pokemon

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.

marvel ultimate alliance 3

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 Tips, Synergies, and Team Bonuses

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Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 is a flawed but fantastic action-brawler (read our review). One of its biggest flaws is how poorly it describes some of its underlying mechanics, such as attributes and synergies. We’ve compiled some quick tips, details, and strategies so you can spend less time staring at statistics and more time punching bad guys.

Stat Breakdown

Every hero has six stats: Strength, Mastery, Resilience, Durability, Energy, and Vitality. When it comes to equipping them with ISO-8, you’re going to want to know which heroes benefit the most from which stat boosts.

Strength affects physical basic attacks as well as any power that’s listed as melee, projectile, or piercing. Heroes that benefit the most from Strength are entirely focused on physical attacks and abilities, such as Captain America, Hulk, and Ms. Marvel.

Mastery affects energy attacks and abilities. Magic and elemental heroes will benefit the most from pumping up Mastery, such as Scarlet Witch, Dr. Strange, and Crystal. Note that certain heroes’ basic attacks will also scale off Mastery instead of Strength if they shoot fireballs or bolts of energy, such as Wasp. Oddly, in what seems like an oversight, Psylocke uses Strength, not Mastery, for her basic attacks.

Durability and Resilience are your defenses against enemy physical and energy attacks respectively. The higher the defensive stat, the less damage you take from that source. It’s possible from some heroes to be great physical tanks, but fall apart against energy blasts.

Energy and Vitality determine your Energy Points (EP) and Health Points (HP). Every hero benefits from Vitality though melee heroes will need it more than their ranged counterparts. Likewise heroes that rely more on their powers will want as much Energy as possible.

Synergize

Synergizing powers is incredibly important in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3. There are two different radial menus for accessing your super powers. Holding down R lets you perform any of your abilities by yourself. Holding down ZR enables synergy attacks, but only if someone nearby has the right synergy trait for your powers. If some of your powers are grayed out, it means no one nearby has the right synergy trait. This can be especially painful in the early levels when each character only has one or two abilities. By level 20 everyone has four abilities, making synergies much more common.

Synergy traits are listed on the power screen, directly below the ability’s trait. The in-game tips menu only lists some of the possible combinations. When viewing powers on the Hero Select screen, these traits show up as different icons next to the powers, such as a snowflake for Freeze and a fist for Launch. You can either rely on trial and error to find the right combos, or peruse user-made graphs like this one.

Synergy attacks boost your abilities in fun new ways, such as adding fire to a tornado, or doubling the size of an explosion. You generally want to perform synergy attacks as much as possible.

Your AI controlled allies can enable synergies as well. Whenever they perform an ability and you have a corresponding synergy trait, an ‘A’ prompt will flash over your portrait in the lower left corner. Hitting ‘A’ during the brief window will activate that synergy attack.

Elementalists are Friends with Benefits

Some of the best synergy traits are the elements: burn, freeze, and shock, and whirlwind if we include it for air. Characters that can perform these moves with these traits often synergize with just about anything, making them wonderful team members to include, even if you don’t necesarrily enjoy playing them. Excellent Elementalists include Crystal, Star-Lord, Storm, Ghost Rider, and Wasp.

Block and Dodge

It’s easy to forget in the chaos of large battles, but it becomes important to know how (and when) to dodge attacks. Holding L allows your character to block, significantly reducing all damage. Hold L while moving will result in a dodge roll, one of the most useful tools for any hero. Most enemies have easy to see wind-up attacks, and you don’t want to be caught flat-footed.

Charge to Stagger Big Enemies

Any enemy who’s not a grunt (including bosses) has an additional purple health bar called the Stagger Gauge. Attacks deplete this bar first, which temporarily stuns the enemy and allows you to damage the enemy’s health bar.

Hero abilities are all rated for damage to health and to stagger, and charge abilities specifically are well suited to damaging the Stagger Gauge, making them a great opening move when facing these more powerful foes.

Because charge is so good against stronger enemies, you always want to include one or two heroes who can perform charge attacks on your team, and upgrade the charge abilities ASAP. Thankfully the Charge trait is very common and just about every melee hero posses a charge ability, such as Hulk, Captain America, Ghost Rider, Psylocke, and Captain Marvel.

Save Extreme Attacks for Stunned Enemies

Extreme attacks are triggered by tapping the L + R buttons when your Extreme bar is filled up – that’s the yellow circle around your character portrait. Tapping L + R repeatedly allows other characters to join in (assuming their bars are full as well) to unleash an Alliance Extreme Attack, the most powerful ability you can perform, and turning the battlefield into a kaleidoscope of death.

However, it’s best to time these big attacks for the right moment, such as when a boss, or a room full of stronger enemies, are stunned. You’ll know they’re stunned when their purple bar is depleted, following by a glass-breaking sound as they enter a stunned animation. That’s the time to pull your Extreme Attacks, doing massive damage to their HP. Gleeful cackling is optional but encouraged.

Infinity Trials for Grinding

If you enjoy switching heroes, you’ll find the campaign quickly outpacing your ability to keep everyone leveled up. To make matters worse, the story annoyingly shoves nearly half its roster at you in the beginning of Chapter 2, where many heroes will languish in low-level purgatory.

That’s where the Infinity Trials come in. These challenges are designed to be replayed many times to grind your heroes’ levels and earn XP cubes and ISO-8 loot drops.

The best Trials for boosting heroes’ XP are the Rush trials, as they provide large amounts of enemies, which equate to more XP gains. You can power-level lower level heroes by slotting them into a higher level team, and using that team to quickly clear the highest level rush trial you have access to, such as the Lvl. 24 Rush at Avengers Tower. Upon completion, many of these trials reward XP cubes over and over again, granting another nice boost when leveling up heroes.

Pay Attention to Trial Rules

Frustrated by how you’re dealing no damage to Doctor Octopus in the Lvl. 10 Synergy Trial? Read the fine print: Synergy attacks deal more damage but everything else deals less damage, including Extreme Attacks. It’s important to note when trials have special conditions that you have to exploit, while others are simply beating on bad guys before time runs out.

And don’t worry about three-starring everything early, you can always come back once you have higher level heroes, upgraded powers and the right ISO-8’s equipped to wipe the floor with earlier trials.

Alliance Enhancement

The lab is where you want to spend all those credits and enhancement points you’ve been earning, which is accessible on the main menu or any SHIELD checkpoint. It’s a series of grid-webs full of passive bonuses, which should be familiar to fans of action-RPGs like Path of Exile.

You can only unlock adjacent bonuses starting from the middle. It’s best to go toward the edges first, as you will unlock additional grid-webs. Filling out an entire hex grid will unlock a major central bonus. A great bonus to aim for early is in the upper left corner (unlocked from the Extreme Gauge Recovery bonus). Filling out that blue energy grid results in a flat 10% XP boost for all heroes!

Don’t neglect the Enhancement grids as they provide lots of stat boosts that quickly add up.

Upgrade ISO-8

About half-way through the campaign you’ll gain the ability to upgrade ISO-8, which are crystals you earn in battle and can equip on heroes. ISO-8 provide stat boosts and other benefits. You can upgrade them via the Lab. It’s a good idea to check the Lab every so often for ISO-8 upgrades, as it’s a good way to turn the dozens of ISO-8 you’ll earn into upgrading the few you have equipped.

Team-Ups

Finding stellar team combinations is part of the fun. Every hero has several team affiliations, with each affiliation resulting in a different passive stat boost for the entire active team. On the Hero Select screen, press Y to view all the team bonuses, or tap L to view your current roster’s affiliations. The Guardians of the Galaxy, for example, grant a bonus to Resilience from 2% (with two members) up to 8% (for four members). Team Bonuses are cumulative, meaning that characters can earn bonuses from multiple teams. Captain Marvel, for example, can contribute a team bonus to her fellow Guardians (know your comic history!) as well as to Avengers and Women of Marvel.

Most characters have four or five team bonuses. Oddly Gamora is one of the most team-friendly heroes around, having no less than eight (!) affiliations: Guardians of the Galaxy, Femme Fatales, Agile Fighter, Ultimate Alliance 3, Women of Marvel, Family Values, Martial Artist, and Cutting Edge. No matter who’s in your squad, Gamora will probably compliment it.

If you’re looking for a high team bonus boost, check out the X-Force gang: Deadpool, Psylocke, Wolverine, and Nightcrawler contribute a whopping 17% Strength and 8% vitality bonus, thanks to the four-person bonuses of X-Men, X-Force, and Cutting Edge. Considering all these heroes benefit greatly from both strength and vitality, this is one of the most powerful teams in the mid-game, and when you unlock Elektra, you can squeeze out a few more stat bonuses.

Other good-looking team comps include:

  • Black Web-heads: Venom, Black Widow, Spider-Gwen, and Miles Morales
  • Midnight Sons: Dr. Strange, Elsa Bloodstone, Ghost Rider, and Scarlet Witch
  • The Defenders: Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Dr. Strange, Daredevil
  • Old School Avengers: Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, Wasp

Find one or two heroes you love, and build a team around them. Look for good synergy traits and team bonuses – or throw all that out and build your own Marvel dream team.

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.

final assault

PAX South 2019 Preview: Wage Tabletop VR Warfare in Final Assault

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While once prolific in the 90s, real time strategy games have ebbed in recent years. Controlling multiple units while managing resources, maintaining map awareness, and researching new weapons of war is a daunting task when armed with a mouse and keyboard, and nigh impossible anywhere else.

Yet I was blown away by how well Phaser Lock Interactive’s VR real time strategy game, Final Assault, captured all the fun of a real time strategy game while streamlining all the messy bits, creating an immersive virtual tabletop wargame.

At PAX South 2019 I was able to get some hands-on time (and heads-in for VR) with the 1v1 PvP mode for Final Assault, on the Hill-512 map.

I was immediately pleased with the aesthetic and size of the battlefield. Final Assault smartly keeps the World War 2 battlefield small and intimate so you don’t have to spend any time jogging around your living room or slowly pulling yourself across the contested war zone.

The cardboard and plastic art style is very reminiscent of the classic Army Men toy soldiers, or popular miniature wargames like Memoir ’44, giving the entire game an enjoyable tabletop vibe. Several times during the demo I was so distracted by the detail of the units, animations, and buildings that I fell behind in troop deployment.

“We used train sets as references. It’s amazing how detailed those train sets can get,” says Michael Daubert, CEO, Phaser Lock Interactive. “We wanted to make it a compelling and beautiful environment. It helps as well with performance and being able to build big environments and run at 90 frames per second.”

“One of the things I like about our maps is that if you look off into the distance, it doesn’t look like you’re in a fake world. I feel like I could go look and see what’s on the other side of those hills,” says Todd Bailey, Creative Director.

final assault

 

There are no resources to mange nor fog of war to worry about. A single currency level gradually ticks up, creating quick decisions on which units to buy, or to wait and unlock more advance units. Supply boxes will periodically air drop onto the map, granting a quick boost of money to whoever gets there first.

“Originally we created an entire RTS game, and it was crazy. There was way too many buttons, but when we took that out, you were waiting too long for stuff to build up. When you’re in VR you want to get into the action as quick as possible,” says Daubert. “What we did is focus more on the combat itself. We took away base building and tech trees. I wanted to focus on the faster gameplay of what an RTS can be. We’ve created a happy medium between RTS and MOBA that gets the player in as quickly as possible without the mental fatigue of trying to manage everything.”

A console-based strategy game is going to live and die by its control scheme. Final Assault’s drop-and-drag system worked perfectly to quickly get units out on the battlefield and into the fight.

The clipboard UI looks and feels great. I hold my tech tree catalog in one hand and simply grab the unit I want, like a biplane or tank, and plop it onto the map. Final Assault uses the lane-based combat of MOBAs to provide an easy way of handling multiple units. If a unit is dropped into one of the main lanes on a map, they’ll automatically follow it, engaging enemy forces along the way.

Infantry will constantly spawn and push the lane, creating a constant tug-of-war. It’s up to me to purchase and deploy the right units, and set them up in strategic places. Bombers can soften up tanks, while anti-air guns will help prevent an aerial ambush, and artillery can bombard fortifications from afar.

final assault

The demo ended as I deployed my Axis forces’ ultimate weapon – a V-2 rocket. I watched in gleeful satisfaction as it physically launched from my base and soared toward my opponent’s to the warning sounds of klaxons.

I came away really impressed with how quickly I was able to grasp the controls and flow of the lane-based warfare, despite having very little VR  experience. Final Assault already looks and plays great, and is shaping up to be a worthy competitive experience for any VR general.

Final Assault is coming to Steam Early Access on February 12, with a full launch later this April on Oculus and Vive. It will launch later this Summer on PlayStation VR and support cross-platform play. The final game will feature a single player campaign as well as online multiplayer PvP with 14 maps at launch, and more factions to arrive as post-launch DLC. It’s rated E10+.

battle princess madelyn

How a Young Daughter, a Late Dog, and an 80’s Platformer Inspired Battle Princess Madelyn

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When your child is having a rough time, many fathers would bring home a teddy bear, or take them out for ice cream. But for pixel artist and indie game developer Christopher Obritsch, he decided to make a game.

“[My daughter] Maddi was bullied in daycare and at school,” says Obritsch. “The boys picked on her, telling her she couldn’t do things because she was a girl. I remember being very angry. I wanted to do something to cheer her up. I have scoliosis so I’m not exactly the playful dad I wish I was – so I make up for it in the only ways I know how.”

Battle Princess Madelyn was born, a retro-inspired platformer starring a pixelated version of Obritsch’s young daughter.

“I recently had left my full time job at a game studio near where I’m located. I had the money to do something but not at the scale it ended up being,” says Obritsch. “And since the game was for Maddi, I wanted to do everything I could with it. And so we came to Kickstarter.” The Kickstarter campaign launched on Maddi’s fifth birthday. “I thought, what a great way to prove to Maddi that she really can do whatever she wants to do.”

As many indie game projects inevitably go, Battle Princess Madelyn ended up as a much larger game than what was originally designed. The Kickstarter campaign was a big success, reaching over CA$ 200,000 with over 3,400 backers. It’s openly inspired by Obritsch’s all-time favorite game, Ghouls ‘N Ghosts, a challenging 16-bit action-platformer from the 80s.

“I like the dark horror themed stuff. Always have. So seeing Ghouls ‘N Ghosts when I was a kid? Awesome,” says Obritsch. “My favorite movies of all time all sport dead guys or people fighting dead guys – BeetleJuice, Robocop, Ghostbusters, Evil Dead 2, etc. I loved drawing skeletons when I was kid – gross stories that got my parents called in to talk to the teacher.”

Obritsch’s love of the game fueled a passion for pixel art and programming, and eventually a career in multimedia and graphic designer. He got into making games as a hobby, where his new bouncing baby served as his muse. “I ended up doing a very early game for Maddi. One of the levels ended up a 3D shoot ’em up where she is on my back and we’re flying through rainbows and shooting bumble bees and crows while picking up coins. I ended up getting discovered by an ad agency for a musician and almost won the Brit Music Awards that year for Best Interactive Video.”

Obritsch credits his daughter Madelyn as his Creative Director for Battle Princess Madelyn. “She either draws me pictures or sits with me and tells me what to do. She’s my harshest critic!” He recalls a specific instance where five year-old Maddi came home from a friend’s house with a new drawing that she was very proud of.

“She explained a boss fight she had designed. It’s a giant cat you shoot in the bum, but you have to feed it to get it to turn around. I was just shocked – she had come up with a strategy for a boss fight on her own. That was a proud daddy moment,” says Obritsch. “I’m hoping to find that picture for the Kickstarter art book.”

battle princess madelyn

Another member of Obritsch’s family made it into Battle Princess Madelyn, their late dog Fritzy, whose passing partially inspired the story mode. “The story kind of came into play when we knew the real Fritzy was going to be leaving us soon. The intro of the game then started off with Fritzy getting blasted and becoming a ghost dog.”

Young Maddi was very attached to the family dog and took his passing especially hard. “Maddi would talk at night about becoming a vet and making a blue pill to make Fritzy all better. It was heart-breaking to listen to. I decided to put him in the game so she could keep him forever in some form.”

The result was a friendly companion that returns to the titular Battle Princess after his untimely death in the intro. Ghost Fritzy gain new powers over the course of the story, and is capable of resurrecting Madelyn if she falls in battle. “She loves Ghost Fritzy and thinks its very cute,” says Obritsch.

battle princess madelynDesigning Battle Princess Madelyn has been a labor of love, but with Kickstarter came bigger responsibilities and longer hours. “I work now more than I ever have,” says Obritsch. “We averaged out that I work about 126 hours a week for the past three years. It’s taken a toll on me both mentally and physically.”

Obritsch adds that because he works from home, the long hours don’t bother him as much. He sneaks in breaks with his family whenever he can (his wife Lina works as the company CFO, and directed the game’s trailer). “I have the option of going upstairs and seeing my family if I need a 10-minute break,” he says. “And Maddi sits with me a lot while making the game. She has her desk right next to mine where she draws.”

For the future, Causal Bit Games plans on making a sequel to Battle Princess Madelyn. In fact, there’s a hidden ending that teases the sequel that may involve Obritsch’s youngest daughter Sofia. But he notes that he’s also looking at a break from platformers, and possibly even retiring from pixel art altogether and moving on to something bigger.

“As stressful as it’s been making [Battle Princess Madelyn], I have loved every moment of the creative process,” says Obritsch. “It was wonderful to share this kind of a project with Maddi. To show her that we really can do whatever we set our minds to – no matter what people say or think. It’s been a wonderful journey. And now our youngest daughter Sofia will need her own game as well!”

Battle Princess Madelyn is coming later this year to PC, PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One, Wii U, and PS Vita.