Skylanders Lost Islands
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The Skylanders franchise is all too easily written off as the territory of kids gaming, something to keep them happy while you play more "meaningful" games. Talk to anyone who's sat down with their kids to play it and ended up equally absorbed themselves though, and you'll soon understand why it has such a magical appeal, and why it's also become one of Activision's most successful franchises in recent years.
This Lost Islands mobile installment of the franchise certainly leans on the lessons of other mobile empire-building games from 2012, but it also crucially taps deeply into the same psychological yearning that's kept the likes of Pokemon in business for all of these years.
You begin the game with a simple village that features Spyro himself, wandering around the landscape. Right from the start the game does a great job of introducing you to the basics of the game, such as creating new buildings to attract residents, sending your adventurers off on perilous journeys, clearing landscape space, and growing new crop types to keep the game's energy currencies in good supply.
When it comes to collecting the vast array of other adventurers tucked away in the game, you've got a few choices. Either you can dig deep into your gem reserves to unlock them, or use codes you've purchased elsewhere. If you have the bluetooth Portal of Power, you can even draw your existing heroes into the game. It's a great way of both controlling kids' access to in-app purchases, while also allowing them increase their collection in a way that will keep them engaged.
Having more characters doesn't just add to that fuzzy feeling of a collecting frenzy, it also allows you to send out more characters on hands-off adventures. When they return they'll bring back gold rewards for you and level up a little, and there's always something to do at every moment. Run out of adventurers? Why not upgrade the facilities and decorations of your village, or just plant more energy crops so that when they return they'll have the juice to head out again on another journey.
While there's much that's familiar about Skylanders Lost Islands, there's a fantastically tactile sense to every finger-press you make. Orchestral stabs accompany the collection of experience icons that occasionally tumble from buildings, and every goal completion is rewarded with a fireworks show of activity. Lost Islands may owe a lot to a choice handful of successful mobile titles, but few have tapped into that sense of reward and accomplishment so successfully.
Rewards are earned and delivered via the game's familiar but varied mission screen. One minute you might be required to plant and harvest a particular type of crop, while the next you'll be packed off on a specific adventure, or directed to unpeel yet another layer of the game's building and expansion mechanics. Most of these events require you to wait out a timer, but you'll never be short of something else to get stuck into while you wait for an earlier task to complete.
Skylanders Lost Islands is very much a gentle combination of familiar empire-building with the deliciously addictive finger-tapping of The Simpsons: Tapped Out, but it brings both of these elements together so wonderfully, and in such a perfectly polished package, that we couldn't help but fall in love with it. Kids will adore this mobile game, but only if they can wrestle the phone away from your own obsessive hands.
What's Hot: A perfectly tuned collectible game that's packed full of content. You won't be able to take your hands off it.
What's Not: It borrows heavily from some of mobile gaming's biggest names, but adds an unprecedented level of polish.