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Snap is channeling Asia’s messaging giants with its move into gaming

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Snap is taking a leaf out of the Asian messaging app playbook as its social messaging service enters a new era.

The company unveiled a series of new strategies that are aimed at breathing fresh life into the service that has been ruthlessly cloned by Facebook across Instagram, WhatsApp and even its primary social network. The result? Snap has consistently lost users since going public in 2017. It managed to stop the rot with a flat Q4, but resting on its laurels isn’t going to bring back the good times.

Snap has taken a three-pronged approach: extending its stories feature (and ads) into third-party apps and building out its camera play with an AR platform, but it is the launch of social games that is the most intriguing. The other moves are logical, and they fall in line with existing Snap strategies, but games is an entirely new category for the company.

It isn’t hard to see where Snap found inspiration for social games — Asian messaging companies have long twinned games and chat — but the U.S. company is applying its own twist to the genre.

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Nintendo is bringing Zelda and Mario into virtual reality

Posted by | Gaming, Nintendo, Virtual reality | No Comments

Nintendo’s Labo VR kit may just be a little cardboard experiment, but Nintendo is taking a chance on throwing its most beloved titles into the headset. Today, the company announced they will be adding support to play two of the Switch’s flagship titles.

Though “Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild” seems to just be gaining VR viewer support, “Super Mario Odyssey” is actually getting some new content alongside the updates, which adds a trio of new mini-games. Both games are getting this update for free later this month, on April 25.

Experience 2 beloved games in new ways with the Toy-Con VR Goggles from the #NintendoLabo: VR Kit! https://t.co/be8xudP2PK pic.twitter.com/M0C6w59lIT

— Nintendo of America (@NintendoAmerica) April 5, 2019

This is a very strange choice for Nintendo to make, given what an assuredly cruddy experience this will surely be. It made enough sense with the Labo experiences, because those are designed to be fast and fun, tech specs be damned. But when Nintendo suggests tossing yourself into a 50-hour epic like “Breath of the Wild,” they’re offering you a tacit endorsement that you’ll be able to play these games in VR for a while.

I doubt this will be the case. That being said, I haven’t tested virtual reality “Breath of the Wild,” but something tells me that Mario or Zelda in glorious 360p per eye resolution doesn’t make for the game of a lifetime.

There’s also no evidence that you’re going to have any sort of different point-of-view perspective for which they’ve enabled gameplay, so you’ll still be playing in third-person, which is likely going to be a bit uncomfortable if the camera is automatically shifting while your head remains stationary.

It’s hard to rake Nintendo over the coals for giving users this experience for free, but I hope people don’t rush out to buy the Labo VR kits just for this, because I’ve got some doubts they’ll like what they get.

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Yoshi’s Crafted World is classic gaming joy, Nintendo-style

Posted by | Gaming, Mario, Nintendo, Nintendo Switch, Reviews, yoshi | No Comments

In 1995, Yoshi had his moment. The character’s Super Mario World debut was so strong, Nintendo handed the dinosaur sidekick his own sequel. A surprise divergence from the Mario franchise found the character escorting a baby version of the plumber in search of his kidnapped twin.

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island was regarded as an instant classic for the Super Nintendo. The positive reaction was due, in part, to some bold aesthetic choices. The game featured a shaky line style, both in keeping with the playful infant motif and to further highlight that the title wasn’t just another Mario game.

Yoshi’s island has received a number of its own sequels and spinoffs over the years. This is, after all, Nintendo we’re talking about here. The company has turned riding out IP into a kind of art form. But while many of those followups were generally well-received, but none managed to capture the pure joy of the original.

2015’s Yoshi’s Wooly World came close, but ultimately failed to meet the high standards of many Mario fans. And the fact that the Wii U was ultimately a doomed console didn’t help matters much.

From a design perspective, Yoshi’s Crafted World clearly shares a lot of common DNA with that predecessor and, for that matter, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, with developer Good-Feel being a common denominator in all three.  But the Switch title is a far more fully realized and cohesive package than the Wii U title. And like Yoshi’s Island before it, it’s a joy to play.

The first time I saw gameplay footage, I’d assume the game was a bit more of an open-world adventure — the Yoshi’s Island to Super Mario Galaxy’s Super Mario World. But while the new title gives you some choices, it never lets you stray too far from the standard platformer path.

To this day, side scrollers continue to be Nintendo’s bread and butter, even as it pushes the boundaries of gaming with other titles. At its worst, that means redundancy. At its best, however, Nintendo manages to put a fresh spin on the age old genre, as is the case here.

Clever mechanics like 3D world flipping and paths that point Yoshi down roads in a third dimension keep gameplay interesting. The addition of seemingly infinite Mario 3-style cardboard costumes, coupled with the DIY crafted design language, meanwhile, make it downright joy to play.

Yoshi’s Crafted World is an all-ages title, through and through. In fact, on first playing, the game asks whether you want to play “Mellow Mode” or “Classic Mode,” reassuring you that you can switch things up at any time. Even in Classic Mode, the game does a fair bit of handholding.

But the game’s simple and slow pace is more comfort than annoyance for even older players. The title plays like a casual game, writ large with a fun through line that finds Yoshi hunting down scattered “Dream Gems,” like so many Dragon Balls. It’s never as immersive or addicting as a title like Mario Galaxy, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s the kind of game you can happily play in spurts and come back to, after you’re done living your life.

It’s a reminder that games can be an escape from, rather than cause of, frustration and stress. And it’s definitely the best Yoshi star vehicle in nearly 25 years.

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Amazon Prime members get a free year of Nintendo Switch Online through Twitch Prime

Posted by | Amazon, Gaming, Nintendo, Nintendo Switch, nintendo switch online, Twitch | No Comments

You may have forgotten about Twitch Prime, but the company is adding an interesting new perk for Nintendo Switch owners. The company is giving out up to one year of Nintendo Switch Online, the subscription service that lets you play online multiplayer games and access NES games.

If you’re an Amazon Prime or Prime Video subscriber, you automatically become a Twitch Prime member once you link your accounts together — Amazon owns Twitch. Twitch Prime gives you access to free loot, such as in-game skins for Apex Legends or Call of Duty Black Ops 4, as well as free (mostly indie) games.

As part of Twitch Prime, you can also subscribe to a Twitch channel for free — the streamer still gets compensated. Twitch Prime also gives your more options to customize your chat experience.

Nintendo and Twitch are partnering to offer a complimentary Nintendo Switch Online subscription — it usually costs $20. But you won’t get 12 months at once. You can go to this website to redeem three months right now.

In two months, you’ll be able to redeem another nine months. Twitch and Nintendo probably hope that you’ll forget about the second part of the perk, so don’t forget to set up a reminder.

The offer expires on September 24, 2019 for the initial three months, and on January 22, 2020 for the additional nine months. The good news is that it also works if you’re already a Nintendo Switch Online subscriber. You’ll just get additional subscription time.

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Nintendo’s Labo: VR Kit is not Virtual Boy 2.0

Posted by | Gaming, labo, Nintendo, Virtual reality | No Comments

Even the most successful tech company is going to have a stumble from time to time. Nintendo’s 45 years in the video game industry is spotted with a few doozies, but none are more infamous than the Virtual Boy. The 1994 portable console was marketed as an early home entry into virtual reality, but in actual reality ended up being little more than a blood-red headache.

Nintendo knew the comparisons to the doomed console would come fast and furiously when it launched its next VR venture, so the company took the time to get it just right. In a sense, Labo VR is a cautious push into the virtual realm. It’s nowhere near the all-in approach of Oculus, Vive or even PlayStation VR, for that matter — but it’s uniquely Nintendo.

Like the first Labo kits, it’s a friendly reminder that Nintendo’s chief job is to surprise and delight, and it happily delivers on both fronts. But just as the Labo piano shouldn’t be mistaken for a real musical instrument, Labo VR ought not be viewed as a real virtual reality.

It’s not just the pop-out cardboard form factor, either. Google made that a perfectly acceptable beginner’s approach to VR. It’s more that Nintendo has taken a very casual approach to all of this. The kit’s virtual reality experience is an extension of Labo itself. It’s no more important than the process of building the headset and various accessories step by step on the app. Or, for that matter, sharing all of the above experiences with others.

During a demo of the new kits in New York this week, Nintendo was quick to point out that the headsets are built without a strap. It claims this was a conscious decision so that the experience can be passed around and shared. I’m sure there are some practical reasons behind this decision as well, but it’s certainly a nice thought.

Virtual reality is, by nature of its form factor, a solitary experience. Labo VR doesn’t have any sort of video-out feature to share the experience on a big screen (for now, at least), so the idea of offering it up in a more social play-and-pass scenario is appealing. This goes double for the fact that, like the original Labo kits, all of the games included fall under the casual banner. The experiences share a common lineage with Nintendo analog titles like Mario Party or Mario Paint.

Your mileage with each title will vary. Certainly some (Bird and Blaster spring to mind) will stay with you longer than others and demand more repeat play. On the whole, each buildable peripheral launches with one (maybe two) compatible games. The good news, however, is that, like Labo, the company packs a lot of controllers (and therefore experiences) into a single kit.

The standard Labo: VR Kit ships with six Toy-Con projects (VR Goggles, Toy-Con Blaster, Toy-Con Camera, Toy-Con Bird, Toy-Con Wind Pedal and Toy-Con Elephant), while the cheaper Starter Set comes with two (Goggles and Blaster). If you go for the latter to dip your toes in the water or just to save on cash, there are a pair of “expansion sets” to get the full experience.

Unlike the last time Nintendo came to town with a Labo press tour, we didn’t actually get any time to build. That said, if previous kits are any indication, that’s half of the fun and value proposition here. Also, the amount of time you’ll spend building varies greatly from project to project — take it from me, someone who spent most of a work morning building that damn piano.

Once built, the VR experience is about on-par with what you’d expect from a Google VR. Again, it’s a set of lenses attached to a hunk of cardboard. This is no Rift or Vive and the immersiveness of your own experience will vary. The graphics are cartoony and oftentimes just large polygons. But a well-crafted casual gaming experience can be enough to pull you out of your own head for a bit. Bird is the best example of this.

The controller clips on the headset, with a Toy-Con popping out the other end like a beak. As a player, you hook your hands on either side of the display and flap along as you play a bird, flying around trees and completing different missions to feed an army of hatchlings. It’s a relaxing reprieve from some of the faster-paced games, as you glide around the skies. Add in the foot-controlled Wind Pedal, and the system delivers a puff of air to your face as you boost your bird, adding to the effect.

Blaster, a big, fun novelty gun, is the most engaging of the bunch. When I ended my demos with some extra time to spare, the Nintendo rep asked me if I wanted to give any of the games another go. The answer was simple. A simple first-person shooter, Blaster pits you against an army of alien blobs. You load the gun by cocking it like a shot-gun, and pull the trigger to an explosive effect.

Honorable mention goes to Doodle, which uses the bizarre elephant-shaped controller. The experience is unique from the rest in that it’s not actually a game, but rather a 3D drawing tool. It’s one of the more clever additions to the pack, though actually drawing on a 3D plane with a cardboard controller shaped like an elephant’s trunk is easier said than done. The implementation is a bit lacking, but it offers interesting insight into where Labo VR might go in the future.

Honestly, I just scratched the surface during my briefing. But there’s little question that Labo VR is a fun and singular experience. There’s also a special screen holder, so users who have rough time with VR can experience a 2D version of the games and accessories. Also, as with the standard Labo kit, Nintendo has bundled in Toy-Con Garage, so users can start building their own games when they tire of the pre-packaged experiences.

If there’s one disappointment in all of this, it’s that it will likely be a while before we see a full standalone VR experience from Nintendo. The idea of playing as Mario, Link and the like in virtual reality is no doubt something of a lifelong dream for plenty of gamers who grew up on the characters. But while Virtual Boy is a quarter-century in the past, the memory still lingers.

Until then, Labo VR is a fully engaging take on VR, and a uniquely Nintendo one, to boot.

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Nintendo’s Reggie Fils-Aimé retires (and Bowser claims the castle)

Posted by | Gaming, Nintendo, Personnel, reggie fils-aime, TC | No Comments

Reggie Fils-Aimé is retiring after more than a decade spent as president of Nintendo of America. His career spanned many console generations, starting with the troubled GameCube and ending with the fabulously successful Switch. Reggie will be succeeded by Doug Bowser, who has worked under him for the last four years.

In a statement provided by Nintendo, Reggie (who frequently went by his first name in familiar fashion) offered the following farewell:

Nintendo owns a part of my heart forever. It’s a part that is filled with gratitude – for the incredibly talented people I’ve worked with, for the opportunity to represent such a wonderful brand, and most of all, to feel like a member of the world’s most positive and enduring gamer community. As I look forward to departing in both good health and good humor, this is not ‘game over’ for me, but instead ‘leveling up’ to more time with my wife, family and friends.

In addition, he posted a video farewell on Twitter:

Nintendo fans, Reggie has a message for all of you. Please take a look. pic.twitter.com/EAhaEl5oEJ

— Nintendo of America (@NintendoAmerica) February 21, 2019

Reggie has been one of Nintendo’s most public and recognizable faces ever since the early days of his ascendancy, which coincidentally was when I began covering E3 regularly for work. I had the privilege of meeting him numerous times for interviews and Q&As, as well as just bumping into him at this or that event.

His indefatigably on-message manner, as if he had a prepared remark for every possible question, was impossible to be frustrated with because of his undeniable charisma and passion for the games and devices he was promoting. It may have been hard to tell where Reggie ended and Nintendo PR began (perhaps now we’ll never know), but he was never anything less than helpful and engaging in my experience.

When he took over Nintendo of America, the company as a whole was recovering from a down period marked by a console (the GameCube) that had not kept pace with the competition and a handheld that, while popular, was flagging and clearly old-fashioned.

As most will remember, however, the company soon turned all that around with the DS and Wii, two of the best-selling consoles of all time and ones that returned Nintendo to its household name status, as well as vastly expanding the “gamer” demographic. Of course, the Wii U was a disappointment (though home to many great games), but since then the Switch has restored confidence in the company’s ability to innovate and deliver. With some 20 million sold since launch, Reggie is leaving on a high note.

Reggie’s involvement from the outside seemed to be to pretend these things didn’t exist until 30 seconds before going onstage to announce them, after which he would tirelessly promote them to every outlet and fan that managed to make eye contact with him. He was accessible, friendly and if not candid he was certainly honest and earnest at all times. He’ll certainly be missed by many, myself included.

Doug Bowser will take over as president on April 15, Reggie’s official last day. Bowser joined in 2015 and led the sales and marketing for the Switch, so you know he’s got momentum — plus, you know, the name.

I’ve asked Nintendo for any further information on Reggie’s departure, such as whether he’ll still be involved with the company at all, and will update this post if I hear back.

So long, Reggie, and best of luck on the next level!

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A ridiculously rare copy of Super Mario for NES just sold for over $100,000

Posted by | Gaming, NES, Nintendo, super mario, TC, video games | No Comments

An extra special copy of Super Mario for NES just sold for a mind-boggling $100,150.

Before you go digging through the attic to find your old copy to throw up for auction, you should know: the version in question here is super, super rare.

So what makes it special?

Super Mario has been released and re-released dozens of times in the past three decades. Even if we’re just talking about the original NES cartridge that came in a black box, there were eleven ever-so-slightly-different versions of the box shipped between 1985 and 1994. Some had tabs for hanging them from store shelves; some lacked a trademark symbol or two in the right spots; others had slightly tweaked graphics for the Nintendo “Seal of Quality” on the face.

The very first few runs, though, had a particularly obvious quirk: rather than being shrink-wrapped, they were sealed with just a little black “Nintendo” sticker at the top of the box. These early versions hit just a handful of test markets. Remember, Mario wasn’t a thing at this point — no one really had any idea what this game was about, much less the worldwide icon that Mario would become. So even amongst the super small number of copies that were distributed prior to the game’s wider launch in 1986, most people who got their hands on it wouldn’t think to keep it in pristine condition.

Wata Games, which certified this copy, pins the condition at around 9.4 out of 10. It also says that this copy is the only known “sticker sealed” one still in existence, and that even the sticker itself is somehow in tip-top shape. Wata has a breakdown of the many variations of Super Mario prints and reprints here.

$100,000 is a hefty chunk of change to drop on a game, and a press release from Heritage Auction house says the purchase was actually a joint effort between multiple buyers, including a coin dealer, multiple video game collectors and the founder of the auction house itself.

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Nintendo makes the old new again with Mario, Zelda, Tetris titles for Switch

Posted by | fire emblem, Gadgets, Gaming, Legend of Zelda, Mario Maker, Nintendo, Nintendo Switch, super mario bros, tetris, zelda | No Comments

The afternoon brought an eventful series of announcements from Nintendo in one of its Direct video promos, and 2019 is looking to be a banner year for the Switch. Here’s everything the company announced, from Super Mario Maker 2 to the unexpected remake of Game Boy classic Link’s Awakening.

The stream cold opened with a look at the new Mario Maker, which would honestly be enough announcement for one day. But boy did they have more up their sleeves.

First the actually new stuff:

Shown last but likely to garner the bulk of the internet’s response is the remake of Link’s Awakening, which came out more than a quarter of a century ago on Game Boy. I admit to never finishing this, but I loved the feel of it, so I’m dying to play this new tilt-shifted, perspective-switching 3D version.

Platinum has an intriguing new game called Astral Chain, in which you appear to control two fighters at the same time in some crazy-looking robot(?)-on-robot action. Talent from The Wonderful 101, Bayonetta and Nier: Automata ensure this will be worth keeping an eye on.

The recent trend of battle royale and perhaps the best game ever made, Tetris, combine in Tetris 99, where 100 people simultaneously and competitively drop blocks. It looks bonkers, and it’s free on Switch starting right now.

And on the JRPG tip:

Fire Emblem: Three Houses got a long spot that introduced the main characters, whom you’ll no doubt ally with and/or be betrayed by. Romance is in the air! And arrows.

From the back-to-basics studio that put out I Am Setsuna and Lost Sphear comes Oninaki, an action RPG that looks like a good well-crafted bit of fun, if not particularly original.

Dragon Quest 11 S — an enhanced version of the original hit — and DQ Builders 2 are on their way to Switch later this year, in Fall and July respectively.

Rune Factory 4 Special is another enhanced, remastered classic in a series that I adore (though I wish they’d remaster Frontier). It was also announced that RF5 is in development, so thank God for that.

Final Fantasy VII is coming at the end of March, and Final Fantasy IX is available now. I’m ashamed to say I never played the latter but this is a great opportunity to.

Sidescrollers new and old:

BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL! is a new entry in a well-like puzzle platformer series that introduces some new characters and multiplayer. Coming in April.

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night got a teaser, but we’ve heard a lot about this Castlevania spiritual sequel already. Just come out!

Yoshi’s Crafted World comes out March 29, but there’s a demo available today.

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker gets an update adding multiplayer to its intricate levels, and soon, a paid pack for new ones. I might wait for a combined version but this should be fun.

Miscellaneous but still interesting:

The new Marvel Ultimate Alliance is coming this summer and I can’t wait. The second one was a blast but it came out way too long ago. A good co-op brawler is a natural fit for the Switch, plus being a superhero is fun.

Daemon X Machina, the striking-looking mech combat game, is getting a demo ahead of the summer release. They’re going to incorporate changes and advice from players so if you want to help shape the game, get to it.

Disney Tsum Tsum Festival… I don’t know what this is. But it looks wild.

Deltarune! It’s the sequel-ish to the beloved Undertale, and you can get the first chapter on Switch now. Play Undertale first, or you won’t get the dog jokes.

There were a few more little items here and there, but that’s the gist. Boy am I glad I have a Switch!

You can watch the full Direct here.

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Nintendo is releasing a free battle royale version of Tetris

Posted by | Gaming, Nintendo, TC, tetris | No Comments

It came right in the middle of the Nintendo Direct announcement this afternoon: “99 players… but only one reigns supreme.”

It could be a tagline for just about any of the run-and-gun shoot ’em up battle royale games that are so popular right now, à la Fortnite or Apex. Instead, it’s the tagline for the new… Tetris?

Nintendo only touched on it for about 40 seconds (so details are a bit light), but the company says it’s releasing later today a free-to-play, 99-player version of Tetris called Tetris 99. It’ll be a free download for Nintendo Switch Online members.

It seems to mostly be the Tetris we all know, with a twist: performing particularly well will let you attack other players with garbage, filling their carefully curated rows with a bunch of junk.

No word yet on if you’ll be able to make your blocks Floss or do the Carlton dance.

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Nintendo announces Super Mario Maker 2 for Switch, so goodbye forever

Posted by | Gadgets, Gaming, Mario, Mario Maker, Nintendo, Nintendo Switch | No Comments

Nintendo has ruined my life, and all our lives, by announcing Super Mario Maker 2, the sequel to the level-constructing game on Wii U that produced thousands of devious levels for those who think the “real” games aren’t hard enough. Gamers have been asking for this basically since the Switch was first rumored.

Mario Maker 2 looks like it’s been updated in a number of helpful ways apart from being on a console that will actually be supported long-term. The interface needed some sprucing up for the lower precision players, who will have to use their fingers instead of a stylus on the touchscreen.

No doubt this will be a huge draw for Nintendo’s Switch Online service, which will likely not only allow you to share your levels and try those of others, but — if Nintendo listened to its player base — compete with ghosts and other multiplayer features. Here’s hoping we can build whole worlds, but let’s not get greedy. But we definitely have slopes now!

Honestly, I could play NES and SNES-era Mario games forever on repeat, and the re-releases of other Marios on Switch has made the newer ones even more accessible. Probably between those and Mario Maker I’ll never leave the house again.

Details are truly scant for now except that the game will come out in June of this year, just in time for summer to arrive — and be shut out with blackout curtains so glare doesn’t get on my greasy Switch. I’ll update this post if any new information becomes available.

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