Amazon Games’ first published title sinks into a familiar space in recent years: the free-to-play online hero shooter. To its credit, Crucible doesn’t try to remake Overwatch. Nor does it…
I was the first person to play Animal Crossing: New Horizons in my house. I didn’t realize the power that would be bestowed upon me as the island’s primary resident representative. Now that my spouse and kid are enjoying the game – and playing more than me – we’ve discovered New Horizons’ frustrating limits on local co-op, holding back an otherwise endlessly endearing family game.
The first and biggest limitation is that every local player using the same Switch must share an island. Each player can use their own Nintendo accounts and set up their own homes. But they end up on the same island that the original player, the resident rep, chose at the beginning.
To play local co-op, each player will need to start the game on their account, set up their starter tent, and unlock the Call Resident app. From there, a player can use Call Resident in the Nook Phone menu to add a local player to the session. The player who started first will be the Leader. Only the Leader can talk to islanders, craft objects, and access their inventory. Players can switch leaders by going back to the Call Resident screen, or by shaking their Joy Con.
Sharing an island automatically creates several problems that online players with rowdy friends may have discovered – other players chopping down trees, destroying rocks, and otherwise harvesting all of your resources and altering the island.
Any player can use a Nook Miles ticket to travel to other islands, possibly meeting new potential islanders for their own island. If you’re sharing your island with others, it’s easy to end up with new island residents that you’ve never even met before (thankfully my kid picked an awesome pink frog with great musical tastes). These issues can be solved with communication and some household ground rules, but resources can become annoyingly scarce with everyone competing.
To make matters worse, only the resident rep can turn in quests and supplies to Tom Nook (or Isabelle), and receive the rewards in DIY Recipes and tools, as well as advance the story’s main events. The other players will have to purchase the recipes and tools they need after they’re unlocked.
This is particularly annoying during an early game quest that involves furnishing three new houses with indoor and outdoor objects. Not only is the resident rep given the only DIY recipes to make the dozen or so needed objects, but the other players can’t even see which objects are needed for each house – they’re simply told to ask their resident rep, as if they’re not real players themselves.
Thus my spouse was left harvesting wood and stone and mailing them to me, so I could craft the tables, chairs, and clotheslines needed for the houses, a needlessly annoying workaround.
Yet when it comes to the museum, my kid quickly donated the 15 initial bugs, fossils, and fish and unlocked the full museum before I barely had a chance to chat with Blathers. The museum keeps track of which player donated which item, which is admittedly a neat feature, but the rules of who can do what are oddly inconsistent.
Simultaneous co-op is even more strictly regulated, to the point where we hardly ever bother with it. One player is designated as the Leader. The Leader is the only player who has full access to their own inventory. The camera is tied to the Leader, teleporting any other players if they stray too far.
Non-leaders can still access whatever tools they have on them by cycling through with a button press (another minor annoyance). They can still chop trees and fish, but everything they pick up will be transferred to a shared stash instead of their own inventory. Since you kind of need access to your inventory and crafting tables to do much of anything in Animal Crossing, playing simultaneous co-op is next to useless compared to just taking turns. Thankfully you can swap between Leaders without restarting the co-op session, though this too can quickly become tedious.
It’s a huge shame that we weren’t given full split-screen co-op for New Horizons, but the Switch’s handheld mode makes split-screen prohibitive. With a a never-ending stream of fun tasks, charming atmosphere, and engrossing customization, Animal Crossing: New Horizons has all the makings of the perfect family game. It’s a shame local co-op was treated as an afterthought.
I never paid much attention to the odd, square-headed figurines known as Funko, despite their incredible popularity and breadth of licenses. They couldn’t be scanned into their own video game series like Skylanders, nor unlock various Nintendo features as with Amiibo. Plop them into a series of tactical strategy board games, however, and you have my attention.
With intuitive rules, multiple game modes, and asymmetrical figures, the Funkoverse Strategy Games are a refreshing blend of family-friendly content with satisfying tactical gameplay.
The Funkoverse games originally released last fall in four-figure base sets ($39.99, up to four players) as well as smaller two-figure “expandalone” sets ($24.99, two players) using smaller figures with popular, kid-friendly licenses like Batman and Harry Potter.
The second wave of Funkoverse games are releasing in March, including four-figure and two-figure sets from Jurassic Park, two expandalone sets from the Golden Girls, and the first character-only expansion in Aggretsuko, the rage-prone anime cat from the Netflix series. Future sets releasing this summer include Back to the Future and Wonder Woman.
Each box includes a complete game, containing dice, tokens, and a double-sided game board to wage miniature tactical warfare. However, Funko Games and developer Prospero Hall (Disney Villainous) smartly recognized the mix-and-match quality of the Funko universe, and designed the Funkoverse games to be fully compatible with one another. It’s easy to field a dream team of whichever Funkoverse heroes and villains you like. Hermione, Bat Girl, and Rose from Golden Girls can team up against Harley Quinn, Dr. Ian Malcolm, and Rick Sanchez from Rick and Morty.
Two players (or two teams) begin by choosing one of the sides on the grid-based game board, and field a team of either two or three figures each. Each base game and expandalone set feature additional basic figures such as “Police Officer” (represented by small discs) to help pad out teams before you invariably buy more sets and figures.
Each set comes with four game modes, including capture the flag and territory control, and each figure comes with its own set of special abilities that operate on cooldowns. Players (or teams) take turns activating figures and performing actions such as moving, challenging opponents with dueling dice rolls, assisting allies, or performing special abilities.
Special abilities are thematically tied to each character. Batman has a grappling hook to quickly close the distance to the closest enemy, while the Jurassic Park Raptor can place ambush tokens to pop up in different places around the board. Clever girl.
Special abilities are limited by using tokens (two per character) with a cooldown tracker, with stronger abilities taking more time to recharge. Each Funkoverse figure also has a special ongoing trait. Defeating Joker lets him place a mystery box in his space, which he can later explode using his Bang! ability, while Harley can perform a free challenge attack when standing back up – securing an epic win for my opponent in a close game.
The scenarios play quickly while still leaving plenty of room for interesting tactical decisions. Do I spread my figures out to nab those precious point markers, or stay clumped together to form a defensive phalanx? Do I spend both my actions moving to a critical spot, but leaving myself vulnerable? Should I use Batman’s stronger special attack now, knowing it leaves me unable to use Relentless next turn if he fails and gets knocked down? Strategic depth comes from learning when to use which characters and how best to manage the limited ability tokens.
I’m delighted by how impressive the Funkoverse strategy games look and play. The figures are smaller than standard Funko in order to properly fit in the tactical grid, but look fantastic. The Funkoverse figures can also carry tiny weapons and tools that add their own special abilities, like Harley’s signature Mallet.
With a recommended age of 10+, younger kids will need some assistance with advanced tactics – or you could play without special abilities and ease them into the world of tactical strategy. The Funkoverse games are part of a rare breed of tabletop games that are fun with both kids and adults, making it a huge win for family game night.
Find Funkoverse Strategy games at Target, Amazon, and hobby game stores.
Image source: Latinx in Gaming
Tucked away in a second floor conference room at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio, Texas was an experimental section of PAX South 2020. The Latinx Lounge was a new area of the gaming convention hosted by the Latinx in Gaming community, and dedicated to providing games, panels and events featuring latinx creators, developers, and personalities.
The Latinx Lounge was a fantastic idea, and the organizers did a great job stuffing as many events as possible over the three-day convention, including panels with notable developers and streamers (some entirely in Spanish), a one-shot D&D live show in a world inspired by Latin America, and even Friday night Salsa dancing lessons.
— Guy ‘Yug’ Blomberg 🔜 #DICE2020 (@YugSTAR) January 18, 2020
The lounge also held a number of indie game from latinx developers, including Nevegante, Stonebot Studio, and HyperBeard Games. When the conference room wasn’t holding a full-scale event, the room was open for anyone to wander in and check out the games that awkwardly encircled the perimeter.
Unfortunately for those developers, PAX South goers have little reason to explore beyond the first floor of the convention center, which hosts the bright lights and loud noises of the PAX Arena tournament, the always busy hustle of the developers and vendors in the Expo Hall, and the more subdued but popular tabletop freeplay and tournament area.
In fact one of PAX South’s most unique features, the escape room-esque True Dungeon experience, was moved to the first floor next to the Expo Hall. And with the unique way the convention center is laid out, attendees can quickly jump back and forth between the handheld lounge on the 2nd floor above the entrance lobby, or even reach the third floor to access the PC and console freeplay areas, without ever walking past the Latinx Lounge.
At PAX South 2020, the only reason to explore the back end of the second floor (beyond the expo hall) was to attend a panel in one of the smaller theaters. Given the amount of panels and events hosted in the Latinx Lounge, it made sense to utilize a more private conference room. But it also meant the developers who wanted to showcase their games to passersby got the short end of the stick.
I dropped by the Latinx Lounge early Sunday afternoon, having spent two full days in the expo hall demoing games and chatting with developers and publishers. The room was so empty that at first I wasn’t sure I was in the right place. Lining the walls were several friendly developers with demo stations of their upcoming games. I didn’t have to make any appointments to jump on and play several of them in a row – a feat that’s largely impossible on the busy show floor.
I’m glad I made the time to go check it out, as I demoed some of my favorite games of the entire convention, including Stonebot’s 2D tower-defense brawler, The Last Friend, and Nevegante’s party-based platformer, Greak. All the developers were friendly and eager to chat, and some brought along game-branded merchandise to sell or hand out. But these games would have been much better served with a dedicated presence on the expo hall. Judging from this year’s map, the expo hall had plenty of room to spare.
A great example of ceding more prominent space to a new initiative was PAX Together. Like the indie-focused PAX Rising and Tabletop Indie Showcase, PAX Together had a dedicated space on the show floor that highlighted LGBTQ and other marginalized developers. It was hosted by Houston Gaymers and Gay Gaming Professionals and sponsored by Red Bull.
The games included in the PAX Together booth, like dating sim-meets-dungeon crawler Boyfriend Dungeon and the whimsical Zelda-like Garden Story, were not simply shoved into the Diversity Lounge, a dedicated space for underrepresented communities in gaming that has been an evolving feature of PAX conventions for the last several years. Thanks to Red Bull and the PAX Together organizers, they were given a prominent location in the expo hall with cheerful hosts and colorful banners to draw people in to check out the games.
PAX Together was a great source of relatively unknown (and completely unknown) indie games. Yet it was always a popular area thanks to its welcoming crew, open design, vibrant displays, and central location. I wish the games of the Latinx Lounge had been given the same treatment.
Both PAX Together and the Latinx Lounge brought many more developers – and more diverse developers, to PAX South 2020 than would otherwise have been able to attend. I saw a wider variety of games and met folks from varying backgrounds who enriched my PAX experience. Hopefully Latinx in Gaming can be given a proper booth in the expo hall in addition to hosting fun and insightful panels and events. I hope to see both initiatives become regular staples in all future PAX conventions.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Spoilers for Fire Emblem: Awakening.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses is exactly as I feared, a game that puts as big an emphasis, if not more, into building relationships, teaching classes, and walking around Garreg Mach Monastery as it does the actual turn-based tactical combat the series has been known for. Yet by deftly weaving these relationships and seminars into gaining new skills, new class recruits, and new story opportunities, Three Houses has proven that not only are the non-combat sections enjoyable, but are now integral to the series.
Fire Emblem has been one of my favorite RPG series, despite not even hitting the US until the early 2000s (in fact many US gamers were introduced to Fire Emblem via the inclusion of characters Marth and Roy in Super Smash Bros. Melee in 2001). The series features fantasy warfare, larger-than-life anime heroes and villains, and meaningful tactical combat.
In Fire Emblem: Awakening (2012) we began to see a shift, putting a bigger emphasis on the characters. More importantly, we could build relationships between our characters by having them fight near each other on the battlefield. These relationships would upgrade their Support ranking, granting additional bonuses when fielded together, as well as resulting in special mini-cutscenes between the two characters. By maximizing the support ranks for certain pairs of characters, they would fall in love, and a child from the future would unlock as a new recruit thanks to the timey-whimey plot.
This concept was so fun and successful that it continued into Fire Emblem Fates (2015), although the future-child thing didn’t make a lot of sense in that narrative, and I began to grow worried that the focus on socializing was taking away from the tactical combat I fell in love with.
Hot for Teacher
Three Houses takes socializing even further by rolling character advancement and recruitment into building these relationships, knowing your students, and teaching the right classes.
In Three Houses the main character, Byleth, becomes a professor at a military prep school for the all major noble houses of the land. The story is divided into months, weeks, and days. Each week I can choose to walk around the monastery, talking to students, completing fetch quests, and hosting meals and tea parties, engage in weekly seminars and lessons where I (or another faculty member) imparts my battlefield skills like sword, lance, or riding onto my students, or I can participate in side missions to see my well-molded team in action. Only at the end of each month do we engage in the next big story battle.
I expected to roll my eyes during these lengthy non-combat sections, but I was pleasantly surprised. The monastery is large enough to make exploring fun, but small enough to never get tedious (near-instant fast travel helps as well). Activities include planting crops, fishing, cooking meals, and sparring in duels. I wish that some of these events were full mini-games rather than little cutscenes (cooking and planting particularity), but all of them create a fun and regular checklist of things to do, not unlike a farm sim game.
The main focus is on interacting with the students of the monastery, both inside and outside my chosen house. For the students inside my house, I work to increase their motivation by bringing them the right lost items and gifts, based on their personalities and likes. Higher motivation means a more eager willingness to improve their skills when class is in session.
For students outside of my house, it’s all about recruitment. Regardless of which house you choose, nearly every character in the game can be recruited – and there are a ton of characters.
In previous Fire Emblem games characters would typically join as part of the story, but here it’s entirely up to me to devote the time into courting my favorite characters by showering them with gifts, hosting tea parties and selecting the right topics, cooking their favorite meals, and taking them on temporary battles to build our support, leading to fun dialogue scenes and eventually, hopefully, joining my roster. It’s an incredibly rewarding system.
It helps that Three Houses is the best-looking Fire Emblem game to date, especially considering the last three games were released on the Nintendo 3DS. The voice work and character design are phenomenal, lending memorable personalities for the 30-odd characters that are present around the Monastery right from the beginning of the game. Dorothea the singer looking for a man to settle down with. Bernadetta the adorable misfit suffering from social anxiety. Silvain the unrepentant ladies man who’s far more interesting once you get to know him. Each character has their own set of skills and class goals, though I can ultimately shape how I want them to grow to build my perfect army.
Around the time of Fire Emblem Fates I was worried about the direction the series was going, shoe-horning character supports and romantic pairings in order to gain their powerful time-traveling children. I couldn’t be more pleased with how Fire Emblem: Three Houses handles the social aspects, presenting a Harry Potter-like fantasy school that’s fun, rewarding, and meaningful. The only downside is I can never play with permadeath on again – I can’t bear to lose any of these wonderful characters.