Harry Potter: Wizards Unite is a Smart Evolution of Pokémon GO

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No one was prepared for the popularity of Pokémon GO when it launched in the summer of 2016. Least of all mobile developer Niantic Inc. Explosive would be an understatement. The augmented reality mobile game was uniquely poised to combine a well-known, beloved brand with meta-social real world gameplay. The result was a cultural phenomenon that lasted months as we ran around our towns and cities trying to catch ’em all.

Three years and many content-rich updates later, Niantic has returned with an all new AR game with Harry Potter: Wizards Unite. The similarities between Harry Potter: Wizards Unite and Pokémon GO are impossible to ignore. Both are based on beloved and popular children’s franchises, and both are AR games that require physically moving around to collect resources. Wizards Unite has the benefit of learning from Pokémon GO’s limits and early stutters, resulting in an enjoyable and worthy followup.

Harry Potter: Wizards Unite takes place after the timeline of the original books and movies. You play as a wizarding member of the Statue of Secrecy Task Force. Player customization is a delight as it uses my phone camera to snap a selfie pic. I can then dress up in suitable Harry Potter accessories, like round glasses, scarves, and witch hats. I can also select which Hogwarts House I prefer and my style of wand, though all appear to be purely aesthetic choices.

The choice of profession is an important one, however. After gaining experience I can choose from three different classes, Auror, Magizoologist, and Professor. Each has its own skill tree when taking on wizard challenges, and provide helpful skills and increased defensive and offensive power. I can freely switch between them to explore different skill sets, or to fit the needs of those around me.

The goal is to dispel, rescue, or collect “foundables,” various magical creatures, implements, and curiosities that have begun leaking into the real world. They appear on the GPS map similar to Pokémon in Pokémon GO, and come in several different categories such as Magical Games and Sports, Ministry of Magic, Dark Arts, and Legends of Hogwarts.

Instead of throwing Pokéballs, I trace spell patterns with my finger. It’s immediately more engaging and interesting than throwing my hundredth Pokéball at the screen. More difficult foundables limit my time and demand more perfect tracing. I can also drink potions to help increase my spell potency.

harry potter: wizards unite map

Ingredients for potions are found on the map alongside foundables. Potions take time to brew and come in several flavors, from increasing my experience gain for a time to healing me in the middle of a wizarding challenge.

Casting spells costs spell power, the primary limited resource in Wizards Unite. Spell power can be gained from finding Inns scattered around the world in similar gathering places as PokéStops, such as churches and parks. Sadly the same limitations are found here as in Pokémon GO, leaving more rural gamers with much more limited options for finding Inns, Greenhouses (for gathering large chunks of ingredients), and Wizarding Challenges.

A wizarding challenge is Wizards Unite’s version of a co-op raid battle, as multiple players can jump into a series of battles together. Instead of the mass chaos of everyone furiously tapping their screen in a Pokémon Raid, Wizards Unite offers a series of more strategic battles. Certain professions will do better against certain enemies in a Rock-Paper-Scissors format, so having a diverse group of friends and nearby wizards can help. Players choose a difficulty level and everyone antes up a runestone, which are gained from filling out our registries, leveling up, and opening Portkeys (Wizards Unite’s version of Pokémon Eggs, which present fun treasure-filled AR rooms to explore).

Players in a Wizarding Challenge are presented with a room full of enemies to battle. Everyone gets their own one-on-one battles, but players can affect each other. A Magizoologist, for example, can heal another wizard using their Charm ability.

Battling enemies still requires spell tracing, though now players have to watch their hit points, and protect themselves from counterattacks with the Protego spell. The Raid battles in Pokémon Go can be exciting thanks to their limited timed availability, but Wizarding Challenges are much easier to jump into, and the multiple difficulty levels ensures everyone can participate regardless of their level.

Surviving wizarding challenges can be a drain on spellpower. Aside from the aforementioned Inns, Wizards Unite also offers Daily Assignments. These goals help provide motivation toward achieving certain goals, such as picking up an ingredient, dinning at inns, using a potion, or completing a challenge. Longer achievements work similarly, tracking milestones like reaching level 10, successfully casting 120 spells, and using 10 potions in challenges.

Rewards include potions, spell power, ingredients, XP, scrolls (for leveling up my skill tree), and gold (for purchasing any items in the store). Each day features eight different assignments, while daily treasures give me a rewards just for logging in, with better rewards given out for more consecutive days.

All of these elements help make Wizards Unite a rewarding experience, and that’s without spending a dime. Wizards Unite does a fantastic job incorporating every bit of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter while taking full advantage of Niantic’s excellent AR gameplay. Even if you have only a passing interest in Harry Potter and have since fallen off the Pokémon excitement, it’s well worth giving it a go.

pokémon

Our Pokémon Sword and Shield Wishlist

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Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield are two of the most anticipated games coming later this year. The eighth generation will make the pivotal leap from a handheld-focused series onto the Nintendo Switch. They also represent the first all-new main Pokémon games since 2016’s Pokémon Sun and Moon.

Details have been scarce, with Nintendo and The Pokémon Company teasing us with trailers and introducing the three new starter Pokémon. A Sword and Shield-focused Pokémon Direct is scheduled to stream next week on June 5. The Direct should provide further details, and hopefully a release date.

Until then we have mostly speculation and a wishlist of features for Pokémon Sword and Shield. The series has evolved in may ways over the last two-plus decades, yet also stubbornly adhered to its same basic formulas. After last year’s surprisingly fantastic spin-off remake Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Let’s Go, Eevee!, we have some strong opinions on features we’d love to see in Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield.

Multiple Difficulties

Pokémon games need to please multiple fanbases. The young newcomers, the returning teens, the veteran adults, all of who have different skill levels and familiarity with the franchise. Pokémon remains one of the best RPGs for kids, but there is a whole generation of gamers who have grown up with decades of Pokémon games under their belts. For that reason we’d love to have proper difficulty levels, or advanced features that can be checked on or off. We don’t necessarily need to go full Nuzlocke but we’d love the option to create a more challenging experience.

And for the love of goodness let us skip through tutorials, or at least be able to answer a “Have you played a Pokémon game before?” question at the beginning.

More Regional Variants

One of the coolest features from Pokémon Sun and Moon was the introduction of regional variants of classic Gen 1 Pokémon, such as Alolan Vulpix, Rattata, Sandshrew, and Diglett. These regional variants aren’t just cosmetic changes. They add or modify the types and movesets for each Pokémon. Sun and Moon specifically focused on the popular Gen 1 Pokémon and we’d love to see other Pokémon get a similar treatment, even if Sword and Shield’s England-inspired world is a bit less thematic than Sun and Moon’s tropical islands.

Pokémon Appearing in the World

The single best new feature the Pokémon Let’s Go games added were wild Pokémon appearing in the world. No longer did you wander around tall grass or caves waiting for the game to zoom in on a battle, instead you saw Pokémon walking around. It made the world come alive and made hunting for Pokémon a million times more engaging and fun. We expect traditional random encounters to return, but we’d love to see this magical aspect form Let’s Go become a permanent feature in all future Pokémon games.

Pokémon Follower

To expand on Pokémon appearing in the world, you could also select one of your six Pokémon in your party to follow you around. In the case of riding Pokémon like Arcanine and Charizard, you could use them to travel more quickly, or in Sun and Moon they were used to break walls and surf on the water. We would love if we could select our favorite Pokémon to walk around with us, like Pikachu and Ash in the classic anime series.

Access Pokémon Box Anywhere

One of the biggest welcome conveniences added in the Let’s Go games was the ability to access our Pokémon storage anywhere, not just at the Pokémon Center. This encouraged us to switch out our Pokémon much more often, and try new combinations and strategies.

Drop-in Co-op

Speaking of awesome features from Let’s Go, why not keep the easy to use drop-in co-op feature? By splitting the Joy-Con, two players could play on a single screen, and even join in for battles together. It was a fantastic way for parents to play with kids.

New Unique Dual Types

Fun fact: There are 18 different Pokémon types, and as of Gen 7 over 800 different Pokémon. Yet there are still over two dozen dual type combinations that don’t exist in any Pokémon! Every generation slowly adds new unique types so we’re confident we’ll fulfill this one. Some interesting missing dual-type combinations include Bug/Ice, Rock/Ghost, Dark/Fairy, Grass/Fire, and Poison/Steel.

Deeper Customization

The Pokémon games have been frustratingly slow when it comes to customizing our trainers. It took several games before we could even play as a girl! We want multiple body types, ethnicities, and all the clothing options we can get. While we’re at it, how about dressing up our Pokémon as well? Even just a few hats would go a long way in adding a lot of personality to our favorites.

Optional Motion Controls

The Joy-Con motion controls for capturing Pokémon in Pokémon: Let’s Go were solid, but also divisive. We’d like the option to turn them on for those that enjoy the immersive challenge of throwing their own Pokéballs, and support for the Poké Ball Plus controller.

We have high hopes for the first main Pokémon game on the Nintendo Switch. Hopefully we’ll get more answers and details on Pokémon Sword and Shield during the Pokémon Direct on June 5.

risk of rain 2

Risk of Rain 2 Shows Incredible Promise in Early Access

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I lived through the initial 3D gaming era of the mid to late 90s. Whether for better or worse, most games made the awkward, ugly transition from pixels to polygons. And for every Mario 64 there was, well, a Sonic 3D.

Thankfully we’re far removed from those days. But rarely do we see a series so completely, and effectively transform from 2D to 3D, as I’ve seen in Risk of Rain 2. The sequel was announced and released via Steam Early Access during the Gearbox panel at PAX East, and it’s already fantastic.

The core gameplay of Risk of Rain 2 is almost completely unchanged from the 2013 original. Players select a class and battle through increasingly difficult levels, becoming stronger and gaining new equipment. You battle through alien planets and creatures, while the world continues to throw more and tougher enemies at you. The hallmark of the game was the excellent four player co-op, with the on-screen action reaching truly ridiculous heights of chaos.

The first Risk of Rain was a pixelated 2D adventure.

Roguelike dungeon crawl isn’t exactly a groundbreaking concept. Indie games have been mining that genre for years. But Risk of Rain’s rapid pace and tight shooter-platforming combat made it an easy game to pick up and get sucked into. And I still listen to the most excellent soundtrack to this day.

The systems worked so well that the designers smartly took the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to the sequel. Instead they made one literally world-altering change, creating full 3D levels with Risk of Rain 2.

Clear Skies

Like the original, Risk of Rain 2 plops me down onto an alien world with no pretext or story. The only unlocked class at the beginning is the Commando, who is armed with a pair of rapidly firing, never depleting guns. I don’t even need to reload. The Commando is armed with three other abilities that operate on a simple cooldown system: a rolling dodge, a penetrating laser blast, and a volley of shots that can stun enemies.

Hostile creatures begin to spawn around me, including fire-ball hurtling lizardfolk, flying fire wisps, and laser-firing stone golems. The goal of each level is to find and activate a teleporter, which spawns an immense and chaotic boss fight. Before then I need to earn money by killing enemies and spend it to open chests scattered around the level.

risk of rain 2

You’ll find a lot of useful items in each level.

Items are completely randomized and almost always provide passive boosts, such as increased critical strikes, firing missiles at nearby enemies, adding additional jumps, or increasing shields. Occasionally I’ll find a special orange item that adds a new ability on a lengthy cooldown, like a massive heal or a huge missile strike.

Collecting these items while defeating foes and leveling up is critical, and needs to be done as quickly as possible. As soon as I spawn into a level the timer begins to tick up, filling a bar from Easy to Medium and Hard, and far, far beyond into hilariously terrifying difficulty levels. As the difficulty reaches new thresholds, harder enemies being to spawn, and in greater numbers.

Time is the biggest enemy. Thankfully getting around each level remains snappy and fun. The 3D worlds are not randomly generated, but that’s probably for the best. Currently there are only a handful of layouts available, including a swamp, desert, and snowy landscape, and they’re generally small enough to memorize once I begin to wander. Most levels offer high vantage points to look out and see the rest of the area, with plentiful jump pads to get around. Given that chests and shrines can be generated in any number of areas, exploring each nook and cranny is both necessary and rewarding.

risk of rain 2

Massive bosses tower over you.

Risk of Rain 2’s other big improvement is modern multiplayer support. No more having to mess around with port forwarding as with the original game. Risk of Rain 2 uses Steam’s friends list to quickly invite players and jump into multiplayer sessions. You can also play online with random allies, for better or for worse. But surviving the never-ending onslaught with friends, as with most games, makes everything exponentially better.

Many of the game’s systems are kept purposefully obtuse. I find out the hard way that the 3D printer requires a random item of my own in order to use it, while the Shrine of the Mountain spawns an extra boss to fight at the end. I had to look up what the hell Lunar Coins are used for, and delved into a myriad of interesting secrets, including how to unlock one of the other character classes.

The primary faults lie with the limited content, particularly with enemy types and levels. Currently Risk of Rain 2 features only about half the content that developer Hopoo Games plans on launching with, after an estimated year-long Early Access period.

Risk of Rain 2 is the perfect genre to take advantage of Early Access. The framework and gameplay are already fun, while more bosses, enemies, and levels will be a very welcome addition. For now I’m still having a blast unlocking new classes and trying completely new play styles. It’s giving me fond memories of the original game while representing the perfect transition into an all new dimension.

earthworm jim

30 Games We Want to See on the Sega Genesis Mini

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Given Sega’s track record of frequently releasing their old 16-bit games as well as licensing retro consoles, it’s no surprise they’ve decided to jump on the mini retro console bandwagon. The Sega Genesis Mini is coming this Fall, and includes a digital library of 40 classic Genesis games. But the initial reveal included only 10 of the 40 games.

The confirmed games so far:

  • Ecco the Dolphin
  • Castlevania Bloodlines
  • Space Harrier 2
  • Shining Force
  • Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine
  • Toejam & Earl
  • Comix Zone
  • Sonic the Hedgehog
  • Altered Beast
  • Gunstar Heroes

As we’ve done with the SNES and PlayStation mini retro consoles, we’ve compiled a list of games we’d like to see fill out the library. We have a lot of confidence on most of this list, as Sega has released previous compilation packs of Genesis games as recently as last December on the Nintendo Switch.

Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle

sega genesis

Fun fact: Before Sonic, the closest thing Sega had to a mascot was Alex Kidd. The weird platformer was already on its fifth game by the time Sega released the 16-bit Genesis, and it’s more of a quirky novelty than anything resembling a good game. But it’s worth checking out to see how much gameplay improved from the early days of the Genesis in a pre-Sonic era.

Beyond Oasis

sega genesis

The original Legend of Zelda and especially its 16-bit sequel, A Link to the Past, has inspired countless games throughout the decades. Sega’s response in 1995 was Beyond Oasis, a colorful Zelda-like action-adventure with an Arabian Nights theme. Like most games that infuse Zelda DNA, it still plays great today.

Columns

sega genesis

Sega’s answer to the mega-popular Tetris was Columns. The falling block, er, jewel puzzle game is structured the same. But instead of rotating shapes, you can swap out the colored symbols in order to create matches. Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine is largely the same game with Sonic window dressing.

Disney’s Aladdin

sega genesis

The 16-bit Aladdin is often the focus of old school controversy, due to the differences between the SNES and Genesis versions. No matter where you fall on the 90s console wars, Aladdin on the Genesis is one of the best, most gorgeous looking side-scrolling action games on the system.

Earthworm Jim

sega genesis

With goofy characters and gross-out humor, Earthworm Jim (and the sequel) is the perfect embodiment of 90s cheese. Comic-like hand-drawn art and animations meet fluid controls and tough-as-nails level design. There was a brief period in the mid-90s where Earthworm Jim became a bigger media franchise, with action figures and even a Saturday Morning Cartoon, which ran for two seasons.

Eternal Champions

sega genesis

Fighting games were huge in the 90s thanks to the explosive popularity of Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter. We’d love to see those games on the Sega Genesis Classic, but the Sega-published Eternal Champions has the best chance of appearing. It draws heavily from Street Fighter and draws together warriors and mythological figures throughout human history.

Fatal Labyrinth

sega genesis

The roguelike dungeon crawler Fatal Labyrinth isn’t the most attractive game, but it’s notable as taking a very PC-centric genre and successfully translating it to a console. The randomized dungeon is shockingly huge, featuring 30 total levels.

Flashback

sega genesis

Flashback is an action-adventure game most notable for its focus on storytelling and (for the time) impressive motion capture technology for animations. It was remastered and released on the Nintendo Switch last year, which also marked its 25th anniversary.

Golden Axe 

sega genesis

Like Sonic, it’s impossible to mention Sega games without bringing up Golden Axe. The side-scrolling beat ’em up series was originally born on Arcades and ported to consoles. The art and theme are heavily based on the Conan style fantasy series of half-naked, muscle-bound protagonists. The sequel was largely the same, while the third game added in new abilities and features.

Jewel Master

sega genesis

Jewel Master is a side-scrolling action-adventure where you gain elemental rings. Each ring provides a different elemental attack, and two rings can be equipped at a time to create different attacks and playstyles. That may not sound terribly impressive now, but in 1991 it was mind-blowing.

Jungle Strike

The sequel to Desert Strike continued the solid isometric shoot ’em up gameplay where you piloted a helicopter through hostile territory, rescuing allies and chasing down convoys. The Strike series was successful enough to spawn several more sequels on the next console generation.

Jurassic Park

sega genesis

Odds are we probably won’t see it due to licensing, but Jurassic Park on the Genesis was a fantastic side-scrolling action game with impressive 3D models, and levels drawn from the Michael Crichton novel. It also had every early 90s kid’s dream: playing as a velociraptor! The sequel, Jurassic Park: Rampage Edition, was equally awesome.

Mortal Kombat II

Mortal Kombat’s brutal violence and bloody gore sparked a well-documented gaming controversy in the 90s (along with other games like Doom) that eventually lead to the formation of the ESRB and ratings system. Mortal Kombat, and especially its sequel, are less a history lesson and more a lesson in great game design, featuring tight controls and a diverse roster of fosters. The fighting game series continues to find success to this day, with Mortal Kombat 11 launching on April 23.

NBA Jam

Like many great games of the era, NBA Jam was originally released as an arcade game. It was notable for featuring real licensed NBA teams and players, though the actual rules and physics were loosened significantly in favor of, well, awesome plays.

NHL ’94

It’s a bit sad that NHL ’94 remains one of the best hockey games ever made. Even non-hockey fans enjoyed the intuitive gameplay and character models. NHL ’94 includes four different game modes, including Best of Seven matches and shootout mini-games.

Phantasy Star IV: The End of the Millennium

When it came to 16-bit Japanese RPGs, Nintendo had Final Fantasy, Sega had Phantasy Star. Sadly the Phantasy Star series didn’t end up nearly as popular or long-lived as Final Fantasy, but Sega fans know it was one of the best RPG series around at the time. The fourth and final game (at least until Phantasy Star Online released in 2000) is largely considered the best.

Road Rash 2

Long before The Fast and the Furious, there was Road Rash. Road Rash was a motorcycle racing game. The motorcycles alone set it apart from other racing games, as well as the ability to attack your fellow bikers using a variety of melee weapons. Road Rash 2 added split-screen multiplayer.

Shadowrun

The cyberpunk tabletop RPG was adapted into two wildly different games on SNES and Genesis, though both were still solid RPGs. The Genesis version featured a top-down camera and a more open RPG world to recruit fellow runners and go on missions.

Shining Force 2

Yes we’re aware that the original Shining Force has already been confirmed. We’re also hear to tell you that the vastly superior sequel should also be included. Before Fire Emblem finally made it to the west in the early 2000s, the Shining Force series brilliantly combined JRPG story-telling and characters with tactical combat. Shining Force 2 is widely considered one of the best games on the Genesis, and one of the best RPGs of all time.

Shinobi 3: Return of the Ninja Master

Ninjas were hot in the 80s and 90s, and the Shinobi series took full advantage with its fast-paced shuriken-throwing action. The third game is far less brutally difficult and adds new ninja moves like wall-jumping and a jump kick.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2

This is such an obvious inclusion that it’s almost insulting it wasn’t confirmed along with the original Sonic. The first Sonic is a fine game but the sequel amped up the series’s signature speed, improved the colorful level designs, and added a second playable character with Tails. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 remains a phenomenal side-scrolling experience to this day.

Sonic Spinball

Sega quickly saturated the market with their popular blue mascot throughout the 90s, including multiple genre spin-offs. A pinball game is both a weird and wonderful choice, given Sonic’s ability to curl up into a ball and zip through areas.

Sonic 3D Blast

The 16-bit era began experimenting with rudimentary 3D game designs, for better and for worse. Sonic 3D Blast was the final Sonic game to release on the Genesis in 1996. The transition to 3D proved a mixed bag. Sonic’s normally speedy gameplay slowed way down, and controlling the hedgehog in the 3D world proved troublesome. It’s an interesting and flawed look into how game designers attempted to translate 2D gameplay into 3D.

Streets of Rage 2

Golden Axe is there for its historical legacy but if you want an actually awesome co-op beat ’em up, you want the Streets of Rage series. The series boasted satisfying attack animations and colorful levels and enemies dripping with 80s/90s cheese. The sequel is considered the most superior (with an amazing soundtrack), though the third game is solid as well.

Sunset Riders

We didn’t get Sunset Riders on the SNES Classic but we’re holding out hope for Sega to come through. The old west beat ’em up exchanged punches for revolvers and shotguns, and translated very well from arcades to consoles.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turltes: The Hyperstone Heist

The Hyperstone Heist is essentially a remixed version of Turtles in Time, and that’s a good thing. The arcade beat ’em up is a fantastic co-op adventure featuring the then mega-popular ninja turtles.

Toejam  & Earl: Panic on Funkotron

We’re happy the original quirky roguelike adventure has already been confirmed in the lineup. But the sequel is definitely worth including as well, especially as it’s an entirely different genre. Panic on Funkotron is a more standard side-scrolling action-platformer filled with secrets as the funky aliens work to capture all the earthlings loose on their home planet.

Vectorman

Vectorman’s 3D model character designs aren’t quite as impressive today as they were in the mid-90s, though it did impressively stretch what the Genesis was capable of. But the fast-paced running and gunning, large level designs, and transformable main character make it, and the sequel, some of the best action games on the system.

Virtua Fighter 2

Virtua Fighter 2 has an odd development history, first appearing on arcades, then the 32-bit Sega Saturn, before being ported to the 16-bit Sega Genesis. The fighting series was notable for featuring 3D models and real-world fighting styles, though the Genesis version is a 2D remake.

Wonder Boy in Monster World

The Wonder Boy series has gone through several different iterations, but Monster World is the most memorable. Gameplay is like a side-scrolling Legend of Zelda as our spiky-haired hero uses magic and weapons to defeat monsters, gain new equipment, and unlock new monster-filled regions to explore.

kingdom hearts 3

Opinion: Kingdom Hearts 3 Has a Nostalgia Problem

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A YA-friendly, easy-to-play action-adventure that explores and celebrates Disney animated movies should be a winning formula. It certainly was in 2002 when the original Kingdom Hearts launched on the PlayStation 2. The popularity of the series and decade plus drought of a main-line game created a huge amount of anticipation for Kingdom Hearts 3.

Unfortunately, Kingdom Hearts 3 feels like a PS2 game in all the worst ways.

Seventeen years feels like forever ago, but I played and enjoyed the original Kingdom Hearts. The hack and slash combat was fast and fun, and the use of Disney and Final Fantasy characters as NPCs and party members was something truly special. The story rested on whimsical light against darkness tropes, which is perfectly fine when you’re battling alongside Goofy and Donald. When the sequel came out in 2005 I jumped all over it, only to be left with a vastly more convoluted story involving virtual world copies, soul-merging heroes, and impostor villains.

Several spin-off games, prequels, and side stories were released in the years between Kingdom Hearts 2 and 3, which I ignored. I fully expected to be completely lost in Kingdom Hearts 3’s story. But I did not expect the series’ defiant refusal to evolve beyond its PS2-era interface, combat, and level design.

kingdom hearts 3

Kingdom Hearts 3 is a grim reminder of how far gaming has come in the last decade and a half. I was frustrated from the very opening level in the Disney Hercules world of Thebes and Mt. Olympus. Every area is mostly a series of walled, linear hallways, with a few larger rooms for bigger combat sequences. A minimap in the upper right corner is mostly useless, and the game lacks a proper world map. Countless times I got completely turned around, doubling back for awhile before I realized I was going the wrong way.

Exploration in most worlds is extremely limited and not very rewarding. The exception early on is the Toy Story world, which primarily takes place inside a three story toy store, granting a bit of freedom to explore different areas. Even then I got completely lost when I was told to go to one location, only to finally look it up online where exactly I needed to go. Never have I ached for a proper quest marker or just any kind of journal. At the very least a standard map would’ve saved so much of my frustration, even with the mostly boring level designs.

Don’t even get me started on the Gummi ship sequences. They managed to make the weakest part of the original games and make it even worse in Kingdom Hearts 3.

To travel to each new world you have to pilot an ugly, blocky, customizable ship in a pseudo free-roaming space sequence. Controlling the Gummi ship is abysmally frustrating. Worse still the game forces you into retro shoot ’em up boss battles between worlds. These boss fights weren’t difficult but took forever to complete, all while doing nothing but mildly moving the ship around and holding down the attack button.

kingdom hearts 3

On-foot combat isn’t much better. Fighting the heartless and the nobodies mostly boils down to mashing the attack button as quickly as possible while Sora vaults through the air with colorful keyblade attacks. Occasionally a special attack is available, such as uniting with your allies or summoning a neon-colored Disney attraction, like the teacups or carousel.

The attraction attacks are a neat idea but given their resource-less cost you never pass them up, and it turns the already dull combat into an even duller shooting gallery or rhythm game. The first time you unleash the teacups or the splash run is a blast. Not so much the 20th time.

Gaining a new keyblade after completing a world is the one piece of fun loot you’ll ever get. Each keyblade has slightly different stats and different special attacks they can unleash, including transforming into entirely different weapons like a warhammer, dual pistols, or a magical staff. Visually it’s fun transforming the Frozen keyblade into a pair of lighting fast dual blades, but the actual combat doesn’t change. I’m still mostly mashing the attack button.

kingdom hearts 3

Elemental spells can be thrown around, but feel sluggish and weak compared to the much quicker basic attack combos, and selecting a spell using the d-pad is a nasty UI holdover from the PS2 era. Equipping abilities is also needlessly fiddly. Sora and friends level up and gain new abilities, which must be actively equipped. Each ability takes up a certain AP cost, and a character can only equip so many. If you equip an accessory which grants additional AP, you’ll need to first de-equip a number of abilities in order to shuffle your items around. It’s exactly as annoying as it sounds.

I’m not going to comment too much on the story itself, given that I fell out of the Kingdom Hearts loop long ago. But I was disappointed in how the story approaches the Disney worlds. The worlds of Frozen and Tangled simply recreate the movies, beat for beat, including drawing cutscenes directly from the films (yes, they do the entire “Let it Go” number).

In the Frozen world I was hoping to actually adventure with Queen Elsa. She has superhero-style ice powers – how do you not include her as a party member! But no, we have to tell the entire Frozen story again and follow everyone around, at one point getting thrown into an annoying, bland ice labyrinth for no reason other than to pad out the adventure.

kingdom hearts 3

The Pixar worlds fare much better. Both Toy Story and Monsters Inc take place AFTER their respective films (first films anyway). The stories and level designs are much better served when they’re not beholden to retelling stories that were clearly not built for video game adventuring. Tangled’s world consists of running through a forest to the castle, then running back through the exact same forest. Whereas in Toy Story Sora and company are shrunk down and explore a toy store with giant robots. The Pixar worlds are far more interesting (to a point) and make the actual Disney animated worlds that much more disappointing.

I had fond memories of the original Kingdom Hearts. And I still think a high-concept RPG using Disney’s deep roster of worlds and characters is a wonderful thing to explore in a video game. But Kingdom Hearts 3’s shocking refusal to evolve beyond its aging level designs and simplistic combat create an experience that only the most nostalgia-blinded fans can enjoy.

apex legends

Apex Legends is the Battle Royale You’ve Been Waiting For

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In the 2014 sci-fi action film Edge of Tomorrow (also known as Live Die Repeat), Tom Cruise is drafted into defending Europe from the violent alien invaders. He’s quickly killed in combat, but at the same time becomes infected with the aliens’ time loop powers. Like an action movie version of Groundhog Day, Cruise repeats the same day over and over as he goes through a montage of getting quickly, and often hilariously, killed. He eventually learns how to fight back, teams up with an awesome Emily Blunt, and saves the world.

When playing a battle royale game, I often feel like Tom Cruise in those early moments of Edge of Tomorrow. I drop down. I run around frantically. I die, mercilessly. Repeat.

But Apex Legends feels different. Not only does it have the most well-refined systems I’ve seen in the genre, but it makes me want to double down and improve my gameplay rather than throw my hands up in frustration. For the reasons I’ve listed below give Apex Legends a try, even if you’ve been entirely turned off by the explosively popular genre so far.

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

Most battle royale games feature a team mode where groups can join, survive, and win together. Apex Legends is built from the group up for three person squads. Teamwork in Apex Legends is easier and more enjoyable, even when playing with random strangers.

From the very start players draft their characters together, then drop into the world together. Squads should stick together – though not too close, and many of the character abilities foster teamwork and coordination, such as Lifeline’s ability to call in a supply drop, and Pathfinder’s ability to create a zipline for quick travel.

apex legends

Most importantly, squads can revive and even respawn their fellow teammates. Players enter a downed state when their health depletes and can be revived. Even if they’re killed, a teammate can grab their beacon and high tail it to the nearest respawn beacon, summoning them back to the fight. Some of my most memorable and thrilling survival stories have occurred after only one of us has been left alive to bring us back from the brink.

Should’ve Put a Ping On It

The intuitive ping system is incredibly clever. It’s the primary reason why playing with random squadmates ever has a chance of succeeding. With the press of a button, a squad mate can call out and highlight weapons, ammo, enemies, loot chests, and areas of interests. I can ping sections of my inventory to tell my squad I need ammo, body armor, or a certain weapon mod, declare an area to defend, and quickly yell out where and when I saw an enemy.

All of this is done without the need for voice chat at all. That’s particularly a huge plus for younger teens and concerned parents.

Less Players, More Action

Every match features 20 squads for 60 total players. That’s a significant departure from the 100-person matches of PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and Fortnite. Yet even with almost half the players, the action rarely feels big and empty. Sometimes we drop in the corner of the Swamps and never run into a person until 20 minutes later. But usually there’s always another firefight around the corner.

The diverse Canyon map is filled with military bases, shanty towns, industrial walkways, steep valleys, and open desert. The map feels like the perfect size, and strikes a great balance between moments of quiet looting, tense exploration, and explosive firefights.

apex legends

Choose Your Fighter

Apex Legends takes a page from online hero shooter Overwatch in providing several unique character classes to choose from. Like Overwatch you can’t have more than one character on your team, forcing teams to balance their preferred play style. All eight current characters bring something unique and interesting, like Bangalore’s smoke bombs, Gibraltar’s dome shield (hello, Winston!), and Bloodhound’s Predator vision. Apex Legends does a fantastic job incorporating these characters and their abilities, without deviating from the core gameplay of grabbing weapons and shooting each other.

Apex Legends has been a pleasantly addictive experience. When matches go horribly wrong, as they often do, it’s over in minutes. And it takes less time than that to cue up the next match. Wait times are non-existent, and we’ve never experienced a second of lag or server issues. Releasing a complete (and free to play!) game that works right out of the gate shouldn’t be cause for celebration, but here we are.

I’ve adored my time with Apex Legends, despite having yet to win a match. I’m still Tom Cruise in the middle of figuring everything out. I die, a lot. But repeating has never been so fun.