Once upon a time, before the Marvel Cinematic Universe, there was a fun, easy to play, co-op action brawler series called X-Men Legends. Later they bequeathed the Marvel Ultimate Alliance series, featuring a huge roster of Marvel heroes and villains in co-op action full of fireballs, laser blasts, swift punches, sword strikes, and plenty of shield-throwing and Hulk-smashing.
The series lay dormant for the last decade, until now. Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is a triumphant return, showcasing classic comic book writing, art, and action in a post-MCU world. The Black Order retains the deep stat-based RPG elements while maintaining its easy and co-op-friendly action gameplay with an impressive amount of content and replayability.
Super Mario Maker was a clever delight when it launched in 2015 on Wii U. The simple premise – a full editor suite for making and playing Mario levels across multiple eras – was an instant hit, recreating the dreams of many a dreamy kid scratching out level designs in a school notebook.
The Switch sequel keeps the same solid editing and classic Mario gameplay, while adding several high quality pieces, a vastly expanded story mode, and online and local multiplayer.
Building upon the success of last year’s Jurassic Park Danger board game, Ravensburger returns with another movie license in the Jaws board game. Released in 1975, Jaws is often considered the original summer blockbuster, as a trio of men on the vacation destination of Amity Island try to keep a man-eating shark from, well, man-eating, first by trying to close the beaches, then by getting on a boat and hunting the shark themselves.
The Jaws game brilliantly captures both halves of the film in a unique two act structure, culminating in an exciting finale where the shark player rips apart a sinking boat while other players desperately try to fend it off.
The Brightest Night by Tui T. Sutherland
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
More than the other books in the Wings of Fire series, The Brightest Night has a distinct three act structure. The first act is lame, as Sunny is separated from the others in an incredibly stupid way. The entire plot is ramping up from the last two novels with the RainWings and NightWings but Sunny’s tale begins to feel like an annoying side jaunt that we shouldn’t have time for.
Act 2 picks up as we get a deeper look at the Sandwings, and Sunny’s unique family, including the return of old characters and a nifty Game of Thrones style battle.
Act 3 suddenly thrusts the overarching plot back into the lime light as our heroes decide how to stop the war. Everything wraps up a bit too neatly, yet I also appreciate that the entire SandWing Civil War
and Dragonets of Prophecy plot is solved, not dragged on through book after book.
Ultimately it’s a satisfying conclusion to these characters and the first series arc, and landing somewhere in the middle of my ranking of the first five novels.
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The Dark Secret by Tui T. Sutherland
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Coming off the strongest book of the series thus far is the weakest. The Dark Secret picks up on the interesting major plot thread left dangling at the end of Book 3 and explores the mysterious Nightwings, whom we know nothing about.
The problem is we’re left with only the PoV character, Starflight, completely separated from the rest of the dragonets for about 90% of the book. The Wings of Fire books are best when the diverse group can play off each other, and this one suffers for almost completely lacking that interplay. It doesn’t help that the neurotic hand-wringing (talon-wringing?) Starflight is one of the weakest and least likable characters.
The actual secret is disappointingly predictable and Nightwing society isn’t nearly as interesting as others we’ve seen. Yet even a weak Wings of Fire book is still pretty good; it’s well written and well paced, and the climax is suitably exciting. But compared to the first three it’s definitely a small step down.
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Over the last several years, Swedish indie developers Image & Form Games have been quietly and expertly expanding their colorful robot-filled SteamWorld universe. Impressively each of these games embodies completely different genres, such as action-platformer with SteamWorld Dig and turn-based tactical strategy in SteamWorld Heist, while still maintaining lovely 2D artwork and funny robot heroes.
SteamWorld Quest: Hand of Gilgamech features a full on fantasy world – but still starring quippy robots, and adds yet another new genre to the SteamWorld library: deckbuilding RPG. The card-based combat is intuitive and rewarding, bolstered by the colorful SteamWorld art design.
When you play the game of thrones you win or you die, but when you play Game of Thrones: Oathbreaker, everyone has a great time. Game of Thrones: Oathbreaker is a social deduction and bluffing game for large groups of five to eight players that builds upon the successful game mechanics of other social card games. The Game of Thrones theme fits perfectly as players hide their loyalties, accuse their neighbors, and ultimately serve their own personal ambitions.