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Nintendo Switch sales are up, even with new models on the way

By Brian Heater

Quarterly sales for the Switch remained brisk for Nintendo’s most recent quarterly earnings. The number made a jump from 1.88 to 2.13 million units year over year. Modest, sure, but still solid for a console that’s getting slightly long in the tooth — especially given the fact that we’ve been aware a new versions are on the way.

Two were confirmed earlier this month, addressing concerns with the product. There’s the Switch Lite, a $200 version of the console ($100 less than the standard price) that swaps convertibility for portability and a unit with longer battery life. The arrival of both will almost certainly boost sales as the company heads into the holiday season.

With the new quarter factored in, Switch sales are now at 36.9 million for the life of the product. Nintendo, meanwhile, expects total unit sales to hit 18 million for the full year. In spite of positivity numbers on the console front, operating profit dropped ~10 percent year over year for the quarter.

The 3DS, meanwhile, while still alive, has unsurprisingly began a death rattle, slowing to 200,000 for the quarter. Still, it was a respectable life, with more than 75 million sold over the life of Nintendo’s previous portable. Farewell, 3DS, it was a good run.

Mobile numbers saw a nice 10 percent bump for the quarter, and Nintendo’s got plenty of solid titles lined up for the back half of the year, so likely most aren’t too concerned by some lackluster financials this time out.

Analogue’s Mega Sg is the Sega Genesis Mini alternative for the discerning retro gaming fan

By Darrell Etherington

The official Sega Genesis Mini is coming in September and hopes to capitalize on some of the retro gaming hype that turned the Super Nintendo and NES Mini Classic editions into best-sellers. But there’s already a modern piece of hardware out there capable of playing Sega Genesis games on your HDTV — plus Mega Drive, Master System and Sega CD, too.

The Analogue Mega Sg is the third in a series of reference-quality, FPGA-based retro consoles from Analogue, a company that prides itself on accuracy in old-school gaming. It provides unparalleled, non-emulated gameplay with zero lag and full 1080p output to work with your HD or even 4K TV in a way no other old-school gaming hardware can.

For $189.99 (which is just about double the asking price of the Sega Genesis Mini), you get the console itself, an included Master System cartridge adapter, an HDMI cable and a USB cable for power supply (plus a USB plug, though, depending on your TV, you might be able to power it directly). The package also includes a silicon pad should you want to use it with original Sega CD hardware, which plugs into the bottom of the SG hardware just like it did with the original Genesis. It includes two ports that support original wired Genesis controllers, or you can also opt to pick up an 8bitdo M30 wireless Genesis controller and adapter, which retails for $24.99.

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Like the Nt mini did for NES, and the Super Nt did for SNES before it, the Mega Sg really delivers when it comes to performance. Games look amazing on my 4K LG OLED television, and I can choose from a variety of video output settings to tune it to my liking, including adding simulated retro scaliness and more to make it look more like your memory of playing on an old CRT television.

Sound is likewise excellent — those opening notes of Ecco the Dolphin sounded fantastic rendered in 48KHz 16-bit stereo coming out of my Sonos sound system. Likewise, Sonic’s weird buzzsaw razor whine came through exactly as remembered, but definitely in higher definition than anything that actually played out of my old TV speakers as a kid.

Even if you don’t have a pile of original Sega cartridges sitting around ready to play (though I bet you do if you’re interested in this piece of kit), the Mega Sg has something to offer: On board, you get a digital copy of the unreleased Sega Genesis game “Hardcore,” which was nearly complete in 1994 but which went unreleased. It’s been finished and renamed “Ultracore,” and you can run it from the console’s main menu as soon as you plug it in and fire it up.

Analogue plans to add more capabilities to the Mega Sg in the future, with cartridge adapters that will allow it to run Mark III, Game Gear, Sega MyCard, SG-1000 and SC-3000 games, too. These will all be supported by the FPGA Analogue designed for the Mega Sg, too, so they’ll also be running natively, not emulated, for a true recreation of the original gaming experience.

Analogue Mega Sg 8

If you’re really into classic games, and care a lot about accuracy, this is definitely the best way to play Sega games on modern TVs — and it’s also just super fun.

Hit indie game Cuphead is headed to Tesla vehicles in August

By Darrell Etherington

Tesla’s games library is getting bigger, and the latest announced title is probably a familiar one to gaming fans: Cuphead. This indie game was released in 2017 for Xbox One and Windows after making a big debut in 2013, attracting a lot of attention thanks to its hand-drawn, retro Disney-esque animation style.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed that Cuphead would be getting a Tesla port sometime in August, replying to a post in which Tesla announced its latest addition to the in-car arcade library: Chess. The game will run at 60fps on the in-car display, Musk added, noting that while 4K isn’t supported for Tesla’s screens, the game “doesn’t need” that high resolution.

Cuphead for Tesla coming out in August

— e^👁🥧 (@elonmusk) July 27, 2019

Cuphead has since been released for both macOS and Nintendo Switch, and has gained critical acclaim for its challenging gameplay in addition to its unique graphic style. The game works with one or two players (which Tesla cars also now support via gamepad controllers for some other titles) and basically involves side-scrolling run-and-gun action punctuated by frequent boss fights.

Musk continued on Twitter regarding the Cuphead port that it will use a Unity port for Tesla’s in-car OS, which is already done, and currently they’re in the process of refining the controls. A limit of available onboard storage will be solved by allowing added game storage via USB, so that Tesla owners will be able to add flash drives to hold more downloaded games.

Earlier this month, Netflix announced that it would be developing an animated series based on Cuphead, and the game has sold over 4 million copies world-wide so far. Tesla launched Tesla Arcade last month as a dedicated in-car app to host the growing collection of games it’s brought to the car – and it’s worth noting that you can only access these games while in park.

 

Nintendo Switch Lite’s trade-off of whimsy for practicality is a good one

By Darrell Etherington

Nintendo revealed a new Switch Lite version of its current-generation console today, which attaches the controllers permanently, shrinks the hardware a bit, and adds a touch more battery life – but it also takes away the ‘Switch’ part of the equation, because you can only use it handheld, instead of attached to a TV or as a unique tabletop gaming experience.

The changes mostly seem in service of brining the price down, since it will retail for $199 when it goes on sale in September. That’s $100 less than the original Switch, which is a big price cut and could open up the market for Nintendo to a whole new group of players. But it’s also a change that seems to take away a lot of what made the Switch special, including the ability to plug it into a TV for a big-screen experience, or quickly detach the Joy-Con controllers for motion-control gaming with rumble feedback.

Switch Lite makes some crucial changes that I suspect Nintendo knows are reflective of how a lot of people actually use the Switch, regardless of what the aspirational, idealized Switch customer does in Nintendo’s ads and promo materials. As mentioned, it should bump your battery life during actual gameplay – it could add an extra hour when playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, for instance. And the size savings mean it’s much easier to slip in a bag when you head out on a trip.

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The new redesigned, permanently attached controllers also include a proper D-pad on the left instead of the individual circle buttons used on the Joy-Pad, and the smaller screen still outputs at the same resolution, which means things will look crisper in play.

For me, and probably for a lot of Switch users, the trade-offs made here are actually improvements that reflect 90 percent of my use of the console. I almost never play plugged into a TV, for instance – and could easily do without, since mostly I do that for one-off party game use that isn’t really all that necessary. The controller design with a D-pad is much more practical, and I have never used motion controls with my Switch for any game. Battery life means that you probably don’t need to recharge mid-trip on most short and medium-length trips, and the size savings means that when I’m packing and push comes to shove, I’m that much more likely to take the Switch Lite rather than leave it at home.

Already, some critics are decrying how this model makes the Switch ‘worse’ in almost every way, but actually I think it’s just the opposite – Nintendo may have traded away some of its trademark quirk with this version, but the result is something much more akin to how most people actually want to use a console most of the time.

Dr. Mario World now available on iOS

By Darrell Etherington

Nintendo’s latest mobile game is now available for iOS devices, a day before its official target launch date. The game is based on the Nintendo game created in 1990 for the NES and Game Boy, and re-released/re-made a bunch of times over the years for various Nintendo consoles.

Dr. Mario World, the iOS game available now, is, like its predecessors, a matching puzzle game in which you as Dr. Mario (or maybe you’re just a colleague of Dr. Mario? It’s somewhat unclear) cure ‘viruses’ by matching pill colors to the little jerks. This version has a number of additional gameplay features compared to the first, which was pretty Tetris-like in play. It also focuses on drag-and-drop mechanics, instead of manipulating pills like Tetris blocks as they fall.

For instance, you have other Doctors from the rich Mario fictional world to call upon for help, including Dr. Peach and Dr. Bowser, as well as assistants including Goomba, Koopa Troopa and others who apparently never either attained or aspired to professional medical doctor status. These have different skills that can make virus busting easier, and Nintendo plans to update the game with fresh doctors and assistants regularly.

Multiplayer is also part of Dr. Mario World, and you can go head-to-head or work together. Predictably if you’ve followed Nintendo’s foray into mobile titles, this one is free-to-play, with in-game purchases for unlocking more play time and unlacing additional characters and upgrades.

Mario creator Miyamoto counters cloud gaming hype (but don’t count Nintendo out)

By Devin Coldewey

Cloud gaming — however a company chooses to define that — is shaping up to be a big part of the next generation of consoles and other platforms. But Mario creator and Nintendo veteran Shigeru Miyamoto says his company won’t be so quick to jump on the bandwagon.

Speaking to shareholders at Nintendo’s annual general meeting, Miyamoto and other executives addressed a variety of issues, among them what some interpret as a failure to keep up with the state of the industry. Sony and Microsoft (together, amazingly) are about to lock horns with Google, Nvidia, and others in the arena of game streaming, but Nintendo has announced no plans whatsoever regarding the powerful new technology.

As reported by GamesIndustry.biz, Miyamoto was unfazed by this allegation.

“We believe it is important to continue to use these diverse technical environments to make unique entertainment that could only have been made by Nintendo,” he said. “We have not fallen behind with either VR or network services… Because we don’t publicize this until we release a product, it may look like we’re falling behind.”

But although this hinted that Nintendo is working in this direction, Miyamoto didn’t sound convinced that cloud gaming was a home run.

“I think that cloud gaming will become more widespread in the future, but I have no doubt that there will continue to be games that are fun because they are running locally and not on the cloud,” he said.

The Nintendo focus on local multiplayer and complete offline single-player games is certainly emblematic of this point of view. And while Nintendo has been slow to adopt the latest gaming trends, it has shown that it can pull them off very well, indeed like no other, for example with the excellent Splatoon 2 and its constantly evolving seasons and events.

Nintendo President Shuntaro Furukawa said they see how gaming technology is evolving and that it’s important to “keep up with such changes,” but like Miyamoto made no indication that there was anything concrete on the way.

Instead, he indicated (again in true Nintendo style) that the company would reap the benefits of cloud gaming whether or not it took part in the practice.

“if these changes increase the worldwide gaming population, that will just give us more opportunities with our integrated hardware and software development approach to reach people worldwide with the unique entertainment that Nintendo can provide,” he said.

In other words, a rising tide lifts all boats, and if the others did the work to raise the water level, well, that’s their business.

The rumor on everyone’s mind after E3 is whether a new Switch or Switches are on the way. Naturally Furukawa demurred, saying that of course they were aware of speculation, but wouldn’t comment. However, he added: “It would spoil the surprise for consumers and is against the interests of our shareholders, so we are withholding any discussion.”

Of course a new Switch is on the way — that’s about as much as a confirmation anyone would be able to get from Furukawa or the other highly trained executives at Nintendo, even if the new hardware was coming out tomorrow. But at this rate it seems more likely that the new hardware will be timed to pull in buyers around the holidays — which may have the knock-on effect of taking the wind out of Microsoft and Sony’s sails (and sales) when they debut their next-generation consoles next year.

Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony pen letter highlighting ‘harm’ from Trump’s tariffs

By Brian Heater

It’s not every day the three biggest computers in a space join forces to denounced political action. Of course, this isn’t the first time the Trump administration has had this impact on a category.

Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony (collectively known as gaming’s “big three) penned a joint letter noting the harm the industry stands to face in the age of Trump administration tariffs on China. Addressed to Office of the United States Trade Representative General Counsel Joseph Barloon, the note asks for a modification the existing tariff list.

“While we appreciate the Administration’s efforts to protect U.S. intellectual property and preserve U.S. high-tech leadership,” the letter reads, diplomatically, “the disproportionate harm caused by these tariffs to U.S. consumers and businesses will undermine—not advance—these goals.”

The three companies highlight a broad range of cascading impacts the laws could ultimately have the vast industry, including,

  • Injure consumers, video game developers, retailers and console manufacturers
  • Put thousands of high-value, rewarding U.S. jobs at risk
  • Stifle innovation in our industry and beyond.

The impacts of tariffs have already begun to take their toll on various technology sectors, with several leaders — including, notably, Apple’s Tim Cook — personally petitioning Trump for exceptions.

From Project Scarlett to Gooigi: The best of E3 2019

By Brian Heater

Every story about E3 has opened with a mention of Sony’s absence, and this one’s no different. The lack of one of gaming’s “big three” loomed large over the show, right down to a strange sense of space on the showroom floor.

Even Xbox chief Phil Spencer mourned the absence of the company’s biggest competitor, stating, “I wish Sony was here,” during a live stream.

But the show went on, as it has through countless ebbs and flows of the gaming industry. Sony’s clearly got plenty up its sleeve with regard to next-generation content, and frankly, no one’s too worried about their health.

Microsoft, meanwhile, came out swinging on Sunday. The company had a TON of games to reveal at the show, with dozens of trailers, all told. And while Microsoft did touch upon two key pieces of news, it ultimately ended up blowing through those announcements, with very little time devoted to either its next-generation 8K console, Project Scarlett, or its streaming service, Project xCloud.

In fact, we ultimately went back to Microsoft later in the week to clarify some things about the service and discovered in the process that console streaming will be free and not a part of the broader xCloud offering.

While Microsoft ultimately seemed cautious (or pressed for time) to go into either xCloud or Game Pass in too much detail onstage, streaming was unquestionably the biggest story of the show. That’s due in no small part to the fact that Google took a little wind out of E3’s sails by shedding more light on its Stadia offering during a surprise press conference last Friday.

On Tuesday, a Nintendo executive confirmed for me that the company is exploring streaming, but wasn’t able to comment on any specifics. Regardless, the writing is clearly on the wall here, and Nintendo has certainly taken notice. In the meantime, the company showed off its latest Animal Crossing title, a sneak peek of the next Zelda and the surprise hit of the show: A gooey Luigi called, naturally, Gooigi. Honestly though, I’m most excited about that Link’s Awakening remaster.

Square’s big event was fairly lackluster, though we did get a preview of the Uncanny (Valley) Avengers. Ubisoft had some cool demos on tap, including Watch Dogs: Legion and story mode for Assassin’s Creed. The publisher is also launching its own streaming service, with help from Google Stadia. Bethesda, meanwhile, is getting in on the battle royale phenomenon with a new mode for Fallout 76. Though the Fall Guys’ version is far more adorable.

There’s a Razer energy drink, Opera gaming browser, new George R.R. Martin game, Warcraft-meets-The-Office show from the It’s Always Sunny crew and a dance game for the Nintendo Wii. Not the Switch, not the Wii U, the Wii. Happy E3 2019!

Nintendo exec on E3, streaming and game delays

By Brian Heater

This year’s E3 was a bit of a mixed bag. Sony was completely absent, Microsoft was looking toward the future and Nintendo, as ever, was all about the games. The show came at an odd time in Nintendo’s release cycle.

The company recently spilled all the details about soon-to-be-released titles Mario Maker 2 and Pokémon Sword and Shield, making Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Luigi’s Mansion 3 the foundations of the company’s big Nintendo Direct unveil on Tuesday morning.

The long-awaited Animal Crossing title, sadly, came with the caveat that players are going to have to wait until even longer (2020), but the company had plenty of playable titles at the show, including the Link’s Awakening remaster and the aforementioned Luigi sequel. That featured arguably was the surprise hit of the show, Gooigi — which, as the portmanteau suggests, is indeed a gooey version of Luigi.

Absent during the event were any new hardware announcements and any new news on the fourth Metroid Prime. The company did, however, have a major surprise up its sleeve in the form of a teaser trailer for an unnamed sequel for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

We sat down with Nintendo’s Senior Director, Corporate Communications Charlie Scibetta following the big unveils to discuss the company’s take on streaming, mobile and what things look like following the departure of Reggie Fils-Aimé.

TC: I wanted to start off by talking about some broader trends. Microsoft, Sony and even Apple see streaming as being the future of gaming. Where does Nintendo come down on that, from both the point of potential hardware agnosticism and subscribing versus buying?

CS: Streaming is certainly interesting technology. Nintendo is keeping a close eye on it and we’re evaluating it. We don’t have anything to announce right now in terms of adopting that technology. For us, it’s still physical and it’s digital downloads through our eShop. Certainly a lot of downloadable content to keep the games fresh, but in terms of streaming as a way to run the games, we don’t have anything to announce on that front.

TC: Hardware’s always been a big differentiator for Nintendo. Do you think we’re moving toward a point of hardware agnosticism? Or is hardware going to be a major differentiator for Nintendo?

CS: Well, we think our games really come to life best on our hardware because our software and hardware developers work closely together to make the best performing game based off the way to bring that software to life. You go back to the Wii, for example, the way it brought tennis and bowling to life was with motion control. That really worked well for that, it was a launch title that came with every system that really sold the system because you understood the value proposition right away. Just even by walking by somebody that was playing that you understood it, and we think we caught lightening in a bottle the same way with Nintendo Switch because it’s a whole console you can play at home, enjoy on a big screen TV, and then you can take it with you.

And the market has responded. As of the end of our fiscal year which, ended in March 2019, we sold over 34 million units worldwide. Fourteen million in North America. People are buying the software. This past fiscal year extended over 70% more software than the previous year, over 23% more hardware. So, people are buying the games to play on the system. And a show like this, at E3, is all about showcasing the games that are going to power that system. So for us, it’s about unveiling games and getting people to interact with the games. They’re going to have a good time on the system.

TC: Obviously the line has softened a little bit on Nintendo’s stance when it comes to mobile. The company had taken a very hard line against that of only offering gaming experiences on first party hardware. How important is mobile? How important are iOS and Android, to Nintendo’s play going forward?

CS: Mobile is very important to Nintendo. You’re right that we did not participate with mobile gaming for a lot of years, but we have jumped in headfirst now and are bringing a lot of our most valuable IP to mobile — Mario Kart being the one that’s upcoming. And what we like about it is, as I was talking about with the combination of the hardware and the software, we only bring the software to mobile that we think you can really play well on a mobile device with the control speed that a phone offers, so not every single IP is appropriate. The ones that have come out are the ones that our developers have determined are appropriate for that. So people can have a good time with our IP on a mobile device.

TC: Sony’s absence looms large on the show. It’s shifted some focus and the spatial dynamic in this hall. Nintendo obviously made a shift into Direct and Treehouse, so all of the content is being fed to the general public, and us as well. How important are shows like this for Nintendo?

CS: We’ve been to many E3s. We’re a supporter of the show. We think it’s a great way for us to interact with people, like yourself, journalists, influencers who make YouTube videos, retail partners and, most importantly, most recently, with consumers. We like seeing the reactions of consumers to our games in the booth. We do interviews here and try to bring those game to life by explaining more; the Treehouse Live approach is nice because we do a Nintendo Direct the morning on the first day. Then, we go deeper on those games with people that are interested in those with our experts and with developers.

We think it’s a great way to showcase, not only our offerings and what the industry is as a whole. We’re part of the industry, so we support the show. Other companies have to make their own decisions based on what’s right for them, but for us, we like E3. We think it does a great job of helping connect us with the consumers and the people that cover the industry so they can learn about the products.

TC: Doug [Bowser] took over for Reggie [Fils-Aimé]. Any time that happens, even with a really large company, it tends to be a good opportunity to reassess things, rethink things, look at the broader context. Do you see there being any change in direction or a reassessment of the role that Nintendo is playing in the industry at the moment?

CS: Reggie was a great leader for us for a lot of years. We wish him well and he’s still a fan, in his own words. He said he’ll always be a Nintendo fan, so he’s always going to be with us. Doug is an industry veteran himself and he’d been with many companies and he’s been at Nintendo for over four years, so he’s well-grounded in the way that we do marketing. I would say that thing that hasn’t changed is that we’re a product-first company. We always like to bring our messages back to what is the game about, how does it make you feel, what is the emotion we want to generate with that game, and so Doug is really carrying on the legacy of Reggie and others that went before him.

TC: There have been a lot of rumors about a Switch Lite and Pro, having the devoted portable, and things of that nature. Does it make sense to have a Switch that is purely portable? How integral is that hybrid experience? And are we getting close to or approaching that point of the life cycle when it’s time to start thinking about new versions of the hardware?

CS: We have nothing to announce at this show in terms of new hardware. We do have over 2,000 games available right now. So we think as long as we have great games to power, the system is going to have a good life. Our developers will have to make the decision when they think that it’s time for new hardware to bring whatever their creative ideas are to life. That’s really what drives the decision on when it’s time for new hardware. Is there something that can’t be done for their creative vision with the current hardware?

Then they take it in a different direction. In the case of the Nintendo Switch, obviously we have the Wii U and our developers wanted to start thinking of gaming in a different direction where you can take it on the go, any time, or you can play at home. So, that’s why the Nintendo Switch was created. That’s why they married the software and the hardware that way. There’s nothing to announce in terms of where we want to go for the future, because right now, what we have on our hands is working really well.

TC: What happened specifically with Animal Crossing? Clearly no one’s really psyched when a game gets delayed. Is there any kind of info you can give, just in terms of why it’s being pushed back to 2020?

CS: We’re not going to put a game out before we think it’s ready to be enjoyed by fans. In the case of a franchise, like Animal Crossing, that has so many loyal fans, we’d be doing them a disservice if we put out a product that was rushed. So it’s a difficult decision for a company to make to move a ship date out. We think moving to March 20 of next year was the right decision, because we needed to give the development team enough time to make it the game we want to make. So, that’s been the Nintendo approach from the beginning and it’s something that we’re going to continue to do. We’re not going to rush a game out until it’s ready because we want to keep that quality bar high.

TC: Metroid [Prime 4] was kind of conspicuously absent. Is there any update on that end?

CS: It’s in the hands of Retro now; they certainly have a historic history with that franchise. They do a great job with it and we’re looking forward to what they do with this version of it. But there’s nothing new in terms of any ship date or any details about the game.

Nintendo: we’re ‘evaluating’ streaming

By Brian Heater

Game streaming loomed large as the biggest story of E3. Between Google’s Stadia news late last week, Microsoft’s Game Pass additions, a Ubisoft announcement and even the presence of Netflix, the writing is clearly on the wall.

Nintendo, of course, has largely been absent from that conversation. No real surprise, really. The gaming company has always marched to the beat of its own drum, bucking larger industry trends in favor of its own singular vision. The approach has sometimes been to its determent (as is the case with its longtime heel-dragging on mobile), but has largely resulted in a number of the industry’s most beloved platforms, titles and IP.

Given the company’s rich and storied gaming history, a Netflix-style approach to content makes a lot of sense for a company like Nintendo. And certainly, the notion of paying $10 a month for access to 30 years of Mario, Zelda and the like doesn’t seem like much of a stretch. Though for Nintendo, much of the calculation no doubt comes down to whether or not gamers are willing to continue to pay for downloads.

In an interview with TechCrunch this week on the show floor, Nintendo of America executive Charlie Scibetta said that the concept is one the company has been considering. “Streaming is certainly interesting technology,” he told TechCrunch. “Nintendo is keeping a close eye on it and we’re evaluating it. We don’t have anything to announce right now in terms of adopting that technology. For us, it’s still physical and it’s digital downloads through our Eshop.”

The sentiment echos similar statements made by new Nintendo of America chief Doug Bowser, who told The Hollywood Reporter, “We’re always interested in how various new technologies can enable different ways to play games.”

What do subscription services and streaming mean for the future of gaming?

By Brian Heater

The future of gaming is streaming. If that wasn’t painfully obvious to you a week ago, it certainly ought to be now. Google got ahead of E3 late last week by finally shedding light on Stadia, a streaming service that promises a hardware agnostic gaming future.

It’s still very early days, of course. We got a demo of the platform right around the time of its original announcement. But it was a controlled one — about all we can hope for at the moment. There are still plenty of moving parts to contend with here, including, perhaps most consequentially, broadband caps.

But this much is certainly clear: Google’s not the only company committed to the idea of remote game streaming. Microsoft didn’t devote a lot of time to Project xCloud on stage the other day — on fact, the pass with which the company blew threw that announcement was almost news in and of itself.

It did, however, promise an October arrival for the service — beating out Stadia by a full month. The other big piece of the announcement was the ability for Xbox One owners to use their console as a streaming source for their own remote game play. Though how that works and what, precisely, the advantage remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that Microsoft is hanging its hat on the Xbox as a point of distinction from Google’s offering.

It’s clear too, of course, that Microsoft is still invested in console hardware as a key driver of its gaming future. Just after rushing through all of that Project xCloud noise, it took the wraps off of Project Scarlett, its next-gen console. We know it will feature 8K content, some crazy fast frame rates and a new Halo title. Oh, and there’s an optical drive, too, because Microsoft’s not quite ready to give up on physical media just yet.

Nintendo reimagines a Zelda classic with Link’s Awakening for the Switch

By Brian Heater

It’s going to be a while before players can get their hands on the Breath of the Wild sequel teased at the end of Nintendo’s E3 Direct earlier today. The good news, however, is that Nintendo’s got a few other Zelda-related adventures in the pipeline before that. There’s the compelling beat-based Cadence of Hyrule, due out this Thursday, and later this year, the company is releasing a remastered version of the Game Boy classic, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening.

That one’s due out in September. As is the case with a number of recent titles (see: most of Square’s presser from earlier this week), Link’s Awakening isn’t so much a new game as a revamp of an older one designed to get the most out of the latest technology.

Here that means more than most, however. Released in 1993, the original version of the game was subject to the Game Boy’s 8-bit, monochrome limitations. The title began life as a portable port of the third Zelda game, SNES’s A Link to the Past, but ultimately became a real boy under the direction of long-time Nintendo producer Shigeru Miyamoto.

The Link to the Past connection is very much present. Link’s Awakening feels cut from the same Hyrulian cloth as A Link to the Past. As someone who’s old enough to have played the original title during its first go-round, things came trickling back to me during a gameplay demo at E3. But the graphical advances are pretty substantial. The game is a far cry from the 1998 Game Boy Color reissue, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX.

Link’s Awakening is very much a Zelda title through and through, but the visuals are more than enough to make it feel like a fresh title. A direct line for the character design can be drawn to the GameCube’s The Wind Waker, when Link became decidedly more adorable. That’s coupled with the familiar 3/4 RPG perspective that was a staple of the franchise’s early days.

The backgrounds have been refreshed nicely, with a kind of tilt-shift style art that selectively blurs out set pieces. As someone who plays Switch almost exclusively as a handheld, it was refreshing to see it played out on the big screen.

Gameplay came back in a flash. Though a rep had to walk me through a few pieces of the first mission: finding a magic mushroom for a witch’s potion. It’s all very Macbeth. Or the Scottish video game. Nintendo did a much longer walkthrough on Treehouse this morning, all of which should prove familiar if you’ve played the original.

Nothing quite scratches the itch of a new Zelda title, but a full revamp of a Game Boy game more than a quarter century after the original comes close.

Animal Crossing, Zelda and Gooigi – The best of Nintendo’s E3 event

By Brian Heater

After a weekend of press events, E3 officially kicks off in earnest this morning. Nintendo continued its tradition of starting the show off with its customary Direct streaming event. Aside from a brief Doug Bowser/Bowser Koopa mixup at the top, there was very little executive chatter, with the company instead focusing on trailers.

And that’s for the best. There was a LOT crammed into less than an hour here (a nice change of pace after last night’s Square slog). Though, as usual, it was a mix of new and old, with a few surprises sprinkled throughout.

Here’s the best of what Nintendo had to offer this year at E3.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons – The big news here, sadly, is a delay. The long awaited new addition to the Animal Crossing franchise has been pushed back to March 2020 in order to tweak the title. We got a nice new trailer out of it, at least.

Zelda: Link’s Awakening – Not gonna lie — excited about this remaster for the Switch. The new version of Link’s Awakening is due out on September 20.

Luigi’s Mansion 3 – I’d be remiss if I didn’t take this time to mention Gooigi, Luigi’s gelatinous clone. Still no exact date for the haunted house game, which is set for release some time this year.

Zelda: Breath of the Wild sequel – The company closed things out with a pretty big teaser. The Switch’s first blockbuster, Breath of the Wild is getting a sequel. Not much in the way of gameplay footage, or anything else, really. Just a not that the title is “now in development.” Better than nothing, I guess.

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics – In time for the upcoming Netflix reboot series, Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal is getting its very own Switch title later this year.

Contra: Rogue Corps – The Switch is about to get a whole lot of Contra. In addition to a post-apocalyptic entry, the classics of the series are being reissued on the Switch later this year.

Collection of Mana – Speaking of collections of beloved franchises, Square’s Secret of Mana series (including Trials of Mana) is getting a full collection for the Switch, two years after arriving in Japan.

Animal Crossing for Switch gets delayed

By Lucas Matney

Fans had few expectations rolling into Nintendo’s E3 Direct that were more pronounced than hopes for more details on Animal Crossing for Switch.

We got some insight into the title’s storyline, but the bigs news is that the originally announced 2019 release timeframe is getting pushed back. Now, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, as its being called, will be released March 20, 2020.

“To ensure this game was the best it could be, you have to wait a little bit longer than we thought,” Nintendo executive Yoshiaki Koizumi said during the company’s presentation.

In terms of game details, it looks like you begin the game being flown to a deserted island courtesy of character Tom Nook’s “Nook Inc. Deserted Island Getaway Package.” From there, it seems that a lot of the gameplay should be pretty familiar, chatting with animals, getting them out of jams, customizing things, feeding Tom Nook’s perverted brand of capitalism etc. etc.

The gameplay seems to incorporate many of the evolutions the series has seen in the past few games, including Nintendo’s mobile title, you can craft furniture and really change the outdoor environments. It looks like there’s some significant updates to multiplayer as some of the footage multiple human characters onscreen, there still seems to be a good deal we don’t know.

The delay is disappointing news, especially after Nintendo’s announcement that Metroid Prime 4 had to restart development. It’s of course positive to keep the quality of titles high, but it seems Nintendo is having some issues keeping their core IP on track for the original estimated release dates.

Watch Nintendo unveil a bunch of games at its E3 Direct

By Brian Heater

Microsoft kicked things off on Sunday, and while Sony’s sitting this one out, Nintendo’s up to its old tricks. The company is once again skipping whole in-person thing in favor of its livestreamed Nintendo direct.

We don’t expect any major hardware news for the show this year, but there’s some possibility that the company may finally offer a revamped version of the Switch. More likely, however, is info on some key titles, including a new Animal Crossing game.

Mario Maker 2 and Pokemon Sword and Shield have already had their moments in the sun with their own Nintendo Direct events, so expect focus on games like the new Fire Emblem and Luigi’s Mansion 3. More information on all of the E3 2019 rumors can be found here.

Things kick off this morning at 9AM PT/noon ET.

What to expect from E3 2019

By Brian Heater

E3 2019 is shaping up to be a bit of an in-between year. Nintendo Switch sales have finally started slowing, but the company’s a ways off from its next-generation console. Microsoft and Sony will be offering info on theirs soon, but we likely won’t be seeing much — especially from the latter, which has opted to sit out this show altogether.

Still, there will be plenty to see next week in Los Angeles. Here’s what we expect so far.

Microsoft: Google, of all companies, made the biggest splash at GDC back in March, announcing Stadia, its live-streaming gaming service. Look for Microsoft to hit back this week, with a lot more information surrounding its competitor, Project xCloud. We have even fewer details about Microsoft’s offering, though the company has compared it to music streaming services like Spotify.

We could get a glimpse of some next-generation hardware at the event, as well, though that’s likely to amount to little more than a brief sneak peek. We will, however, be getting a good look at Gears 5, the latest entry in one of the console’s most beloved franchises. The new title, which debuted onstage this time last year, is expected to be a major departure for the series.

Speaking of beloved franchises, look for some gameplay time with Halo: Infinite. So far, we’ve got little info on the Xbox/Windows 10 title beyond a mysterious trailer. Look for more than a dozen titles in all, including Age of Empires and a new Fable.

Nintendo: With a June 28 release date, there won’t be many surprises left for Super Mario Maker 2 by the time E3 rolls around. Pokémon Sword / Shield, too, will also be pretty well-highlighted ahead of the show. The upcoming Animal Crossing Switch title seems like a pretty good bet. Also be on the lookout for Luigi’s Mansion 3, Fire Emblem Three Houses and the Switch version of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening.

Sony: Nothing.

Seriously, nothing.

We know the PlayStation 5 is just around the corner. E3 would be a great time to offer some insight into the company’s next-generation console, but Sony has opted to sit this one out instead. The gaming giant’s absence will loom large over the event, leaving Microsoft as the only member of the big three with an actual in-person press conference, after years of Nintendo Treehouses.

E3 has traditionally been a show that’s ebbed and flowed more than most, but the gaming giant’s decision will no doubt leave many wondering whether the event has lost some of its relevance in the age of doing everything online.

Publishers: Marvel’s Avengers is going to be a huge one from RPG stalwarts Square Enix. We’ve heard very little about the eagerly awaited title. A since-removed event synopsis described the Marvel game as, “an epic action-adventure that combines cinematic storytelling with continuous single-player and co-operative gameplay.” The game will be sharing a stage with the upcoming Final Fantasy VII remake.

As for Ubisoft, Ghost Recon Breakpoint, Rainbow Six Siege and Tom Clancy’s The Division are all on tap. Doom Eternal and Wolfenstein: Youngblood are the big titles for Bethesda this year, plus Elder Scrolls Online and Fallout 76 updates.

The show kicks off Sunday with Microsoft’s press conference. TechCrunch will be there all week.

Pokémon Sword and Shield arrive worldwide on November 15, 2019

By Darrell Etherington

Nintendo Switch has Pokémon games, but it doesn’t really have its own Pokémon games, not in the true sense. Pokémon Sword and Shield, coming November 15, 2019, will be the first real Pokémon games (don’t even mention Pokémon Let’s Go – don’t) for Nintendo Switch, and now we know more about them thanks to today’s Pokémon Direct livestream event from Nintendo.

Starting with the intro video, you can tell that Sword and Shield will be a full-fledged new extension of the Pokémon world taking place in the new Galar region – a fact emphasized by the theme song that played over it which featured the catchy hook “A whoollle new worlllddd.”

Plus in this new region, part of the fiction is that everyone loves watching battles on TV, which seems like it will come into play for big battles. We also got a glimpse at a bunch of new Pokémon, including a sheep one called Wooloo; a flower thing called Gossifleur (which evolves to Eldegoss); plus a “bite” type called Dredgnaw.

There’s also a new place called, not super imaginatively, the “Wild Area” which is pretty much an open world between human settlements where you get the chance to encounter wild Pokémon you can catch. These will vary depending on weather conditions and time of day, and it looks like much more of a free-ranging experience, when compared to the relatively hard-tracked previous instalments.

Pokémon also get a special power called ‘Dynamax’ in this instalment, which is a special power that makes them huge and more powerful for three turns. This also factors into a new mode where up to four Pokémon trainers can team up to squad raid a single Dynamax wild Pokémon who retains their amped up power for the duration of the conflict. At the end, players get a chance to capture the Pokémon – and some are exclusively available to catch this way.

We also got an intro to new characters including region champion Leon, his younger brother Hop (a primary rival for the player), plus a really quick look at some of the gym battles.

The real capper though was a CG cinematic introducing the game’s legendaries, which are wolf-like Pokémon who have – you guessed it – a sword and a shield respectively. These are called Zacian and Zamazenta.

‘Gato Roboto’ and ‘Dig Dog’ put pixelated pets to work in gleeful gaming homages

By Devin Coldewey

Drawing inspiration from games of yore but with dog and cat protagonists that signal light adventures rather than grim, dark ones, Gato Roboto and Dig Dog are easy to recommend to anyone looking to waste a couple hours this weekend. Not only that, but the latter was developed in a fascinating and inspiring way.

Both games share a 1-bit aesthetic that goes back many years but most recently was popularized by the inimitable Downwell and recently used to wonderful effect in both Return of the Obra Dinn and Minit. This is a limitation that frees the developer from certain concerns while also challenging them to present the player with all the information they need with only two colors, or in Dig Dog’s case a couple more (but not a lot).

In the latter game, you play as a dog, digging for bones among a series of procedurally generated landscapes populated by enemies and hazards. Dig Dug is the obvious callback in the name, but gameplay is more bouncy and spontaneous rather than the slower, strategic digging of the arcade classic.

On every stage you’re tasked with collecting a bone that’s somewhere near the bottom, while avoiding various types of enemies and traps or, if you so choose, destroying them and occasionally yielding coins. These coins can be traded with a merchant who appears on some stages, offering various gameplay perks like a longer dash or higher jump.

Get it! Get the bone!

The simple controls let you jump, dig, and do a midair dash that kills enemies — that’s pretty much it. The rest is down to moment-to-moment choices: dig around that enemy or go through them? If I go this way will I trap myself in this hole? Is it worth attacking that bat nest for a coin or will it be too hard to get out alive?

Collected bones contribute towards unlocking new stages with different, more dangerous enemies and devious traps. It gives a sense of progression even when you only get a bone or two, as does your dog rocketing back upwards in a brief but satisfying zoomies celebration every time. So even when you die, and you will die a lot, you feel like you’re working towards something.

It’s a great time-waster and you won’t exhaust its challenges for hours of gameplay; it’s also very easy to pick up and play a few stages of, since a whole life might last less than a minute. At $4 it’s an easy one to recommend.

Interestingly, Dig Dog was developed by its creator with only minimal use of his hands. A repetitive stress condition made it painful and inadvisable for him to code using the keyboard, so he uses a voice-based coding system instead. If I had been told I couldn’t type any more, I’d probably just take up a new career, so I admire Rusty Moyher for his tenacity. He made a video about the process here, if you’re curious:

Gato Roboto, for Switch and PC, is a much more complicated game, though not nearly so much as its inspirations, the NES classics Metroid and Blaster Master. In Gato Roboto, as in those games, you explore a large world filled with monsters and tunnels, fighting bosses and outfitting yourself with new abilities, which in turn let you explore the world further.

This one isn’t as big and open as recent popular “metroidvanias” like Hollow Knight or Ori and the Blind Forest — it’s really much more like a linear action-adventure game in the style of metroidvanias.

The idea is that you’ve crash-landed on a planet after tracking a mysterious signal, but the spaceman aboard the ship is trapped — you play his cat, Kiki, who must explore the planet in his stead.

At first (or shall I say fur-st) you really are just a cat, but you’re soon equipped with a power suit that lets you jump and shoot like any other action game. However, you frequently have to jump out of it to get into a smaller tunnel or enter water, in which the suit can’t operate (and the cat only barely). In this respect it’s a bit like Blaster Master, in which your pilot could dismount and explore caves in top-down fashion — an innovation that made the game one of my favorites for the system. (If you haven’t played the Switch remake, Blaster Master Zero, I implore you to.)

Gato Roboto isn’t as taxing or complex as its predecessors, but it’s not really meant to be. It’s a non-stop romp where you always have a goal or an obstacle to overcome. The 1-bit graphics are so well executed that I stopped noticing them after a minute or two — the pixel art is very clear and only rarely does the lack of color cause any confusion whatever.

Like Dig Dog and Downwell before it, you can pick up color schemes to change the palette, a purely aesthetic choice but a fun collectible (some are quite horrid). The occasional secret and branching path keeps your brain working a little bit, but not too much.

The game is friendly and forgiving, but I will say that the bosses present rather serious difficulty spikes, and you may, as I did, find yourself dying over and over to them because they’re a hundred times more dangerous than ordinary enemies or environmental hazards. Fortunately the game is (kitty) littered with save points and, for the most part, the bosses are not overlong encounters. I still raged pretty hard on a couple of them.

It’s twice the price of Dig Dog, a whopping $8. I can safely say it’s worth the price of two coffees. Don’t hesitate.

These pleasant distractions should while away a few hours, and to me they represent a healthy gaming culture that can look back on its past and find inspiration, then choose to make something new and old at the same time.

Super Mario Maker 2 builds on Nintendo’s rich history

By Brian Heater

In 1992, Nintendo released Mario Paint. The SNES title was a strange departure, even as far as the diverse and wide-ranging gameplay of Mario’s world goes. For one thing, it shipped with a mouse, perhaps the unsexiest of all Nintendo peripherals.

For another, it was far more focused on creation than gameplay — drawing, music, animation.
The title provided a cursory glimpse at the creation side of gaming, and for a generation of young players, a taste of what it might be like to build a game themselves.

2015’s Super Mario Maker was a spiritual sequel of a kind. Released on the Wii U (then later, mercifully, the 3DS), the title was a more straightforward take on Mario world building. Released on the 30th anniversary of the original Super Mario Bros., it played on the company’s biggest strength: offering a new spin on a familiar franchise.

 

As the name implies, Super Mario Maker is a more direct sequel to its predecessor. It’s a broadening of the Wii U title in just about every aspect imaginable. In fact, Nintendo’s been happily teasing it out, block by block in recent months — and likely will continue the approach until the game finally arrives on the Switch on June 28. It’s a similar approach to the one it took with Super Smash Bros., only Maker is far more concerned with features and gameplay dynamics than hidden characters.

Playing the title at a Nintendo-hosted event last week, I was fairly impressed with the game play out of the box. The mechanics of world building can be tough to master with the Switch controllers provided, requiring players to scroll through a lot and memorize some less than intuitive button combinations to build courses. Though you should be pretty comfortably up and running within about five minutes or so.

Where the title really succeeds is in the sheer depth of gameplay. In the days of $1 smartphone games, $70 can seem like a tough pill to swallow, but as with just about every other Mario title, Maker 2 is an immensely replayable game. The new story mode lets the player hop in with 100 Nintendo-designed levels, or you can simply sample what others have been working on, competing on a world-wide stage on third-party creations.

Like the best Mario games, it’s a healthy mix of nostalgia and new ideas — and here it quite literally takes the player through four decades of Mario gameplay. The building blocks cleverly remix Marios of yore, including Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, New Super Mario Bros. U and Super Mario 3D World.

For this old and old-school Nintendo player, most were familiar and some were new — the cat suit and pneumatic glass pipes from Super Mario 3D World in particular took some getting used to. As did the team mechanics of the multiplayer mode, which finds Mario, Luigi, Toad and Toadette teaming up to get through the levels in one piece.

I enjoyed the hour or two I had with the game, but ultimately it only felt like scratching the surface.

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