít notice anything on the overworld map, though there is a noticeable difference between outdoor environments and caves. It doesnít sound like much, but it is one of those little, usually overlooked, details that sells the entire package.

Audio comes directly from the console games. You donít get all of the voice work, though you will hear snippets from some of Skylanders: Giants more memorable tracks.


Gameplay:

Skylanders: Battlegrounds Starter Pack comes in two flavors: the retail "Starter Pack" and the download-only version available on the App Store. Both come with a "complete" version of Skylanders: Battlegrounds, though players who go for the "Starter Pack" get a Bluetooth-enabled Portal, as well as Series 2 versions of Cynder, Jet-Vac, Double Trouble, and a special Platinum Treasure Chest.

I like what Vicarious Visions has done with its iOS Skylanders games. Rather than putting out quick ports of the console games, each of the three iOS releases offers a completely different experience. Skylanders: Battlegrounds is a real-time strategy RPG. Gameplay is split between a hex-gridded overworld map and real-time battles with waves of enemies. The ultimate goal of each episode (10 areas per episode) is to defeat a boss enemy. Area goals differ, though a majority involve either collecting objects or defeating certain enemies.

Admittedly, gameplay can get a bit tiresome after long bouts of playtime. On the flip side, Skylanders: Battlegrounds isnít meant to be something you play for hours on end. Times may vary between players, though I was usually able to complete 5 Ė 6 battles before needing to take a break. The complement may sound a bit backhanded, though youíll see close to 20 battles per area and I always came back for more.

Buyers should also beware, Skylanders: Battlegrounds doesnít ship as a "complete" game. Although the menu shows four episodes, only two are available at launch. The other two will be unlocked in future updates, though Iím not sure why there is such a delay, especially since the most recent update included a special Holiday-themed level.


Difficulty:

Although Skylanders: Battlegrounds is the same game regardless, having the Portal and Platinum Chest available make a big difference. With the Portal active, you can swap new Skylanders into battle at any time. If you have a large collection of Skylanders figures, you can endure any battle just through sheer attrition.

You still have the option without the Portal, but you need to spend gold to bring in support. This isnít a big deal, though gold isnít as plentiful without the Platinum Chest Ė which grants a 10x modifier to all gold earned -- sitting on the Portal, so you have to make tough choices. It also unlocks every item and a special XP boost.

Calling the Platinum Chest an "I Win" button would be hyperbole, though it is about as close as you can get to one. It isnít an instant game winner, but it does disrupt the core gameplay enough that you should be able to roll through most of the game without much trouble.


Game Mechanics:

The underlying mechanics behind Skylanders: Battlegrounds are incredibly easy to grasp, especially if youíve played other iOS strategy games like Borderlands Legends.

While on the overworld map, tapping a grid space moves your team of two Skylanders to the desired spot. At the same time, every enemy on the map will also move to a new spot. Some follow specific patterns while others follow a more randomized movement. It is possible to avoid some combat by tracking enemy movement, though youíre also losing out on experience and gold by skipping combat. Even with the Platinum Chest in play, you want to get into as many battles as you can, if only to start the money and experience pipes flowing.

In battle, movement isnít much different. Tap on a Skylander and then a target for it to attack. You can also move it around the map by tapping on blank parts of the map. Battles are as active or passive as you want. You can stand your Skylanders in the middle of the map and take all damage, or you can move around. Standing your ground works in earlier levels, though when kamikaze and brute trolls start showing up, youíll want to move around more unless you want to keep tagging in new Skylanders.

Skylanders level as a group, though individual skills and their associated upgrades still need to be purchased. The amount of gold generated with the Platinum Chest throws ability upgrades out of whack, though only to the extent you can instantly upgrade abilities to the max. You still need to earn gems to unlock new slots, purchase new abilities, or buy new Skylanders (if you havenít imported them), so there is still some choice around.

Skylanders: Battlegrounds is a cool game, especially for Skylanders fans in search of another way to play with their collection. As for which version to get, the decision is completely up to you. The Bluetooth portal is great and, for better or worse, does add something to the experience. It isnít a necessity, however. After the last update, web codes work, so you can still import your collection that way. Either way, it is good fun.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

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