It's easy to be cynical about the Skylanders franchise. Activision's phenomenally popular collectible toy and video game series sounds like little more than a greedy grasp for frazzled parents' wallets.

That would probably be the case, too, if the console games weren't much cop - but they are, combining kid-friendly platform action and puzzling into a genuinely satisfying romp.

Skylanders Battlegrounds, one of three iOS Skylanders games, takes the core elementally-based battling seen in console versions and expands it into an entire game, mixing turn-based overworld exploration with real-time combat.

It's a super-simple setup - navigating each overworld island is merely a case of drawing your route across the hexagonal tiles making up each stage. Hit a treasure chest and its contents are yours. Hit an enemy and it's off to an elementally-themed arena for battle.

Battle lines

Fights themselves are equally straightforward - enemies strike in waves and can be engaged by tracing a line from one of the two Skylanders in your party to an opponent.

Basic attacks are launched on contact, while Skylander-specific powers can be unlocked and deployed for more aggressive assaults. At the end of each battle, you're awarded experience, in-game currency, and items too.

As you progress through the game's decent level roster (new overworld maps become available once all enemies in a stage have been defeated), opponents become stronger - necessitating a more powerful roster of Skylanders - while boss battles punctuate the action. Still, that core battling remains a constant, with little variation between encounters.

The real hook, of course, is the Skylanders themselves - and this is where things get a little complicated.

Grind of the times

It's entirely possible to unlock new Skylanders - gaining access to their vast sprawl of abilities - using gems found in chests and earned in minuscule amounts during combat.

But it's a slow process, with even basic elemental Skylanders costing upward of 200 gems - and that's not even factoring in those gems needed to unlock new powers and assistive items, each requiring inventory slots which, yes, also need to be bought.

Playing through the vanilla version of Skylanders Battlegrounds - that is, the one bought directly from iTunes - is either going to be a very time-consuming, or a very expensive process.

Thankfully, you can use the Secret Codes supplied with your existing Skylanders figures to unlock them in the game. Or, for a more authentic experience, there's an even better option: the £34.99 Skylanders Battlegrounds Starter Pack, which packs in a game download code, a handful of Skylanders figures, and a Bluetooth Portal of Power to import a collection.

In fact, given the rather uninspiring nature of the core Battlegrounds game, an existing Skylanders collection is practically a must.

Aside from its authentic, engaging Skylanders presentation, there's little of the console magic on display in this iOS version. Instead, it's a limited series of marginally entertaining battle encounters which are mainly good for levelling-up your Skylanders on the go.

In that respect, Skylanders Battlegrounds does exactly what it needs to - but as an experience in and of itself, it sadly never leaves the ground.