There’s something about turn-based battles which make you feel like you’re being tactical. Perhaps it goes back to our younger days of playing Civilization II, where, frequently outsmarted by the AI and ambushed from multiple sides at once, the methodical, considered attempt at strategy was, at least, reassuring.
There’s also a voice for our favourite floating Roomba, Beep-o, which is a little too eccentric for our taste, though the performance for the new spaceship’s AI (more on that in a moment), Jeanie, who acts as a tutorial for new players, is spot on.
The gameplay itself is a series of turn-based battles with various enemies on a set board where you have a variety of objectives from simply defeating enemies to destroying large, creepy Darkmess eyes, formed by the space ray’s inky, gooey impact on the world.
Movement is more free than it was before, as you can move anywhere in a set space at any point throughout your turn, which might let you dash attack an enemy and then throw them at another for additional damage.
the developers have taken chances by changing things rather than just warming up a five-year-old game...
One way this makes it a little harder than before is that your characters don’t snap to cover as strongly as they did before, so it can be difficult to know if you’re in the right place or not. Previously while the movement could feel a little rigid, that structure made your movements feel very deliberate. The benefit is that your characters feel more flexible and it makes you think about moving them at different times to make the most of your various abilities.
Speaking of which, hero abilities also make a welcome return, offering up special moves on a several turn cooldown, but here there’s also the Sparks themselves, which you can slot into each character to provide another limited-time active buff and a continuous passive buff. With 30 to discover in the game and recruit to your team, it offers a lot more variety when combining them with different team members.
For example, one Spark called Aquanox gives your weapons water damage and a splash effect which knocks enemies back. This makes them particularly nasty for, you guessed it, fire-type foes, as well as making your team member immune from the splash effect themselves.
Weapons have had a spruce up as well. Instead of damage increasing as you unlock new skins, which are now in their own menu, and the characters’ ability points deal with damage as well as all manner of other upgrades like movement and abilities.
Each of your favourites have new weapons to get to grips with, which have a bit more variety and help give each character their own strengths and weaknesses. Luigi is still a long-range specialist, but has swapped his sniper rifle for a bow, while Rabbid Mario now has a pair of gauntlets rather than a basic shotgun.
Enemies too have changed, leaning into the elemental variations offered by the Sparks and levels rather than feeling like just reskinned variants from other locations.
Progressing through the game is still linear but with a series of hub world sections, similar to a traditional Mario title, which disrupts the environmental storytelling which was one of the highlights of exploring locations last time around. It’s still here, to an extent, but not knowing what order you’ll come to certain things means it doesn’t gel as much with the action you’re taking.
You’ll also find random encounters, which can sometimes be avoided if you’re quick enough, but often need to be tackled to complete side objectives and collect planet coins, which then let you unlock not only a secret bonus area, but different cosmetic options specific to that world.
To make the most of a game like this you need to feel like it’s operating at the right difficulty level. Fortunately here you can adjust the settings at the beginning of each encounter, whether that’s respec-ing your character or taking the enemy aggression down. This should prove to make the game as a whole more approachable and fun to play with youngsters, who will no doubt appreciate the effective use of a colourful, cartoony presentation.
It might not quite be the Mario + Rabbids game we remember fondly, but there’s a good sprinkling of new ideas to be found here, and the teams at Ubisoft Milan and Ubisoft Paris have taken chances by changing things rather than just warming up a five-year-old game.
There’s a lot of replayability, with a huge number of combinations of team members, weapons and Sparks to use, and, most importantly, the battles themselves are both fun and really satisfying to finish. Even the levels, despite falling into familiar tropes here and there, use verticality and environmental details to keep things interesting all the way through.
If you’ve been hankering for some silly fun and games, especially on the go with the portable power of the Switch, then look no further.
Let’s get this out of the way first. It’s difficult to avoid comparisons to Batman Arkham games at the best of times in a third-person superhero game, let alone one that not only features but starts its story with Batman, so how does it hold up?
There are random events going on in the world, like armoured car heists or citizens being mugged, but rather than keeping track of them in your phone like you do in the Insomniac Spider-Man games, you’re instead forced to throw up the full map from the bat computer each time, breaking the immersion.
There is a quick reference list you can use to check what investigations are ongoing, but the game seems to put a lot of onus on you finding these things, particularly individual hero challenges, for yourself, with the option to add a waypoint feeling like a bit of an afterthought, and you can only do one at a time.
...it feels like, on occasion, just running around aimlessly in the city, interrogating people almost at random is the only course of action...
Following up leads and studying the evidence board feels well thought-out in the introduction, but once you are into proper missions it isn’t clear which pieces of evidence are active and actionable and which are just there to remind you of important details from earlier missions.
While we would have found just being handed a series of simple steps too elementary to feel like a true detective, here it just doesn’t feel like it comes together, and it feels like, on occasion, just running around aimlessly in the city, interrogating people almost at random is the only course of action. If we were given general areas to explore for clues and more detail, it may have felt more natural – or perhaps we were and it just all hasn’t come across clearly enough.
Travelling around Gotham falls to the Batcycle, since traversal abilities for each character are unlocked, rather than available from the beginning like Batman’s glide, which really limits how easily you can get through the city across rooftops. Unfortunately the Batcycle itself isn’t great for traversing buildings in a single bound, so you’ll have to stick to the streets.
Spawning the Batcycle is fairly instantaneous, providing you’re near what the game considers a main road, and then you’re off fairly quickly. There’s navigation to guide you to your waypoint, but sometimes when you call the bike in it seems to deliberately face the opposite way from where you need to go.
You can’t really use the bike in combat either, even though flattening a load of thugs would be very entertaining, and the actual handling feels quite floaty, even compared to something arcadey like Grand Theft Auto V, which makes it feel like you aren't really in control.
The characters are well-written though, with each of the fab four managing to feel distinct, and there are moments where the narrative hits home. For us, Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl felt like the most compelling character, but it’s clear that balancing all four when you are probably only spending time with one or two is a challenge. Of course, tackling the game in co-op gives the opportunity for a little more camaraderie.
The supporting cast, unsurprisingly, calls on Batman’s extensive rogues gallery, with both Harley Quinn and The Penguin getting face time early on, and even though this is a different universe to the playground of Mark Hamill’s Joker, it’s hard not to feel that sort of charisma missing.
There’s a lot to like about this latest foray into Gotham, but many of the positives feel like just a riff on Rocksteady’s earlier efforts – now over 10 years old – rather than a step forward into something new and exciting with these characters.
If messing around in a beautiful open world and knocking around a few hooligans is the vibe you’re looking for, then this could be right up your dimly lit street. Each of the character does have different weapons to try out, and elements of their backstory to explore, and with some patience, you’ll start to fill out the map and feel like there’s reasons to dive into the various dark places Gotham has to offer.
Riffing on an established game or franchise is a risky business. Do it wrong and you're constantly compared to your inspiration and lamented by players for not being up to scratch, but do it right and you can quickly capture the attention of a passionate audience and win goodwill from the get-go.
The enemies themselves have a variety of looks, depending on the area, and reflect different levels of graphical fidelity, depending on how much the memory of them has decayed. Some are in full 3D, but many are deliberately janky-looking 2D cut-outs, flailing their way towards you through the levels, with a similar vibe to the stained glass window knight in Young Sherlock Holmes.
The tongue-in-cheek presentation is one of the reasons the game feels refreshing and fun from the very beginning...
Don’t let the enemies’ simplistic look lull you into a false sense of security though, they hit hard and they hit fast. The bosses too have all the might and terror of your classic Dark Souls beast, with a sense of scale which takes encounters to a level beyond what you might expect from an indie game.
Memory isn’t just a souls or runes-like levelling mechanic, but a theme which keeps coming up throughout the world. With weapons in particular, many have a special ability which can be unlocked by taking them to a specific area of the world and performing a specific action.
This was one of the most interesting and unexpected mechanics, and encouraged us to explore the world in more depth, giving us an opportunity to pick up on more of the environmental storytelling.
One early area shows the NPCs are actually self-aware, with a sort of locker room complete with motivational posters like “Remember to occasionally miss!” and even a city of their own, as if the game were a day job.
The tongue-in-cheek of the presentation is one of the reasons the game feels refreshing and fun from the very beginning, and the team has managed to sustain it as you gradually discover more of the world of Nostalgaia. You can even coop with a friend and explore together for maximum destruction of bad memories.
In all, the experience is everything you would expect from a pastiche of the FromSoftware formula, but also some unexpected fun and games thrown in for good measure. Ready your sword and get ready to take on both nostalgia and Nostalgaia with a well-placed heavy attack.
LEGO can be quite personal. You might have childhood memories of putting together a new set at Christmas or fighting over different bricks with your siblings, but previous titles based around those little plastic blocks haven’t really challenged your imagination as far as creating things with LEGO goes.
It's surprising that the building sections have their issues, given ClockStone's history with both Portal and The Walking Dead Bridge Simulators, but clearly LEGO is a more intricate beast.
This leads us onto one of the most obtrusive issues, the controls. While the game has been released for consoles as well as PC, it seems clear the development had a PC-first mindset, as a glance at the controls menu and even some of the interface still has keyboard prompts rather than buttons. Of course, this could be a fairly easy fix in a future update.
...it still feels like there's something missing here. Perhaps an over-the-top protagonist like Chase McCain was in LEGO City Undercover...
The result is that actually building the LEGO models is time-consuming and often wrought with imprecise movements as you struggle to line up bricks.
This ups the difficulty without meaning to, potentially putting the game out of reach for some younger players, at least those without mum, dad, or an unusually cooperative sibling with them to pitch in now and again.
Other than that the experience is quite relaxed. The music can get a little repetitive at times, but has themes tied to each area which match the happy-go-lucky vibe.
From a visual design point of view, the digitised bricks are familiar, with a little more true-to-life aesthetic than you might be used to from the Travellers Tales LEGO series, or even LEGO Worlds, and the character animation has inspiration from the stop-motion effect in The LEGO Movie.
There are only a few things to point to which really stand out as not quite right, it still feels like there's something missing here. Perhaps an over-the-top character like Chase McCain was in LEGO City Undercover, or more depth to the narrative.
Mostly, it feels like a game which isn't quite sure if it's for kids or big kids, and while the construction system it's based on has had over 70 years to perfect the balance between its various audiences – and famously spent a fair amount of time getting it wrong at various points – it's no surprise it's a challenge.
Overall, there's a lot of fun stuff in here, and the package is more than the sum of its tiny plastic brick-shaped parts, but if you come looking for a serious cerebral challenge, you might find yourself wanting more often than not, until you're faced with the prospect of building something more intricate like a fire escape.
If you embrace the quirky humour and complete the build challenges in the spirit they are intended, you're in for a fun time.