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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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.

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Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3 DLC Plans and Season Pass Details

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During the San Diego Comic-Con convention last weekend, Marvel Games announced their post-launch DLC plans for Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order, which launched exclusively on the Nintendo Switch on Friday, July 19.

The panel confirmed three paid DLC packs that will release throughout the rest of 2019 and early 2020, as well as several free updates. The first free update will add X-Men heroes Cyclops and Colossus on August 30, as well as a number of alternate outfits for every character in the months to come.

The three paid DLC packs will feature the X-Men, the Fantastic Four and Marvel Knights. These packs will include new story content as well as playable characters.

The first paid DLC pack will arrive September 30. It’s called Marvel Knights: Curse of the Vampire and will feature Blade, Moon Knight, Morbius, and Punisher. Details on the next two DLC packs have not yet been revealed, but safe to speculate they will each include four new characters.

The DLC packs will not be available for individual purchase. The only way to get them is by purchasing the Expansion Pass ($19.99), which includes all three packs.

Loki was also announced as a newly added character during the Marvel Games panel, but most players won’t even realize it as he was added right into the launch game as an unlockable character.

Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is available now on Nintendo Switch.

Nintendo E3 2019 Schedule, Games, and eShop Sale

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Sony may be pulling out completely but Nintendo will still be in full attendance at E3 2019, which takes place next week on June 11-13. The show floor will show off big upcoming games like Pokémon Sword and Shield, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening remake, and Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order.

As usual, Nintendo will kick off the official convention times with a Nintendo Direct on Tuesday, June 11 at 9 am Pacific/12 pm Eastern. The Direct will focus entirely on games coming out later this year. Following the Direct will be a Nintendo Treehouse Live broadcast. It will showcase several new and upcoming Nintendo games. The Treehouse will return on Wednesday and again on Thursday, at the same time. The Thursday stream will focus on indie games.

As previously announced, Nintendo will feature multiple tournaments during E3, including the Splatoon 2 World Championship and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate World Championship.

Newly announced is a Super Mario Maker 2 Invitational. Four members of the Super Mario Maker community have been invited to compete in a gauntlet of Super Mario Maker 2 courses. The tournaments are hosted at the Theatre at Ace Hotel, starting at 10 am. Admission is free but space is limited.

On the show floor the following announced games will be playable by attendees: Pokémon Sword, Pokémon Shield, Luigi’s Mansion 3, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3. Nintendo will utilize a new Warp Pipe Pass as a fast pass system. The Warp Pipe Pass will allow attendees to reserve times to play games rather than wait in long lines.

“The 2019 lineup for Nintendo Switch aims to deliver smiles with many different unique games and experiences,” said Doug Bowser, president, Nintendo of America. “Games available this holiday season will be the focus of our booth, and no matter where you live, you can participate in the fun events by watching Nintendo Treehouse: Live during E3 or visiting Nintendo Early Access events at Best Buy, which have a focus on Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order.”

If you’re not going to E3 next week, you can still take advantage of an eShop Sale. The digital sale on Switch and 3DS games starts June 11 and runs through June 18.