Tag Archive: tactical


I had a chance to play a new demo of South Park: The Fractured But Whole from Ubisoft, Ubisoft San Francisco, and South Park Digital Studios. Here, we fight some priests and red necks. Check it out. South Park: The Fractured But Whole will be available October 17 for Xbox One, PS4, and PC.

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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.

There are more than a half-dozen Fire Emblem games that never came to our shores, but in 2008, Nintendo released Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon for the DS—a remake of the very first Fire Emblem game—here in North America. That decision gave me hope that we would start to see more of the Fire Emblem games we never received finally cross the Pacific in some form or another. Flash forward almost a full decade later, and I had all but given up on the idea. Naturally, then, Nintendo releases Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia—a remake of the second-ever Fire Emblem game, Fire Emblem Gaiden—rekindling my hopes. And—if Shadows of Valentia is any indicator—the idea of continuing to bring over old games in the series remains as sound as I thought it did almost 10 years ago.

Shadows of Valentia takes place at the same time as Shadow Dragon in Fire Emblem chronology. While Marth is freeing the continent of Archanea in the east, the continent of Valentia to the west is war-torn for different reasons. The dragon gods—Duma from the north and Mila to the south—have withdrawn their boons to the people, and the respective nations that fell under each god’s purview are crumbling because of it. Two children who bear a special brand on their hands, Alm and Celica, are unexpectedly thrust into the center of it all. Each will try to bring peace to Valentia in their own way, not realizing how connected they truly are. It’s your typical Fire Emblem tale of kings, queens, dragons, and magic.

Because Fire Emblem Gaiden never made its way to the West, it’s hard for me to compare this remake to the source material beyond obvious differences. For example, following in the footsteps of more modern games in the series, every major character has their lines fully voiced (and fantastically so). There are also fully-animated cutscenes, while each character has had a more modern redesign given to them that pops off the screens of the 3DS.

Doing some research, though, led me to find that Fire Emblem Gaiden was often described as the “Zelda II of Fire Emblem.” This is because the game introduced some drastically different gameplay like dungeons and town exploration, and even side quests from NPCs that were quickly abandoned by the series as a whole after poor reactions. All of that radically different gameplay returns here in Shadows of Valentia, but what’s interesting is that since this is a first for Westerners to experience this in Fire Emblem—with features like “My Castle” in Fire Emblem Fates helping to pave the way—it actually feels like a natural progression for the series that I surprisingly enjoyed and quickly adapted to. It may have been far-reaching in 1992; in 2017, it feels like Fire Emblem is just growing in new and wonderful ways.

Getting to towns and dungeons is done via utilizing a limited overworld map with paths laid out before you, and you can see ahead to where most of the battles that mark major chapters in your adventure will occur. While Shadow Dragon displayed a linear overworld map at times, you use Shadows of Valentia’s to actually plan your next move. It is larger, has branching paths, and allows you to bounce back and forth between Alm and Celica’s different bands of characters, each traversing their own course and occasionally interacting with the other at certain points. The overworld map helps get across the idea of the duo actually fighting a war, moving the frontlines and themselves closer to their goals with each victory, and being able to see how far they’ve come in such a simplistic way gives a sense of scale that we don’t often get in Fire Emblem games.

Once you do visit a town or dungeon, you get very different experiences from anything we’ve seen before from the series. Towns are made up of a few different locations (taverns, homes, blacksmiths, etc.) and you select where you want to go from another map. From a first-person perspective, you then can look around the room with a targeting reticule to pick up items or talk with the various townsfolk to shop, learn about the world, or potentially unlock a small sidequest. Unfortunately, the sidequests are a bit dull, and are always of the “if you get me item x I’ll give you item y” variety. Often times I wouldn’t even bother with them unless I already had the item in my possession, but they do give you something else to do beyond fighting all the time.

Dungeons, meanwhile, are explored from a third-person view as you walk around in them much more like traditional RPGs. There are often exclusive treasures to be found and secrets to be uncovered in dungeons, whether they’re abandoned caves, ancient ruins, or enemy forts. If you come across an enemy in a dungeon, you can potentially avoid it; if you touch the enemy, however, the world shifts to a more traditional Fire Emblem grid where Alm or Celica and a small contingent of their allies will have to fight a tactical-RPG battle. It took some getting used to, but I found the rewards within dungeons made them definitely worth exploring.

Dungeons are also where you now can change classes for your party members. Many dungeons have statues that, when prayed to, will bestow new classes (and higher stats) on your most experienced party members. I loved this feature, because no longer did I have to spend all my coin or search desperately on battlefields for the right items (which would trigger the all-important class increase in previous games). Certain characters listed as “villagers” also have the added benefit of changing their class to whatever you wish. If your group is mage-heavy, you can force a villager to take up a sword or lance, or vice versa. Or, you can make more mages or more soldiers, and try to dominate the landscape with one offensive dimension.

Not all the changes Shadows of Valentia introduces were welcome, though. In an attempt to keep the combat process streamlined, every unit has a default weapon that will never break. Whether it’s a lance, sword, or magic tome, the traditional Fire Emblem weapon durability remains gone like it was in Fire Emblem Fates. Also removed, however, is the ability to carry multiple weapons, so no longer can you carry a variety of gear to defend yourself with depending on the scenario. You can carry a special weapon to replace the default that will never break—like a silver lance, brave sword, or a blessed bow—but you are stuck with that weapon for the entirety of a battle no matter what gets thrown at you.

This lack of improvisation was disappointing from Shadows of Valentia, and the only thing worse than this is when certain classes do get two weapons to carry—like magic and a sword, or a bow and a sword—they will always default to their original. I prefer the old way where the last thing I attacked with is what I would now defend with. This way, if my bow-carrying soldier was attacked by a mage from a distance, they could still defend themselves (had I used the bow previously), instead of being helplessly pelted by dark magic while holding their default sword every time.

That’s not the only issue with weapons in Shadows of Valentia. One of the pillars of Fire Emblem combat has been the rock-paper-scissors, axe-sword-lance weapon triangle that has always been present in Western releases of the series—yet it is noticeably absent here. Your enemies have axes, you can acquire axes (for sidequests), but none of your units can actually use them. All that your non-magic units can use are swords, bows, and lances, and a larger focus was put on black and white magic with your mages. White heals units, black is offensive, and all magic requires some sort of HP sacrifice now. The HP sacrifice was an interesting twist that added some difficulty to the game, but the balance that came with the weapons triangle and the more simplistic use of magic in previous games is sorely missed here. Even by the time I beat the game 30-35 hours after I had started it, I was still unsure of what units did well against which others.

Speaking of how long I played this game, that’s a long time to do the same objective over and over again, and not until the last couple of battles does your objective change. It is always just obliterating your opponents—no lasting so many turns, defending objectives, or capturing objectives. I miss the variety from previous Fire Emblem games that required me to change my thinking somewhere along the line beyond “strongest units on the front lines will run roughshod over my enemies”.

If you still want a more traditional Fire Emblem experience, however, fear not. There’s nothing we can do about the missing weapons triangle—which will always perplex me about this game—but exploring towns and dungeons are optional for the most part. Although I found they added a lot of depth to the experience and the world (and characters and classes to my party), I imagine some purists out there might recoil at the dramatic shifts in gameplay. It’ll make the experience even more difficult if you avoid them, but if all you want is classic Fire Emblem grid-based tactical-RPG and unit management, then don’t worry: outside of a couple of mandatory sections, you can just move from battle to battle to battle on the overworld map.

And, in that regard, Shadows of Valentia is still very much a Fire Emblem game. The main game is broken down into five acts, and while I will say the first act was a bit of a pushover, there was a huge spike back up to what we expect from this series in terms of difficulty from there. In fact, it may be one of the hardest Fire Emblem games I’ve ever played, and the Classic mode touting permadeath will still plague you and your party if you’re not precise and careful with each move you make on the grid. Casual mode—which definitely wasn’t around in Gaiden—at least also returns from more recent iterations of the series, allowing deceased party members to return after every battle. Should Alm or Celica fall in either mode, however, it’s an instant game over.

Another new feature to help with the difficulty is the Turnwheel. Both Alm and Celica get these new artifacts early on in the adventure, and they have two purposes. The first is by inserting items called Cogs into the Turnwheel, you can rewind the game three full turns; it’s a great way to save allies who you would otherwise lose to permadeath. Turnwheels are also how you utilize Amiibo in the game.

Yes, Nintendo’s cute little figurines are compatible with Shadows of Valentia, but depending on what Amiibo you use on the Turnwheel, you’ll have different effects. The brand new Alm/Celica two-pack adds character specific dungeons and battles to the world map. Meanwhile, non-Shadows of Valentia Fire Emblem Amiibo, like Lucina, can be summoned as allies in particularly difficult battles. Finally, Amiibo not related to Fire Emblem, like Mario, will summon monster creatures to your aid. It’s a nice way for Amiibo to be used in the game without really breaking it.

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is a game more than deserving of a second chance from the East, and a first chance here in the West. It was ahead of its time when it first released as Fire Emblem Gaiden, but now comes across more as a natural evolution of the series with an audience that should be more open to the ideas it pushes in regards to Fire Emblem gameplay. Not everything is perfect—like the noticeable absence of the weapons triangle—but it is a more-than-worthy culmination of the tactical-RPG series’ life on the 3DS.

Publisher: Nintendo • Developer: Intelligent Systems • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 05.19.17
8.5
It’s funny how a remake of a game that never originally hit the West can feel like such a step forward. There are a couple questionable choices, like the removal of the weapons triangle, and series purists might grumble over some other changes like dungeon exploration, but overall Shadows of Valentia feels like the next great step in Fire Emblem.
The Good New features like dungeon exploration, navigating an overworld map, and new ways to change character classes feel like the natural evolution of the series.
The Bad Lack of objective variety, and removal of the classic weapons triangle and weapon choices.
The Ugly How much HP you get from consuming raw ingredients like butter and flour. Desperate times call for desperate measures, I suppose.
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is a Nintendo 3DS exclusive. A review copy, as well as Alm/Celica Amiibo, were provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.