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.
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.
When a game lives and dies on its characters and story, both need to grab you and pull you into its world. In As Dusk Falls, the adventure's first action beat is a group of brothers breaking into a house, and straight away you're challenged by the near impossible – to remember a single four-digit code.
So who are the characters? First up is Zoe, who, rather than swimming at the pool, has taken to holding her breath underwater for as long as possible.
After meeting her, complete with a chilling monologue, we immediately jump back to 1998, where Zoe is now just a youngster, on a road trip across Arizona with family, for her dad Vince's new job.
The other main protagonist is Jay, one of those brothers doing a bit of breaking and entering. You can tell from the get-go his heart isn't really in it, and even though he's arguably the character that gets the most play, we found it the most difficult to sympathise or side with him.
Multiplayer can lead to some interesting conversations, even creating deadlocks in decisions you can break by overriding the other players' choices...
The gameplay involves timed dialogue options and simple quick time events, which can be taken on solo or by up to eight people, either locally, online or both, even joining in with their smartphone. There's even a streamer mode to open the decision-making to an audience.
Multiplayer can lead to some interesting conversations, even creating deadlocks in decisions you can break by overriding the other players' choices, though this only comes into play at key decision-making “outcome” choices, which require all players to agree.
The music in the game combines a country road-friendly soundtrack with licensed songs, in particular a very effective use of Johnny case to accompany the drama as you close the first book. Otherwise, audio cues, force feedback and visual distortion play into the experience throughout, indicating when you need to act and when you need to sit back and take in the narrative.
The story itself is a fairly simple series of events, connected by a lot of layers of the characters. At times you can find yourself with no good option out of a situation, for example, you might be in an altercation with two other characters and need to side with one or the other, when you feel as though the character would choose neither and just leave.
Tension and suspense are racked up whenever you are forced into the aforementioned “outcome” decision points, which, fortunately, have no time limit, giving you that chance to think, or discuss, if you’re playing with others.
Depending on specific choices, you could find entire threads are closed off to you for the remainder of the game, which is why it feels sensible the team have only put together two books here to begin with, rather than three, which might feel like a more natural fit, as they only have to work out two sprawling, interconnected stories rather than three.
It does leave questions hanging though. The way book two closes clearly begs for another, leading us to conclude the success of As Dusk Falls will dictate whether something like As Dawn Rises will follow.
Structurally, how consistently you answer questions can lead to your characters’ behaviour being believable or a bit erratic. Of course, humans are imperfect and can be illogical and unpredictable, but when your choice is a single response which could end a marriage (if the post-chapter summary is anything to go by), it can feel a little arbitrary.
In the end, As Dusk Falls is a well thought-through story with some compelling moments, but exploring it with others might be what makes the game truly memorable. The performances are strong and just about avoid feeling like stereotypes, but limited options mean you can’t always make the characters act as you might in the same situation.
Given that it’s available day one on Game Pass, you’d be silly not to give this a try – especially since it will run just fine on Xbox One as well – and you’re looking at a fairly self-containing six-hour experience, with the potential for repeat plays to discover just how differently things might have gone.
For some, it might be the perfect first page to explore this sort of game, while for others, particularly wondering what happens next, you could be left wanting more.
Code provided by Xbox.
Many of us, especially around here, have had a fairly long history with LEGO games, and an even longer history with Star Wars, so you could say expectations were high for LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga.
Characters each have different abilities, depending on their type, and the variety brings in the sort of range of gameplay we've seen across countless LEGO games all in one.
It can prove frustrating at times to keep straight exactly what tool is needed to deal with each different coloured glow, but once you've got the hang of it (or refreshed your memory), you settle into the experience quite easily.
The puzzles themselves aren't massively challenging, though you aren't always given a huge amount of direction, a lot of the challenge is piecing visual cues together to work out the way to go.
Combat isn't too tough either, especially if you've got one of the many lightsaber-weilding characters along for the ride, as between the sabers themselves and force powers, your characters will make quick work of most enemies.
If you do find you need a bit of extra oomph though, there is a rudimentary upgrade system, which lets you level up running speed or build time for LEGO, though most won't be necessary unless you're gunning for 100% completion.
there's always something new to discover whenever you are wandering around hub worlds, inevitably smashing everything in sight...
Speaking of, there is an awful lot of "stuff" in this game. Collectables are nothing new of course, but here the total number of Kyber Bricks alone numbers at over 1,000, on top of multiple part minikits per level, hidden costumes, characters and ships as well as cheat codes to unlock huge stud multipliers.
It's dizzying at times, though it means there's always something new to discover whenever you are wandering around hub worlds, inevitably smashing everything in sight.
The experience is always endearing and wholesome, with even the darker moments of the story poked fun at or even played for laughs.
Between gameplay sections you'll see cutscenes – so far, so normal. However with so much story to get through, these sequences can feel very rushed, with entire plot points or conversations truncating minutes into mere seconds. If this is your first introduction to the story then you'd more than likely struggle, which might be the case for some younger fans.
For most though, it's a well-known story, meaning it doesn't pose too much of a narrative stumbling block, it just means at times you can feel a bit of cutscene whiplash.
The voice acting is, for the most part, on point. Qui-Gon Jin has a bit of a Sean Connery twang, but some of the actors doing impressions of the original performers do a great job – particularly Rey. Others go in a different direction, which also works, as we've seen in the Holiday Christmas Special, from which many of the performers reprise these roles. Finally you have Anthony Daniels and a handful of other originals, so in all it feels like a really mixed bag.
John William's iconic score is included in its full majesty, and the sound design is, as usual, pulled straight out of the film universe, as are all of the location and character designs – many of which boast an impressive amount of scale, which is especially apparent when you're just bumbling about, exploring.
Space is less of a compelling setting, with many space sections already well-trodden more effectively in everything from the recent Squadrons all the way back to the original Rogue Squadron series. It all has the feeling of filler rather than having a real significant point to it.
LEGO Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga feels very comprehensive, and with it being the team's umpteenth trip to a galaxy far, far away – though the first in a few years – you'd certainly hope so, but perhaps this should be the swansong for the entire franchise in a way. (Besides further Mandalorian expansions anyway.)
The experience is fun and quite therapeutic, with tons of options of things to do and explore. What's more, the game offers a rare opportunity at some very engaging and varied splitscreen play, which is a huge thumbs up.
For those already itching to jump back into the LEGO Star Wars world, this is a no-brainer, but equally, despite its drawbacks, it's a great introduction into the genre and the galaxy overall.
Sometimes you need a video game to inject some joy into your life, and that applies especially in 2020. Enter PHOGS!, the charming puzzle game about exploring with a double-headed dog in search of bone-shaped treats.
PHOGS! is easy to pick up and play and the gradual introduction of different challenges and mechanics is steady, drawing you in and having you eager to lap up just one more level.
The PHOGS (a merging of the words physics and dogs, as seen within the gameplay) exude character as you move them around. If you lazily control a single head at a time, for example, you’ll see the trailing head quickly drop off to sleep. That same level of characterisation extends to the NPCs as well, with our particular favourite being an octopus chef who's increasingly pleased with how his mountaintop soup is turning out, thanks to your help.
The game’s music has enthusiasm and beaming positivity to match, but at times relies too heavily on a short, repeated phrase that can start to grate. Fortunately each level has a new tune, meaning such earworms are fairly short-lived.
PHOGS! is an experience we’ve been hearing about for a long time, and it's a pleasure to finally have our paws on it. The sheer delight at successfully getting Red and Blue to the friendly patchwork-style snake which safeguards the end of each level can’t be overstated. It’s easy to pick up and play and the gradual introduction of different challenges and mechanics is steady, drawing you in and having you eager to lap up just one more level.
Coming into the festive season, a family PHOGS! session sounds far more appealing than a six-hour argument over Monopoly. It’s also just as fun to watch as it is to play, for any technologically-opposed family members. Coatsink and Bit Loom Games have taken a simple concept and really nailed it. If you’re in the mood for some gaming joy this Christmas, PHOGS! undoubtedly fits the bill.