Publisher: FoxNext Games
Developer: FoxNext Games Los Angeles
Release: March 28, 2018
Rating: 12+
Platform: iOS, Android

Marvel Strike Force, the mobile hero-collection RPG from FoxNext, is about to receive its biggest update yet. Since its launch last March, Marvel Strike Force has grown substantially, adding tens of new heroes and several new features over the course of its first year. However, it’s been rare that an all-new mode has been implemented, but that’s just what players can look forward to next week.

Joining an active Alliance is a critical part of getting the most out of Marvel Strike Force; completing raids and Alliance-wide milestones deliver some of the best rewards to boost your roster. However, FoxNext is ready to take the incentives to the next level with a feature that has been teased through a giant “Coming Soon” spot on the menu since launch: Alliance War.

Alliance War has been on the menu since the early days of Marvel Strike Force for a very good reason: The team created the mode the same day they drew up the concepts for the game itself. “As live-service games mature – and certainly this is what we’re trying to do in this case – you kind of think about it the way you might concept a pilot for a TV show; you don’t just think about what will happen in the pilot, you think about what will happen over the entire course of the show, hopefully running many, many seasons,” FoxNext VP and GM Amir Rahimi says. “That was the approach here. We wanted to not launch with Alliance War because the game was going to be a big enough challenge to get out there, but really design the game for Alliance War and design them hand in hand.”

In Alliance War, your Alliance of 24 players takes control of its own helicarrier. The goal of the mode is to attack an opposing Alliance’s helicarrier while defending your own in head-to-head matches. You do this by using your ever-growing roster of heroes and villains. Battles play out much like they do in modes like Arena; you set a defense team to protect the room, but when the opposing Alliance attacks, your characters are controlled by A.I. However, you control your offensive attack like you do in any other Marvel Strike Force mode.

Each helicarrier has 12 rooms, with each providing different benefits. For example, the Med Bay provides health buffs to attacking and defending characters, while the Armory gives global attack buffs. Others have specific bonuses for attackers or defenders, making them less valuable overall, but more valuable in specific situations.

Each room has two slots for players to work together to defend the room with their characters. Each player can leave 8 teams of characters to hold down that room for a total of up to 16 teams for the opposing Alliance to work through before it can take the room. The mode is designed to force players to use their entire rosters, something that should give players who have kept their teams well-rounded an early advantage.

Be prepared to use your whole roster when Alliance War goes live.

You must be strategic about which characters you use where and when, as each character can only be used once per war. This means that if you leave your best character behind to defend a room, they cannot be used on offense. In addition, if you use a team to attack a room once, you cannot do so a second time. If you can’t fill out a room you’re defending, you can either leave fewer characters to at least give some resistance, or you can leave it empty and the game will fill the room with weak, yet better-than-nothing SHIELD minions.

According Rahimi, this particular layer of strategy is among his favorite parts about the mode. “What often happens is you’ll encounter a room and you’ll do this calculation in your head about, ‘What’s the minimum team strength that I could bring in to beat this opponent?’ and that’s a very different way to think about the game than before,” he says. “You don’t have to bring five characters into a battle. Now teams of one all of a sudden become interesting. So if it’s a room full of SHIELD minions and my Crossbones is powerful enough, he becomes really interesting because his ultimate can just clear that whole room out. Or just teams of two that synergize well become interesting, like Ant-Man and Wasp synergize really well.”

Certain characters also have a new “Military” trait, which means their origin stories have some involvement with or service to the military. So far, the only characters to possess this trait are Captain America, Captain Marvel, War Machine, and Winter Soldier. This means these characters possess various abilities that buff them in Alliance War. Just as some characters like Night Nurse are great in raids, these military characters will be great in Alliance War. Some characters who have military experience, like Punisher, don’t have the trait yet, but FoxNext says that may change in the future.

Once the war begins, attacking Alliances must start at the top deck and work through rooms, so you can’t just jump right to the bottom. Once you defeat one player in a room, you can see what room is beneath that one; if you defeat both players in a given room, that room is destroyed and all buffs and bonuses granted from it to the opposing Alliance are lost. Destroying a room also grants big point bonuses, which determines the winner of the Alliance War. If you’re defeated in the room you’re defending, don’t worry: You can still attack with the remaining characters.

Since destroying rooms weakens the opposing team and each room has different point values, choosing which rooms to attack first adds a layer of strategy and requires coordination throughout the entire Alliance. To mix things up, Alliance leaders can reconfigure these 12 rooms however they see fit prior to a war starting. “The goal of this feature for us is to keep players playing forever and ever and ever,” Rahimi says. “That’s why we added a lot of things like moving the rooms around. A lot of the depth of complexity is in the service of infinite replayability.”

One of the chief concerns of any mode like this is that it can easily become pay-to-win. Just like every other mode in Marvel Strike Force, Alliance War operates on an energy system. Energy caps at five attacks at a time, with that regenerating over time. No outside currency can be used within Alliance War outside of Power Cores, but even then, you’re capped on how many times you can refresh energy using Cores. This is done to help level the playing field. “Once the war starts, we want it to be as even of a playing field as we possibly can,” Rahimi says. “You can use your Power Cores to refresh twice, but you’re capped.”

Another way FoxNext is helping level the playing field is through a sophisticated matchmaking algorithm for Alliances. Looking for Alliances with equal overall power isn’t fruitful, as one powerful outlier player could throw off the entire balance. Instead, FoxNext’s system looks at individual players within Alliances and matches them up based on how well individuals will face off.

Because this mode is more involved than even raids, FoxNext is limiting the number of wars that happen per week. Rather than having a war every day, players can probably expect a few wars each week. FoxNext says that even once you understand the flow of Alliance War, being a fully participating member of your team could consume up to an hour a day.

At the end of each Alliance War, both teams are awarded with Alliance War shop currency. Just as Blitz, raids, and Arena have their own shop and currency where you can buy character shards and gear, Alliance War does as well. However, the quality of Alliance War’s shop is going to be more valuable to players. “The Alliance War shop will definitely be the best shop in the game in terms of value and by far the best source of orange materials,” Rahimi says. “Players are definitely going to want that currency.”

With so many moving parts and so much to learn with this new mode, players are probably going to want to get started as soon as possible. Thankfully, they don’t have to wait long for that placeholder menu slot to activate; Alliance War comes to Marvel Strike Force on March 26.

Lara Croft has tromped, pillaged, and plundered dozens of ancient temples and dusty crypts in her 20-year history. They’re often stunning places: palaces perched atop steep mountains or sunken beneath icy glaciers, inhabited by exotic birds and sneaky monkeys (and sometimes dinosaurs). Standing in one place to gawk at these lovingly crafted worlds can be deadly, though. As developers have pushed graphical performance further and further with each new entry, so too have they iterated on the traps and mechanisms that put Lara in her grave.

Here are some of the Tomb Raider series’ deadliest tombs – the levels that challenged our platforming prowess or had our palms sweating as we walked carefully through blood-tinged spikes and battled quickly dwindling breath meters.

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40 Fathoms – Tomb Raider II

The level starts underwater. The mini-sub Lara hijacked has crashed into the sea floor, her breath meter is draining, and sharks circle around her. The player’s goal is to reach a sunken cruise ship, but thanks to some poor, late-‘90s draw distance, it’s unclear which direction players should swim into the surrounding blackness, save for an obscure trail of ship debris on the seabed dotting a subtle path toward the boat. It’s a far cry from typical Tomb Raider level intros that typically open with a stunning view before forcing Lara through a gauntlet of traps and puzzles.

The level doesn’t get easier. If players can avoid being shark bait and find the easy-to-miss ship entrance, they’ll have to sink some ammo into the shotgun-wielding cultists roaming the corridors, hunt barracudas slithering in shallow pools, and avoid catching fire from faulty ship tech. (How this vessel still has functional tech in the first place is beyond us.)

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St. Francis Folly – Tomb Raider/Tomb Raider: Anniversary

This level has it all: grand spectacle, trap-laden puzzles, bloodthirsty exotic animals – even an Indiana Jones-inspired boulder trap! Lara travels to St. Francis Folly in Greece looking for a piece of an ancient artifact but gets a lot more than she bargained for.

The brunt of this level involves leaping and dangling from a series of platforms pillaring up the center of a multi-storied chamber. To explore deeper, Lara needs to survive a sequence of combat and platforming challenges across four rooms connected to the central hub – each themed after certain gods. Navigating to each room is a challenge in and of itself, but the true difficulty resides in each room’s traps. The Thor-themed chamber requires Lara to stand under a massive, falling hammer, dodging out of the way at the last second. The Damocles chamber requires Lara to avoid swords that fall from the ceiling as she passes under them. The level is Tomb Raider at its best and most challenging: an evocative tomb as deadly as it is beautiful (especially the version remade for Tomb Raider: Anniversary.)

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The Hall of Seasons – Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness

In Lara’s PlayStation 2 debut, she’s on the run, framed for her mentor’s murder. Her quest to unravel the conspiracy and clear her name takes her to an archaeological dig underneath the Louvre, and deeper within, an ancient tomb called the Hall of Seasons.

The level evokes the design of St. Francis Folly in the way its central chamber branches off into four mini-levels that players need to conquer to continue down the main path. Deciding whether to bunny hop or perform medium or long-range jumps across swaying pillars in the Breath of Hades area is one of the series’ most difficult platforming challenges. Similarly, the area called Wrath of the Beast requires players to hurry across collapsing platforms before the floor gives out completely. It might not sound more difficult or challenging than other platformers you’ve probably played, but Lara’s controls were not as user-friendly in 2003 as they have been in recent years.

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Jungle – Tomb Raider III

Tomb Raider III’s opening level pulled out all the stops to prove to players that after two games, the series could still kick your butt. Jungle, set in monkey-infested ruins in India, starts with Lara sliding down a muddy ramp riddled with spikes and a boulder that will smoosh you if you stand in the wrong spot. Players encounter traps like these numerous times throughout the level, making every step and jump feel weighty and tense. 

The real threat here isn’t the boulder traps or the spiky pitfalls, though: it’s the quicksand. A misplaced jump will send Lara into the mud, forcing players to watch as her body slowly sinks below the surface and her breath meter runs empty. Jungle remains one of the series’ biggest slaps in the face. Hey, look at our cool, new environments! And hey, everything wants to kill you!

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Howl of the Monkey Gods – Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Crystal Dynamics’ second reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise gave us a version of Lara Croft that was more action hero than ever before, but the series was criticized for how its tombs and puzzles took a backseat to combat. Shadow of the Tomb Raider righted that, giving us a game front-loaded with some of the best puzzles and exploration in the series.

Howl of the Monkey Gods is one of these tombs, released post-launch as DLC. Traversing the ravine leading up to the tomb is perilous on its own, requiring Lara to make some tricky, timed jumps, but this is just a warm-up for the platforming to come. Inside the tomb, Lara needs to re-tune an ancient, massive musical device in order to cross its instruments and reach the treasure at the end of the room. Activating each part of the instrument requires players to find and press levers that are positioned over spike traps. It’s easy to tell when the spikes will pop up, but having to stand on them still elicits a feeling of dread.

Once the levers are all pressed, there’s still the matter of crossing the active instruments to snag the treasure on the other side, avoiding falling drum sticks and platforms that give way underneath you if you cross them at the wrong moment. Howl of the Monkey Gods is Tomb Raider puzzle design in its purest form: a cross section between evocative atmosphere, tricky platforming, lever-pulling, and near-death scenarios.

Ask anyone who’s played a Tomb Raider game, and they can probably tell you what traps killed them before they could tell you what artifact they were hunting, or why. In that regard, Shadow of the Tomb Raider was a return to form for the series, giving us tombs and traps that felt deadly again. With the game out and its post-launch DLC wrapping up, we can only hope that Lara’s next adventure dishes out just as much danger.

Amazing Campaign Board Games

For many gamers, the allure of an ongoing story and setting is hard to overstate. By returning to a game again and again, with new elements of both story and gameplay introduced over time, we become invested in the world, enmeshed with its characters and events, and intrigued by the ways things are changing over time. This week, we’re looking at some of the excellent projects of recent years which offer deep campaigns that are best experienced when played from beginning to end, with each session offering new twists.

Unlike a traditional role-playing game, these are tabletop releases that are complete and functional in their own right, without the need for a game master or other guiding hand. Several of these offer cooperative experiences, even as others present a competitive affair with your ongoing story. Regardless, these games are all best experienced by the same group of players returning to the table for one session after the next, building on what they know. If you’ve got a consistent squad of players that meet up on a regular basis, you owe it to the group to try one of these ongoing campaign games at some point, as the sense of deepening investment is especially exciting.

Publisher: Catalyst Game Labs

You and your friends love Dungeons & Dragons, but no one wants to step up and be a DM? It’s a common refrain among tabletop enthusiasts. If that’s a familiar problem for your gaming group, the officially licensed Dragonfire offers a deep gameplay system and long-term campaign that might be the right fit.

The artwork, creatures, and overall setting vibe of Dragonfire do a remarkable job of emulating the D&D aesthetic, even if this is decidedly a deckbuilding game rather than an RPG. Nonetheless, like in a game of D&D, you’ll be selecting a character, venturing out on quests, leveling up with new abilities, acquiring magic items, and other trappings of the genre.

Dragonfire’s core game offers several fun adventures to get your party into the action, but it’s the game’s expansions that have the potential to keep you returning for dozens of game nights. From Dragonspear Castle to the Moonshae Isles, the different additional boxed sets take you across iconic locations in the Forgotten Realms, which should satisfy an itch for longtime fans of the property.

In terms of gameplay, Dragonfire is a challenging cooperative puzzle of a game. Its detailed rule system provides a lot of depth, but it’s unlikely to be a good fit for a casual night of gaming. Instead, look to Dragonfire when you want a strategic challenge to solve, and because you enjoy the way a gradual deckbuilding process helps you feel stronger with passing turns, and even over passing game sessions. The game offers a clever approach to assisting other players at the table, and over time, players will become attached to their uniquely customized hero – just like in a true game of D&D.

Scythe: The Rise of Fenris
Publisher: Stonemaier Games

Scythe deserves the many accolades that have come its way since its original release in 2016. This nuanced strategy game launches players into an alternate history of the early 20th century, where giant mechs helped to define a war across the scope of the continent of Europa. In the core game, players slowly build an engine of production and military might in order to control the board and win the day. The project has been repeatedly praised for its strategic flexibility and depth, including in my earlier review.

The Rise of Fenris expansion takes the challenging competitive spirit of Scythe and layers in a new campaign element that is rewarding, surprising, and great fun.  While the individual included modules can be played as standalone additions to the game, the best way to experience them is part of an eight game story and interconnected adventure. New elements are hidden away inside tuckboxes within the Rise of Fenris package, so you never know what new elements are coming as the narrative (and new gameplay) rolls out. While I’m hesitant to spoil many particulars of those new elements, it’s enough to know that new minis are inside, paths to victory, and even ways to work together (selectively) with other factions. The included storytelling also dramatically deepens an understanding of the world of Scythe, a marvelous fictional setting that was due for increased fleshing out.

The other games on this list are core games that can be enjoyed as a campaign without additional purchases. The Rise of Fenris first requires that you own the base Scythe game. But that’s no sacrifice! Scythe is one of the most innovative board games of the last several years, and you won’t be disappointed to own a copy, particularly if you have a group of dedicated players eager to stretch their strategic muscles. The Fenris release dramatically expands the fun of the experience, offering a deeper insight into the setting, and a wealth of new twists that lend replayability and depth, but without actually making the game incredibly more complicated. My only caution? The Rise of Fenris is best enjoyed after you’ve already thoroughly wrapped your head around the ins and outs of the base game. With that said, if you already have an ongoing romance with Scythe, this expansion will only help you fall deeper in love.

Near and Far
Publisher: Red Raven Games

This charming and colorful game of competitive exploration and questing gets lots of points for originality and narrative engagement. Players take on the role of explorers ranging out across a map filled with secrets, opportunities for encounters, and fiction-rich quests. Moving back and forth between a town location and a large wilderness map, you gather points as you set up camps, explore new trade routes, investigate lost ruins, and fight dangerous creatures.

Near and Far’s campaign is especially engaging because of its approach to individual session locations. The game includes an atlas of maps that your characters range across, and each map and its secrets is unique from the last, so every session feels like you’re expanding your knowledge of this fantasy world’s geography. Each of the boards has read-out-loud story snippets to enjoy, even as you’re simultaneously building up a party of allies, trading in town, and even dueling other players. And even with the varied choices through which you direct the story, turns still move quickly and keep the pace of play brisk.

As the stories unfold, I think you’ll be surprised at the well-written and thoughtfully crafted narrative writing. The fun competitive mechanics are engaging in their own right, and the addition of the deep narrative elements should attract those who love a deep injection of storytelling in their board game nights.

Betrayal Legacy
Publisher: Avalon Hill

Looking for a little horror mixed in with your ongoing campaign adventures? Check out Betrayal Legacy. The original Betrayal at House on the Hill features a group of characters exploring a dilapidated mansion in one of a number of different unique “haunts,” in which one of the characters inevitably betrays the other, leading to a desperate struggle for victory.

The legacy version maintains the fun premise, but sees players return to the same haunted house over multiple generations of the same families. As more people die in its bloody halls, the mansion grows ever more dangerous, even as a broader narrative continues its slow-drip toward climax.

One of the best things about Betrayal Legacy is the how easy it is to sit down and play for the first time; the rules are quite simple as the game begins, and you don’t even know how to win that first session. Almost everything you need to know unfolds through the course of gameplay, and the designers do an amazing job of crafting some awesome surprises over the course of the campaign, even down to secrets hidden away within the physical box of the game.

Publisher: Plaid Hat Games

Surreal imagery and interpretive psychology take center stage in this clever campaign narrative game. Players take on the role of the titular comanauts, as they dive into the subconscious mind of a scientist who has the key to saving the world.

Like the kid-targeted game that is its predecessor, Stuffed Fables, Comanauts is a game played through an adventure book. Each page-spread of the book offers new art, spaces to explore, and ideas to uncover, even as the campaign’s story slowly reveals itself. You chase clues and hunt down malevolent idea entities that represent the traumas of the coma victim’s previous life and history.

The biggest draw here is the innovative and creative storytelling, which has a Christopher Nolan-esque quality likely to remind many players of Inception. It’s exciting to see how an individual’s history might shape their life and personality. Great art and unusual characters to control help Comanauts feel refreshingly different from other games on the market, and it’s a stellar choice for players looking for something off the beaten path from more familiar fantasy and sci/fi themes.

The Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle-earth
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games

Shortly before finalizing the selections for this list, I had the opportunity to check out a near-final version of this latest Lord of the Rings release from Fantasy Flight. While I’ve yet to fully explore the reach of its campaign, I played enough to be confident in a recommendation, even ahead of its full release in the coming weeks.

Fantasy Flight Games has a strong track record with these sort of miniature-based cooperative campaign adventures. If they are a better fit for your tastes, I wholeheartedly recommend both Descent: Journeys in the Dark (2nd edition) and Star Wars: Imperial Assault; both are great, and each have a wealth of expansions already available.

The latest in this line of similar products is Journeys In Middle-earth, which sees players adopt the personas of heroes in Tolkien’s world, including recognizable faces like Legolas and FFG-created individuals like Beravor, and head out into adventure. A free digital app can be downloaded onto the device of your choosing, which runs individual scenarios, dramatically reducing the need for additional fiddly components, and instead shining a spotlight on great minis, gradually revealed modular maps, and cool bespoke encounters.

Journeys in Middle-earth uses a neat action mechanic, where you reveal cards from an existing hand that allow you to complete various skill tests, but those same cards can alternately be played onto the table ahead of time, letting you employ interesting abilities at the cost of having those options available for tests.

Action flips back and forth between a larger journey map depicting your trek across Middle-earth, and more micro-view battle tiles for strategic encounters. It’s a smart system that relays a genuine sense of epic adventure, and with a lot of potential for the campaign to continue its expansions over subsequent releases.

More Awesome Choices

In the interest of providing the most comprehensive recommendations, there are several other top-notch campaign games I want to point you toward. But in several cases, I already have completed extensive write-ups that describe them in detail. With that in mind, here are three other top recommendations, very brief descriptions, and links to more robust explanations.

Gloomhaven is one of the phenomenon releases of the last several years in the board gaming world. A physically massive (and expensive) box offers literally hundreds of hours of exploration, character progression, and battles across a vast dark fantasy land. Highly recommended, but only if you’re ready to really, really dive deep. Learn more here.

Pandemic Legacy encompasses two complete games, each a campaign in their own right, but it’s best experienced by playing through Season One, and following up with Season Two. In this thrilling legacy adaptation of the popular board game, players work together as researchers, doctors, and other health professionals to hold back the tide of a worldwide civilization-ending series of diseases. By the second season, the world has completely changed, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise. Easy to learn, and incredibly rewarding, both of these cooperative adventures rank among my favorite board games.  Here’s more detail.

The 7th Continent draws inspiration from Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books, pulp fiction of the early 20th century, and even video games, through its extremely clever “save game” system to hold your place in between sessions. Players cross the ocean to explore a mysterious new 7th continent in order to conquer a curse that threatens their characters’ very existence. If weird and secretive tales are your thing, this one is a winner. I don’t spoil anything important in my more detailed write-up.


Role-playing gamers know the joy of seeing an ongoing campaign slowly unfold the story of a group of player-controlled characters. But recent years have opened up that experience in the tabletop world beyond traditional role-playing releases. If you’ve always wanted to give that kind of thing a shot, any of the above will offer an engrossing series of game nights.

If you’re looking for something decidedly more contained for a single evening of entertainment, our Top of the Table hub has no shortage of great options, which you can explore by clicking on the banner below. If you need more personalized guidance to find the right game, feel free to drop me an email, and I’ll help you find what you’re looking for!

It should be no surprise that Apex Legends is one of the most successful games of 2019 by far but some recent numbers put the game’s success in an interesting context.

Research firm SuperData reports the game has raked in over $92 in its first month, with most of the spending coming from its console users. This makes it the most successful launch month of any free-to-play game in history, according to the firm. Considering the game hit 50 million players in a quarter of the time it took Fortnite to reach that number, the number is large, but not necessarily too surprising.

SuperData’s report also puts those numbers into context, pitting it against the modern giants in terms of gross revenue earned. Its exemplary month places at the sixth highest-grossing on PC, and the fourth-highest on console. On PC Dungeon Fighter Online, League of Legends, and Fortnite are still ahead of it, but it has managed to outpace World of Tanks and Dota 2.

On the console front, it’s beaten out by king of the mountaintop FIFA 19, as well as Fortnite and Anthem, which made a total of $100 million in that same month. Of course, Anthem is a fully-priced title while Apex Legends is free-to-play.

For the full chart of top-grossing titles and more stats, check out SuperData’s full report.


Things are about to heat up in Brawlhalla, the free-to-play platform fighting game. Developer Blue Mammoth Games revealed on Twitter today that Hellboy will come to the game in April.

It’s unclear from the Tweet if Hellboy’s inclusion will take the form of a completely new character, like the recent addition of Thor, of if he’ll be a re-skin for an existing character – like when Shovel Knight came to the game.

Big Red will make his debut right around the time the new Hellboy movie hits theaters on April 12.

[Source: Twitter]

Dice recently detailed what the rest of the year looks like for Battlefield V. You can see the full list of planned expansions and events here, but here are the highlights, some of which have more specific dates that others.

Chapter 3: Trial By Fire
  • March 25 – Firestorm
  • April – Combined Arms (new missions)
  • May – Mercury (new map)
  • June – Outpost (new mode)
Chapter 4: Defying the Odds (starts in June)
  • Up Close and Personal (new maps and modes)
  • Marita (new map)
  • Urban Combat (new map)
Chapter 5 (begins in Fall)

Dice says that its chapter 4 content will appeal to players who like close-up combat and says that chapter 5 will cover a new “completely new theater of war”.

For more on Battlefield V, you can head here to read our review and here to see the game’s upcoming Firestorm mode in action.


Nintendo confirmed at GDC this week that Stardew Valley now holds the record for best-selling indie game on the Switch. The beloved farming sim beat out heavyweight contenders like Dead Cells and Undertale. The game’s multiplayer update that launched at the end of last year likely contributed to its upsurge in popularity.

Here are all ten titles on the Switch’s best-selling indie games list:

While a few standout titles appeared on the list that Nintendo released last year, many games have not returned this time around (e.g. NBA Playground, SteamWorld Dig 2, Kamiko, Fast RMX, and Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove). 

Nevertheless, if the rising success of indie games excites you, check out our coverage on The Best Indie Games Of GDC

[Source: Kotaku via]

Difficulty means different things to different people, and I think it’s important to remember that what comes easily for one person might be an arduous task for another. People of all skill levels play games, and we all have our strengths and weaknesses. One of the biggest complaints about Kingdom Hearts III has been that it’s too easy, especially for veteran players. Square Enix has responded to this feedback by working on critical mode and making sure it’s more than just a value change. The mode is set to release soon, although Square Enix still doesn’t have an exact date.

That being said, I had an opportunity to chat with co-director Tai Yasue while at GDC this week, particularly about critical mode. During our chat, we reflected on the game, discussing its finer points and where fans were disappointed. Yasue is responsible for the gameplay, while Nomura handles the story beats, so he wasn’t able to answer what’s in store for the future, like the upcoming DLC we’ve heard about, which Square Enix confirmed to me is currently in development. Trust me, I tried. Even so, Yasue had some great insight into why the team made some of the decisions it did. 

Yasue has high hopes for critical mode. He said it’s “more technical and offensive,” and would be for those who are adept at action games. This means putting a greater emphasis on timing attacks and getting ready to dodge or block in a jiffy. Many fans noticed the difficulty being dialed back for the third entry. It didn’t bother me on my initial playthrough because I was hellbent on seeing the story play out. I needed to know if Aqua would be okay; I needed to see if Roxas could even be brought back. I had a blast with the game, just hanging with Sora, Donald, and Goofy and exploring new worlds, but I can understand missing those hard-fought fights and more post-game bosses.

When asked about those missing pieces, Yasue said, “There was a lot of feedback that said the standard and beginner were pretty easy. I guess, we sort of aimed for that though. For us, we wanted it to widen our audience so that was the whole point of that, but we did get a lot of [responses] saying [fans] wanted more difficult modes, so we gave them critical mode. I sort of expected that people might think that it was too easy, but we were targeting an audience. My kids, for example, who have never played Kingdom Hearts.” 

As for criticism about the lack of post-game content, especially optional bosses, Yasue says he takes it all into consideration. “We really look at what everyone is writing. We totally understand and respect that. I can’t make any announcements just yet.” He did, however, reiterate that the light post-game content wasn’t because the team needed to cut things out, they just really wanted to focus on the new Disney worlds. Yasue said his favorite world to work on as a gameplay designer was Toy Story. “I love the concept of being small and becoming a toy and exploring a toy shop. There are all these gimmicks like hitting a canister of gas. ” 

In regards to boss fights, he said, “We felt that it was enough. When you’re playing the game, you don’t want boss fights all of the time, right? We sort of paced it when we were doing the level design. We also really focused on changing the gameplay, going in our ship and going in the robots.” He also admits implementing these features was “very difficult.” “As a gameplay designer, you don’t want to have it too hard so people give up. It was a difficult balance to strike,” he said.

Kingdom Hearts III has the flashiest combat to date, even letting you call on Disney attractions to battle foes. The bombastic action and fast keyblade transformations were deliberate. “That was a conscious decision. I think, for us, that was a big experiment as well. You don’t see a lot of games where you can do so much as quickly. Things are usually more controlled. It’s a new age, players want more stuff and we felt that our player base was changing, so we adapted to that.  But for me, it was a little bit of a risk of how that would play out.”

The lack of Final Fantasy characters also quickly came up in our conversation. “We definitely recognize and respect what everyone’s saying,” he affirmed, once again saying he can’t make any announcements. However, when asked if he was surprised that fans were disappointed by this, he said he was. “We had a lot of original characters. It’s the conclusion of the Xehanort saga and we really wanted to concentrate on the main storyline of Kingdom Hearts, such as Sora and Roxas, for the example. They’re having all these stories in other games and we wanted them to conclude.” 

When asked if the 1,000 Heartless battle was easier to do this time around, thanks to the better tech, Yasue said it wasn’t but let me in on a little secret. “We changed a bit at the end. The final moment when we put the master up, we didn’t have the train. I’ve never said this before. It came at a very late date, so that was added. I wanted it added because I wanted something new for a Kingdom Hearts III battle.  The train, you could only use it for the rock titan in the Hercules stage, and I thought it would be a nice conclusion if you could use it at the last moment.” 

To close out our talk we both discussed our favorite moment and it was the same: the ending sequence where you get reunited with certain characters and take on numerous boss battles. “All the characters coming together, it was actually emotional for me, too. Birth By Sleep that was one of my first Kingdom Hearts games I made. It was very sad at the end when we made [that] game because everyone gets separated (Terra, Aqua, and Ventus) and then all these years later I get to make the end for that. That moment is very special [when they meet again]. You sort of relate that with your life as well. I think that’s how a lot of fans feel as well, they relate that to their lives. I didn’t write the story, Nomura did, but to experience that as a player – that was very special to me.”

Remedy Entertainment has garnered a reputation for engaging storytelling through guided, linear experiences thanks to standout titles like Max Payne, Alan Wake, and Quantum Break. However, Control looks to smash preconceived notions about the projects the studio works on by delivering a more open-ended experience. One way Remedy is hammering home this idea of encouraged exploration is through optional side missions that players can choose to engage with or ignore altogether. These missions not only give you new, unique gameplay to explore, but you’re also able to glean more information about Jesse, The Oldest House, the Federal Bureau of Control, and the Hiss.

Control is a game based in the unexpected and unexplainable, so you can expect many mysteries during your journey through The Oldest House. The nonlinear format of the game let Remedy experiment more with side content for those who truly want to learn all they can about the supernatural entities and mysteries of Control’s world.

According to game director Mikael Kasurinen, when developing past games, Remedy has typically looked for an exciting 30-second loop of action, then attempted to recreate that experience throughout the entire game. The team is taking a vastly different approach with Control.

“Here, we have shifted our goal, so we want to go for more complex scenarios, more different abilities, and you choose the way that you want to fight,” he says. “It means that the combination of what abilities you have, how you have upgraded them, and what weapon mods and character mods you have actually affects the way you should fight your way through the scenarios.”

I watched a developer play through a side mission in its entirety. A desperate man named Phillip begs Jesse for help as she passes by. In the room with Phillip is what appears to be a retro-style refrigerator. As with most things in Control, this fridge is more than meets the eye as it’s a dangerous Altered Item. This item requires someone to keep eyes on it in order to appease it. Phillip explains that he can’t look away from a refrigerator or something really bad will happen. The Federal Bureau of Control set up shifts with its employees to watch the fridge, but in the chaos of the Hiss invasion, poor Phillip has been forgotten. You can choose to give Phillip a hand or leave him to meet whatever horrible fate awaits him.

As with most games’ side missions, this content adds lore and meaning to the events of Control, but they aren’t necessary to complete the main storyline. From a narrative perspective, Control’s side missions are geared toward players who want to learn more about the world of Control, while the main storyline is more focused on Jesse’s personal arc.

One of the most interesting parts about the optional content is seeing how this invasion is affecting different areas of the building and its many employees. “The side missions are some of my favorite because they color the world in a different way because you actually get to see some of that,” narrative lead Brooke Maggs says. “They fold into the narrative by introducing you more to the NPCs you discover along the way. So when you meet Helen Marshall [in the main story missions], you do later get to do a side mission that’s a personal favor for her, and then you find out more about her role at the Bureau and what she does and how she heads up specialist teams that takes care of a lot of these paranatural events as they happen.”

In addition to gaining context within the story, these optional missions can also grant Jesse new abilities through Objects of Power, giving much more tactile reasons to engage with the side content. “Many of the Objects of Power that are really fundamental and important parts of the game are actually in the side missions,” Kasurinen says. “If the player, for instance, doesn’t get the Shield then what does that mean for combat? It might make certain fights really tough later on because it’s optional. You don’t have to go and get the Shield if you don’t want to.”

In addition, many of the boss fights are found in the side content. In this playthrough, Jesse decides to not abandon Phillip, and we see all these pieces come together in one strong example. The stranded Bureau employee asks Jesse to go retrieve the panopticon supervisor, Frederick Langston. This side mission lets you learn more about Langston and Phillip, as well as a unique Altered Item. I don’t want to spoil what happens at the end of the side mission, but it culminates in a surprising and massive boss fight unlike anything else I saw in my two days of playing and watching Control.

In addition to these intentionally crafted side missions, Control also features Bureau Alerts, which serve as time-bound world events. A timed event spawns somewhere in the sector Jesse is in and the player receives a notification. If you’re able to race to the location of the alert and complete the event, you’re rewarded with loot.

While Remedy wouldn’t spill any details on additional side missions players can expect, they did mention that another involves a clock. I assume this means the clock will be another Altered Item like the refrigerator, but if I learned anything from my time with Control, it’s to expect the unexpected. I’m looking forward to seeing what other twisted ideas Remedy has come up with when Control launches this summer.

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Next week on March 26 at 9 AM PDT, Microsoft is hosting a livestream titled ID@Xbox Game Pass where it will announce several new indie titles that will then be making their way to Xbox Game Pass, Microsoft’s subscription based game service. Microsoft regularly highlights the large new releases coming to the service, but the stable of smaller indie titles is constantly growing, so this gives the company a chance to put the focus on the other half of the catalog.

We already know that previously announced games, Afterparty, Void Bastards, and Supermarket Shriek will make appearances in addition to all new game announcements.

This news comes hot on the heels of Sony announcing plans to have its new State of Play stream the day before on March 25. That will seemingly focus on more wide-ranging announcements for games across the PS4 and PSVR while Microsoft’s stream will more narrowly focus on its Game Pass program. In either case, we should have plenty of game announcements to tide us over in the months leading up to E3.