Solasta: Crown of the Magister Transforms D&D Into a Single Player RPG

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Video game RPGs owe much of their DNA from the classic tabletop RPG. Despite Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition catapulting the tabletop RPG into mainstream popularity, there’s been a stark lack of officially licensed D&D video games in recent years. Indie studio Tactical Adventures hopes to change that with Solasta: Crown of the Magister.

“We’ve been a big fan of tabletop RPGs for 30 years,” says Mathieu Girard, CEO and creative director at Tactical Adventures. “We have a D&D campaign running every week – currently playing Descent Into Avernus. Making a D&D RPG is a passion project for us.”

Girard previously co-founded Amplitude Studios, creators of the excellent Endless strategy series, before founding Tactical Adventures in 2018. In the fall of 2019, Tactical Adventures brought their concept for Solasta to Kickstarter, successfully raising over $275,000 from nearly 6,000 backers.

A major selling point for Solasta is that it’s based on the Systems Reference Document from D&D. Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition has a special Open Gaming License that allows other creators and companies to use the basic ruleset for their own games and supplements. The SRD includes all the races, classes, magic items, and most of the monsters from D&D 5E, but does not include any of the official settings, characters, or trademark foes.

Solasta will feature a completely original fantasy world, but with the familiar Tolkein-inspired D&D races of humans, elves, dwarves, and halflings. Solasta will include original lore-specific sub-races like Snow Dwarves and Island Halflings, but doesn’t have the more exotic races like tieflings and dragonborn.

D&D veterans will feel right at home when creating a four-person party of characters, including rolling for STR, DEX, CON, etc, and choosing Race, Class, Background, and starting equipment. Currently Solasta only features six of the 12 D&D classes: Fighter, Paladin, Ranger, Rogue, Cleric, and Wizard, with a seventh class, Sorcerer, coming as launch day DLC. “We’re a small team, 17-person studio,” says Girard. “Everyone is a veteran and works wonders, but we wanted to focus on six classes for now.” The team hopes to add the remaining classes in the future.

One of the most intriguing elements of character creation are the Personality Flags. These traits are derived from the character’s Background and Alignment, which are often shoved to the back or forgotten altogether once the dice starts rolling. A character’s Background could be an Aristocrat, Lowlife, or Spy, along with the classic D&D alignment system, like Lawful Good or Chaotic Neutral.

Each Background and alignment includes four personality traits, like Lawfulness, Greed, and Kindness. Players choose two from each to form their character’s overall personality. “The Personality Flags define how your character acts during cutscenes and narration, as well as dialogue choices when interacting with NPCs,” says Girard. “We didn’t want a binary system.” A Philosopher could choose Cynicism and Kindness, while selecting Neutral Good can add Altruism and a second Kindness flag, resulting in a very formal, self-less personality.

Having unique dialogue choices based on your chosen personality is a nice reflection of role-paying in D&D. Solasta takes it a step further by providing fully voiced characters for each of the four customizable party members that we’ll be creating at the beginning of the game. The result is a wonderfully immersive intro that features each of my custom party members bantering with one another, from the stuffy elf to the surly halfling.

During the intro each character regales their scenario prior to joining the party. “We wanted to avoid boring tutorial boot camps that involve shooting crates and rats,” says Girard. “Instead the tutorial is an origin story for each of your characters of the party.” These mini-tutorials show off the lighting and verticality in the level design, as well as the turn-based tactical combat, which includes Attacks of Opportunity and using Actions, Bonus Actions, and Reactions.

The game doesn’t know if the player is going to create a party of all wizards – or no wizards at all, however. “It’s impossible for us to have specific tutorials on wizard spells, because we’re not sure the player is going to have a wizard,” says Girard. Instead the tutorials cover important mechanics like jumping over chasms, knocking down walls, and sneaking past enemies.

“Verticality is a big thing in our game,” says Girard. “We use a cubic world simulation like Minecraft, which simulates elevation and can be dynamically modified.” A pillar can be pushed over a gap to create a bridge, and a loose wall could be brought down on an unsuspecting enemy. Flying enemies can remain out of reach, forcing party members to use spells and ranged attacks. “It’s a big plus when we can be as faithful as possible to the original rules,” says Girard.

Solasta will feature most of the same rules as 5E, including combat, stealth, and resting. One deviation is with initiative – the order in which players and monsters move in combat. In the tabletop RPG, all monsters of the same type, such as goblins or wolves, roll one group initiative and act together. Solasta will include group initiatives as an option, but you can also play with individual initiatives, resulting in a turn-order queue that’s more familiar to tactical video games. “It’s easy for a computer to handle individual initiatives, and I love the increased randomness it brings to combat,” says Girard. “We’re working with our community to determine which option should be the default for us.”

Though Tactical Adventures released a limited demo earlier this Spring on Steam, the game is still in pre-Alpha development. “All the game systems are built, along with a fraction of the campaign,” says Girard. “The hardest work is done. Now we’re just creating cool content.” That cool content includes a main campaign around 25 hours long, plus an additional 10-15 hours of side quests, which should bring the party up to the level cap of 10. The max level in D&D 5e is 20, though most officially published campaigns don’t extend beyond the low teens.

Solasta: Crown of the Magister’s scope may be somewhat limited compared to a true D&D tabletop RPG campaign, but the potential of a single player tactical adventure that uses the official 5E rules is hugely appealing for D&D fans like myself, and I look forward to exploring this new world.

Solasta: Crown of the Magister is coming to PC (Steam) in 2021.

card battler

Four Great Deckbuilder Card Battlers For Fans of Slay the Spire

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Slay the Spire’s successful year-plus Early Access run and launch last year helped popularize an exciting new genre. While “card battler” could be used to describe digital adaptations of collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering and Yu-Gi-Oh, it’s increasingly used to describe RPGs, roguelikes, and strategy games that happen to use cards to represent items, buildings, or abilities.

If you’re looking for more excellent card battlers besides Slay the Spire, we’ve compiled a list of some of our favorites.

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Pokémon Home: How to Transfer, Store, and Trade Pokémon

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With the release of Pokémon Home, trainers finally have the chance to consolidate their pokémon collections that span well over a decade. We’re providing a step-by-step process for bringing everything together, as well as what all you can do with Pokémon Home and the different versions and subscription levels.

Using Pokémon Bank on 3DS

The most exciting prospect for Home is bringing our old pokémon from previous generations onto the Switch generation. For the 3DS era (Gens 6-7), which includes X/Y, Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphire, Sun/Moon, and Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon, Nintendo offered an app called Pokémon Bank, released in 2014. Bank was largely the same as Home, a digital cloud storage space to upload pokémon, in order to bring them into future games.

Bank also supported the older Nintendo DS generations (Gen 4-5) through a free app called PokéTransporter. The DS had a GameBoy Advance cartridge slot, and it was possible to transfer the GBA era (Gen 3) into the DS era using the in-game Pal Park in Gen 4. By using all these methods it’s entirely possible to transfer pokémon who are over 15 years old!

Pokémon Bank requires a subscription fee ($5 a year) in order to transfer, though it’s free to leave them in storage. However, with the release of Pokémon Home, the subscription fee for Bank is currently waived until March 12.

In order to transfer pokémon from these older handheld generations, you’ll need to first set up Bank. Simply download it from the Nintendo eShop on your 3DS, sync it with the game cartridge (for Gen 6-7) or use PokéTransporter, and transfer pokemon from the game box to a storage box. Not that you won’t be able to transfer any pokémon directly from your party – you’ll have to start the game and move them to a box first.

Moving pokémon from Pokémon Bank to Pokémon Home

In Pokémon Bank on the Nintendo 3DS, select the option to Move pokémon to Pokémon Home. Important Note: This is a one way-street. Once moved to Home, pokémon can never return to Bank. Say goodbye to the 3DS era (or start over fresh).

Pokémon Bank will mention a Moving Key. Don’t proceed just yet.

Download Pokémon Home on the Nintendo Switch from the eShop. Home is also available on mobile devices, but we’ll need it on Switch to transfer from Bank.

Make sure you’re signed in as the same Nintendo account as you used for the Nintendo 3DS and Pokémon Bank.

Select the Move option, and Begin Move. Home will provide a Moving Key for Bank that will only be valid for 3 minutes. We’ll want both systems ready to go!

Confirm on Pokémon Home to get the 12-digit key, and carefully enter the key on the now much tinier Nintendo 3DS screen. Both systems should confirm that the key is successful, and that pokémon are transferring.

Pokémon Home will be unusable while pokémon are transferring, but it shouldn’t take long. Within a minute I saw my full roster of 844 pokémon successfully transferred to Home. You can choose to move them exactly as they were in Bank, or re-organize the boxes.

Moving pokémon from Sword and Shield or Let’s Go, Pikachu/Eevee to Home

Transferring pokémon from the Switch generation is a far simpler process, since they’re directly compatible with Home. Home will automatically detect these games, which you’ll see under the Pokémon screen. Selecting one of them will take you to a simliar screen to Pokémon Bank, with Home’s storage boxes on one side and the game’s storage boxes on the other.

The first thing you’ll notice is that many pokémon aren’t supported in the Switch games yet, as denoted by a red slash circle symbol. No pokémon can be transferred into the Let’s Go series (but they can be uploaded to Home) while Sword and Shield supports a select number of pokémon that equals about half the total roster.

Certain moves are also not supported in Sword and Shield, such as Refresh, Embargo, and Flame Burst, even though the pokémon itself is. These pokémon with unsupported moves will have a yellow triangle exclamation point over the move. You can transfer these pokémon if they have this symbol (and not the red slash circle) but the move will be removed during the transfer. Future Pokémon games may support these moves (as well as additional pokémon) so it may be worth waiting.

What can Pokémon Home do on Switch?

Pokémon Home can do three main tasks on the Switch: Transfer pokémon, view the National Pokédex and Research Tasks, and earn and transfer Pokémon Home Points . Points are earned by depositing pokémon, and you’ll get a big boost of 3,000 points the first time you upload a single pokémon. Points can then be transferred at a rate of 30 points to 1 BP to Sword and Shield (and future core Pokémon games).

BP can be used as currency to purchase special items at the Battle Tower in Sword and Shield, once you complete the main campaign. BP can also be earned in-game by battling at the Battle Tower.

Completing Research Tasks

By entering the Pokédex section of Pokémon Home on Switch, you can tab over to the Research Tasks. Currently there are only two sets available: one for Galar (Sword and Shield) and one for Kanto (Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee). Think of these tasks as optional achievements for uploading specific pokémon from those games into Home.

Note that transferring the pokémon from Bank won’t work – the pokémon have to originate from those specific games.

There are no rewards for completing the tasks, but it’s a fun way to work towards Catching ’em all.

What can Pokémon Home do on Mobile?

The mobile version of Pokémon Home is free-to-download on iOS and Android mobile devices. It’s primarily used for trading, though you can also see your entire collection, and receive any Mystery Gifts offered by Nintendo. The mobile version also includes Challenges, which are a bit like Research Tasks that act as milestone achievements for depositing certain pokémon. Unlike Research Tasks, Challenges do come with rewards in the form of digital stickers.

How do I trade Pokémon in Pokémon Home?

Pokémon Home finally adds the GTS, the global trade system that allows for easy online trades, as well as trading between friends, and the thrill of the random Wonder Trade.

Trading via Pokémon Home is only available on the mobile app, not the Switch app. Certain trade functions will be limited depending on if you’re using the Basic or Premium Plans (see below).

To trade, simply tab over to the Trade section of Pokémon Home, where you’ll find Wonder Box, GTS, Room Trade, and Friend Trade.

pokemon homeThe GTS is the primary place to get the exact pokémon you’re looking for, letting you enter in all the parameters, while putting up another specific pokémon to trade in return. You can also search for pokémon, and what other trainers are looking to trade them for. Premium users can put up to three pokémon in the GTS, while basic users are limited to one at a time.

Wonder Box lets you send one of your own pokémon out onto the digital trading block, and receive a random pokémon in return. It’s a total gamble but can be a fun way to receive new or interesting pokémon. Premium subscribers can have up to 10 wonder trades going at once, basic plans are limited to three.

Trade Rooms are like multiplayer lobbies, with folks jumping into rooms to randomly trade pokémon. Premium users can host and join rooms, while basic users can only join rooms. Specific rooms can be joined via the host’s room ID.

Friend trade is pretty obvious – trade with people on your friends list! Unfortunately Nintendo’s friends list systems are never well-integrated; you’ll need to add friends specifically to Pokémon Home.

What’s the difference between the Basic and Premium Plans?

Pokémon Home is free (Basic), but also includes an optional paid Premium Plan. The Premium Plan costs $2.99 per month or $15.99 per year, a 300% increase over Pokémon Bank. The following chart showcases the differences.

Primarily, you won’t be able to transfer pokémon from Pokémon Bank without a premium plan – but you should only have to do that once anyway. Note that number of pokémon that can be stored, however, from a paltry 30 (a single box) for basic users, or up to 6,000 for Premium. The IV Judge tool is also only available for Premium users.

What happens to my pokémon when my Premium Plan expires?

Don’t worry about your pokémon disappearing, like Pokémon Bank, if your subscription expires, your pokémon will rest safely in the digital storage space. However, you’ll only be able to access the 30 pokémon in your Basic Box until you renew your subscription.

How do I use the Judge function?

The Judge function, or IV Judge, is a way to analyze your pokémon’s individual values, or IVs. Each stat category, including HP and Defense, have a rating from No Good to Best, which can only be seen by using the Judge function. The Judge also provides an overall rating for the pokémon based on their IVs, such as Ok Stats or Good stats.

The IV Judge is available in every game, usually after beating the main campaign. But Pokémon Home Premium users also have the ability to see all their pokémon IVs in both the mobile and Switch version.

In the Switch version, press Y to view the Base Points, then Y again for the Judge. In the mobile version, tap the stat hexagon graph to view the IVs.

Pokémon Home is free-to-download on Switch and mobile devices.

The 16 Most Exciting Indie Games from PAX South 2020

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PAX South is often the first major gaming convention of the year, awkwardly injected right after the busy holiday season. This year was even more awkward, with the much bigger PAX East 2020 pushed up into late February, resulting in many bigger publishers skipping Texas in favor of Boston.

PAX South is known for a high ratio of indie and tabletop games. Between PAX Rising (tiny indie companies), PAX Together (highlighting LGBTQ creators), and the new Latinx Lounge (highlighting Latinx creators and panels), we checked out many excellent indie games to look for in 2020.

 

Dungeon Defenders: Awakened

Developer: Chromatic Games
Platforms: PC (Steam), PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One
Release: Q1 2020

I was a big fan of co-op tower defense action-RPG Dungeon Defenders a decade ago. I’m pleased to report that Dungeon Defenders: Awakened is a satisfying modern sequel. Waves of enemies march down lanes toward my crystal core while I build and repair towers, and defend with weapons and abilities. New changes include freely swapping between the four heroes to access their wide variety of towers, traps, and auras, as well as finding multiple types of weapons for each character.  Four player co-op multiplayer also returns, including local, online, and up to four player splitscreen.

Everspace 2

Developer: Rockfish Games
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release: 2021 (Early Access September 2020)

Everspace 2 is a hyperspeed leap forward for the space sim series, replacing the roguelike structure of the first game with a bigger open-world (open-universe?) RPG. Rockfish Games knows how to make a spaceship sim look and play great. Within seconds of starting the PAX demo I was swinging around asteroids, pew pewing my lasers, and dog-fighting with marauders. After a successful Kickstarter campaign last year, Rockfish is settling in for a lengthy but transparent development cycle, with Early Access hitting later this Fall.

Foregone

Developer: Big Blue Bubble
Platforms: “PC and Consoles”
Release: Early Access Feb. 27 (Epic Games Store)

Foregone’s delicious combination of metroidvania with action-RPG made it one of my personal favorite games of PAX South 2020. The 2D combat was fast and fluid as I instantly switched between melee and ranged attacks. Enemies explode into health globes and energy I can use to fuel multiple abilities, like shields and slide-attacks. Foregone sets itself apart from many similar-looking games in the 2D action genre by adding Diablo-style randomized loot. In my brief PAX demo I found rare bows and swords that gave multiple stat bonuses. The demo ended right after teasing a big boss fight. I desperately need to play more of this game.

From Rust

Developer: Razbury Games
Platforms: PC (Steam)
Release: TBA

Digital card games are all the rage, but From Rust is trying to do something different. It’s a cooperative dungeon-crawling card game with a punky Mad Max-like theme. There’s a lot of depth under the deck, including crafting, leveling, boss battles, party management, and a full campaign story with fun comic characters. From Rust is currently in limited Alpha Testing, and you can hop onto the Razbury Games Discord server to request a Steam key.

Garden Story

Developer: Picogram
Platforms: PC, Mac
Release: Spring 2020

A mixture of Stardew Valley’s wholesome farm town with Zelda-like dungeon-delving is a recipe for indie success. Garden Story stars Concord, an adorable plum with the will to help their community of Autumn Town. The art, music, and dialogue gave me all the warm feelings from Stardew Valley. My demo only scratched the surface of this lovely throwback to 16-bit RPGs, and I could definitely see myself falling in love with Garden Story later this year.

Ghost Runner

Developer: One More Level
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release: 2020

Ghost Runner is a cyberpunk first-person slasher. Taking place entirely within a futuristic mega-tower, I play as a cybernetically enhanced ghost runner, running, swinging, and slashing my way through the dystopian tower. The ghost runner is fast but very mortal; a single shot from a guard ends my life. Thankfully the game includes generous checkpoints and instant reloading, making each combat situation a hyper fast-paced puzzle of enjoyable trial and error as I slide, dodge, wall-run, and slow time to swiftly dispatch my enemies.

Greak: Memories of Azur

Developer: Navegante
Platforms: TBA
Release: Early 2020

Tucked away in the PAX South Latinx Lounge was a gorgeous 2D action-platformer starring three siblings who are trying to escape their homeland after an invasion. In the demo for Greak: Memories of Azur, the smallest brother, Greak, a nimble swordfighter, finds his spell-slinging sister Adara. I could seamlessly swap between both siblings to step on pressure plates, activate levers, and use their different skills to defeat enemies. I’ve longed for a modern spiritual sequel to The Lost Vikings series, and Greak looks ready to deliver.

Iron Danger

Developer: Action Squad Studios
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
Release: 2020

There’s no shame in quick-saving before a major combat encounter in an RPG (okay, maybe a little shame). In Iron Danger there’s no need. Early on the main character acquires a time-traveling device, allowing her and a partner to travel several crucial seconds back in time. Time-travel manifests in-game as video editing that I can quickly scrub through, watching the action play out – and reverse, in slow-motion. By playing with time I can dodge attacks, set up traps, and bait enemies. It’s an intriguing mechanic on top of a cool fantasy world of spells and mechs, built from Finnish folklore.

Konsui Fighter

Developer: Circean Studios
Platforms: Mobile (Android, iOS)
Release: 2020 (Early Access  currently available on Android)

A fighting game on your phone? My skepticism was quickly replaced by admiration when I got my hands on Konsui Fighter. “Konsui” translates to coma, and the mind of Professor Tsuburaya has become a battlefield between different aspects of his personality, including sorrow, rage, and pleasure. Controls are easily handled with on-screen buttons and finger-swipes, keeping each character’s move-list simple but robust. The hand-drawn artwork, beautiful animations, and original soundtrack create an impressive game in a tiny package. Konsui Fighter is currently available in Early Access on Android, and launching later this year on iOS.

Kunai

Developer: Turtleblaze
Platforms: PC (Steam), Switch
Release: Early 2020

A kunai is a diamond-shaped throwing knife often found in RPGs. Kunai is also a 2D metroidvania starring a cloak-wearing robot with a tablet for a face. Early in Tabby’s adventures in the robot-controlled wasteland, I acquire a pair of kunai attached to ropes. By using the left and right bumpers I can fire the kunai at smart-targeted angles to my left and right. I had a blast grappling onto walls and swinging from ceilings to slash at enemies, all to the delightful facial animations of Tabby. With tight controls and a retro aesthetic, Kunai could prove to be this year’s Shovel Knight.

Kung Fu Kickball

Developer: WhaleFood Games
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One
Release: Early 2020

Kung Fu Kickball looks like an old-school fighting game or beat ’em up, with one very important distinction: it’s a sporting match! One on one or 2v2 teams face off on a large 2D battlefield with a ball in the middle. I only need three buttons for victory: jump, punch, and dash. The action is immediately frantic and hilarious as players are encouraged to knock each other around while trying to slam the ball into their opponents’ bell. Different stages change up the action by putting up walls, ramps, platforms, and environmental hazards like a sandstorm, and players can choose between three different classes.

The Last Friend

Developer: Stonebot Games
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One
Release: 2020

Let’s set aside the fact that The Last Friend is an excellent mashup of side-scrolling tower defense and beat ’em up and focus on what really matters: the doggos. In the post-apocalyptic wastes, one man sets out with his beloved chihuahua to rescue dogs in their RV. That’s a great premise for a TV show, but for now we’ll settle for a charming tower defense game. Place turrets and walls between the rampaging enemies and your van of good bois. But even the best-placed defenses won’t get it done alone, and I need to run down the lanes to take tackle molotov-throwing marauders myself. You already had me with rescuing and defending dogs, but it helps that The Last Friend is a great game, too.

Neko Ghost, Jump!

Developer: Burgos Games
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Release: TBA

Rotating between 2D and 3D platforming levels isn’t an entirely new concept; older games like Super Paper Mario used it to great effect. Yet it’s rare enough to still feel novel and interesting, as with Neko Ghost, Jump. Even the earliest level designs in my demo required constant flipping between both views to access new blocks and passages. To defeat enemies, the titular cat summons its ghost form, which is armed with a sword. However, Neko still leaves behind a body that must be protected, creating a challenging and puzzle-y landscape to work through.

Partisans 1941

Developer: Alter Games
Platforms: PC
Release: TBA

Daedalic Entertainment is publishing this fine-looking stealth-tactics game from Moscow-based developer Alter Games. It tells a fictionalized story based on the historical events of the Soviets versus the Nazis in World War 2. Partisans 1941 isn’t a shooter but a tactics game, where stealth, patience, awareness, and synergy between your squad will ensure survival. In the demo I crept up to a Nazi encampment with my trio of soldiers, carefully putting two of them in cover while a third quietly knifed a guard and dragged the body into a basement. When a thrown knife didn’t quite make the kill on my next target, I ran back to my comrades, who opened up in a hail of gunfire. Partisans definitely hits all the right notes for a satisfying tactical experience.

Streets of Rage 4

Developer: Lizardcube, Guard Crush Games
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One
Release: 2020

Streets of Rage is often considered one of the best classic co-op beat ’em ups from the early 90s, and certainly one of my childhood favorites. I didn’t expect much from Streets of Rage 4 but within seconds of playing, I was thrown right back into the past in all the right ways. Axel, Blaze, and Adam return (along with new character Cherry) to the cartoony mean streets to dispense violent justice with flaming punches, guitar slams, and a variety of weapon power-ups. With a killer soundtrack, beautiful animations, and immediately satisfying gameplay, Streets of Rage 4 is the perfect example of a long-awaited sequel done right.

Wildermyth

Developer: Worldwalker Games
Platforms: PC
Release: 2020 (Available now via Steam Early Access)

Of all the games on this list, Wildermyth may be the hardest to define, and I mean that as a compliment. A randomly generated group of heroes rises up to defend their fantasy world, with grid-based, XCOM-like tactical combat and a striking papercraft art style. Story-beats play out in comic panels, where players make choices that affect their heroes’ stats, abilities, and loot. My ranger was drawn into an ominous flame, where I chose to let him be absorbed. Instead of perishing, he gained a special new fiery attack. Wildermyth is designed to be multi-generational, managing my squad through hero deaths and retirements as I build my legacy – or call on them in future playthroughs. All of these systems working together made Wildermyth one of the more intriguing indie games at the expo hall.

The Ten Best Family Games of 2019

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It’s the calm before the storm as we head into 2020, with with a pair of next-gen consoles looming on the horizon from Sony and Microsoft. This year was more than an afterthought for games, however, and Nintendo continues to release smash hits for the Switch.

Gaming families had plenty of excellent choices this year, though you’ll definitely want to own a Switch if you don’t already have one – nearly half the games on our list are exclusive to Nintendo’s excellent handheld hybrid. Here is the (alphabetical) list of our favorite family games of 2019.

Doraemon: Story of Seasons

You may not have heard of classic 1970s anime and manga series Doraemon, but chances are the words Harvest Moon or Stardew Valley will excite you. Doraemon: Story of Seasons infuses the enjoyable farming gameplay of Harvest Moon (now called Story of Seasons) with the youthful characters of Doraemon, including the titular time-traveling cat and his helpful gadgets.

Platforms: PC (Steam), Switch

Dragon Quest Builders 2

Dragon Quest Builders mashed up two great tastes that taste great together – the colorful enemies of venerable RPG series Dragon Quest, with the building, crafting, and blocky world of Minecraft. The result was an instant hit. Dragon Quest Builders 2 adds online (and local network) co-op multiplayer, and is available on Nintendo Switch.

Platforms: PC (Steam), PlayStation 4, Switch

Kingdom Hearts 3

Kingdom Hearts fans had to wait an eternity for the return of Sora, Donald, and Goofy with this beloved mash-up series of Disney and Final Fantasy. While the gameplay in Kingdom Hearts 3 is still firmly rooted in its original early 2000s PS2 era, there’s an undeniable joy playing within the Disney and Pixar worlds like Frozen, Toy Story, and Pirates of the Caribbean.

Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One

Luigi’s Mansion 3

Nintendo knocked it out of the park with this excellent follow-up to the Luigi’s Mansion series, turning the haunted mansion into an entire ghost-filled hotel. Luigi is armed with more ghost-busting abilities, such as cloning himself as Gooigi, which can also serve as a family-friendly local co-op mode. On top of a fun campaign, up to eight players can play competitively or cooperatively in various multiplayer modes.

Platforms: Switch

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order

It’s been ten years since we last enjoyed a Marvel Ultimate Alliance co-op brawler, and The Black Order more than satisfies our need to punch, blast, fry, and zap henchmen and villains. We love mixing and matching our team of different Marvel heroes from a roster of over 30, including Avengers, X-Men, and Guardians of the Galaxy.

Platforms: Switch

Planet Zoo

As a full park sim Planet Zoo is geared more toward teens and adults, but thanks to the excellent animal AI, robust creation tools, and focus on animal conservation, it makes an excellent game for families to work together to learn about animals and their complex habitat needs. A lengthy campaign help introduces the park tools and management systems while offering a wonderful variety of biomes and locations, then you can try your hand at building your own zoo from the ground up in sandbox or franchise modes.

Platforms: PC (Steam)

Pokémon Sword and Shield

There’s little doubt that a Pokémon game will grace our list of best family games. Even with the somewhat mixed results of Pokémon Sword and Shield, there’s no denying that it provides hours and hours of catching hundreds of Pokémon and battling through the UK-inspired Galar region. The free-roaming Wild Area alone is worth the price of admission for Pokémon’s eighth generation.

Platforms: Switch

Super Mario Maker 2

Super Mario Maker was a phenomenal game when it released on Wii U in 2015, finally giving us the power to create our own 2D Mario levels. The Switch sequel is basically more of the same, plus tons of new features like new enemies, components, day/night and biome themes, and  the Super Mario 3D World tileset. All that along with a much improved single-player campaign and online and local multiplayer makes Super Mario Maker 2 a must-have for Mario fans.

Platforms: Switch

Untitled Goose Game

The official tagline nails this quirky indie game’s description: It’s a lovely morning in the village, and you are a horrible goose. Play as a goose in Untitled Goose Game with a checklist of hilariously mischievous tasks such as stealing from a store, knocking over vases, hiding in boxes, and causing light-hearted mayhem for these poor townsfolk.

Platforms: PC (Epic Games Store), PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One

Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair

Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is a much improved spin-off of the 3D platformer series that combines 3D overworld travel with 2.5D level designs, starring the chameleon Yooka and his bat companion Laylee. The result is a satisfying spiritual successor to classic 2D platformers like Donkey Kong Country.

Platforms: PC (Steam), PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One

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7 Things We Love (And 6 Things We Hate) About Pokémon Sword and Shield

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Pokémon Sword and Shield represent the first new main series Pokémon games on a home console, and the results are mixed.

Instead of playing it safe, the series boldly introduces many new mechanics and features, such as the free roaming Wild Area, co-op Raid Battles, and Dynamax. But these new features come with some annoying growing pains. We’ve listed below everything we love – and hate, about Pokémon Sword and Shield.

LOVE The Wild Area

The wild area is the single biggest defining feature of Pokémon Sword and Shield. This area is like a mini-MMO as we’re free to wander around and get into battles with stronger Pokémon. Each area within has its own weather and native Pokémon, making it worthwhile to check back in, not to mention hunting for items and finding Max Raid Battles.

HATE Everywhere Else

As cool as the Wild Area is, it makes the other routes feel archaic in comparison. Snapping back to a fixed camera and linear paths is how Pokémon always plays, which now feels like a step backwards. We’d love future Pokémon games to fully embrace the more open-ended Wild Area regions going forward.

LOVE New Pokémon

Every generation adds new Pokémon, and Gen 8 has some of the best designs we’ve seen in awhile, like the punk-rock Electric/Poison Toxtricity, the Rock/Fire mine cart pokémon Carkol, and the epic mustachioed Fire/Bug Centiskorch.

HATE Missing Pokémon

The big controversy leading up to Gen 8’s release was the lack of a National Dex, meaning we would not be able to, you know, Catch ‘Em All. While 400 Pokémon in Pokémon Sword and Shield are plenty to enjoy the game, it’s a major bummer that another 400+ were left on the cutting room floor. Hopefully they’ll be added in future Switch releases.

LOVE Swapping Pokémon

One of the best new quality of life improvements from last year’s Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu/Eevee was the ability to quickly swap Pokémon between our active party and our storage boxes anywhere in the field. It’s a much-needed feature, and we’re motivated to use many more Pokémon than ever before.

HATE Very Easy Difficulty

Pokémon games are still designed for kids and rarely present a challenge to anyone who has experience playing them. But the games have been getting steadily easier over the years. We were annoyed to see the party-wide EXP Share (added in Gen 6) built into Gen 8, and no longer an option we could turn off. That combined with getting XP when catching pokémon make it almost impossible to not become over-leveled for the majority of the campaign, where we continue to battle trainers with only one or two pokémon, and easily exploitable single-type gyms.

LOVE Max Raid Battles

A neat concept from Pokémon GO were raid battles, co-op events where multiple trainers came together to defeat super-powerful pokémon. In Gen 8, that means extra large dynamax (or unique Gigantamax) pokémon. Finding dens with limited time raid battles give a fun excuse to travel around The Wild Area, and they remain enjoyable through harrowing post-game fights. Thankfully you can play them offline as well, though NPC allies often leave a lot to be desired (Magikarp – seriously?).

HATE Online Multiplayer

The online multiplayer integration is an excellent example of a good idea that’s poorly executed. We love the idea of being able to seamlessly log on and seeing other trainers around us in the world. But the framerate suffers, trainers teleport around, and joining raid battles or trade requests is a convoluted nightmare. We’d love to see more online multiplayer features in future Pokémon games but it needs serious work.

LOVE Seeing Pokémon in the World

One of our favorite features from Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee/Pikachu was seeing Pokémon wandering around in the grass. It brings the games to life like nothing before, and we’re thrilled to see that becoming the new normal with Gen 8. Sword and Shield actually use both methods to hide rarer pokémon behind exclamation points, giving us a good reason to root around in the grass while avoiding (or seeking) wandering pokémon.

HATE Gigantamax

Gigantamax is another good idea that’s horribly executed. Certain pokémon can transform into more powerful unique forms when dynamaxing, called Gigantamax. But the horrible catch (pun intended) is that you have to find these specific pokémon from Max Raid Battles. That awesome Centiskorch that’s been with you since Route 3? Kick her to the curb if you want to get a special Gigantamax version. The best solution would have been to make it a rare item, like the Z-Max, or have it ingrained in all versions of that pokémon, like Mega Evolutions.

LOVE Sports Theme

The Galar Region is based on the United Kingdom,home to big FIFA sports fans, which translates nicely to the world of Pokémon. Instead of tiny buildings where trainers battle gym leaders in a back room, Galar Gym battles are a major sporting event, with gigantic stadiums and various mini-games leading up to a final showdown, with cheering crowds and epic dynamaxing pokémon.

HATE Team Yell

We get it – the sports theme means the antagonistic group in Sword and Shield are a bunch of soccer hooligans. Upset sports fans are a far cry from organized crime syndicates who want to control the world through severe climate change, or an underground resistance who want to free pokémon from their trainers, as in previous Pokémon games.

LOVE Poké Jobs

Thanks to the new Poké Jobs system, all those pokémon languishing in our storage boxes can be put to good to use. By visiting any Pokémon Center, we can see a list of jobs that require certain types of pokémon. Sending pokémon off for hours or even a full day lets them earn a significant amount of experience and generate items and money, while we enjoy catching more pokémon to feed our burgeoning business empire. Whatcha need done? I gotta pokémon for that.