Collectible card games on PC, handhelds, and consoles are hardly new. In fact, their donkey’s years old. One of the first games I ever purchased was Yu-Gi-Oh: Forbidden Memories – cracker of a game, that – for the original PlayStation though I suspect there are plenty of card battlers that predate even that.
However, since Blizzard waved a hand over the genre with its Midas touch, there has been a mass proliferation. Aside from being based on one of the industry’s most popular game licenses, Hearthstone’s ace in the hole was accessibility. By adopting a free-to-play model, easy to grasp mechanics, and a cartoon aesthetic, the Warcraft publisher continues to tighten its grip on this corner of the market.
Within the space of two years, there has been plenty of competition. Some of this has come from existing TCG series like Duels of the Planeswalkers, alongside new IPs (Hex, Solforge) and dozens of spinoffs, all gunning for a wad of that Hearthstone money.
The latest among them comes from another part of the Activision Blizzard empire. Since its debut in 2011, Skylanders has continued to champion the Toys to Life genre, spawning a hearty roster of memorable characters and adventures. Given its broad appeal and ongoing commercial success, Skylanders Battlecast seems like the perfect extension, at least from business perspective.
Unlike Hearthstone, Runescape Legends, and the myriad of card battlers currently in circulation, Skylanders has a predictable, physical twist. Although players can get stuck in without coughing up a single penny, microtransactions exist alongside actual, paper-based cards.
Available to purchase right now, these can bought in random boosters as well as the 22-card battle packs. Although a bit pricey (boosters currently go for £4.99) the quality of the cards themselves in on par with market leaders such as Magic: The Gathering and Pokemon.
The only benefit in buying physical cards is that tangible sense of ownership Skylanders fans are all too familiar with. In Battlecast, it doesn’t matter if you buy a digital card instead, they both do the same thing when played in-game. Of course, this wouldn’t be Skylanders if the option wasn’t there to collect and compare with friends.
Where a lot of games have simply tried to replicate Hearthstone and its gameboard approach, Battlecast feels more akin to a turn-based RPG. Each match presents a showdown between two teams of three Skylanders. Each turn, players can spend their growing energy reserves to activate cards in-hand, casting spells, equipping gear, and summoning relics. Your aim is to eliminate the enemy team, chewing away at their Skylanders’ life bars while monitoring those of your own.
Whether or not you succeed will depend on several factors. Composing a deck to suit the strengths of your three chosen Skylanders certainly helps, with more than 300 cards currently available. There’s definitely some overlap here and there though most are unique, from devastating magical attacks to passive buffs.
Battlecast is easy enough to get the hang of, though it won’t be for every Skylanders fan. Matches can start to feel a tad sluggish the more difficult they become. Unlike the action-heavy console games, there’s also a level of complexity here that will completely go over the heads of much younger players.
Skylanders Battlecast is an interesting take on the genre and one that isn’t afraid to play around with its conventions. The fact that characters are rendered in 3D adds a visual flair that just isn’t there in most card games. Needless to say, this isn’t cheap spinoff rushed out of the door – Activision has plans for Battlecast in the future and so far it’s managed to create a solid, if imperfect, foundation for them to build on.
Version Tested: iPad