My eyes glaze over in record time when looking at games like Total War. A zoomed-out view of a field of dudes tossing spears at each other puts me in a comatose state like no other genre. I had more or less written off strategy games because they almost always based in worlds or time periods that don’t interest me. But while I don’t care about faceless soldiers, I do care about Spider-Man and Rabbid Mario and that wrapping was important enough to get me to finally try — and enjoy — tactical games in 2022.
Patterns are hard to break and I had decided somewhere in my history playing games that I just wasn’t into the strategy genre. My disdain for their self-serious tones and ancient settings was enough to dispel me whether or not those generalizations were true.
But I’ve begun attempting to tackle my biases as of late and have tried to go after games I had previously written off. I’ve been diving into more and more soulslike games after falling in love with Bloodborne in 2019. I didn’t think Fallout-style RPGs were for me until I had a grand time with The Outer Worlds. The Lovecraftian style of Bloodborne and The Outer Worlds’ goofy sci-fi angle were appealing enough from the outside to draw me into the beauty both genres have to offer.
This outer wrapping can’t be understated because it’s why I started eyeballing Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle earlier in the year. The lighthearted tone and vivid art style are infinitely more inviting than something full of orcs or Templars, and Kingdom Battle uses this as a cover to draw people in to see its true depth.
This cutesy title doesn’t pull its punches, which was reassuring because I wouldn’t have the patience for a mindless game where that never pushes back. It wouldn’t exactly be unlike Ubisoft to make something too soft and dull in a desperate attempt to appeal to everyone, after all. Thinking through each move was rewarding, as was pulling off synergistic combos.
I was enthralled from beginning to end, and while many games have hooked me until the credits, doing so in a different genre just hits, well, differently. Outthinking an opponent through turn-based strategy is as rewarding as pulling off a no-hit run through a level in Sifu, but they differ ever so slightly. And that slight disparity with the right context is what keeps the hobby fresh, especially when certain genres can blend together if there’s not much to break them up.
Kingdom Battle prepared me for its sequel Sparks of Hope (which claimed a spot in my top 10), but, more importantly, it was the catalyst that pushed me to be more open to other parts of the genre. This prompted me to dust off my Vita and, after a lengthy charge, jump straight into 2012’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown.
Before that point, I had only played the first mission before bouncing off, but was able to stick around with it for a few hours before hitting some insurmountable mission that, as much as I don’t want to admit it, prematurely ended my run. It’s significantly more hardcore and absolutely does not fuck around, but it did grab me, something I likely wouldn’t have had the curiosity to find out a decade ago.
Midnight Suns was the final test of the year and something that also benefited from having a more welcoming outer shell or, in this case, Stark Industries armor. The Marvel license was the main reason I had my eyes on it; swapping out Iron Man for a generic knight man wouldn’t have been as alluring. That was enough to pique my interest and allowed me to dig into its tactical systems.
Picking the right cards and having to juggle environmental attacks, resources, and the unique properties of each hero is a balancing act that always requires a healthy amount of planning. Wolverine being there is a bonus, but that bonus works in tandem with its mechanics to keep me engaged. While many bemoaned the idea of a card-based Marvel game, I celebrated it because it was unexpected and an excuse to broaden my horizons while not going completely out of my comfort zone.
I can only hope that people who scorned Midnight Suns for its tactical gameplay will take a chance with it because of their affection for the comics giant. It might not break through, but it offers an on-ramp into a genre some have probably already written off. I’m not going to start downloading every Fire Emblem or Civilization game and start spending my weekends researching game theory because of Mario + Rabbids and Midnight Suns. But they did widen my tastes and reiterate the importance of the right framing and Spider-Man.