Nintendo

Tech Will Save Us offers STEM toys you’ll actually use

Posted by | Gadgets, Nintendo, nintendo labo, TC, Tech Will Save Us, toy | No Comments

I hate STEM toys. I have three kids and ultimately every “educational” toy they’ve used – from LittleBits to Nintendo Labo – has ended up in a corner somewhere, ignored for more exciting fare. This happens for a few reasons but the primary one is that the toys require too much attention and have no lasting play value.

Given this fact, I thought our species (or at least my kids) would be doomed to Idiocracy-style techno illiteracy. Luckily, a set of toys from the optimistically-named organization Tech Will Save Us, has changed my mind.

TWSU toys are nice in that they are at once rugged toys that withstand constant play and electronic devices that can be programmed by a clever eight year old. For example, the $60 Creative Coder is basically a LilyPad device with a USB interface and a block-based programming language that lets you program it. The TWSU website features a number of little programs you can upload to the board including a Pokemon sensor that starts out red and white until you shake the board, activating the sensor and causing the lights to blink. My son loved it and he slept in it, strapping the wearable to his wrist like an Apple Watch.

Programming the Creative Coder is very simple. It uses a Scratch-like interface to set colors and activate timers and in a few minutes I was able to make a Ghost Detector that “hunted” for ghosts and then blinked when it found one. I based the idea on an old toy I had in the 1980s called IAN that beeped when it got close to “invisible aliens.” I still remember the excitement I felt walking around in my Grandma’s basement looking for monsters. I think he felt the same excitement.

The other toys – including a simple game machine that uses an Arduino and a 9×9 LED display – were similarly interesting. The game machine, for example, included a primitive version of Flappy Bird that my son played for hours and he was excited to get the LED to spell his name on command. It did, however, require knowledge of Arduino programming which limited the usability. However, because it comes preloaded with a simple game the device felt complete right out of the box.

How are these toys different from all the other STEM junk I’ve tried? Again, they worked out of the box. The Creative Coder could double as a bike light as soon as you assembled it and it came inside of a plastic case that made it a wearable instead of a science project. The other toys were just that – toys – and the programming was an afterthought. Ultimately I’m sure this stuff will end up under the couch, dead and forgotten, but until that happens they’ve supplied a great deal of fun.

STEM toys often focus on the STEM. I suspect this is because engineers are building them and not toymakers. Further, toymakers create things like the Zoomer Playful Pup (another clever toy) and hide all of the technology deep behind layers of plastic. Finding the right balance in so-called STEM toys is incredibly difficult but its doable and, as Tech Will Save Us have proved, these toys don’t have to be too boring or too complex for the kids (and parents) who might buy them.

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Nintendo’s ‘souped-up’ NES Zelda loads you with gear for an easier adventure

Posted by | Gadgets, Gaming, Legend of Zelda, Nintendo, Nintendo Switch, Switch, zelda | No Comments

Nintendo has set a strange new precedent with the release of Legend of Zelda SP on the Switch: it’s essentially the original NES game but with Link starts loaded up with good gear and cash. In a way it’s no different from a cheat code, but the way it’s executed feels like a missed opportunity.

The game itself (SP stands for “special”) is described by Nintendo in the menu as a “souped up version” of the original: “Living the life of luxury!” It’s a separate entry in the menu with all the other NES games you get as part of the company’s subscription service.

You’re given the white sword, big shield, blue ring and power bracelet, plus 255 rupees to replace that shield when a Like-like eats it. Basically they’ve given you all the stuff you can find on the overworld (including max bombs and keys), but no items you’d get from inside a dungeon. You also have six hearts, and traveling around a little bit I determined these were awarded by raiding nearby hidden areas, not simply assigned. Secret passages are already revealed, and so on.

Because it skips the title screen and save game selection it seems like someone must have essentially played through the game to this point (or more likely edited the values in game RAM) and then walked to the classic starting point and made a save state that automatically loads when you start or reset the game. This means the only way to save is to use the Switch’s built-in save states, not the rather inconvenient save method the game used.

It’s plain enough that this will be a less frustrating way to explore this famously difficult game, but it seems untrue to Zelda’s roots. I understand perhaps gifting the player some of the impossible to find things like a heart hidden inside a random block here or there. Getting some bombs to start is great too, and maybe even the rings (warping is helpful, and the game is pretty punishing, so damage reduction is nice). But the white sword?

For one thing, a player experiencing the game this way misses out on one of the most iconic moments in all gaming — “It’s dangerous to go alone. Take this!” Then the ritual lifting of the wooden sword. And then setting out into the world to die again and again.

And for me, the white sword was always sort of a rite of passage in the game — your first big step toward becoming powerful. You earned it by finding those extra heart containers, perhaps after asking in vain after it before you were ready. Once you have it, you’re cutting through enemies like butter.

To make it the default sword and to skip these steps seems like it causes the player to miss out on what makes Zelda Zelda.

To be fair, it’s not the only version of the game you can play — the original is available, too. But it seems like a missed opportunity. Why not just have a save game you can load with this stuff, so you can continue playing as normal? Why not have the option baked into the launch of the original Zelda — have a couple secret save states ready with differing levels of items?

Nintendo has the opportunity to introduce a new generation to classic NES games here, having provided a rather bare-bones experience with the NES Classic Edition. Why not enhance them? Include the manual, god mode, developer commentary? This is the legacy the company has been stewarding for decades, and what better than to give it the respect it deserves?

I’m probably overthinking it. But this Zelda SP just seems like a rushed job when players would appreciate something like it, just not so heavy-handed. It’s not that these games are inviolable, but that if they’re going to be fiddled with, we’d like to see it done properly.

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A new Nintendo Switch is reportedly arriving next year

Posted by | Gaming, hardware, Nintendo, Nintendo Switch, Switch | No Comments

Nintendo’s been known to upgrade consoles with some regularity. It’s an easy way to keep audiences engaged over the long life of a system. Released in March 2017, the Switch certainly seems due for an update.

Sure, the hybrid console has been a runaway success for Nintendo, but after a year and a half and a sales plateau, some revamped hardware could be exactly the shot in the arm the device needs. According to a new report from The Wall Street Journal citing suppliers and other anonymous sources, Nintendo has a new version of the console in the works for later next year.

Details are still pretty thin — apparently Nintendo itself hasn’t figured out precisely what such an update would entail. A new screen is understandably pretty high up on the wish of upgrades to the console. After all, the current display was something of an afterthought for a console primarily designed to be plugged into a home entertainment system.

Price is still an important factor here, however. As such, a high-end OLED is probably out of the question. That said, there are still plenty of affordable options that can be pilfered from the smartphone space.

Timing-wise, the new Switch is expected to arrive “as soon as summer.” Nintendo, naturally, isn’t commenting.

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Nintendo’s Reggie Fils-Aime on Wii U ‘stumbles’ and balancing nostalgia with reinvention

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

Nintendo is nearing its 130th birthday, and the company is once again in the midst of major changes as it embraces mobile platforms and online services. But Nintendo of America’s president Reggie Fils-Aime says that should come as no surprise: “We reinvent ourselves every five or 10 years. We have to. It’s in our DNA.”

In an interview at the GeekWire Summit in Seattle, Fils-Aime talked, in his immaculately Nintendo-promotional manner, about the company’s ups and downs over the last decade and what it took to get the Switch out the door.

“We focus on giving consumers experiences that they haven’t even thought of,” he explained. Anyone who has followed Nintendo for a few years certainly wouldn’t disagree — remember the vitality sensor? “By going down this path you create doubters. And we’ll be the first to admit that there will always be stumbles along the way.”

“The Wii had sold a hundred million units globally; the Wii U did not have that same level of success,” he admitted. That’s something of an understatement; the Wii U is widely considered something of a boondoggle, interesting but confusing and hugely outgunned by the competition when it came to what was valued by the rapidly growing mainstream gaming world.

“But in the words of one of our presidents — this is [Hiroshi] Yamauchi — when you’re doing well, don’t be excited by that high-flying performance, and when you’re doing poorly, don’t be sad. Always have an even keel,” he said. Not exactly catchy, but it is good business advice. The focus should be on the horizon.

And that’s where it was, despite the painfully low sales numbers and lack of third-party support. As he tells it, they just plowed ahead with new lessons under their belt.

“If we had not had the Wii U, we would not have the Switch,” he said seriously. “What we heard from customers was that the proposition of a tablet on which they could experience gameplay, coupled with the ability to play games on the TV, is really compelling. Users were telling us, ‘I want to play with this tablet, but when I get 30 feet away from the TV, it disconnects.’ The one point gamers all hate is the point where they have to put the controller down. So it was an important step for us to be able to deliver on this proposition.”

“When I first saw the embodiment of that system,” he recalled, “the hairs on the back of my neck raised up.” It was the same feeling, he said, that he had with the Wii Remote and the DS — both featuring technologies that people were highly skeptical of at first but proved versatile and compelling.

Touchscreens weren’t common when the DS came out, and motion controls weren’t common when the Wii came out, he noted. Both have since become mainstream — not entirely due to Nintendo’s success with them, of course, but it would be disingenuous to say that had nothing to do with it.

But while the company can rightly be said to be taking risks in some ways, in other ways it is uniquely stuck in the past. Its most successful franchises are well past a quarter of a century old.

As Fils-Aime sees it, however, this is exactly how it should be. Mario and Link are characters the way Mickey Mouse or even someone like Robin Hood are characters. New franchises like Splatoon can be established and cared for, but the traditional ones (though no one mentioned Metroid, predictably and unfortunately) should be recycled and brought to new platforms and generations.

Nowadays that includes mobile games, where Nintendo has been taking tentative steps in recent years.

Nintendo’s latest has been criticized for its unvarnished quest for players’ money.

“We see our mobile initiatives as a way to bring our intellectual properties and our gameplay experiences to a larger population than the tens or hundred million consumers that own a dedicated gaming system,” he said. “With Super Mario Run, we literally have hundreds of millions of consumers experiencing Mario, consumers in places where we don’t even distribute our gaming systems. Then maybe they buy that Super Mario t-shirt, they may eat that Super Mario cereal, they may buy a Nintendo Switch.” (Presumably imported.)

Here Fils-Aime’s comments rang a bit hollow, however. Nintendo’s mobile strategy has leaned hard on the “gacha” style game that massively incentivizes in-app purchases of virtual currencies and grinding levels to unlock new characters randomly in loot box style. This seems so far from Nintendo’s core mission of entertainment and so close to the current industry method of cash extraction that it’s hard to believe it’s what the company really wanted to create.

It does, as Fils-Aime said was the goal, allow them to be “effective” on platforms and marketplaces they don’t themselves own, and it does drive their “overall business agenda.” But it seems as though the company is still trying to figure out how to truly bring its games to mobile. Perhaps the upcoming Mario Kart game will be a better option, but it could very easily go the other way, as well.

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Sony announces the PlayStation Classic, its own mini retro console

Posted by | computing, Gaming, Nintendo, playstation, Sony Computer Entertainment, TC, video gaming | No Comments

If you’re the kind of person who has two beers and regularly launches into the same 20 minute-long ode to the original PlayStation for playing a seminal role in the maturation of gaming as an art form, well, do we have some news for you. Sony just announced its intentions to give the PlayStation the (winning) Nintendo Classic treatment with a tiny to-scale version of the PS1 called the PlayStation Classic. The teeniest new console is scheduled to hit shelves on December 3, retailing for $99.99.

Like Nintendo’s wildly popular SNES and NES Classics that paved the way, Sony’s PlayStation Classic will come pre-loaded with a cache of well-loved games. The PlayStation Classic’s lineup will feature 20 classic games, including Final Fantasy VII [editor’s note: hell yeah], Jumping Flash, Ridge Racer Type 4, Tekken 3, and Wild Arms. 

“Almost 25 years ago, the original PlayStation was introduced to the world. Developed by Sony Computer Entertainment, it was the first home console in video game history to ship 100 million units worldwide, offering consumers a chance to play games with real-time 3D rendered graphics in their homes for the first time,” Sony said, waxing nostalgic in a blog post announcing the console. We’re here for it.

“Long-time fans will appreciate the nostalgia that comes with rediscovering the games they know and love, while gamers who might be new to the platform can enjoy the groundbreaking PlayStation console experience that started it all.”

According to Sony, the new mini PlayStation will be 45% smaller than a real PlayStation, complete with smaller controllers that also mimic their forebears. Each unit will ship with an HDMI and USB cable and two controllers for couch multiplayer. The consoles will be available to pre-order at some retailers in Canada and the U.S and more details (including the 15 other games) so keep an eye out — Sony will be sharing more details in the next month or two. All games “will be playable in their original format” so expect them to look and feel just like they did in the dark ages, when things were simple and good.

Most of us can agree that this particular nostalgia baiting tactic is awesome, take our money, but have you seen this thing? It’s extra cute. Maybe it’s because the PS1 had those iconic circular buttons that echoed its game discs and round things are cute like Kirby is cute (Toad, on the other hand, is over).

If you spent significant time marveling over the PS1 when it made waves in 1995, you too likely retain a proprioceptive kind of intimacy with its then cutting-edge form. Do you remember precisely how much give the buttons had when you depressed them, how the disc hood yawned open gracefully, almost suspensefully? Of course you do.

Sure we gave five years of our actual lives to this thing — what’s a few months more?

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Nintendo is offering an exclusive Fortnite bundle with the Switch

Posted by | fortnite, Gadgets, Gaming, Nintendo, Nintendo Switch, TC | No Comments

Fortnite has taken the world by storm. In fact, the game is so popular that Epic has released versions for PC, Xbox, PS4, iOS, Android and the Nintendo Switch, making the game about as accessible as possible.

The popularity of the game stems from the general popularity of the Battle Royale genre and popular streamers like Ninja, who have made the game so much fun to watch. But it also comes from the fun, and often fleeting, skins, dances and pick axes the game offers in its Item Shop.

On October 5th, folks interested in the Switch can pick up some extra Fortnite swag.

It’s a bundle royale! A #NintendoSwitch #Fortnite bundle including special in-game items and 1,000 V-Bucks will make the jump into stores on 10/05. https://t.co/5049PRWbjr pic.twitter.com/qoraUQA5DO

— Nintendo of America (@NintendoAmerica) September 18, 2018

Nintendo is releasing a bundle that will include an exclusive Fortnite skin, glider and pick-axe, as well as an extra 1,000 V-Bucks. To be clear, 1,000 V-bucks is the equivalent of $10 and won’t get you much from the Item Shop.

Plus, as pointed out by the Verge, Nintendo has offered several different bundles which would allow customers to pick up a Switch for $329 alongside one of a few games. In most cases, those games cost money, whereas Fortnite is a free to play game.

But the Nintendo Switch bundle is the only way to get your hands on the Switch gear that comes with it.

This isn’t the first time that Epic has given out exclusive gear to players using different hardware or services. There is an exclusive Twitch Prime skin, a Sony PS4 skin, and even a skin for Galaxy Note 9 owners.

The Bundle is available for $329 on October 5.

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Nintendo finally announces some new games for the Switch

Posted by | Gaming, Nintendo, Nintendo Switch | No Comments

Nintendo is at last (at last!) bringing some new content to the Switch! Yes!

In a Nintendo Direct, the company let fly a number of games and a couple of original titles. The biggest Nintendo-produced titles we had glimpses of are a new Animal Crossing in development for the Switch and Luigi’s Mansion 3.

We learned next to nothing about the new Animal Crossing, other than that it’s coming in 2019, but we did get to see some gameplay from the latest chapter of Luigi’s only titular adventure in the Nintendo world. Luigi’s Mansion 3 seems to follow in the ghost-vacuuming footsteps of its predecessors with the bizarre camera angles and all. It’s also heading to the Switch stage in 2019, setting up a couple of Nintendo titles for us to look forward to next year, possibly alongside Metroid Prime 4 (?).

Other familiar additions to the Switch include a port of the Wii U game New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe coming in January and Yoshi’s Crafted World coming in spring 2019.

Aside from the Nintendo-made titles, fans were served up a big surprise with the announcement that some recent and old-school Final Fantasy titles are coming to the Switch. Final Fantasy VII, IX, X, X-2 HD Remaster and XII are all arriving in 2019.

There are about a dozen other incoming titles (several of which are remasters), including EA SPORTS FIFA 19, Starlink: Battle for Atlas, Diablo III: Eternal Collection, Mega Man 11, Katamari Damacy REROLL and plenty of others that you can jump through in the Direct below.

The Nintendo Switch is a fantastic system, and while it has a lot going for it, I barely have any games to play for it anymore. It’s not all that out of character for Nintendo to delay the hell out of the instant gratification its customers want, but the Switch has had a particularly stuttered content rollout since its launch. Hopefully the company can pick up a little more consistent cadence as it gets more third-party studios onboard.

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Nintendo’s NES Switch controllers activate the nostalgia centers (and wallets) of retro gamers

Posted by | Gadgets, Gaming, hardware, NES, Nintendo, Nintendo Switch, Switch | No Comments

The news that Nintendo would be adding NES games to the Switch as part of its paid online service had a mixed reception, but the company has completely made up for this controversial decision by releasing wireless NES controllers with which to play those games. At $60 they’re a bit steep, but come on. You know you’re going to buy them eventually. Probably next week.

The controllers were revealed during the latest Nintendo Direct video news dump, alongside a host of other nostalgia bombs, like a new Animal Crossing and about a million Final Fantasy ports. But first the details of those sweet, sweet controllers.

They’re definitely NES-style down to the buttons, meaning they aren’t going to replace your existing Switch Joy-Cons. So why do they cost so much? Because Nintendo. At least they’re wireless and they charge up by slotting onto the Switch’s sides like Joy-Cons. And they do have shoulder buttons, though, for some reason.

You’ll be able to pre-order a two-pack starting on the 18th for $60, which also happens to be the launch date for Nintendo Switch Online. Yeah, it’s time to fork out for that online play Nintendo has generously given away for so long.

Fortunately, as you may remember from previous announcements, the cost is pretty low; $20 per year, and it gets you online game access and a growing library of NES classics. Ten of those games were confirmed before, but 10 more were added to the list today.

So at launch you’ll be able to play:

  • Balloon Fight
  • Dr Mario
  • Mario Bros.
  • Super Mario Bros.
  • Super Mario Bros. 3
  • Donkey Kong
  • Ice Climber
  • The Legend of Zelda
  • Tennis
  • Soccer
  • Baseball
  • Double Dragon
  • Excitebike
  • Ghosts ‘n Goblins
  • Gradius
  • Ice Hockey
  • Pro Wrestling
  • River City Ransom
  • Tecmo Bowl
  • Yoshi

The service will also enable cloud backups of saves and possible special deals down the line. It sounds like it’s basically a must-have, although plenty of people are angry that their virtual console games have been essentially stolen back from them. At least we have the NES and SNES Classic Editions.

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Nintendo Switch online service will launch on September 18th

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

Nintendo has communicated quite a lot on its new online service. And the company just shared the last missing piece of information — the service will launch on September 18th.

For the first time, Nintendo will launch a subscription service to access online services. It’ll cost $20 per year, $3.99 per month or $7.99 for three months.

#NintendoSwitchOnline memberships will start on 9/18. You can sign-up for a 7-day free trial from Nintendo #eShop at launch! We will introduce more information during the Nintendo Direct on 9/13.https://t.co/74Hzxk9spt pic.twitter.com/EJVFJH6F4I

— Nintendo of America (@NintendoAmerica) September 12, 2018

Subscribers will be able to play multiplayer online games, such as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Splatoon 2 and Arms. If you were already playing those games over the internet, you’ll have to start paying.

In order to sweeten the deal, the company is adding new services for subscribers. Your save data will finally be synchronized with Nintendo’s servers. If you break or lose your Switch, you’ll be able to restore your user profiles. Unfortunately, it won’t work with Splatoon 2, Dead Cells, Dark Souls Remastered, FIFA 19, NBA 2K19 and Pokémon Let’s Go.

Subscribers will also be able to play NES games for free. Around 20 games will be part of the library. If you plan on subscribing, Nintendo will offer a 7-day free trial on September 18th.

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Nintendo’s next mobile game arrives September 27

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Nintendo was slow on the draw to enter the mobile market, but now that the company’s in, the titles are starting to come at pretty steady clip. The gaming giant’s got another RPG arriving on Android and iOS September 27.

We don’t know a ton about Dragalia Lost at the moment. The title was announced back in April, and the company plans to shed more light on the game during a Mobile Direct event tonight. That will be streamed live via the YouTube video right here:

The RPG was developed by Cygames, a Japanese studio behind titles like, Granblue Fantasy, the hugely popular cross-platform title featuring art direction by Final Fantasy’s Hideo Minaba. Nintendo also acquired a chunk of stock in the studio, which bodes well for future collaborations between the two.

Nintendo describes the title as “a vast multiplayer action RPG” with a bunch of dragons. Even more importantly, it will be free to play, marking a shift in strategy from earlier titles like Super Mario Run, which proved something of a sales disappointment for the company.

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