Tag Archive: strategy


There is no more ubiquitous character in video games than Nintendo’s mascot, Mario. He’s raced go-karts, he’s played baseball and soccer, he’s taught kids how to type, and yes, there’s that whole saving the Mushroom Kingdom from Bowser a couple dozen times, too. So, the thought of Mario doing something new once again isn’t really that new at all. When it was revealed that his latest activity would be teaming up with Ubisoft’s anti-mascot the Rabbids in a tactical-RPG, however, I admit that seemed as random as the Rabbids themselves. But as is often the case, Mario can do no wrong, and with the Rabbids wreaking their usual brand of havoc, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle sees each group of characters play well off the strengths of the other to deliver one of the most fun tactical RPGs you’re likely to play.

The game begins in the real world, where a genius girl has invented a device called the SupaMerge. Just by looking at two items through a pair of fancy goggles, she can merge their molecules together into something useful, like looking at a flower and a lamp to produce a plant whose flowers are actual lightbulbs. The device is littered with bugs, though, and after packing it in after another night of troubleshooting, the girl goes to bed. It’s at this moment, riding in their iconic time-traveling washing machine, that the Rabbids randomly appear, and instantly start wreaking havoc in the girl’s workshop. It’s not long before one finds the SupaMerge, merges with it himself, and then can’t stop looking around at everything around him, including various Mario Bros. memorabilia. Soon, the Rabbids and their washing machine are catapulted into the Mushroom Kingdom, where the panicked Rabbid with the goggles (later dubbed Spawny) continues to merge things he shouldn’t—leaving Mario and friends having to team up with several Rabbids dressed in familiar Mario gear to try to restore a semblance of order.

There are two major parts to Mario + Rabbids gameplay: world exploration and battles. Each of the game’s four worlds is broken down into eight chapters, with a ninth if you count the boss at the end of each one. It may not sound like a lot of worlds, but the number actually works out pretty well in terms of providing legitimate length to the game (considering my first playthough pushed the 20-hour mark), and falls in with the Mario theme of eight stages per level. During most chapters, there will be sections of the world ravaged in some way by Spawny’s goggles that will require some puzzle solving in order to progress. Usually these consisted of having to press switches to move massive sections of the world, or place pipes to try to build a way forward, but the puzzles fit well in the vein of the Mario series and offered a nice break from the one to three battles in each chapter.

Battles break down in a way very similar to what you might see in a game series like XCOM, and you can see them coming as the camera shifts from a more cinematic one during exploration to a more tactical-driven isometric cam. Mario and two allies will take the field and be given one of four tasks: escort a fourth, unarmed character to a safe zone; get one of their own teammates to a safe zone; kill all enemies; or kill a certain number of enemies. I could’ve used a little more variety in my mission objectives, but there was enough to keep things from being monotonous at least.

Each character is able to move a certain number of spaces per turn, and can actually tackle enemies during this phase, or jump off of teammates to move farther than normal on the battlefield. However you move, or wherever you land, it’s recommended that you take cover, with shield icons representing how much protection your characters actually have at the moment (since cover can also be destroyed by enemy or friendly fire). You can then activate one offensive attack and one power per character; what’s impressive about this is many powers and attacks will have special effects when they crit, and if you smartly set your team up, you can stack these for some truly chaotic effects.

In one instance, I fired Rabbid Luigi’s Bworb weapon (it’s an energy orb projectile thing) and set an enemy on fire. This enemy then proceeded to run all over the battlefield until his behind cooled off, but while doing so, triggered Mario’s Hero Sight power (basically, Overwatch in XCOM, which allows players to shoot enemies that cross the player’s line of sight, even when it’s not that character’s turn). That attack’s crit caused bounce—which launched the enemy high into the air—and then activated Peach’s Royal Gaze—her version of Hero Sight/Overwatch—and she shotgunned the enemy and froze them. Let’s just say that particular enemy didn’t know what hit them, and was no longer a threat.

Once completed, each battle is given a grade based on how many characters of yours were knocked out and how many turns it took you to beat the battle. Better outcomes in battle leads to greater rewards upon successfully completing each chapter, with the team then being bestowed with coins to purchase new weapons and XP in order to power up some surprisingly deep skill trees of each character.

Speaking of characters, though, one of my few issues with the game is that there are only eight characters total here, you can only choose three at a time, and you don’t even get the last character for your party until only a couple of stages before the game actually comes to an end. You also must always have Mario in your party, and there must always be at least one Rabbid. This was all really limiting on the strategy front because, particularly towards the end of the game, I felt I was being forced to put out a team that wasn’t necessarily my best. It might be a way to create artificial challenge, and I get the hesitation to allow Mario to be put on the bench, but the characters should then really have been better balanced, or should have offered up some greater variety between their abilities.

I think the general lack of powers for each character, no matter how strong your characters might get, was also a bit of a limiting factor. Each character only gets two weapons and two powers, and although they can earn stronger versions of everything as the game progresses, I would really have loved it had each character had more abilities they could learn instead of just powering up what they already had. It would offer more strategic nuance—especially when you’re so limited on how you can create your team—as well as give you something more tangible to work towards, considering you’ll at least have the base version for everything unlocked for each character by world two.

The set-up is clearly there for a classic adventure fitting of both these franchises. The story finds a way to incorporate the humor of the Rabbids, yet still deliver an adventure worthy of Mario. When it came to gameplay, admittedly Mario + Rabbids had to strike a difficult balance. Typically, Mario and Rabbids games are easy to pick up and play for gamers of all ages—tactical RPGs, however, are usually far more involved, and boast an intricate set of rules that only grow more so as the game progresses. Marrying these two concepts would not be easy, and unsurprisingly, Ubisoft erred on the side of accessibility over complexity. This isn’t to say Mario + Rabbids is a pushover if you’re looking for intense strategy sessions. It’s quite the opposite actually, especially in the game’s later stages, and you’ll be tempted at times to turn on the game’s easy mode (which gives your characters a 50% health boost). Still, I felt like the game only scratched the surface of some concepts, not willing to dig too deeply for fear of isolating certain audiences. If anything, my complaints for wanting more from these systems only hammers home the fact that there is a solid core strategy game here, which I would love to see evolve and grow stronger in the future.

It also needs to be said that Mario + Rabbids offers up some fantastic replayability. There are dozens of collectibles to be found, many of which can only be acquired by returning to worlds previously visited after your guide throughout the adventure—the detached user-interface for Spawny’s goggles named Beep-0—powers up after each boss battle. Each world also gains an additional 10 challenge battles when you beat it, and there’s an extra four challenges to be found in the game’s central hub of Peach’s Castle, too. There’s also Amiibo support, but not nearly as much as in many other Nintendo games; only Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Yoshi amiibos are necessary here and using them once will net each character an extra weapon and that’s it.

Finally, there’s also a 2-player local co-op campaign separate from the main story to be tackled. Here, players can each choose two characters, and must work together by taking turns to overcome the heightened challenge thrown at them. Careful teamwork is required here, because it’s very easy for each player to try to do their own thing, only to be ambushed by enemies and see your game end in a quick and humiliating defeat.

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a game that none of us knew we wanted, but should be happy is here. It again shows that you can stick Mario into any multitude of situations and he’ll deliver a high-quality experience that everyone can enjoy. As a tactical RPG, Mario + Rabbids does leave a little bit to be desired in terms of depth of gameplay, but overall provides a fun experience that will have you racking your brain as you try to overcome the scenarios before you—and belly-laughing at the hijinx Mario’s unlikely new sidekicks, the Rabbids, bring to the Mushroom Kingdom.

Publisher: Ubisoft • Developer: Ubisoft Paris/Milan • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 08.29.17
8.5
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle may not be the deepest tactical RPG, but it delivers a solid all-around experience that takes advantage of the strengths of both Mario and the Rabbids—making for one of the most surprisingly enjoyable game experiences you’re likely to have this year.
The Good An odd team-up on paper turns into one of the better tactical RPG experiences out there.
The Bad I wish that some of the great ideas here had been given a little more depth.
The Ugly The constant fight against the want to turn on easy mode when facing off against some late-game bosses.
Mario+Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a Nintendo Switch exclusive. Review code was provided by Ubisoft for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.
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Break the walls down

Over the 10-year period of 1998-2008, the Rainbow Six franchise released 16 different titles or expansions, by far the most of any single brand under the Tom Clancy umbrella. Then, there was nothing. The series disappeared from Ubisoft’s lineup of huge blockbusters post-Rainbow Six Vegas 2, and fans were left wondering when they could get the squad back together. There was a glimmer of hope when the Patriots project started being shown off, but as quickly as hype started to build, the game was shelved. From its ashes, however, has risen the first Rainbow Six game in seven years, Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege—and it looks to bring tactical multiplayer gameplay back to the masses like never before.

The key word there, though, is multiplayer. Something that we need to get out of the way is, yes, Siege is a multiplayer-focused game. There is a single-player mode called Situations, but it’s really nothing but a glorified tutorial. While it does a nice job of helping players become familiar with the game’s modes, maps, and operators, Situations offers little value to the product as a whole in the long run. Especially if you’re a fan of Rainbow Six as a franchise, it’s hard not to miss a more dedicated single-player mode, given how important they were to previous entries in the series.

In fact, on the surface, there’s not really a lot of multiplayer content either. The online component of Siege is comprised entirely of two modes: Terrorhunt and Versus. Terrorhunt pits a team of five people against AI opponents in varying scenarios, including saving hostages, defusing bombs, or eliminating all the enemy terrorists. Meanwhile, Versus is your classic five-vs-five match, where each person on a team has only one life to live—with the twist that objectives similar to those in Terrohunt can also be achieved as an alternate path to victory.

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There are Casual and Ranked versions of both modes, but in order to unlock the Ranked options, you have to grind until you’re level 20. That’s a pretty lofty barrier for entry, even if you are trying to appeal more to the hardcore audience—although the journey does go rather quickly if you and your team keep winning in either Versus or Terrorhunt. Ranked changes the game somewhat by turning off all major HUD options and giving players a more true-to-life experience, giving you a carrot to at least to pursue the unlock. However, you can purchase XP boosts through microtransactions if you don’t have the patience.

Although it may sound like there’s not a lot to Siege, it makes up for it where it counts: in its gameplay. When you look past its lack of options and single player, this might actually be the best multiplayer game to come out this year. Siege has forgone all the bells and whistles that other similar-styled releases try to beat you over the head with, instead giving you the sleekest tactical shooter we’ve seen since Rainbow Six first hit PCs nearly two decades ago. Enemy AI is smart and ruthless, and when playing against other people, the emphasis on only having one life makes every decision a potential game-changing one, amping up the stakes alongside your adrenaline.

Siege features 11 of the best-designed close-quarters combat maps you’re likely to find in modern games. Maps may look small from the outside, but each location is filled with plenty of nooks and crannies that will have you checking every corner twice, just to make sure your rear is constantly covered.

The best part of each map, though, is how much you can destroy them. As long as it’s not a load-bearing wall, chances are you can punch a hole through it with a variety of devices depending on your operator and playstyle. This means sightlines are constantly changing, and that no match will ever play the same way twice. As well, the game looks absolutely gorgeous—how it’s able to chug along at a steady framerate considering the metamorphosis each level is constantly undergoing is phenomenal.

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There are also the operators, the unlockable special forces agents players can use. There are 20 different characters to play with that not only feel unique due to their specialty gadget, but who also are perfectly balanced so that no matter how your team is comprised, or how you customize them, no matchups are better or worse than any other. The game has a character option for almost everyone on both offense and defense to suit your needs, and each brings with them their own strengths and weaknesses.

Like on offense, I love using Sledge, the SAS point man who, as his name would imply, carries a giant sledgehammer to punch holes in as many walls and floors as I want, but it also leaves me vulnerable and directly in the line of fire if I don’t have a buddy ready to clear the hole after the smoke clears. Meanwhile, on defense, Kapkan is my man, as I can set up booby traps in entryways that serve as a deterrent or a funnel to push enemies where I want them to go—but I’m limited in how many homemade devices I have. I know others, though, that put everything on guys like Tachanka, the stationary machine gunner on defense whose rear is vulnerable after he hunkers down, or Ash, the quick on her feet FBI agent with a special bullet that can breach barricades from a distance on offense but who really can’t take a hit. And those are just four of the 20 that you can play with.

Siege is also an enjoyable multiplayer experience because it does away with the “Lone Wolf” concept frequently seen in most other FPS multiplayer games. You have to work as a team to succeed in this game. Learning how the different operators work and developing a rapport with teammates so that you can most efficiently conquer the objectives actually becomes a large part of the fun, and pleasantly much of the burgeoning Siege community has headsets of some sort. I don’t think I’ve ever had so many enjoyable conversations in an online experience—ever—and it’s because Siege encourages objective-oriented people to come together for a common cause.

Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege lacks content—there’s no doubt about that—but what is there is absolutely stellar. With the promise of Spectator mode, more maps, and more operators down the line, this could develop into a really special game and community. As is, its exemplary gameplay is carrying the day, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the lack of content turns a lot of people off. But if you’re dying for a new Rainbow Six game like I was, or the idea of a hardcore tactical teamwork-based shooter sounds like your thing, Siege is worth a look.

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Developer: Ubisoft Montreal • Publisher: Ubisoft • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 12.01.15
7.0
What Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege lacks in content it makes up for in intense, fast-paced, heart-pounding action and tight gameplay. If tactical multiplayer is your thing, there may be none better. If not, though, you’ll likely find the experience to be a bit bare bones.
The Good Great balance between the 20 operators; amazing destruction, map variety.
The Bad Matchmaking issues persist, lack of a single player campaign.
The Ugly We miss you Ding Chavez.
Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege is available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Ubisoft for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

Fire in the sky

While the strategy-RPG might be considered mostly niche in terms of audience, a few franchises have permanently ingrained themselves  into the hardcore-gaming community. And fewer still represent this better than Fire Emblem. After its first several chapters were Japan exclusives, Fire Emblem crossed the ocean a decade ago and hasn’t looked back since, as we’ve seen one title in the series on every Nintendo system since the Game Boy Advance/GameCube era. So, if Fire Emblem were to continue this streak, it was only a matter of time before it graced the 3DS’s dual screens. And thus, we have Fire Emblem: Awakening, featuring the same core tactical turn-based strategy gameplay we’ve come to love.

Now, before we even get into the story, we need to talk about something that’s never been seen in a Fire Emblem on this side of the Pacific before: In Awakening, you’re allowed to customize your character. Sure, it’s not as detailed as something you might get in an open-world game, but you still get to name your character, choose their gender, hair, and facial features, and develop an immediate bond with them.

Of course, this also means it’s unlikely that we’ll see much of this particular roster of characters again beyond maybe a Smash Bros. appearance down the line, because your interactions with each and every one of them—especially for your created character—are critical. This leads to another feature never before seen in North America: the marriage/bonding system. By fighting alongside characters in battle, you develop trust; later on, if set to fight side by side again, the characters will get bonuses to certain stats like Critical Hit or Attack Avoidance. And if that trust builds up high enough, and if the characters are of the opposite sex, they can get married and have children—who later can fight for your cause!

A brand-new tactic—never before seen in any other Fire Emblem—can help with this bonding. By sacrificing a turn (strategy fans know how much of a risk this can be), two characters can team up and occupy one square. In the past, certain mounted characters could help move another character; now, though, that second character can also fight should the main character be attacked—and, thus, can also level up. This is a great mechanism to help evenly level up your forces—and advance your battlefield position.

And speaking of leveling up, each character has a new Skills feature that allows them to equip five unique skills—earning a new one every 5 to 10 levels. These skills can help in combat, increase stats, or give a variety of other bonuses depending on the terrain and scenario. Some are simple, like a plus-2 to defense, while others are more elaborate—like giving you a plus-10 to hit if your enemy’s wielding a particular weapon type.

All these combat adjustments and additions are all well and good, but the heart and soul of an RPG is the story. And though Awakening gets off to a slow start, the story’s just as immersive as any previous title —and you’ll soon find yourself as attached to these new characters.

Awakening begins with your character face-down in the mud and unconscious—but soon found by Chrom, Prince of Ylisse (the continent you find yourself on). Immediately, the cheesy RPG stereotypes start flying; not only does your character have amnesia, but you’re also immediately welcomed with open arms into Chrom’s band of merry men (and women) who fight to keep Ylisse safe from outside forces. And not only that, but you’re immediately made chief tactician, too! How convenient. And so begins the heroic, swashbuckling adventures of Ray the Tactician! Er, or…whoever you should actually choose to be. Like I said, it’s a slow start to the story, but you’re soon caught up in a conflict that’ll span two continents as you try to quell a threat millennia in the making.

A slow start to an RPG story is a more than forgivable offense, as it’s rare that they start off with a bang. That’s not to say there are no unforgivable flaws, though, with Fire Emblem: Awakening. If you choose to play the game with the traditional “permadeath” feature on, you may find your forces dwindling faster than you’d like. This isn’t uncommon in a Fire Emblem game, and there is an option to turn off permadeath via Casual mode. Still, I would’ve loved an easier way to restart battles where I lost characters, instead of having to restart the game over and over. I suppose you could say I should’ve just turned permadeath off, but that wouldn’t be getting the full Fire Emblem experience—and I still like the idea of being punished for letting one of my characters die. But restarting the whole game repeatedly became a chore, and I stopped caring about certain characters (I’m looking at you, Frederick!) after a while.

The biggest letdown, however, is easily the graphics. The animation style for the story cutscenes is fantastic; it exudes a level of detail rarely seen on any console, never mind a handheld. The problem comes from the sprites used on the battle grid that fail to take advantage of the system’s 3D. In fact, much of the game avoids using the 3D feature, which makes me wonder why they even bothered with it. And the few times 3D models are used—mostly during battle sequences—they look blocky and appear to have no feet. I questioned Eric L. Patterson, our news editor, to see if he wasn’t seeing what I wasn’t seeing; he agreed that all the models looked like Rob Liefeld designed them as they pranced around the battlefield on their tiptoes.

At the end of the day, though, these are minor complaints. Fire Emblem: Awakening stands near the pinnacle of the series, as it blends rarely seen elements and a few new twists of its own into the tried-and-true combat and storytelling. Awakening is one of the few must-have’ 3DS titles.  

SUMMARY: Aside for some minor annoyances, this is probably the best Fire Emblem to come to the States yet. Strategy fans everywhere should rejoice.

  • THE GOOD: As pure a strategy experience as you’ll get anywhere.
  • THE BAD: No simple way to restart battles.
  • THE UGLY: The 3D character models look like they were designed by Rob Liefeld.

SCORE: 9.0

Fire Emblem: Awakening is a Nintendo 3DS exclusive.

Originally Published: March 8, 2011, on Original-Gamer.com

I had a chance to go and get a first hand look at some of the new titles being launched this spring from SEGA. The next title that I looked at is the PC exclusive Total War: Shogun 2, a real-time and turn-based strategy games based in feudal Japan. Shogun 2 adds a lot of brand new features on top of the first Shogun including new clans, provinces, and naval battles and will be available March 15, 2011.

Originally Published: December 10, 2010, on Youtube.com/CGRUndertow

As a part of CGR Undertow, I reviewed Worms: Battle Islands for the Nintendo Wii from THQ and Team 17.

Originally Published: September 29, 2010, on ClassicGameRoom.com and NationalLampoon.com

I reviewed RUSE for the Xbox 360. RUSE is a turn based strategy video game taking place in World War 2 and is also available on PS3 and PC.

Originally Published: September 18, 2010, on ClassicGameRoom.com

I review Halo Wars from Microsoft for the Xbox 360 from February 2009. A new look for the Halo universe in this RTS (real-time strategy) video game set 20 years before the original Halo! This video game review features Halo Wars video game play footage and commentary.