Skylanders pioneered the Toys to Life genre, all the way back in 2011, but as the console series moves onto its sixth yearly instalment, Activision are looking to broaden its appeal. Perhaps a vestige from its now former battle with Disney Infinity, an animated TV series is in the works for later this year, but when the kids are away from the TV, they’re now being invited into a the realm of the card battler.
Of course, Activision already preside over the CCG by way of its sister company, Blizzard, and the immensely popular Hearthstone, but even as card games seem to be springing up from all corners, perhaps there’s space for one more? Skylanders Battlecast is actually a surprisingly unique twist of the genre, dubbed a Cards to Life game.
This moniker comes by virtue of the ability to either buy new card packs in game, or head to the shops and buy a pack of physical cards – both physical and digital purchases cost the same. Bought physically, you can switch the app to an augmented reality view to see a character spring out of the card, before scanning it into the game and having that specific card attached to your account, thanks to some cleverly disguised unique identifiers.
Cards come in a variety of forms, with only a select 24 characters to appear in the game initially, out of the series’ cast of hundreds, but these come alongside spell cards, gear cards and relic cards, which all play out in a traditional card battler sense during play.
What’s a little bit different, as you build your deck of 30 cards, is that you pick three Skylanders to fight the enemy, as opposed to having a single hero. At the same time, you won’t be drawing creatures from your deck to lay out in front of you, but switch through your three characters, with only one being active at a time as you try and gain the upper hand on the opposition. Some might have a slightly stronger attack, others are there to soak up damage, and so on.
As with other card games, you build up a pool of mana points that can be spent playing cards from your hand. Meanwhile, you can then attack with whichever Skylander you have active, and have the opportunity to switch to another of your three to try and counter whatever move you think your opponent’s going to pull. Switching characters gives you a little light strategy, as a consequence, and it feels pleasantly different to other card games, while still being familiar.
Though it’s built on similar foundations to other CCGs, Battlecast initially confounds with its vibrant 3D graphics. Where the majority of card games feature a simple board or table and plain cards, Battlecast has a number of locations that draw upon the main game series and look quite lovely.
The game features both online versus play – with a view to growing into the kinds of competitive ranked and tournament play that Hearthstone enjoy – as well as a story mode that takes you on a tour of the eight islands within the game, each of which are themed after one of the eight original elements from the Skylanders universe. However, the elements themselves are played down a bit within the game, so you won’t find yourself at a crushing disadvantage if you pit fire against water, for example.
Perhaps the most disappointing side of Battlecast is that the cards themselves are so easily shoved to the back of a cupboard. It’s a nice idea to have a physical counterpart to the digital purchases and that both options cost the same is the most customer friendly way of doing this, but once you’ve scanned them in, there’s no need to keep them about to play with. There’s no way to play the card game outside of your tablet, the cards are attached to your account, so you don’t need them in order to play, and it just ends up feeling a little surplus to requirements, where the main Toys to Life series made the Skylanders so integral.
But it’s just a minor footnote on what’s looking like a very well thought out take on the standard card game. The vibrant graphics will help it to grab people’s attention, but there’s good ideas in the game itself to back that up, which could see Battlecast gain a lot of fans, regardless of their age.