For many of us, the recent release of the Spyro Reignited Trilogy will not have gone unnoticed and while reviews of this purple pyromancer’s adventures hail his return, he’s been back for a while. The Skylanders series launched Spyro’s first adventure back in 2011 and its latest incarnation brings Skylanders Ring of Heroes to mobile.
Skylanders Ring of Heroes is not the first attempt to bring Spyro and friends to a small screen. Skylanders: Cloud Patrol saw franchise fans go on a fairly uninspiring troll hunt several years ago. Now, after a plethora of console sequels and spin-offs, this mobile adventure aims to be more engaging than those early attempts at a mobile Skylanders adventure. For those of you either too young or too old to have encountered this franchise, Skylanders originated as a toys to life game, initially developed by Toys for Bob and published by Activision. Just like Disney’s Infinity series or Nintendo’s Amiibos, Skylanders toys transport this ensemble cast of giants, dragons, and monsters from their plastic figurine form into the mysterious Skylands using an NFC reader or compatible Switch controller.
This particular iteration of the Skylanders series is, however, not coming to console. Available on Android and iOS, Skylanders Ring of Heroes is a free to play mobile title stuffed full of familiar faces, quests, and content to keep you amused when you are not tethered to a Portal of Power. Without access to the Skylander’s physical form, developer Com2us has opted to put the toys away and create a mobile RPG that leans heavily on a range of pet battles. Like any good RPG, Skylanders opens on an ominous discovery. Kaos, a series antagonist, has unleashed a plague of ominous cross-dimensional portals. As they spread, the serenity of the Skylands begins to fall into bedlam. Kaos must be stopped and a magical book closed for good. It’s the sort of exposition that really does not warrant any sort of serious consideration and like every cartoon comic villain before him, Kaos is a flatter heel than any of the graphics that end up plastered across your mobile screen.
With its origins firmly in the toy market, this particular adventure was hardly going to grow up with its fan base. The same sort of bright style that appeals to a Skylanders pre-teen audience remains a central part of this particular game’s facade. The creatures that inhabit the Skylands, the surrounding backdrop, your hometown, and even the UI all manage to recreate an appropriate, if a little paired back, 3D interpretation of the Skylands. This is no PUBG and it is entirely to Ring of Heroes benefit. Skylanders runs without complaint on most modern budget devices. Controls are easy to access and seem fluid enough that combat should continue without any interruption. In my experience, anything around a Snapdragon 450 or Kirin 659 based chipset, paired with a reasonable graphics unit, should be able to chew through your adventures starting at 30FPS. Coupled with the bright aesthetic, this makes Skylanders latest adventure widely accessible, whatever your age or android budget.
The mechanics of Skylanders Ring of Heroes shouldn’t be particularly taxing for any of the franchise’s younger fans either. The initial tutorials are an adequate introduction into the main content of the game where, after clicking past the brief preamble, Skylanders Ring of Heroes is primarily a pet battle game. Beginning with a set of three Skylanders, players, or portal masters as they are referred to, get to grinding out levels in a series of staged instances. These encounters put players up against a range of increasingly difficult opponents, from Chompies and Cauliflower Guys to the odd end boss. All of these opponents feature in Skylander’s massive roster of existing lore but taking down enemies does not require any particular experience with the series. The touchscreen controls allow players to pick an appropriate target and queue up a range of attacks from the bottom of the screen. A mana pool, basic character progression, and an elemental damage system stops things from becoming entirely automated while allowing for a little complexity. Ultimately, however, none of this makes combat particularly problematic. With just six or seven available skills on screen at any one time and some extremely intuitive combat systems, battles are a case of avoiding stupid mistakes, before coming out on top. For those who find this too much hassle, the game can even auto battle on your behalf.
Victory in these encounters rewards players with a plethora of currencies. Like many mobile titles, the number of progression systems available to hook players into the world is obvious from the off. A multitude of currencies and materials drop from each encounter. Soul stones to rune stones, gold, and cash shop gems are all hidden away in treasure chests that pop open at the close of play. Encounters that are presented as stages additionally act as the primary route to level both the player character and any accompanying Skylanders. While player characters and Skylanders directly gain experience form defeating opponents, the reward tiers do seem to foreshadow the eventual descent into the dreaded progression grind. Materials to summon specific Skylanders, upgrade and enhancement materials, as well as cash shop gems, all provide an opportunity for players to improve and expand upon their roster of minions. As Skylanders level up, the opportunity arises to add new skills to your minions, diversify your team using captured enemy creatures, and summon brand new Skylanders. This leads to a huge amount of potential diversity, and a ton of characters to collect. It also supports a massive amount of horizontal progression which is not necessarily a problem with appropriate game balance. However, one other issue makes me particularly wary of the investment required to keep up with fellow Portal Masters.
After sifting through the multitude of currencies that are available to successful Portal Masters, the inclusion of an energy system raises some concern. A constant bugbear in eastern MMORPGs, like Soulworker, these systems act as a currency sink for entry into content. In this case, energy seems to be entirely separate from other currencies with one caveat. Additional energy can be purchased in the game’s cash shop. While I didn’t find myself too concerned with the balance of this system on my initial playthrough I was hardly simmering with the stuff. Coupled with a horizontal progression model, this raises the type of warning signals that would make me pass on any MMO and should be a consideration before jumping into Skylanders Ring of Heroes.
As if player and character progression aren’t enough sticky for Activision and Com2Us, Skylanders incorporates a system of upgrades to your central town buildings. A little like Food Fantasy, that mixed an RPG with restaurant management. Skylanders: Ring of Heroes mixes in some base building operations to draw out even more currency and give you more to do in your home instance. It is a great underlying idea, providing perks and allowing players to keep engaging with the Skylanders while they do not have time to battle. This area provides access to some of the game’s more engaging content, particularly the PvP battles. PvP content allows players to pick a team, select a skill loadout, and take their Skylanders into battle against fellow Portal Masters. This is easily the area where Ring of Heroes combat systems will excel for most players, providing quick encounters with a decent mix of complexity. How the game’s levels and character roster is balanced against PvP is, however, still up in the air this early on.
In the end Skylanders Ring of Heroes is nothing new. It does, however, make for a well constructed and fun distraction that allows fans to take Skylanders on the road. Ring of Heroes is a great looking mobile adventure that gets the core battles right and does manage to do the Skylanders franchise justice. It performs well across most devices and is easy to just pick up and play. Some serious concerns about the progression tree, grind, and future monetization do trouble me with a slick coat of paint doing little to disguise the fact that the Skylands is already on well-worn territory Coupled with my concerns over the horizontal progression model, grind, and currency systems, I would consider Skylanders Imaginators on the Nintendo Switch if you have this option. However, if you are like the look of the upcoming Pokemon: Go pet battles, Skylanders could be a great alternative. Skylanders Ring of Heroes is out now on Android and iOS devices.