As another multimedia spin-off, Sentinels of Freedom has its moments, but it’s also best enjoyed by fans of the property. If you’re here seeking turn-based action with heroes, you might want to familiarize yourself with Legacy, Absolute Zero, and Expatriette before proceeding.
Platform: Switch, previously on PC
Developer: Underbite Games
Publisher: Underbite Games
Release date: July 30th, 2020
Price: $24.99 via digital download, launch discount price: $19.99
Availability: Nintendo eShop
File Size: 5.2 GB
In concept, the idea of an XCOM-like, turn-based title where players take control of superheroes seems promising. After all, being able to utilize Batman’s gadgetry or The Flash’s speed to thrash a throng of foes seems like indulging power fantasy. As an offshoot from a cooperative card-game, the recent Switch release of Sentinels of Freedom doesn’t demonstrate the sophistication of an original game. But developer Underbite Games (Super Dungeon Tactics) reveals just enough mastery to make Freedom an absorbing undertaking.
First a bit of background: Freedom is built around Sentinels of the Multiverse, a board game and app where players work as a team of superheroes to defeat a villain. Living up to its moniker, Multiverse has a lore than extends to multiple mediums. While the actual characters are all original, cards depict heroes with vibrantly colored costumes while backstories seem inspired by the golden age of comics. Eavesdrop in on the game’s podcast hosted by creators Christopher Badell and Adam Rebottaro, and you might even mistake Sentinel Comics for a real thing. You’ll find a pseudo-history that sounds authentic thanks to annotations and sub-characters who sneak their way into the limelight.
Legion of Foom
After completion of the 5.2GB download and a wait through one of those lengthy load screens that persistently accompany games made with the Unity Engine, Sentinels of Freedom offers four differently levels and a non-compulsory tutorial. Select the lesson and you’ll be given guidance and a bit of autonomy as you learn the basics. While Freedom shirks XCOM’s signature cover system, spending action points for movement or offensive strike should feel familiar. Like the beloved franchise, each turn is a puzzle where you’ll maximize the effectiveness of each unit while simultaneously developing team strategies.
Skip the seminar and you’ll plunge right into the character creation suite. While it would have been notable if Sentinels provided a way recreate the ability sets of actual comic characters, you’ll have to work within the parameters of the source material. If you’re a Sentinels fan, that’s fine, but if you’re hoping to make your own turn-based faux-Watchmen showdown, you might be disappointed. Another issue for newcomers might be the use of terminology. Employing comic onomatopoeia like “Foom”, “Skrrzat”, adds personality to elemental-like traits. But unless you’ve memorized the jargon, you might now know what trait has the advantage.
You’ll Need Microscopic Vision When Playing on the Lite
The bewilderment of terms might be worsened by the game’s port to the Switch. While the game’s text-heavy menus are easily read when your Switch is docked and connected to a large display, handheld mode feels like reading the bottom row of an eye chart. Coupled with coloring that occasionally puts purple writing on a black background, a lot of Sentinels’ information can be hard to read. At present, there’s way to adjust size of the text, so prepare for some eyestrain, especially if you’re playing on a Switch lite.
But move past these frustrations and Freedom occasionally engages. Combining moving and action allows the game to move along at a pretty good clip. And like any respectable XCOM clone, the title extends quite a few tactical options. With clearly delineated ranges, it’s a lot of fun switching up stances, harnessing different sets that might extend a wealth of attacking power or defensive potency. Given that missions are largely enemy skirmishes, homogeneity is an issue. It’s partially offset by the complexity of character builds, which makes experimentation enjoyable.
Superheroes with Contractual Limitations
Occasionally, the turn-based approach to superhero crime-fighting shows its limitations. Build an agile character like Batman or Captain America and you’ll find little evidence of their athleticism. Instead of sliding under cars or whirling around pillars, they’re persistently take the long way around, bringing their litheness into question. But like the old ‘Overwatch’ command, Sync and Vigilance Actions permit characters to act out of turn order, doing things like creating a distraction for a teammate. It’s here that Sentinels of Freedom nails the synergy of a team of superheroes working in faultless unison. Pleasingly, enemies can do the same, forcing players to defend against possible cooperative assaults.
Fortunately, that’s not the only intelligent design decision. Heroes tend to don bright colors while foes like darker ones, making it rather easy to read the playfield. And while the UI might be prohibitively small, it’s well designed, with elements confined to the periphery of the play screen. Although there’s some issues when the game renders walls, Sentinels of Freedom is artistically competent, transporting Adam Rebottaro’s style into the third dimension. You might not enjoy many visual flourishes, but at least you’ll be able to glean a functional view of the action. Similarly, the game’s soundtrack offers a solid interpretation of the orchestral swells of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
While Sentinels of Freedom doesn’t provide the polish of game like XCOM, there’s still something quite engaging about managing a team of superheroes. Much of the fun stems from creating your own characters and experimenting to find most effective ones. Although the Switch version delivers some solid tactical action on the go, you’ll sacrifice eye strain for superhero strategizing. As such, Underbite Games’ take on Sentinels might not be for everyone.
Sentinels of Freedom was played on Switch
with review code provided by the publisher.