Gift Guide: Games on every platform to get you through the long, COVID winter

Welcome to TechCrunch’s 2020 Holiday Gift Guide! Need help with gift ideas? We’re here to help! We’ll be rolling out gift guides from now through the end of December. You can find our other guides right here.

It’s a great time to be a gamer — I mean, what else is there to do? And with the prospect of a long winter and lonely holiday season ahead of us, here’s a list of games on all the major platforms that you can really sink your teeth — and a few dozen hours — into.

Buying for a gamer and have no idea what’s worthwhile? Once you’ve figured out which gaming system is their platform of choice, any of these should be guaranteed wins.

This article contains links to affiliate partners where available. When you buy through these links, TechCrunch may earn an affiliate commission.

All major platforms:

Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla

Screenshot of Assassin's creed valhalla showing a viking on a british landscape

Image Credits: Ubisoft

I genuinely enjoyed AC: Odyssey’s gorgeous landscapes and main characters, but the game systems felt disconnected and arbitrary. That’s much less the case with AC: Valhalla, which tells a similarly sprawling tale of vikings in England but works a little harder to put it together into a cohesive whole. It’s still very much “Ubisoft Game, but with Vikings” but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Price: $50 from Amazon

Minecraft Dungeons

I thought this game was a bit limited when it first came out, but since then it has gotten several new areas and cross-platform multiplayer. Between that and its simplified systems and PG-level violence, Minecraft: Dungeons is a great option for families that want to fight monsters together.

Price: $20-30 (depending on platform) from Mojang

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War

Reviewers agree: the new CODBLOPS is definitely more CODBLOPS. The latest in the gritty military series is the one everyone will be playing for the next year, so it’s definitely a must-have for quite a few people.

Price: $50-60 (depending on platform) from Amazon

Cyberpunk 2077

Image Credits: CD Projekt Red

Cyberpunk 2077, the futuristic RPG from the creators of the Witcher, isn’t out yet, but it’s one of the most anticipated titles in recent years and your special someone might like the idea that they’re getting it day one. Of course if it’s anything like The Witcher 3, they’re probably going to want to wait a few months for the bugs to get ironed out. But hey, it’s an option.

Price: $50 from Amazon

PS4 and PS5

Spider-Man: Miles Morales

Image Credits: Sony

This semi-sequel to the much-lauded 2018 Spider-Man is smaller in scale but plays even better. Plus it has a wonderfully inclusive cast and tone and feels authentic where the original, for all its strengths, had a pretty flat take on New York. Bonus: If you buy the PS5 version of Miles Morales, you get the remastered 2018 game for free. I’d argue you’re simply not going to find a better bang for your buck right now with any other new game.

Price: $50 on Amazon

Demon’s Souls

Image Credits: Sony

The only “true” next-generation game out there right now is a remake of a PlayStation 3 game, and in many ways it feels like it. But in other ways, it’s the most amazing game on the market right now. If your loved one has enjoyed Dark Souls, Bloodborne, Sekiro, and other incredibly hard games, this is the one to get.

Price: $70 on Amazon

Ghost of Tsushima

Between Nioh 2, Sekiro, and Ghost of Tsushima, there’s a real bumper crop of samurai and ninja action to be had. But Ghost is the broadest and most beautiful of them all — if not necessarily the deepest.

What it lacks in challenge… first of all, is more than made up by the difficulty of those other two games I mentioned, give me a break. But Ghost’s draw is in the unity and beauty of its game world and systems. For example, instead of a quest marker or arrow pointing towards your objective, the wind is just always blowing in that direction. Amazing, right? The single player campaign is remarkably well acted, and a free update has brought a surprisingly extensive multiplayer co-op mode as well. This is truly a game you can lose yourself in. Just don’t start trying to collect everything or you’ll never leave the first area.

Price: $40 on Amazon

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim

Image Credits: Vanillaware

This totally unique game came out of left field and obsessed me for two solid weeks. A combination of adventure game, visual novel, and tactical action game, 13 Sentinels puts you in charge of a bunch of high school kids piloting giant robots to save the world from alien invaders. (In case you can’t tell, it’s a Japanese production.)

Sound familiar? That’s the idea — and then it starts pulling rugs out from under you and doesn’t stop until the last few minutes. The labyrinthine story, which progresses simultaneously through 13 interwoven narratives, is the very best kind of sci-fi mind-boggler and a pleasure to unravel from start to finish. The combat is also compelling and satisfying, if not particularly deep or challenging. There’s simply nothing else like this out there.

Price: Currently $30 from GameStop

Xbox One and Series X

Halo: The Master Chief Collection

Image of Master Chief from halo

Image Credits: Microsoft

If your loved one is a Halo fan, they’re likely very sad since Halo: Infinite, once a launch title for the new console, won’t be coming out until next year. But it can’t hurt to have the original games all updated and beautified to play through as an appetizer. Plus there’s the famous Halo multiplayer to get everyone through the winter.

Price: $30 from Amazon

Yakuza: Like a Dragon

Image Credits: Sega

The latest in the long-running and beloved Yakuza series of character-driven adventures of Japanese gangsters set in a fictional Tokyo neighborhood, this one changes up the style with a turn-based combat system and new protagonist — but some are calling it the best yet.

Price: $35 from Amazon

Gears Tactics

Image Credits: Microsoft

No one really expected that the Gears of War series would lend itself to a tactics game in the style of XCOM — let alone that it would leapfrog others in the genre and become one of the best you can get, period. Naturally it isn’t quite the urgent, visceral experience that Gears normally is, but this is a surprisingly deep and engrossing game.

Price: $38 from Amazon

Ori and the Will of the Wisps

The sequel to the lauded “metroidvania” Ori and the Blind Forest is technically on several platforms, but the Series X seems to be the absolute best one on which to play it. With beautifully updated art and a silky-smooth framerate, this will look better on that new 4K HDR TV than many “real” next-generation games. But don’t let the beautiful yet cute art style make you think this is will be a cakewalk. Like the first in the series, you’ll need some serious dexterity to complete this platformer.

Price: $30 from Moon Studios

Risky move: Preorder Halo: Infinite

No one is quite sure whether the first Halo of the next generation is going to be as good as everyone hopes, and a delay to early next year didn’t allay anyone’s fears. That said, many a gamer will cherish the idea of playing the latest in this venerable series day one, so pre-ordering a copy is a possibility if none of the other games really ring their bell.

Price: $60 from Amazon

Switch

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit

Technically this is also a “toy,” because it’s real-life RC carts zooming around your home on an augmented-reality racetrack. We thought it was tons of fun, and it’s a great way to take video games off the TV and into real life… kind of. Just be aware that every player needs their own cart and their own Switch.

Price: $99 from Best Buy

Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity

Don’t go into this game expecting a full-on new Zelda title, and you’ll do just fine. This is definitely an action game, and a big, rather mindless one at that. But it’s hard to resist the concept of playing as Link, Zelda, or any of the champions from Breath of the Wild and dispatching enemies by the hundreds.

Price: $50 on Amazon

Super Mario 3D All-Stars

Image Credits: Ninendo

Okay, I gave Nintendo some guff over the perfunctory nature of this collection of amazing games. I’ve wanted to replay Mario 64 for years and was waiting for Nintendo to touch it up just a bit — but it, and Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy, are virtually unchanged in this retro package. Really, you couldn’t make it widescreen? But for most, the chance to play these games again (or for the first time) on the Switch is worth the price of admission, period.

Price: $60 from Amazon

PC

Spelunky 2 and/or Hades

The “roguelite” genre, with its randomly generated levels and complex interlocking systems, has grown in popularity and sophistication for years — and here we have two fine examples that take the genre in different directions.

Spelunky 2 is the most traditional, in a way. Sequel to one of the best games out there, this one adds more variety, more weirdness, and more challenge to the unforgiving platforming of the original. Like before, every death (and there will be a lot) is avoidable and while some runs may last only seconds, it’s hard to be deterred when you know that if you just paid a little more attention, or saved your bombs, or went over that other way… just one more game. (Pro tip: Buy a couple copies for friends and indulge in jolly cooperation.)

Hades combines the procedurally generated levels with an incredibly beautiful art style and an ingenious story and progression system. Escaping from the ever-shifting landscape of Hades, you’re going to die over and over, but as a young god that’s more inconvenience than obstacle. Meanwhile every death and every inch of progress moves you closer to the mystery of your birth in a clever modern take on Greek mythology. It’s honestly hard to imagine how Hades could be improved in almost any way.

Price: $20 for Spelunky 2 on Steam | $25 for Hades on Steam

Crusader Kings III

Image Credits: Paradox

This long-awaited strategy title puts you in the throne room of a European medieval dynasty, where you can do… pretty much anything to get ahead. Assassinations, proxy wars, brutal taxes, religious cannibalism, strategic marriages… it’s all on the table. This is a story-telling engine that’s remarkably robust and, once you get past the initial learning curve, very fun. It’s also very, very nerdy, and proud of it.

Price: $50 on Steam

Other options

Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros

Nintendo's Super Mario Bros handheld system

Image Credits: Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

This little gadget has the original Super Mario Bros, its sequel (not the weird one — what we knew as “The Lost Levels”), and a remade LCD game all built in. It’s a charming device and the games play well, plus you can turn it off and resume progress later, making it that much easier to get through the whole game.

Price: $50 (but finding one in stock can be challenging.)

Backbone One for iPhone

Image Credits: Backbone

Got a friend who prefers to game on their phone? The Backbone is built for them. This snap-on controller brings buttons and analog triggers (and good ones, at that!) into the iOS gaming world, along with a surprisingly solid companion app that can do things like record your gameplay and help you edit and post your highlight reels. It only works with select iOS titles, but the library is growing. TechCrunch Editor-In-Chief Matthew Panzarino reviewed it in October and gave it his stamp of approval with very little reservation.

Price: $99 from Backbone

 

#gadgets, #gaming, #gift-guide, #gift-guide-2020, #nintendo, #nintendo-switch, #ps4, #ps5, #tc, #xbox, #xbox-one, #xbox-series-x

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Lego expands its Super Mario world with customization tools, new Mario power-ups, and more characters

Lego’s partnership with Nintendo delivered a pretty awesome debut earlier this year with the interactive Lego Super Mario Starter Course, and now it’s following that up with additional sets designed to complement the first. These include a new ‘Master Your Adventure Maker Set,’ which adds customization options by tweaking Lego Mario’s response via three new bricks, and a new way to shuffle the rules for each level. Lego and Nintendo are also releasing additional themed Expansion sets, new power-ups for Mario, and a second series of mystery characters to incorporate into level builds.

Image Credits: Nintendo

The Master Your Adventure Maker Set includes 366 pieces in total, and will retail for $59.99. The Expansion sets include a Chain Chomp jungle-themed playset ($19.99), a Piranha Plan puzzle challenge set ($29.99), and a new Poison-themed biome for Mario to explore featuring Wiggler ($39.99). The two new power-ups for Lego Mario are his Penguin suit, and his Tanooki suit, which retail for $9.99 each respectively.

Each new Series 2 Character Pack retails for $4.99. These come in packaging that doesn’t reveal their contents until opened, adding some degree of chance to which of the new characters you end up with. The Series 2 characters include Huckit Crab, Spiny Cheep Cheep, Ninji, Foo, Parachute Goomba, Fly Guy, Poison Mushroom, Para-Beetle, Thwimp or Bone Goomba.

Image Credits: Nintendo

These will all go on sale starting January 1, both from Lego direct and from its retail partners. That’s just after the holiday rush, which seems like a bit of a miss for what you’d expect would be a popular set of gifts, but Nintendo’s still selling the original starter course and other kits

#films, #gadgets, #gaming, #hardware, #lego, #mario, #nintendo, #super-mario, #tc, #the-lego-movie

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Nintendo’s Mario Game & Watch is a choice gaming stocking stuffer of 2020

Nintendo will never stop mining its past for new nostalgia-based products, but at least it tends to do so with aplomb and occasionally even generosity. The former at least is on display with the Super Mario Bros. Game & Watch, a standalone handheld that plays the first Mario game, its unbelievably hard “Lost Levels” sequel, and acts as a totally impractical timepiece.

This tiny gaming system isn’t the most practical thing in the world, but it is a charming piece of hardware that does exactly what it says on the tin.

Turn on the Game & Watch with a button on the side and you can select between, naturally, the Game and Watch modes. In game mode, you can select between playing the original Super Mario Bros. for NES, the sequel we never got in the U.S., but was eventually released as “The Lost Levels,” and a recreation of an old-school LCD game where Mario juggles balls at ever-increasing speeds.

Nintendo's Super Mario Bros handheld system

Image Credits: Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

The screen, while certainly small, is bright and sharp, apparently displaying the exact pixel dimensions of the original Nintendo game. It plays well, too — the controls are responsive, though it feels strange to play the game on anything other than an original NES controller. The buttons of the Game & Watch are a bit softer than I’d like — but they were good enough that I cleared the first set of levels without any real frustration other than my own lack of skill.

While there is no support for saving or rewinding the game — pretty much essential for the 99 percent of us who can’t beat it honestly — at least you don’t have to to try to beat it in one sitting. The game freezes its state when you turn if off or switch to any other game or mode, meaning you can play a couple levels between subway stops and not worry about losing progress.

Nintendo's Super Mario Bros handheld system, side view

Image Credits: Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

You can hand it back and forth with a friend (after sanitizing it, of course) too, since player 2 uses the same controls.

The juggling game is a fun little diversion but, like most of those old LCD games, goes from really boring to nearly impossible in the course of about 60 seconds.

Nintendo's Super Mario Bros handheld system

Image Credits: Devin Coldewey / TechCrunch

The “Watch” mode has a charming little landscape with the current time made out of bricks, and Mario running across the screen below stomping goombas and avoiding bullet bills. If you watch for a while he’ll moonwalk, mount a pipe, and perform other hijinks. You can switch the background from normal to hills to mushroom platforms. I wouldn’t use it as a watch but if you don’t want to pull your phone out while you’re playing, there you go.

For $50 it may seem a little steep, and perhaps it is. If this had Marios 1 through 3 on it I would consider it a bargain, especially considering the ability to come back to the game time after time — I’d work my way through the epic-length third game with pleasure.

As it is, however, it’s hard to justify the price — except, of course, as a gift to a Nintendo-loving friend or loved one. That’s why I suspect these will sell like hotcakes this holiday season. With no new Switch hardware, no N64 mini, and no must-have games on Nintendo’s platforms, it’s looking a bit dry, but a Game & Watch is just silly enough — and decent enough — a device to sate the hunger of a retro-minded gamer for a few days.

#gadgets, #gaming, #hardware, #nintendo, #super-mario-bros, #tc

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Nintendo’s Switch dominates US console sales ahead of PlayStation/Xbox launches

Another banner month month for Nintendo hardware sales, per the latest figures from NPD. The firm puts Switch sales (including the standard and Lite models) at 735,000 units in the U.S., making the best October for a Nintendo console since the Wii sold 807,000 units in October 2008.

It’s been a good couple of years for the Switch, which has marked 23 straight months as the best-selling console in the States. In its own reporting, Nintendo adds that the company has sold more than 63 million units worldwide, to date. 2020 has been particularly strong for the company, owing to both pandemic-related stay-at-home orders and the strength of titles like Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which was a downright powerhouse.

Of course, many Microsoft and Sony devotees were no doubt holding off on purchasing new hardware, with the arrival of the Xbox Series X/S and PlayStation 5 a month out. Per NPD, Nintendo offset its competitors’ declines in the meantime. Though an end to Nintendo’s console sales dominance could very well be in the cards for November, even with the Switch bundles the company has on offer for Black Friday.

FIFA 21 was the best-selling game for the month — the first time an entry in the soccer franchise hit the number one spot in the U.S. on launch. The hybrid title, Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit, was Nintendo’s best-selling game at number five overall, though Nintendo managed to claim nine of the top 20 spots for the month.

#gaming, #hardware, #microsoft, #nintendo, #npd, #playstation, #sony, #switch, #xbox

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Gaming rules the entertainment industry, so why aren’t investors showing up?

As gaming’s popularity reaches epic heights, venture investors’ activity in the industry doesn’t seem to equate with the overall size of the games market. Spurred by an unreal year where traditional entertainment has been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic and consumers find unity in virtual worlds like Animal Crossing and Fortnite, gaming has never been more popular.

Late-stage investors have shown that they have a tremendous appetite for businesses in the gaming industry. They’ve been pouring capital into established gaming companies like Scopely, which on Wednesday announced a $340 million investment round at a $3.3 billion valuation. But venture capital simply hasn’t given the gaming industry and the broader synthetic market the attention it deserves given its place in the entertainment and cultural firmament.

Just ask LeBron “Bronny” James Jr., the son of the NBA’s biggest star, who became a professional athlete this week — as a gamer with one of the most popular teams in online gaming, FaZe Clan. Or look at Unity, the creator of a popular game development engine, whose stock price has nearly doubled since its public offering in mid-September. Since opening trading at $56 per share, the stock has nearly doubled in value and is now trading at $100 per share.

In the first half of the year gamers spent $36.8 billion on games through both the Android and iOS app stores, according to data from SensorTower. New game installs are also up for the year. The app analytics company said that new game installs were up to 28.4 billion over the first half of the year. Annually the 15 billion new game downloads in the second quarter represented a 45.2% year-on-year growth in gaming.

Then there’s Bitkraft, one of the only venture firms to focus on the totality of the gaming industry, which announced the close of its most recent fund, a $165 million investment vehicle. The firm, which added a former Goldman Sachs managing director earlier in the year to capitalize on the opportunity in what the firm calls “synthetic reality” investments, raised $25 million more than its $140 million target. One of these things is not like the others.

“I’ve been in the games industry for 23 years now [and] I’ve always had this huge fundamental conviction of video games not only dominating the entertainment industry but sort of taking up a big part of what society is — where video games create the digital identities that define evermore of what we understand of ourselves,” said Jens Hilgers, Bitkraft’s founding general partner. “We feel that these are times of acceleration … it’s great to see how we’re leapfrogging one or two or three years of the games industry in this crisis and it makes it more exciting to invest in these times.”

The Unity public offering, and its emphasis on markets outside of gaming, seems to prove Hilgers point and show just how much opportunity remains around the notion of synthetic reality in business and entertainment.

“Their thesis around democratizing access to gaming tools by letting hobbyists use the tools for free is smart, if you want to win the market,” said Alice Lloyd George, founder of Rogue Ventures, a new investment firm focused on frontier technologies and gaming investments.

Lloyd George compared Unity’s business to its biggest competitor, Epic Games, and noted that both have broad aspirations. “Both of them want to use their game engines beyond pure gaming,” Lloyd George said of the two big new gaming platform developers. “Unity is really well-positioned because they’re so strong on mobile. That positions them well for AR and VR. And you need onramps for the developers for AR and VR.”

Engagement and the future of entertainment

When Scopely’s co-chief executive Walter Driver talks about the attraction of gaming properties for players — and the reason investors have been willing to value his Los Angeles-based company in the billions of dollars — he talks about the connections between players. “People have found — and investors looking at the space have found also — that people value the connection they’re getting from interactive experiences. It’s not just our relationship with the players, but their relationships with each other,” Driver said. “Inside of most passively consumed media experiences, you don’t have an identity. You don’t have friends.“

#android, #epic-games, #faze-clan, #gaming, #nintendo, #sports, #startups, #tc, #twitch, #unity-technologies, #video-gaming

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War Stories: How Nintendo sold the NES to a skeptical country

Produced and directed by by Justin Wolfson, edited by Chris Jones. Click here for transcript.

Today Nintendo is a household name, the family-friendly gaming equivalent of a major brand like Disney. But it wasn’t always that way.

Ars Technica’s latest War Stories video looks at the early days of Nintendo’s 80s invasion of American shores and the marketing muscle it took to convince the American public that this Japanese company could revive a floundering video game market.

Building a brand

Perhaps more than anyone else, the person who helped massage Nintendo’s early branding and image in the United States was Gail Tilden, the company’s US marketing manager. When she started in 1983, Nintendo of America was still a small 70-person company focused on arcade games like Donkey Kong and one-off portables in the Game & Watch line.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#ars-technica-video, #feature, #features, #gaming-culture, #nes, #nintendo, #nintendo-entertainment-system, #retrogaming, #video, #war-stories

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The Freewrite Traveler is an outstanding, but expensive, dedicated portable writing laptop

As a hardware startup, Astrohaus stands apart because of its unique offerings focused specifically on writers and writing. Its debut product, the Freewrite, looked like an old-school travel typewriter with an e-ink screen. Now, it’s back with a new device it’s been working on for the past couple of years: The Freewrite Traveler. This more portable e-ink typewriter has a clamshell design and isn’t much larger than a Nintendo Switch, making it a flexible, go-anwyhere writing companion.

The basics

Astrohaus began teasing the Traveler a few years ago, before eventually launching an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign in November 2018 to get it made. The crowdfunding was very successful, raising over $600,000 on the platform before the campaign ended, and then another $200,000+ in pre-orders after that. Like many hardware efforts, it encountered a few delays relative to its original delivery timeline, but now the Freewrite Traveler is shipping out to pre-order customers.

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

In terms of specs, it has up to four weeks of battery life with regular usage, and weighs under two pounds, with a folding design that’s roughly half the surface area of most laptops. The screen on the top half is an e-ink display, and there’s a sub-screen for providing info like network status. The bottom half houses the keyboard, which boasts over 2mm of travel for a great keypress feel.

The case is plastic, as are most of the components, and the exterior is a glossy black. The Traveler connects via wifi, like the original Freewrite, and allows you to register an account to sync to up to three separate folders of documents. When out of wifi range, your work is stored locally, and it can sync to the cloud service of your choice via Freewrite’s integrations whenever you’re connected.

Design and features

The Traveler’s design is all about portability and convenience, while retaining the core usability features that make the original Freewrite such an ideal device for focused writing. The clamshell design is intentionally large enough to fit that full-sized keyboard comfortably, but keeps the screen small like with the original, which makes it more portable and ensures that distractions are kept to a minimum – aided by the fact that all you can do on it is type text, since there are no apps, browser or other functions.

Astrohaus has stayed very close to their original vision for the Traveler, with some minor tweaks including the hinge design. The end result is a light and durable-feeling portable digital typewriter, with a keyboard that feels excellent to type on – better than any laptop in my experience. The keyboard is really the star of the show here, since this is a purpose-built device created for typing. The travel feels ample, especially for a notebook-style device, and the raised, rounded keycap wells make it easy to touch type comfortably all day if you want.

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

The display, while small, provides excellent legibility and contrast, though it’s worth noting that you’ll have to supply your own light source, because as with the original Freewrite, there’s no backlight or frontlight built in, and e-ink doesn’t provide its own light like LED.

E-ink is incredibly power efficient, however, which is why you’ll get so much useful life out of the Traveler. In my testing, it’s been operating on its original charge for nearly two weeks now, which is in line with the Astrohaus estimates.

The Traveler’s case features a piano black glossy exterior, which looks great, but quickly picks up fingerprints. And existing Freewrite users might notice that the display has a slightly glossy sheen as well, where the original was fully matte. That’s because of a thin piece of optically transparent plastic that goes across the entire width of the clamshell to protect the e-ink display against the keyboard, according to Astrohaus. To me, it hasn’t been an issue in terms of usability or quality, just something to note in terms of differences.

Image Credits: Darrell Etherington

Astrohaus has created a design that stands out, regardless of what you think of the piano black finish. The contrast of the black with the white interior gives it a unique, quirky and attractive design that helps ensure you’ll never confuse the Traveler with any other gadget. And the materials keep it lightweight and durable for easily taking it with you anywhere you might want to go.

The Traveler’s hinge allows it it to open up to roughly 135 degrees, which is a good position for laptop typing. It can also be positioned at any angle less than that for when you have it elevated at a table or desk.

Bottom line

The Freewrite Traveler is a unique device, with a special appeal for people who are hyper-focused on a writing tool that offers all the benefits of cloud-connectivity with none of the downsides of a multipurpose tool like a laptop or computer. It can sync to Dropbox, Evernote or Google Drive so that you can easily create a cross-device workflow for finishing up manuscripts and drafts, but on its own, the Traveler will ensure you remain focused on the task at hand – and enjoy yourself while doing so.

A portable, digital writing device like this one isn’t unique in the world – many distraction-free writing enthusiasts use the Pomera line of products from Japan for this purpose. But Astrohaus is unique in providing hardware tailor-made for North American and European markets, and they’ve done an amazing job at delivering on the potential of this device even in a field of relatively few competitors.

The Traveler is fairly expensive at $599, but there’s truly nothing else like it, if what you want is a laser-focused writing device that combines portability with great ergonomics, long-lasting battery and cloud storage convenience.

#articles, #astrohaus, #computing, #dropbox, #e-ink, #e-book, #evernote, #freewrite, #gadgets, #google, #hardware, #hardware-startup, #indiegogo, #industrial-design, #japan, #laptop, #laser, #microsoft-surface, #nintendo, #reviews, #tc, #typewriter, #writing

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Nintendo’s new translation tune? What a Fire Emblem re-release means in 2020

Nintendo’s latest surprise announcement hinges on a different anniversary than the usual mascots like Mario, Link, and Pikachu: it’s for Fire Emblem, the turn-based strategy series that launched exclusively in Japan in 1990. To celebrate its 30th anniversary, the game’s first 8-bit adventure is getting the re-release treatment, either as a basic digital version or with a deluxe, physical collection of booklets, maps, and more.

But there’s a funny thing about Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon & The Blade of Light. This 8-bit re-release has some emulation-like tweaks and perks, but this is otherwise not a remake. Up until now, its text-filled Famicom version never got an official translation and release for Western audiences. And unlike the rare cases where Nintendo produced, then shelved, a translated version of a Japanese game, this first Fire Emblem game was never advertised or teased to Western fans.

In any other year, we might look at this delightful throwback to a classic, Japan-only Nintendo game and briefly give the whole thing a thumbs up. But 2020 has been a weird one for Nintendo, so I’m tempted to take a closer look and ask: is this a sign of more unearthed translations to come?

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#fire-emblem, #gaming-culture, #nintendo

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Gowalla is being resurrected as an augmented reality social app

Gowalla is coming back.

The startup, which longtime TechCrunch readers will likely recall, was an ambitious consumer social app that excited Silicon Valley investors but ultimately floundered in its quest to take on Foursquare before an eventual $3 million acquihire in 2011 brought the company’s talent to Facebook.

The story certainly seemed destined to end there, but founder Josh Williams tells TechCrunch that he has decided to revive the Gowalla name and build on its ultimate vision by leaning on augmented reality tech.

“I really don’t think [Gowalla’s vision] has been fully realized at all, which is why I still want to scratch this itch,” Williams tells TechCrunch. “It was frankly really difficult to see it shut down.”

After a stint at Facebook, another venture-backed startup and a few other gigs, Williams has reacquired the Gowalla name, and is resurrecting the company with the guidance of co-founder Patrick Piemonte, a former Apple interface designer who previously founded an AR startup called Mirage. The new company was incubated inside Form Capital, a small design-centric VC fund operated by Williams and Bobby Goodlatte .

Founders Patrick Piemonte (left) and Josh Williams (right). Image credit: Josh Williams.

Williams hopes that AR can bring the Gowalla brand new life.

Despite significant investment from Facebook, Apple and Google, augmented reality is still seen as a bit of a gamble with many proponents estimating mass adoption to be several years out. Apple’s ARKit developer platform has yielded few wins despite hefty investment and Pokémon Go — the space’s sole consumer smash hit — is growing old.

“The biggest AR experience out there is Pokémon Go, and it’s now over six years old,” Williams says. “It’s moved the space forward a lot but is still very early in terms of what we’re going to see.”

Williams was cryptic when it came to details for what exactly the new augmented reality platform would look like when it launches. He did specify that it will feel more like a gamified social app than a social game, though he also lists the Nintendo franchise Animal Crossing as one of the platform’s foundational inspirations.

A glimpse of the branding for the new Gowalla. Image credit: Josh Williams

“It’s not a game with bosses or missions or levels, but rather something that you can experience,” Williams says. “How do you blend augmented reality and location? How do you see the world through somebody else’s eyes?”

A location-based social platform will likely rely on users actually going places, and the pandemic has largely dictated the app’s launch timing. Today, Gowalla is launching a waitlist, Williams says the app itself will launch in beta “in a number of cities” sometime in the first-half of next year. The team is also trying something unique with a smaller paid beta group called the “Street Team,” which will give users paying a flat $49 fee early access to Gowalla as well as “VIP membership,” membership to a private Discord group and some branded swag. A dedicated Street Team app will also launch in December.

#apple, #arkit, #augmented-reality, #bobby-goodlatte, #co-founder, #facebook, #foursquare, #google, #gowalla, #josh-williams, #mirage, #nintendo, #operating-systems, #software, #tc, #techcrunch, #websites

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Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit review

Text: Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit review by Bryce Durbin [Image: drawing of Mario Kart car next to Nintendo Switch]
Text: Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit is a remote-controlled car connected wirelessly to the Nintendo Switch. It's available for $99.99 on October 16. The game it's played with is a free download. [Image: drawing of closeup of Mario Kart toy] Text: The car has a camera above Mario (or Luigi) so you can see from his point of view on the Switch screen. Augmented reality (AR) elements are overlaid on what you see for a reality-bending cart experience. [Image: drawing of in-game play in a living room]
Text: Players build the course using four gates and optional arrow signboards. I found the more complicated you make your course, the more challenging the game will be. [Image: A drawing of a simple race setup in a living room] Text: In one-player mode, you can race against the Koopalings in a Grand Prix, do a time trial, or make a custom course. As you play, you can unlock customizations to your kart. [Image: A drawing of an in-game image of Builder Mario]
Text: Obstacles include in-game mainstays like banana peels and bombs as well as whatever hasn't been swept out of the way of your custom-made course. [Image: In-game image of living room floor including real-life toys and in-game banana peel and bob-omb] Text: Most of the course themes will be familiar if you've played Mario Kart before... [Image: In-game image of Rainbow Road course]
Text: ...but each track I tested had surprises, such as a track styled after the original Super Mario Bros or a course that sometimes becomes mirrored. [Image: In-game drawing of World 1-1 with goomba being struck by kart] Text: It's a strange and delightful game experience. Without the AR layer, it's just a relatively slow-moving RC kart. [Image: a drawing of the Mario Kart toy]
Text: I didn't have the opportunity to race against other real-life players in multiplayer mode. It requires each player to have their own additional car *and* Switch. [Image: Mario and Luigi racers, two Nintendo Switches]
Text: Overall, this is a novel toy that has replay value depending on how much time and space you want to to devote to making custom courses. [Image: dining room scene of child and Mario Kart race track]

 

#entertainment, #gaming, #hardware, #mario-kart, #mario-kart-live-home-circuit, #nintendo, #reviews, #tc

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Nintendo forces rebranding for adult entertainer “Pokeprincxss”

Here's hoping Nintendo doesn't also consider those tattoos an infringement on its intellectual property.

Enlarge / Here’s hoping Nintendo doesn’t also consider those tattoos an infringement on its intellectual property. (credit: DigitalPrincess/Tiktok)

Nintendo has issued a cease-and-desist order against a popular social media influencer for using Pokémon branding and imagery in her handle and products. But while the influencer formerly known as “Pokeprincxss” acknowledges her legal mistakes, she also feels she has been targeted by Nintendo for a very specific reason.

“Nintendo doesn’t want people to think I’m in any way, shape or form affiliated with them or that I have a partnership with them, and it all comes down to me being an adult entertainer,” the now-renamed “Digitalprincxss” says in a recent YouTube video addressing the issue. “Even though there are other people with ‘Poke’ in their name and they make money off it… I think it just literally has to do with me being an adult entertainer because they aren’t adult entertainers.”

Digitalprincxss boasts 1.9 million followers on Tiktok and significant followings on other public social media accounts. But she also hosts a subscription-based OnlyFans page, which charges $17 a month and promises “access to all my NSFW photos/videos that I post daily” and “uncensored content that I usually tease you with both on Instagram/Twitter.”

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#gaming-culture, #legal, #nintendo, #pokemon

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Going in-depth with Nintendo’s augmented reality Mario Kart RC car

The toy industry has given us plenty of radio-controlled cars that are modeled after the Mario Kart franchise. But the $100 Mario Kart Life: Home Circuit, announced last month, promises to be the first to integrate such a toy car with an augmented reality camera and attendant Switch game experience.

While we haven’t gotten any hands-on time with Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit yet, we were able to participate in a recent livestream demo of the RC car/AR app combo ahead of its planned October 16 release. What we saw doesn’t quite match up to a full-fledged Mario Kart game, but it looks like it could add a lot of creativity and imaginative play opportunities to the standard RC car experience.

On your mark…

The demo walked us through the Mario Kart Live setup process, which starts off by using the camera on the Kart to scan a QR code found on the free downloadable Switch app (that app won’t work at all without the Kart). With that scan, the Kart and Switch are connected directly via Wi-Fi, without the need for any router or live Internet connection.

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#gaming-culture, #mario, #mario-kart, #nintendo, #toys

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Nintendo’s new RC Mario Kart looks terrific

In a year, Nintendo would have demoed, in person, Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit. The company would have invited select members of the press into some rented event space and let us experience the game first-hand, like it had with Labo and Ring Fit Adventures. It’s 2020, however, and that’s just not how we do things.

Watching someone else play an RC game over teleconference software is not ideal. But it’s nothing if not extremely of the moment. And more importantly, it’s probably a testament to what Nintendo has built here that it translates so well with a less than ideal setup. Granted, I won’t feel comfortable offering a proper review until I’ve played the game on my Switch, but I can confidently say that Mario Kart Live makes for one hell of an impressive demo.

Image Credits: Nintendo

Like the recently released Mario Lego sets, this is the kind of toy that makes me jealous of kids today. It also, frankly, bums me out that I don’t have more space at home to lay out a track. I’ve heard it was a buyer’s market, so maybe I’ll go buy a house. Whatever the case, bringing Mario to a real-world RC car is one of those no-brainer ideas, and the execution looks great.

The game also finds Nintendo embracing augmented reality in a really convincing and clever way. We’ve seen some AR from the company, most notably in the form of Pokémon GO — which, to be fair, was more of a Niantic joint and, as plenty will happily point out, not really proper AR. And like that title, Nintendo worked closely with a third party. In this case, it’s the New York-state based Velan Studios, which was started by brothers Guha and Karthik Bala who also founded Vicarious Visions, an Albany-based game developer now owned by Activision.

“It started as an experiment by a small team at Velan,” the startup said in a blog post today. “Like many prototypes, the main goal was to “find the fun”. We built an RC car by kitbashing together drone parts, cameras, and sensors to create a unique thirdperson view driving experience. It gave us the exhilaration of speed and allowed us to see the world from a totally different perspective.”

Image Credits: Nintendo

The execution of Mario Kart Live is a perfect bit of synergy in that it leverages the Switch to really bring the whole thing to life — in a manner similar to what the company has already done with Labo and Ring Fit. Of course, much or most of the real magic here comes courtesy of the racer. Currently limited to Mario and Luigi (no word yet on additional characters), the cars feature both a camera for FPV on the Switch and all of the requisite sensors.

Nintendo declined to answer specific questions about the on-board sensors and other hardware, but one assumes depth-sensing plays a big role here. There’s no calibration out of the box. You can pretty much start it up and start driving around. Once you actually unfold and set up the three gates to create the circular course, however, that will require some driving to generate the lay of the land. Nintendo’s employed a clever graphic for that, with Lakitu dropping a bucket of paint the character drives over and tracks with his wheels.

Image Credits: Nintendo

The game also employs some clever physics, with game action impacting speed and steering. There’s a range of top speeds, from 50 to 200 cc. A demo stripped of AR shows how in-game elements impact the actual kart speed. Other elements, like the sudden occasional sand storm, cause the kart to drift to the sides. The game will also react, if, say, you crash it into a table leg — sending coins flying just as it would in a Mario Kart game.

On that note, the company tells me that the karts are quite robust, with a bumper that’s essentially designed to run into stuff. That shouldn’t cause any damage, given the top speeds here. Though the company notes that if, say, a heavy book falls on top of the kart after it jostled it loose from a shelf, that could ultimately be an issue. Nintendo says there will be a way to repair the karts, but offered no specifics on warranty.

Image Credits: Nintendo

Races can be played with up to four, though a kart is required to play. In fact, the actual game will be free to download from the Nintendo store, but is essentially worthless without a kart. Until that’s set up, the only thing you’ll be able to access is a game trailer. At the moment, the in-game opponents are just the Koopalings.

Image Credits: Nintendo

Like the karts themselves, however, it seems likely — or even certain — that the company will introduce additional characters down the road. Perhaps we can look for expansions along the lines of what the company has done with Smash Bros. Also, like Mario Maker, you can customize both your character and car for the in-game FPV AR overlays (though these won’t be visible to other players).

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit arrives October 16, priced at $100 a kart. You’ll need either a Switch or Switch Lite to play.

#gaming, #mario-kart, #nintendo, #nintendo-switch

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Mario’s early levels wear out their welcome in Super Mario Bros. 35

Illustration of Nintendo's Mario smashing through a glass wall.

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Nintendo)

Back in 2018, at the dawn of the PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds phenomenon, designer Brendan Greene told Ars Technica that he thought every genre—not just shooters—could potentially benefit from sampling the last-man-standing concept of the battle royale genre. Since then, games like Tetris 99 and Fall Guys have proven how flexible and robust that idea can be across the industry.

Super Mario Bros. 35 (available for free today through March 2021 as part of a Nintendo Switch Online subscription) should be a welcome addition to that collection, mixing the time-tested gameplay of the Mario series with the endless competition of the battle royale genre. Unfortunately, some odd design decisions have made my first day with the game a repetitive, overly simplistic mess, and it doesn’t feel like the game will have much staying power.

All hail the Fire Flower

Here are the basics: Super Mario Bros. 35 looks a lot more like Tetris 99 than it does PUBG or Fortnite. (No, 99 Marios aren’t dropping from a Koopa airship to find a single Princess Peach.) You and 34 online competitors get your own self-contained instance of levels from the original Super Mario Bros., and everyone plays the classic game simultaneously in isolation, as opposed to 35 Marios jumping around the same playfield. (You can see everyone else’s progress in tiny preview windows around the screen, and you’ll recognize when they’re underground or in a dungeon while you’re elsewhere).

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#gaming-culture, #mario, #nintendo, #super-mario-bros, #switch

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A fond farewell to the weird and wonderful Nintendo DS

A fond farewell to the weird and wonderful Nintendo DS

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson)

In December 2004, my boyfriend showed up at my apartment door carrying a box. “I brought you a present!” he said, clearly excited. “Open it!”

‘Tis the season, I thought, unwrapping it. I turned the box around. “A… Nintendo… DS? Is this, like… a Game Boy kind of thing?”

As I fought my way through layers of cardboard and plastic to open my new toy, he pulled a matching unit out of his own messenger bag, opened it up, and began to explain. I had never owned a portable console—I’d barely ever even owned a regular console, I was a lifelong PC gamer—and while I tried to greet the gift with good cheer, I bluntly had no idea why on Earth he had given it to me.

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#3ds, #ds, #gaming-culture, #handheld-gaming, #nintendo, #nintendo-3ds, #nintendo-ds, #nintendo-ds-lite

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Super Mario 3D All-Stars review: A bare-bones nostalgia warp zone

In the early ’90s, Super Mario All-Stars was among the first titles to suggest that important old console games—like the early 2D Super Mario Bros. series—shouldn’t be stranded on the obsolete hardware that originally hosted them. The collection also popularized the notion that older games could be improved with new technology while still preserving their original intent.

Now 27 years later, widespread backward compatibility and regular remasters (including those from Nintendo) have made that concept more de rigueur than revolutionary. Thus, Super Mario 3D All-Stars feels weirdly anti-climactic.

On the one hand, it’s a collection of three of the best 3D platformers ever made (well, two-and-a-half of the best, at least) in a format that’s more easily compatible with modern TVs and the Switch’s convenient portable form factor. On the other hand, that’s pretty much all it is.

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#gaming-culture, #mario, #nintendo, #super-mario-64, #super-mario-galaxy, #super-mario-sunshine, #switch

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Shred monsters as Zelda and others in ‘Breath of the Wild’ prequel ‘Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity’

Nintendo has announced a surprise spin-off prequel to its modern classic Breath of the Wild, an action-focused game called Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity. You’ll play the role of Link, as usual, but also the four champions and Princess Zelda herself, in attempting (unsuccessfully, as we know) to fight back the hordes of Ganon 100 years before the Switch launch title.

The game, clearly intended to tide over fans ravenous for the recently teased sequel, is developed by Koei Tecmo, which previously made the first Hyrule Warriors game as part of their long running Warriors series of large-scale battle-em-ups. That one, however, was more of a Zelda-themed action game, very much in the old realistic style that Nintendo ditched for a more painterly, stylized one.

Age of Calamity adopts not just the new look, but the characters and setting from Breath of the Wild, meaning it’s a canon entry in the franchise and a direct prequel.

One of the most interesting features of Breath of the Wild was the Princess, who bucked years of tradition by being not just a damsel in distress (though she is that too) but an interesting character unto herself, more so than Link and most of the champions. Her curiosity and scholarly ambition endeared players and made them see that the warrior they were playing was clever and strong, but little more than that — everyone wanted more Zelda.

Image Credits: Nintendo

The sequel may very well scratch that itch, but in the meantime we’ll get to tool around with the Princess in battle mode in this prequel. That’s a rare treat — she was playable in the previous Hyrule Warriors and in a spare handful of other games — and hopefully a taste of things to come.

Although I recently lamented Nintendo’s conservative and disappointing approach to bringing its classic 3D Mario games to modern audiences, Zelda has been successfully reinvented and updated more than once. The Warriors series isn’t known for breaking new ground — it’s really about killing monsters and enemy soldiers by the hundred — but this could prove a valuable addition to one of gaming’s most beloved franchises.

#gaming, #legend-of-zelda, #nintendo, #nintendo-switch, #switch, #zelda

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Masterpiece: Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island

Masterpiece: Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island

Update, Sept. 6, 2020: It’s Labor Day Weekend in the US, and even though most of us now also call home “the office,” Ars staff is taking a long weekend to rest and relax. For many, that includes gaming on titles new and old. We planned on resurfacing a few pieces from the archives to keep the lights on over a holiday, so it seemed only right to select one honoring an all-time classic that turns 25 this year. Our Masterpiece essay on Yoshi’s Island originally ran in September 2012 and it appears unchanged below.

Back in 1995, I thought I knew what a Mario game was. Running left to right (or maybe down to up). Jumping on things. Eating mushrooms to get big. Flying, sometimes. You know the drill. Then Yoshi’s Island came along and showed that Mario games could be about a lot more than that.

Yeah, you were still running through levels and jumping on things, but the myriad ways Yoshi’s Island expanded on the Mario formula made it feel like an entirely new game. Yoshi went from an occasional helper in Super Mario World to a permanently controllable character in Yoshi’s Island, tasked with protecting a near-helpless Baby Mario riding on his back. Yoshi’s oversized tongue let players slurp up enemies and transform them into projectile eggs that could be fired in any direction. What used to be a run-and-jump series was now run-and-jump-and-slurp-and-shoot game, and the Yoshi’s Island designers built levels that catered to these new abilities wonderfully.

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#gaming-culture, #mario, #nintendo, #snes, #super-mario-world, #super-nes, #yoshis-island

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Nintendo rips the seal off the next generation of nostalgia, but fans fret

It has always been considered a matter of if, and not when, Nintendo would begin capitalizing in earnest on content from beyond the SNES generation. The company is finally showing its intent to do so today — but with an uneven approach that leaves some fans worried about its intentions for other all-time gaming classics from the 64-bit era and beyond.

In a celebratory video of 35 years of Super Mario Bros. history, Nintendo announced a litter of new and old games starring its iconic plumber protagonist.

Some of its announcements were very Nintendo, in a good way. Making a Mario Kart that, like the Labo DIY projects, bridges the gap between reality and game is a brilliant idea and very unlike what others in console gaming are doing. And the retro-style “Game & Watch” handheld pre-loaded with Super Mario Bros. and the Lost Levels will no doubt be a popular gift this holiday season.

Nintendo also demonstrated a willingness to experiment with its oldest and in some ways most conservative franchise with Super Mario Bros. 35, a sort of battle royale version of the original game where 35 players compete on the same level, sending hazards to one another and attempting to finish with a variety of win conditions. A logical sequel to Tetris 99, which applied a similar transformation to everyone’s favorite block-based puzzler, and potentially a lot of fun.

But when it came to bringing fan favorites from the N64 and GameCube to the Switch, the company left much to be desired.

Nintendo’s approach to resurrecting its back catalog has been haphazard: Giving away NES and SNES games for free to Nintendo Online subscribers is a nice bonus in a way, but many players have already paid for those games on previous consoles, perhaps multiple times. Why, players have asked, can’t someone just bring their purchase of Kid Icarus over from the Wii’s Virtual Console to the Switch and play it without a subscription? Nintendo has never provided a good answer to this; in the SNES Mini it has provided an excellent alternative — though of course it means buying the game yet again.

The question on countless players’ minds was: Will Nintendo add N64 titles to the library of past-generation games for anyone to access, or gussy them up and sell them separately? With both Mario and Zelda’s 35th anniversaries approaching, this was a very material concern.

As it turns out, Nintendo has somehow threaded the needle with a solution seemingly made to leave everyone wanting something more.

Image Credits: Ninendo

The Super Mario 3D All-Stars collection includes Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy, from the N64, GameCube and Wii respectively, and has a full-size $60 price tag. These are all great games, obviously. But being classics doesn’t mean there’s no way to update them for modern audiences.

Take Mario 64. Universally beloved and hugely influential, it is nevertheless a bit long in the tooth in some ways. But the Mario 64 in All-Stars is only brought up to the barest standard of playability on modern consoles: It works with current Switch controllers and runs at an updated resolution. They didn’t even bother changing the original 4:3 aspect ratio!

Amazingly, Nintendo didn’t even include the substantial upgrades it made itself for the DS re-release of the game. As with the original All-Stars for SNES, which included re-drawn sprites and other improvements, this was an opportunity to show the quality of these games while also doing right by fans who have for years had to resort to emulators and mods to make the games suitable for 21st-century consumption.

Instead Nintendo has opted to do the absolute minimum while charging the absolute maximum. What’s more, there seems to be some kind of limited availability that the company hasn’t quite made clear — what goes on sale in a couple weeks will only be available until March of next year. Then what? Nintendo hasn’t said. (I’ve asked for clarification and will update this article if I hear back.)

Image Credits: Nintendo

Long-time customers will not be surprised by Nintendo’s oblique strategy and seeming lack of ambition here. The company has institutionalized a unique combination of extreme conservatism and eye-popping risk-taking. Overdeliver with one hand and underdeliver with the other is Nintendo’s approach, and it was hoped by many players that the former hand would be the one with the Mario anniversary content in it.

It’s troubling not simply because there’s one game that doesn’t justify its price tag good value, but because it signals an underwhelming approach to the entire library of Nintendo classics. With the 35th anniversary of other beloved franchises on the horizon — Zelda and Metroid, for a start — it is a legitimate worry that Nintendo may likewise let down the fan base.

Sure, it may sound a bit like the notorious entitlement expressed by gamers over things like microtransactions, exclusivity agreements and so on. But with Nintendo and these very important titles from its vault, expectations are justifiably different.

With almost no releases on third-party platforms and an aggressive approach to shutting down what it views as IP offenses, Nintendo exercises an iron grip over its content, especially its crown jewels, Mario and Zelda. If we are ever to receive an improved version of Mario 64, or Sunshine, or for that matter Ocarina of Time, not to speak of dozens of other classics, Nintendo is the only one that can provide it.

Sometimes that means a beautiful total redo of a game like Link’s Awakening. But at other times it means we must make do with scraps from the table, as with the arbitrary trickle of NES and SNES games coming to Nintendo Switch Online (itself a bundle of scraps compared with other console subscriptions, it must be said). Everyone right now is thinking that the inevitable Zelda collection will be equally bare bones (and expensive).

The dream players have for decades cherished for example, a multiplayer Mario 64, will never emerge in the wilds of the internet because Nintendo will swoop in with a cease and desist in record time. So they must rely on the company to make those dreams come true, and it is remarkably inconsistent in doing so.

The treasure chest of games Nintendo has just opened the lid on is potentially a source for years of content and will partly define the company’s overarching strategy going forward. But it makes gamers nervous to see Nintendo aiming at their wallets instead of their hearts. Usually it’s at least both.

#gadgets, #gaming, #hardware, #mario, #nintendo, #nintendo-switch, #super-mario-bros, #tc

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Nintendo is remaking the first portable gaming system it ever built

Quick, what was the first portable gaming system Nintendo made?

If you said “Game Boy”… solid guess, but not quite. For nearly a decade before Nintendo released that iconic gray beast, it was making the Game & Watch — a collection of handheld devices, each dedicated to playing just one or two simple games and, occasionally, doubling as a clock.

Hammering that nostalgia button in a way that few other companies can, Nintendo announced this morning that the Game & Watch will be making a modernized, but limited edition, return.

Released as part of the celebration around the 35th anniversary of Super Mario Bros., it’s fully Mario themed — and, appropriately, called “Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros.”

As with the original Game & Watch lineup, it seems like this one is meant to be pretty limited in the number of different titles it can play. On the official product page, Nintendo mentions Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 2: The Lost Levels (or just ‘Super Mario Bros. 2’, as it was known in Japan), and a Mario-skinned remake of Ball, the first Game & Watch title that shipped back in April of 1980. So three games in all… but given what we’ve seen happen with previous devices like this, I wouldn’t be surprised if the fans crack it open and have it running a whole lot more than that in no time flat.

A lot has changed in forty(!) years, so Nintendo is sneaking a few upgrades into this Game & Watch that probably seem like givens today. Its got a full color LCD, for example, whereas the original displays were black and white — and you’ll be able to charge it over USB-C, rather than having to burn through a stack of button cell batteries. Nintendo says it should last around 8 hours per charge.

Clock Mode!

When you’re not playing one of the included games, this thing turns into a little portable clock (thus the “& Watch” part of its name), with 35 different Mario-themed scenes in all. If Nintendo does that clock feature right, I can see these things earning a permanent spot on a lot of people’s desks.

While Nintendo notes that it’ll be a “limited” run, they haven’t said exactly how many of these they’ll be making… and while pre-order details are “coming soon”, they’re not getting more specific than that. They do say it’ll ship on November 13th with an MSRP of $50… but beyond that, if you’re worried about getting one of these, you’ll want to keep an eye out for more details.

 

#nintendo, #super-mario, #tc

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Nintendo’s latest trick is turning the Switch into an RC controller for an AR Mario Kart game

Nintendo never ceases to surprise with a seemingly infinite numbers of ways of transforming its most beloved IP. Hot on the heels of some truly impressive Super Mario Bros. Lego kits comes Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit. The new toy is a clever mashup of real-life RC cars the Nintendo Switch.

Image Credits: Nintendo

The hybrid portable gaming system utilizes cameras on-board the Mario and Luigi karts to offer an on-screen augmented reality first-person racing experience. There’s a teaser video out now, highlighting the game just below:

As you can see, it offers a familiar Mario Kart feel overlayed on top of your home. There’s a pretty simple set up process involved, with the user spacing out a series of gates to create a circular course — think of it a like a far more fun version of setting up Roomba boundaries. Right now there are only two characters —Mario and Luigi — available for now, each priced at $100. But up to four players can compete with the in-person mode.

Image Credits:

From the videos, at least, it looks like a pretty rich experience right out of the box, combining real world obstacles with familiar characters and environments like snowy levels and Piranha Plant-filled jungles.

Each kits includes one racer, four gates and two sign boards. They go up for pre-order soon and start shipping October 16.

#augmented-reality, #gaming, #mario, #mario-kart, #nintendo, #nintendo-switch, #switch

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Super Mario 3D All-Stars brings three high-res ports to Switch

Thursday morning, Nintendo confirmed longstanding rumors that a set of classic 3D Mario games will be ported to the Switch. As part of a video presentation celebrating Mario’s 35th anniversary, the company announced Super Mario 3D All-Stars, a package including “higher resolution” ports of Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy with controls designed specifically for Switch controllers.

While Super Mario 64 was previously emulated on the Wii and Wii U virtual consoles (and heavily modified for a Nintendo DS re-release when that system launched), this is the first time any 3D Mario games have been specifically ported to HD-capable hardware. While Nintendo hasn’t specifically confirmed what “higher resolution” will be supported, Super Mario 64 in particular looks much sharper in provided footage.

Super Mario Sunshine will also be playable in a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio for the first time, and all three games will include a soundtrack that can be played independently of the games running or the Switch screen even being active, Nintendo says.

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#all-stars, #gaming-culture, #mario, #nintendo, #switch

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Biden presidential campaign rolls out yard signs in Animal Crossing

Joe Biden’s presidential campaign is rolling out a series of official virtual yard signs designed for display on islands in Animal Crossing: New Horizons for the Nintendo Switch.

As first reported by The Verge, the four virtual sign designs squeeze supportive messages for the Democratic candidate into a 32 x 32 pixel, 16-color custom pattern square, suitable for displaying on a sign in front of your virtual house. In addition to the standard “Biden Harris” and “Team Joe” designs, the campaign has also released a version with a rainbow pride logo integrated into the “JOE” branding and a design featuring Biden’s signature aviator sunglasses in red, white, and blue.

In the course of normal gameplay, an Animal Crossing yard sign will only be directly visible to the few players who actively decide to visit the island where they’re displayed. But to get the designs out there, The Verge reports, the campaign is sharing the designs with a handful of influencers who will feature them in gameplay streams throughout the day starting today.

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#biden, #gaming-culture, #nintendo, #politics, #switch

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Reports: “4K” Nintendo Switch revision slated for 2021 launch

What exactly can we expect from a "4K"-grade Nintendo Switch? We doubt its built-in display will reach 3840x2160 resolution, but will it still maintain the system's popular "hybrid" nature of portability and TV compatibility? And will it get exclusive games? We're still left with questions after today's reports.

Enlarge / What exactly can we expect from a “4K”-grade Nintendo Switch? We doubt its built-in display will reach 3840×2160 resolution, but will it still maintain the system’s popular “hybrid” nature of portability and TV compatibility? And will it get exclusive games? We’re still left with questions after today’s reports. (credit: Nintendo / Sam Machkovech)

An upgraded version of the Nintendo Switch console appears to finally be on the horizon. Multiple outlets have claimed that Nintendo’s long-rumored plans for a higher-powered Switch are finally moving forward with an expected launch of sometime in 2021.

Reports from both Bloomberg and the Taipei outlet United Daily News allege that this system’s specifications are currently in flux, according to sources familiar with Nintendo’s plans. Bloomberg’s late Monday report claims that Nintendo is considering upgrades like “more computing power and 4K high-definition graphics,” and those details line up with a machine-translated version of UDN’s report from earlier in the day.

Games? Portability?

Intriguingly, the UDN report points to an aggressive release schedule as early as “Q1 2021,” with hardware production beginning by the end of 2020, but Bloomberg’s report does not mention such a timeframe. Both reports mention a dearth of announced software for Nintendo Switch this holiday season, and Bloomberg reporter Takashi Mochizuki claims this is intentional on Nintendo’s part, in order to bolster “launch” software for the upgraded Switch next year.

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#gaming-culture, #nintendo, #nintendo-switch

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Unity’s IPO numbers look pretty … unreal?

Unity, the company founded in a Copenhagen apartment in 2004, is poised for an initial public offering with numbers that look pretty strong.

Even as its main competitor, Epic Games, is in the throes of a very public fight with Apple over the fees the computer giant charges developers who sell applications (including games) on its platform (which has seen Epic’s games get the boot from the App Store), Unity has plowed ahead narrowing its losses and maintaining its hold on over half of the game development market.

For the first six months of 2020, the company lost $54.2 million on $351.3 million in revenue. The company narrowed its losses compared to 2019, when the company lost $163.2 million on $541.8 million in revenue, and 2018 when the company lost $131.6 million on $380.8 million in revenue. As of June 30, 2020 the company had total assets of $1.29 billion and $453.2 million in cash.

Increasing revenue and narrowing losses are things that investors like to see in companies that they’re potentially going to invest in, as they point to a path to profitability. Another sign of the company’s success is the number of customers that contribute more than $100,000 in annual revenue. In the first six month of the year, Unity had 716 such customers, pointing to the health of its platform.

The company will trade on the NYSE under the single-letter ticker ‘U’. The NYSE only has a few single letters left to offer, although Pandora gave up the letter P when it was bought by Liberty Media back in 2018.

Unlike Epic Games, Unity has long worked with the major platforms and gaming companies to get their engine in front of as many developers and gamers as possible. In fact, the company estimates that 53 percent of the top 1,000 mobile games on the Apple App Store and Google Play Store and over 50 percent of mobile, personal computer and console games were made with Unity.

Some of the top titles that the platform claims include Nintendo’s Mario Kart: Tour, Super Mario Run and Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp; Niantic’s Pokémon Go and Activision’s recent Call of Duty: Mobile are also Unity games.

The knock against Unity is that it’s not as powerful as Epic’s Unreal rendering engine, but that hasn’t stopped the company from making forays into industries beyond gaming – something that it will need to continue doing if it’s to be successful.

Unity already has a toehold in Hollywood, where it was used to recreate the jungle environment used in Disney’s Lion King remake (meanwhile, much of The Mandalorian was created using Epic’s Unreal engine).

Of course, Unity’s numbers also reveal that the size of its business is currently a bit smaller than its biggest rival. In 2019, Epic said it had earnings of $730 million on revenue of $4.2 billion, according to VentureBeat . And the North Carolina-based game developer is now worth $17.3 billion.

Still, the games market is likely big enough for both companies to thrive. “Historically there has been substantial industry convergence in the games developer tools business, but over the past decade the number of developers has increased so much, I believe the market can support two major players,” Piers Harding-Rolls, games analyst at Ampere Analysis, told the Financial Times.

Venture investors in the Unity platform have waited a long time for this moment, and they’re certainly confident in the company’s prospects.

The last investment round valued the company at $6 billion with the secondary sale of $525 million worth of the company’s shares.

#activision, #app-store, #apple, #computing, #copenhagen, #disney, #epic-games, #fundings-exits, #gaming, #google-play-store, #liberty-media, #mario-kart, #niantic, #nintendo, #north-carolina, #startups, #tc, #tencent, #the-financial-times, #unity, #unreal, #unreal-engine, #venturebeat, #video-gaming

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U.S. gaming industry records another excellent quarter as pandemic fuels sales

The COVID-19 pandemic has utterly decimate a number of industries over the the past several months, but the U.S. gaming industry continues to benefit as people continue to be stuck at home. Yet another report from NPD highlights an excellent quarter, with spending hitting a new Q2 record in the States.

According to the figures, gamers spent $11.6 billion, marking a 30% increase over a year prior. It was also a 7% increase over Q1’s 10.9 billion, as spending continues while the pandemic continues to rage.

Games themselves comprised $10.2 billion of that figure (itself a 28% increase y-o-y), with some familiar titles occupying the top spots, including Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Calls of Duty Warzone and Modern Warfare. The gaming hardware category saw a 57% increase from 2019, with Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One all seeing strong sales.

The Switch isn’t a surprise, given shortages experienced earlier in the year. Perhaps a bit more unexpected are continued sales on the PS4 and Xbox One, given that both consoles are set to be eclipsed by next generation devices later in the year. Of course, those upcoming systems aren’t doing gamers much good during the current moment of stay at home orders.

#coronavirus, #covid-19, #gaming, #microsoft, #nintendo, #npd, #sony, #xbox

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Genki’s Covert Dock is the perfect dock for the Nintendo Switch – and other gadgets, too

The Nintendo Switch’s ability to quickly transition from portable to home console is definitely one of its major selling points, but Nintendo’s official dock never really made much sense with the portable nature of the Switch itself. Luckily, third-party accessory maker Genki created the Covert Dock, a device no larger than a smartphone USB charger that easily connects your Switch to any TV. Plus, it actually is a USB charger for all your devices, too.

The basics

The Covert Dock includes a USB Type-C port that’s rated for the Power Delivery 3.0 standard, which means it can charge not only the Switch, but also an iPhone, Android smartphones, the iPad Pro and even a MacBook (though its max output is 30w, so you won’t get full-speed charging for any power-hungry large devices). It also includes a USB-A port, which you can use not only for charging, but also for connecting controllers, microphones, mice, Ethernet adapters, and more to devices connected via USB-C. Finally, there’s an HDMI port, which you can use to connect your Switch (or other devices that support USB-C video out) to your TV or display.

The HDMI port supports a maximum resolution of 1080p at up to 60hz, so it can easily handle the 720p output of the Switch. The Genki Covert Dock also features folding power prongs for maximum portability – and it’s extremely compact, coming in smaller than a MacBook Air charger despite all of its capabilities.

Image Credits: Genki

Genki also provides a set of global power adapters that slide on to the folded prongs for easy travel compatibility, adding to its versatility. There’s also a six-foot USB-C 3.1 charging cable included in the box, so you have everything you need to begin using it right away. When you don’t have an HDMI cable plugged in, it can also power your Switch while you play just like with any other standard USB-C charger.

At $74.99, the Genki Covert Dock actually comes in under the retail price of Nintendo’s official dock set for Switch – and it’s a much more versatile device thanks to its ability to act as a hub for a wide range of devices that support display output over USB-C. Combine that with the travel adapter set, and the Covert Dock is really replacing two or three devices in your bag, rather than just a Switch dock.

Performance

Genki’s Covert Dock feels very sturdy and well-built, not at all like many of the third-party dock alternatives that you can find on Amazon. Inside, it uses Gallium Nitride technology to enable its small size while still making sure it can provide good power output without overheating.

It worked flawlessly both for charging my Switch (and other devices) and for connecting the Switch to my TV. As soon as you plug in an HDMI cable, the Switch behaves just as it would when using the official dock, switching off the built-in display and outputting to the television in HD resolution.

Image Credits: Genki

Ditto with plugging in an iPad Pro, and a MacBook Pro. Both automatically detect the HDMI connection and behave just like they would using any other display adapter.

Users of other third-party Switch display docking solutions might be hesitant to trust another one, given how frequently third-party hardware has led to issues including console bricking. But Genki has a great and thorough explanation of why their dock shouldn’t encounter such issues, and it mostly relates to their proper implementation of the PD 3.0 specification. Over the course of testing on an up-to-date Switch console over a couple of weeks, I definitely haven’t encountered any issues.

Bottom line

If you own a Switch (not the Switch Lite, sadly, since it doesn’t support video out), then there’s no question that you should also own a Genki Covert Dock. It’s the dock that the console should’ve shipped with, since it respects the Switch’s portability and offers a way to connect to a TV that takes up no more space than the Switch USB charger itself.

Even if you don’t own a Switch, the Genki Covert Dock might be something you need – it’s a great way to power an iPad while presenting during a meeting, for instance, and also a fantastic travel charger even when you’re not using the display features. Genki has done a tremendous job of packing a whole lot of versatility into a unique and well-built device, and at a price that’s very reasonable when you consider how many other potential gadgets and dongles it’s replacing.

#accessories, #covert-dock, #display-dock, #gadgets, #gaming, #genki, #hardware, #nintendo, #nintendo-switch, #reviews, #switch, #tc

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Genki Covert is a $75 ultra-portable dock for Nintendo Switch

Today we’re taking a look at the just-released Genki Covert Dock, a $75 third-party dock for the Nintendo Switch console. It’s the size and shape of a compact USB charger, with folding 120VAC prongs for US electrical power (slide-on adapters for other countries are included in the box). We know everybody’s worried about third-party docks right now—but Genki’s lead engineer is the one who first discovered why Switch consoles tended to brick in third-party docks. So the Covert feels like a safe bet.

Although Covert Dock does come with a manual, you aren’t going to need it—usage is very simple. You plug the Covert Dock directly into the wall, just as you would any compact phone charger. Plug an HDMI cable from the Covert Dock into your display, and plug the included USB-C 3.1 charge cable from your Switch to the Covert. Voila—a few seconds later, your Switch’s video and audio are routed over HDMI to your display, and it’s charging.

Simple device, real engineering

Genki Covert Dock for Nintendo Switch product image

Genki Covert Dock for Nintendo Switch

(Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.)

It’s effectively impossible to buy a Nintendo Switch right now—I know, I keep looking. When I bought our family’s Switch, I really just wanted to play Untitled Goose Game—at which the kids and I spent eons laughing, bonding, and discussing why we really shouldn’t carry pranks learned from Goose Game over into real life. But these days, for my family as for many others, the Switch has effectively become a dedicated Animal Crossing: New Horizons console, and it has become worth its weight in gold.

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#dock, #gaming-culture, #nintendo, #switch, #tech

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Huge apparent leak unearths Nintendo’s prototype history

Footage from “Super Donkey,” a previously unseen prototype included in the recent Nintendo “Gigaleak.”

A massive leak of apparent Nintendo source code is giving gamers a rare, unauthorized look at Nintendo’s development process dating back to the Super NES era.

The massive trove of files, first posted to 4chan Friday and quickly dubbed the “Gigaleak” by the community, includes compilable code and assets for Super NES, Game Boy, and N64 games in the Mario, Mario Kart, Zelda, F-Zero, and Pokemon series. Hidden among that code is a bevy of pre-release art and sound files that have never seen the light of day, as well as fully playable prototype versions of some games.

Nintendo has not responded to a request for comment, but the sheer size and complexity of the leak points to its authenticity—faking this much data in a believable (and workable) way would just be an incredible amount of work. Star Fox developer Dylan Cuthbert has also publicly confirmed the authenticity of an early Star Fox 2 CAD tool included in the leak. And many of the assets in the leak also match images previously seen in magazine previews, suggesting either authenticity or an incredible level of attention to detail among the leakers.

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#gaming-culture, #history, #mario, #nintendo

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‘Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ and the limits of today’s game economies

“Animal Crossing: New Horizons” is a bonafide wonder. The game has been setting new records for Nintendo, is adored by players and critics alike and provides millions of players a peaceful escape during these unprecedented times.

But there’s been something even more extraordinary happening on the fringe: Players are finding ways to augment the game experience through community-organized activities and tools. These include free weed-pulling services (tips welcome!) from virtual Samaritans, and custom-designed items for sale — for real-world money, via WeChat Pay and AliPay.

Well-known personalities and companies are also contributing, with “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” scribe Gary Whitta hosting an A-list celebrity talk show using the game, and luxury fashion brand Marc Jacobs providing some of its popular clothing designs to players. 100 Thieves, the white-hot esports and apparel company, even created and gave away digital versions of its entire collection of impossible-to-find clothes.

This community-based phenomenon gives us a pithy glimpse into not only where games are inevitably going, but what their true potential is as a form of creative, technical and economic expression. It also exemplifies what we at Forte call “community economics,” a system that lies at the heart of our aim in bringing new creative and economic opportunities to billions of people around the world.

What is community economics?

Formally, community economics is the synthesis of economic activity that takes place inside, and emerges outside, virtual game worlds. It is rooted in a cooperative economic relationship between all participants in a game’s network, and characterized by an economic pluralism that is unified by open technology owned by no single party. And notably, it results in increased autonomy for players, better business models for game creators, and new economic and creative opportunities for both.

The fundamental shift that underlies community economics is the evolution of games from centralized entertainment experiences to open economic platforms. We believe this is where things are heading.

#alipay, #animal-crossing, #column, #entertainment, #extra-crunch, #finance, #game-developers, #gaming, #market-analysis, #new-horizons, #nintendo, #payments, #roblox, #social-networks, #startups, #tc, #virtual-world

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Gaming sales had another great month in June

We continue to be stuck inside, and video games continue to sell well. It’s pretty much as simple as that, honestly. I mean, there’s more nuance than that, obviously, but that’s really the top line takeaway from NPD’s June gaming numbers.

More specifically, last month saw $1.2 billion total spent on gaming, up 26% from the year prior. That marks the highest figure for June since 2009. With June included, the first half of the year saw $6.6 billion total spent for the industry, the highest figure for that time frame since 2010, when it hit $7.0 billion. Not too shabby, considering the extremely tenuous economic situation the world finds itself in.

Gaming software spending hit $570 for the month, up a full 49% from 2019. The Last of Us: Part II took the top spot for June, making it the third-best-selling title for the year and marking the highest launch month sales figure for the year so far.

Also notable is the success of the Nintendo Switch exercise title Ring Fit Adventure, which shot to No. 7 after only hitting No. 835 in May. The game’s success is no doubt due in part to the lack of access to gyms and other more traditional workouts. The figure was previously skewed by a depletion of stock for the game — something that has also impacted Switch sales.

Even so, the Nintendo console was once again the best-selling system for the month.

#gaming, #nintendo, #npd, #sony, #switch, #xbox

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Paper Mario: The Origami King folds the usual RPG tropes into knots

The origami theme adds quite a bit of physical depth to <em>Paper Mario</em>'s beautiful vast environments.

Enlarge / The origami theme adds quite a bit of physical depth to Paper Mario‘s beautiful vast environments. (credit: Nintendo)

Of all the spin-offs Mario has starred in over the years, the Paper Mario games (and the related Mario & Luigi series) most ably expanded the character past his basic platforming roots. The familiar characters, locations, and items are still there in Paper Mario titles, but they’re supplemented by completely new settings and situations that often wouldn’t feel out of place in a traditional Japanese RPG. And even the familiar Mario characters get new life in these games, revealing rich interior lives and characterizations that the simple save-the-princess-again plots can’t hope to match.

Paper Mario: The Origami King continues this tradition, telling a cheesy-but-engaging, family-friendly story with verve and charm. But it messes with the series’ usual RPG trappings so much that it’s still finding its footing even as the final credits roll. As a complete package, Origami King often feels like a mishmash of original ideas—some good, some mediocre—which never quite come together as more than the sum of their parts.

Into the fold

As often happens in Mario’s RPG titles, King Bowser has been pushed (and folded) aside in favor of a more interesting antagonist for Origami King. This time around, that antagonist is Olly, a floating, folded being imbued with the usual ill-defined, plot-moving magical powers. Olly gives off some not-so-subtle racial supremacist vibes in loudly announcing his desire to transform the flat paper denizens of Paper Mario‘s kingdom into thicker, folded origami versions of themselves. And if those folded versions become zombie-like automata beholden to Olly’s will, it’s all the better for his new world order.

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#features, #gaming-culture, #mario, #nintendo, #super-mario-bros

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This $200 Lego NES set features a scrolling 8-bit Mario

Back in March, we found out about a collaboration between Nintendo and Lego, who have teamed up to make a Super Mario platform game made out of Lego bricks. It’s fair to say that Lego Mario was met with an underwhelming reception from adult fans of Lego—no surprise since that set was aimed squarely at children. On Tuesday, the two companies revealed another joint project, one we think most of you will love: a brick-built Nintendo NES and TV, complete with a mechanical scrolling Super Mario on the screen.

Lego NES B-Roll

The set includes an NES console with one controller, along with a game cartridge that fits into the cartridge slot, just like the real thing. While that’s pretty neat, I’m more impressed with the little retro TV set, inside of which is part of a level from Super Mario Brothers. As you turn a wheel on the side of the TV, the level scrolls by, with Mario jumping over the obstacles in 8-bit glory, bouncing on Koopas and collecting power-ups as he goes. Not only does it look totally awesome, it also appears to use some really interesting building techniques that go to show how far Lego’s construction methods have come since the sets of my childhood all those decades ago.

“Super Mario has been a cherished figure in the gaming world for over thirty years now,” said Maarten Simons, Creative Lead on Lego Nintendo Entertainment System, the Lego Group. “Many adults still fondly remember that first time they saw Mario leap across the small screen, even if the graphics were a lot simpler than they are today. With the Lego Nintendo Entertainment System, we’re letting them truly indulge in that nostalgia, recreating one of the most-loved consoles of all time so they can see the Super Mario from their childhoods once again—and even to share the experience of gaming in the 1980s with their own children.”

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#gaming-culture, #lego, #nes, #nintendo, #super-mario

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