Hark-ing back to a day where playing a game of Magic the Gathering was the complete and utter you-know-what, the days of old have turned into the days of new with Skylanders Battlecast. Skylanders fans have something to be happy about with this one, though parental units certainly will have to open their wallets to keep up with the game’s pace. But what else is new with this series, right? Darn kids.
Anyway, Battlecast is based upon the premise that you will go pick up a pack of cards locally, bring them back home, download the iOS or Android ‘free-to-play’ application and work with said application hand-in-hand with said cards. Now, you don’t need the cards to play this game right out of the Apple Store/Google Play Store, but they certainly do help when it comes to building a variety of decks to compete against AI and online players.
To start out, each player gets three characters to choose from before a match begins. Players have to decide whether they want brawny tough characters with high health points, but low hit points, which gives a player (hypothetically) a longer chance at success during a match, or choose a player that has low health and high hit points. There are players in between, but for the most part I found myself choosing between the two ends of the stick, not in the middle. It got me through 16+ games, so I think my strategy of choosing was on point. Once the characters are chosen, the match begins and random cards begin to appear on the bottom part of the level with actual moving/speaking characters taking up most of the field of view. What you do with your cards will dictate what you do with your characters.
Let’s talk about those cards for a moment.
My biggest issue with the cards was with the actual cards that came with my review copy of the game. You need a good iOS/Android device with a good camera to see the cards. To activate the cards into the game, which is a quick process once you get it going, you will need superb lighting, but not too superb (reflections throw the acquisition of the cards off). I spent the better part of the first hour with this game trying to find a suitable light source to capture these cards perfectly. I moved from the kitchen to the den to the basement trying to find a middle-of-the-road lighting scheme so that I can activate these suckers. Once I found the perfect lighting situation, which was the stove light, I started to ingest the cards into my iPad Air 2. I got about 80% of the cards to work with a few stragglers simply not being recognized or claiming not to be on a flat surface. I never got those to work, which is a shame, but I had enough cards in the system to get going with Skylanders Battlecast. I will try again on Monday at my office to get the stragglers done.
The cards each contain certain nature/unnatural symbols on them that correspond to particular groups of characters, much like the actual Skylanders games. Each character group gets a particular set of powers, potions and various other unique strategies to lay down during a battle. For example, there are cards that allow for a players attack points to go up (power points, as they are officially called). These points add on to the existing power points, which causes a tremendous amount of damage depending on point total. Some cards simply snare enemies, depleting them of power points or health. Other times cards can heal allies, while taking away enemy points. It’s quite cool how some of these cards react together or when used properly in a certain order. People who have played head-to-head card games before will certainly pick this stuff up easily, as will kids (my son and daughter — both under 10 — picked the card system up quickly, which is a great sign of a good game).
To activate/use each card a player must gather crystal points during matches, which are randomly gathered at the end of each turn. The crystals can be up to two at a time or as little as zero (those rounds suck) and it’s basically a game of roulette to see what a player comes away with at the end of round. Let me just emphasize that this process is completely random and rather unpredictable, so sometimes you are up in a match with crystal points, while other times you struggle to snag them. Still other times you’ll find the game is pretty evenly distributed with crystals. It’s a fair way to do things, though I think that seeing how the computer/actual opponent does on the crystal side of things would be helpful.
The cards dictate the battle, so knowing them and how they work is essential for victory. One bit of advice, though, always second guess your choices and make each round count. This is the type of game where building up crystals isn’t the best plan of attack. Attacking, attacking and attacking is the sure fire way to certain victory. This game seems to want you to be aggressive and you shouldn’t disappoint it or you will be disappointed with the results. Anyway, having careful strategy and plans of attack in this game is essential for success.
Speaking of which, the success rate for this game, meaning the difficulty, is pretty darn smooth. You get the obvious easy fights at the beginning of the game to get you in the groove, then the game starts to curve just slightly on its difficulty scale. The matches do a great job of even progression of difficulty, where it doesn’t get too hard too quick, rather it just eases the gamer into difficult matches. You’ll certainly start feeling the burn a bit when it comes to hitting the wall ever so slowly. It’s an impressive way to introduce tougher opponents, which for me was around fight 12. I always despise difficult card turn-based gaming experiences, such is the case with a game like Magic: The Gathering, which throws you into the fire from the ‘get-go’ and then takes you out and throws you into a volcano. Games like that are a turn off and not the reason I want to play card games in a video game environment.
The developers behind Skylanders Battlecast did a superb job of evening out and smoothing out that arc of difficulty that is typical for games like this. It not only makes you feel like you’re progressing in the game, but also gives you motivation to keep going and succeeding. That portion of the game is valuable, not for us adults who could probably breeze right through this, but rather for the younger generation that has never experienced a game like this before. It’s an important piece to the Battlecast puzzle that was treated quite nicely.
Moving on to modes, there are two modes of play going into Skylanders Battlecast.
The first, and the one I spent the most time on, is the story mode. This follows our favorite villain Kaos and his minions in their plight to disrupt Skylander life. The story itself is not as strong or fun as a regular Skylanders game, but it does give structure to an otherwise structureless genre. The characters included in the battles have the same personality as their console counterparts, so it adds to the entertainment value and helps you progress a bit smoothly in the story mode. The story mode is broken up into multiple elemental-based stages that contain their own unique baddies, but follow along a fighting pattern that is similar from stage to stage. The patterns are predictable, the character personalities help to mask this a bit. Regardless, the story mode is a strong component and more importantly an enjoyable mode.
The player versus player mode is unpredictable mayhem that is what it is. I honestly prefer story a bit more, but that’s only because I’m old and don’t like playing against ‘real’ people.
With all of the above said, what do you get from the game as you progress in it? You get gold at the end of each match, which adds up to more packs, unique cards and other fun Skylander related material. Of course, since it’s free-to-play, and this isn’t at all predictable mind you, you could throw down some dough and get things quicker. There are microtransactions in Skylanders Battlecast, but they don’t get in the way of the game’s progression, if you choose not to go down that path. It will provide advantages, but nothing insurmountable that non-payers will miss out. The game does feature three cards free to players each day, so there is that to look forward to from day-to-day. The gold winnings also helps to alleviate some of those microtransaction sticking points. In short, Activision would love your money, but it’s not necessary to give them money to make the game fun. The game is fun without money given.
In closing, let me just add that this is probably one of the more entertaining turn-based card games that I’ve played. The bridge between the console Skylanders games and this isn’t too far off, even though they are completely two different genres. It’s got the same style, personality and entertainment as you would find in its big brother/sister games. It was so much fun that I might just buy more cards…and pray they scan in correctly. Anyway, if you like Skylanders, you’ll like Battlecast. It’s a good compliment to the bigger games.