Shop for Skylanders Battlegrounds: Mobile Starter Pack

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The Portal of Power connects wirelessly to your iOS device via Bluetooth. Sarah Tew/CNET

In case you've never heard of Skylanders, it's Activision's brilliant concept for a money-making machine that combines physical game figures with their virtual counterparts that you play with onscreen.

Launched in 2011, the game has been a huge hit; kids have made a habit of collecting dozens of the figures, including this year's Skylanders Giants, which cost more than the original Skylanders and require the new Skylanders Giants disc to play on the console of your choice.

At the same time, Activision has also brought the franchise to mobile platforms, and I got a chance to try out Skylanders Battlegrounds: Mobile Starter Pack for iOS devices (it works with the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch).

You get a code for the iOS game Skylanders Battlegrounds in the package. Sarah Tew/CNET

The big difference between this and console starter packs is that instead of the console version of the game, you get a code for the Skylanders iOS app, which retails for $6.99 in the app store. Also, the portal that ships in the package is Bluetooth-enabled, so you can pair it with your iOS device, and load the physical characters into the game wirelessly (to play with your physical Skylanders, you set a figure on the portal and it appears in the game as your playable character).

The portal also comes with a USB cable, so you can use it with consoles such as the PS3 and Xbox 360 as well.

I got it working with an iPad Mini and iPad 3 and while the Battlegrounds game isn't on par with the full-fledged console games (it's more of a strategy game), it's pretty decent nevertheless -- my kids approved, anyway.

You get three figures and an 'exclusive' Treasure Chest. Sarah Tew/CNET

The big question is whether this package is worth $49.99. The fact is you can just load characters into any of the iOS Skylanders games manually by entering the code that comes with each Skylander (the new Skylanders Giants are compatible with Battlegrounds for iOS as well), so the portal isn't really necessary. However, not surprisingly, kids seem to prefer the portal concept to entering codes.

The Mobile Starter Pack comes with Jet-Vac, Cynder, and Double Trouble figures, plus the "exclusive" Platinum Treasure Chest, which is "packed with in-game rewards."

If purchased separately, each Skylander costs around $10. Throw in the Treasure Chest and you're at $40 or so, then factor in the cost of the portal and a game code and you might be a few bucks ahead. Still, the package would be more alluring at $39.99, particularly for parents who were starting from scratch and were looking for a cheaper entry point into the growing Skylanders universe.