Wash Buckler. Blast Zone. Grilla Drilla. If these words sound like drinks you might buy at a gas station, you’re probably not familiar with the Skylanders franchise. To be completely honest, I’ve spent hours playing Skylanders Battlegrounds and I still don’t know if I fully understand the universe. It’s a bizarre, complicated place, governed by hexagons and viewed from a three-quarters perspective, and there are a heck of a lot of monsters to learn about if you want to do well.
Still, I’d be lying if I said Activision did a bad job with the game. As someone who knew literally nothing about the Skylanders series except for the fact that it existed up until a few days ago, I found the gane to be fun, addictive, and – though it does get pretty grindy – generally worthy of its $6.99 pricetag. With several features tailor-made for existing Skylanders addicts (like the ability to import your existing roster of monsters), I would suspect the experience is even better if you’ve spent a little time with other titles in the franchise.
Pocket… monster… things
From an outsider’s perspective – and fans, please don’t rip me apart here – the Skylander series’s premise seems pretty similar to the basic story behind Pokémon: A “portal” master collects animals and adds them to his bestiary, then uses his animals to battle foes and complete various other quests.
That’s vibe I got from this particular entry in the series, anyway. Why? Because that’s pretty much all you do in Skylanders Battlegrounds. Each zone presents you with ten simple maps, each of which features a simple quest like “Kill X Monsters” or “collect Y Items.” Once you complete these ten challenges, the game throws you into a boss battle, then the cycle repeats. The quests don’t offer much more complexity as they progress, either. You’ll be collecting lollypops and slaying grunts pretty much your entire way up the chain.
Fortunately, any good monster collecting game has a strong – you guessed it – collection aspect, and Skylanders does well here. Gathering the 200 to 500 gems necessary to buy new creatures is super addictive, and assigning abilities to the same currency makes for some great decision-making challenges: Do you buy a new attack for your existing favorite monster or gamble on a new one altogether? I didn’t, like, agonize over them at any point, but I certainly put a little more thought into a few purchases than a dude my age should.
Battling… to be… the best
Fighting, too, is fun, mostly because of the upgradeable special abilities your monsters bring to battle. The combat itself plays out kind of like a standard, simplified MMO, with controls to match. I did, however, find the drag-to-attack mechanic cumbersome and hard to use, even on my Nexus’s 10” screen. After a while I just started mashing my creatures’ special ability buttons so they’d autoattack – it was a lot easier at times than trying to drag my two creatures to each individual attacking unit.
Not quite perfect
The game’s biggest problem comes due to the above-mentioned lack of content in the game. Move-collect-kill gets old after a while. Even a huge bestiary like this game’s can’t hide that fact forever. By the time I hit the first boss I was pretty much playing on autopilot… a few rounds later and I couldn’t bear to look at the game for several hours.
It got fun again – I’m looking forward to ending this review so I can play more, dammit! – but I wonder for how long. The charm of buying new creatures and upgrading abilities will wear off for good sooner or later, I’m sure.
Get it… maybe
If you’re a Skylanders fan, you probably already know about this game, so I can’t speak to the experience of being a fan and playing it. That said, I can easily recommend it as a non-fan. Fairly easily, anyway – while the game does get repetitive, I can only assume the replay value goes up as you get further into the series as a whole. It’s something I’m looking forward to trying a little more… even if I am way too old to be playing with toys like this.