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Skylanders Battlecast

Score: 80%
ESRB: 9+
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Seismic Games
Media: Download/1
Players: 1; 2 (Online)
Genre: Card Games/ Fighting

Graphics & Sound:

Skylanders: Battlecast is a freemium mobile game that finds a way to enhance the "premium" aspect while still maintaining a fun game for those that want to focus on the "free" side of things.

Skylanders: Battlecast's visuals do a good job of portraying the various Skylanders characters that have been seen in the series' many releases, while the various backdrops and arenas the battles take place on also look the part. I did find that there was a noticeable difference in visual quality between my iPhone and iPad though, and while you might think the bigger screen of the iPad produced the better results, this was not the case. However, I attribute this more to the fact that my iPad is an older model than my iPhone, and the differences between quality stems more from the hardware pushing out the graphics than the the game itself. So, while I started playing the game on the iPad, I found myself switching to the smaller device about halfway through the review period and not finding the smaller screen size to be too much of a detriment to the overall gameplay experience, which shows that the game's design and U.I. actually handles the difference in resolution quite well.

When it comes to sound, I found this game to be pretty on target. The background music is the same as the console-based games, while the voiceovers sound appropriate. I can't say for certain that the lines spoken by the game's characters are the same as the console, but if they aren't, they are close enough, and given some of the voice actors the series has gathered over the years, it can be understandable to not get them back into the sound booth for more recording for a mobile game.

I will say that I had one technical issue with the game's sound, and it's a pet peeve of mine. I could find no way to actually turn it off without muting my iPhone or iPad. Like I said, the sound is great; it definitely adds to the overall feel of the game, but it isn't critical to the gameplay. Usually, when playing a game that doesn't require sound, I have something else playing in the background, like music or an audiobook. Most apps, especially games, seem to recognize this feature and have a way to turn their sound off in a Settings Menu somewhere. That way, if you are already listening to something when you launch the app, what you are listening to doesn't stop. I know it isn't a big thing for most people, but it does tend to affect when I am willing to play the game. Like I said, it's a pet peeve, but one I feel should be brought up.


Skylanders: Battlecast is a collectible card game with some interesting and unique gameplay mechanics that fit the Skylander mold pretty well.

Your gameboard consists of three characters, and your goal is to defeat all three of your opponent's characters before they take down all of yours. Naturally, this means that each character has both hit points and damage points, and of course, no CCG would be complete without a variety of ways to manipulate these values to make each character's hit more or less effective.

These non-character cards come in three categories: Spells, Gear, and Relics. Gear can be assigned to a character, Relics are assigned to a side of the gameboard, and Spells are one-off actions with immediate effects (most of the time direct damage to an enemy or enemies). While this is a simplification of their purposes, what the different cards do can add a lot of strategy to the game. For instance, a Gear could just up the health or attack values of one of your characters, or you can assign it to an opponent. Why would you do that? Well, it might be something that will always cause that enemy to come to the front of the line, even if they try to go to the back for some healing, or even if the Gear does give stat boosts, because a character can have only one Gear at a time, you can use that to replace a more powerful Gear.

Relic cards act in a similar manner, but instead of applying to a specific character, they have a much broader effect that can do anything from stat boosting your characters, adversely affecting your enemies, or even giving everyone effects equally. These items also have a set amount of health and can be attacked by opponents, which is one of the few ways to get them off the board.

As stated above, Spell cards are one-time, immediate uses that can add extra health to your characters or deal out damage to your enemies. They can even do more subtle maneuvers like causing a sideline enemy to move to the forefront, or cause one of your characters to take the lead and deal out damage. This is also where you will find cards that will let you draw or choose some from your deck or apply certain status effects to an enemy like making sure they can't move to the background or that they can't use their special abilities. Like I said, the Spell cards seem to have the widest variety of effects and you will find yourself filling your deck with these more than the other types.

Of course, you can't just play a card; there has to be a cost, and that cost is in the form of energy crystals. At the start of your turn, all of your crystals are filled, and you can play Gear, Relic or Spell cards until you've emptied your reserves (or are left with cards that cost more than you have left). At the end of each round, you will get a chance to have more crystals added to your bank, and the randomness between zero, one or two seems to feel right where you have a higher chance of getting one new crystal over the other choices, and the chance to get zero or two crystals seems to be about equal.

For the most part, this seems like fairly standard CCG game right? There might be a few places where it deviates from other well-known games, but not too many right? Well, there are a few aspects that make the game have a solid Skylanders feel to it. For one, the more you use a character in a match, the more powerful they become as they "level up." For each card a frontline character uses and each attack they deal, they get a point. Every three points, your character levels up (with a max level of 3), and you get a bit more access to that character's particular specialties. When you reach Level 2, the character's special attack is made available. This includes things like Hex dropping enemy max hitpoints by 10, or Crusher getting an extra 10 points to his damage or Spyro doling out 10 points of damage to each of the enemies or Trigger Happy adding extra power to allies with Gear. Of course, these abilities cost energy, so you will have to use those abilities wisely. When the characters get to Level 3, they get a massive boost to their power, so they will be able to hit with an even greater force when they attack.

Skylanders: Battlecast isn't a complex CCG, but it does have enough elements to make it stand apart from the wide variety of similar card games. But, Battlecast isn't just a CCG, it's a freemium mobile game, so it has all the elements that come with that too, both good and bad.

The primary currency in Battlecast is coins. You use that for in-app purchases for booster packs (8-card packs), battle packs (22-card packs) and even specific "featured" cards which change on a daily basis. These coins can also be used once a day for Spins that can get you anything from a single card, to a booster pack, or even shiny variants of cards. While these coins are earned by playing the levels in the game's Single Player Campaign, you can, of course, use real money to buy even more coins.

The good news is, Battlecast doesn't seem to push you as much as other games into buying more coins. In addition to the daily spin that you can pay for, you actually get a free spin every day, and after five consecutive spins, you get a "Super Spin" with bigger rewards. You also get access to a free pack of cards each day you log in, so unless you are really jonesing to buy cards in the hopes of completing the collection, there isn't a driving need to buy more coins.

Of course, this wouldn't be Skylanders without a toy-to-life component, and this is where Battlecast really steps up the game on the "premium" side of things. In stores, you can pick up physical booster and battle packs that you then scan into your app to add to your collection. So now, you not only have the in-game purchases, but also the tangible cards that you can collect and ... well... just collect, at least until someone finds a way to play a game with these cards since the game played digitally really takes advantage of the fact that the computer is keeping track of all of the modifiers and conditions being thrown around.


Skylanders: Battlecast's Single Player Campaign has a few tough points to it, but I found that the rare times that I was defeated, a new deck designed for the specific fight ahead of me was all I needed to continue progressing. The Campaign is divided into lands representing each of the main Skylander elements (no Light or Dark), and each land provides some stat boosts to certain character types. Outside of that, the specific matches tend to have various conditions as well. I found that, as long as I had a deck that took advantage of the elemental bonuses, I didn't have to worry too much about the monkey wrenches involved in a particular match. That being said, there are some battles that had features that made drastic changes to the gameplay of the match and those were the times I had to create a level-specific deck, but those were few and far between.

Skylanders: Battlecast also has an online multiplayer aspect that allows you to pit your decks against other players. Of course, how tough these battles are become dependent on your deck, your opponent's deck, how you play your cards, and which cards you are lucky enough to draw.

Game Mechanics:

There is one aspect of Skylanders: Battlecast that I haven't really talked about, and that is how the game deals with duplicate cards. For one, you aren't allowed multiple copies of the same card in your deck. As a result, when you obtain a second copy of a card (either digitally or physically), that second copy doesn't really count as a duplicate. Instead, the card gets a level added to it. Unfortunately, I still haven't been able to figure out what that means. This isn't the same leveling up that happens to characters in a match. Instead, it increases a number on the bottom of the card until you get to 10. Once a card gets to level 10, it changes and looks like a foil version of itself. Incidentally, if you get a foil version (again digitally or physically), that card automatically gets brought in as level 10. While that makes the card in-game look all fancy, it doesn't appear to have any affect on gameplay.

While the added levels don't seem to have any real affect on the game, Battlecast, that doesn't mean that you can just re-scan the same physical card over and over in the hopes of getting it to level 10. Each card actually has a set of markings on the outer edge of the picture that the app uses to identify it, so one copy of Jet-Vac won't have the same pattern as another, much the same way the toy version of one Jet-Vac won't be seen as the same as another on the console games.

Overall, I am pleased with Skylanders: Battlecast. It doesn't punish a player that doesn't want to spend any money towards it, but it also doesn't give that much of an advantage to those that want to spend money. While buying gets you access to more cards, it doesn't really make for a pay-to-win environment.

The only real complaint I might have about Battlecast is that, while the use of physical cards scanned into your game lends itself well to the Skylanders series, it really isn't necessary for the game and there really isn't anything to be done with the cards once you've scanned them in.

Editor's Note: Activision sent us one Battle Pack and one Booster Pack to help in our review of Skylanders: Battlecast.

-J.R. Nip, GameVortex Communications
AKA Chris Meyer

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