TIME Video Games

These Will Be the Hottest 3DS Games of 2015

Check out the biggest Nintendo-exclusive games coming to 3DS in 2015

Here’s a look at the year’s 10 most anticipated games for Nintendo’s 3DS gaming handheld, including Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D and Xenoblade Chronicles.

  • Story of Seasons

    A Harvest Moon-like (developer Marvelous Entertainment is known for its work on the long-running Harvest Moon series), Story of Seasons lets players raise ye olde crops and livestock, but in this case you can peddle your wares in an online market composed of various “countries,” each with unique trade-related demands.

    March 10

  • Code Name: S.T.E.A.M.

    It’s a new turn-based strategy game from studio Intelligent Systems (Fire Emblem, Advance Wars, Paper Mario), and that’s enough to make this list, but Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. adds a steampunk setting, third-person gunnery and a use-or-hedge resource system to heighten its novelty.

    March 13

  • Fossil Fighters: Frontier

    Pokémon meets Jurassic Park–here you dig up fossils that morph into dinosaurs (called “Vivosaurs”)–in the latest Fossil Fighters game, where players sleuth for fossils while cruising around in buggies, carefully cleaning unearthed samples using the 3DS’s touchpad and ultimately squaring off in 3 vs. 3 online battles.

    March 20

  • Etrian Mystery Dungeon

    The dungeon-exploring Etrian Odyssey series meets the roguelike Mystery Dungeon games. It’s not clear yet how that mashup’s going to distinguish itself, but it presumably involves random-generated dungeons, three-dimensional environments and chess-like (I go, you go) combat.

    April 7

  • Fire Emblem

    The newest Fire Emblem game by the team behind Fire Emblem: Awakening (the most celebrated in the turn-based strategy Fire Emblem series) promises to marry global movement and local battle maps, while making your narrative choices more impactful.

    TBD 2015

TIME Video Games

These Will Be the Hottest Wii U Games of 2015

Check out the biggest Nintendo-exclusive games coming to Wii U in 2015

Here’s a look at the year’s 10 most anticipated games for Nintendo’s Wii U console, including Mario Party 10, Xenoblade Chronicles X and The Legend of Zelda.

  • Kirby and the Rainbow Curse

    The latest Kirby platformer rolls Nintendo’s cutesy pink blob into a tiny ball, then sends him wheeling through colorful levels, guided by rainbow-like lines players draw on the Wii U GamePad’s touchscreen. Nintendo says the game will feature amiibo support for Kirby, as well as series regulars Meta Knight and King Dedede.

    February 20

  • Mario Party 10

    The first Mario Party game for Wii U (and tenth in the main series) adds two new modes: Bowser Party and amiibo Party. In Bowser Party, four players can square off with a fifth (Bowser), attempting to reach the end of a game board without being caught, while in amiibo Party, up to four players compete on game boards specially tailored for each figurine.

    March 20

  • Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Tipping Stars

    Sixth in the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series, Tipping Stars takes the classic approach–create your own side-scrolling, puzzle-driven levels, then share them with others online–then adds a “tipping” rewards system: stars you earn by beating levels can be cashed in for level parts, or passed along to designers you like, providing them with additional creative resources.

    March 5

  • Splatoon

    Splatoon was one of the best things I played at E3 2014, both a whimsical sendup of carnage-laced competitive shooters and a clever rethink of the genre’s tropes. Imagine a 4 vs. 4 action game that lets you spray ink all over the screen like You Can’t Do That on Television‘s slime pumped through Super Soakers. The basic idea’s simple enough: whoever’s team covers the most square footage with their color of ink wins.

    May 2015

  • Mario Maker

    Want to build your own side-scrolling Super Mario Bros. levels? Skin those levels to look like different Mario games, from the NES’s glory 8-bit days to the Wii U’s slick, high definition New Super Mario Bros. U? Do all that from the comfort and convenience of the Wii U GamePad? Share your levels with others online?

    TBD 2015

  • Star Fox

    Nintendo hasn’t released videos or stills of its upcoming Star Fox game for Wii U–the brief above is of various putatively related mini-games–but I was one of a few allowed to go hands-on with an experimental version at E3 last summer. Still a spaceship-based shooter, the demo had me use the GamePad’s motion sensors to aim my Arwing’s weapons, simultaneously controlling the craft by thumbing the joysticks to accelerate or turn and pull off signature moves like barrel rolls, loops and the tactically essential Immelman turn. And the Arwing could still morph into a land tank, rocketing down to the surface of a planet, then rattling around the battlefield and laying waste to the landscape.

    TBD 2015

  • Yoshi’s Woolly World

    As yarn to Kirby, so wool to Yoshi: Yoshi’s Woolly World takes that notion–inflecting conventional platforming ideas with knitting materials–and wraps it around Nintendo’s iconic dinosaur. More than a visual re-skinning of the Yoshi’s Island series, Yoshi’s Woolly World imbues Yoshi with filament-manipulating abilities, including an entourage of colorific, puzzle-solving yarn balls.

    TBD 2015

  • Xenoblade Chronicles X

    There’s no more anticipated game than Xenoblade Chronicles X in 2015’s lineup, across every platform, for me. It may lack Halo 5 or Uncharted 4‘s star power and broader genre appeal, but I’d nonchalantly throw those games under a bus to play this one. (That is, assuming developer Monolith’s crafted something as vast, dynamic and compulsive as Xenoblade Chronicles–we’ll see.)

    TBD 2015

  • The Legend of Zelda

    Tantamount to last year’s Wii U-saving Mario Kart 8, The Legend of Zelda is Nintendo’s most elevated of games, expectation-wise, this year. Teased at E3 last year and again in December, the first console-based Zelda game since 2011’s Skyward Sword for Wii looks to be Nintendo’s take on the open world genre, dropping you into a vast fantasy world while at the same time subverting many of the series’ tropes.

    TBD 2015

  • Wii Games on Wii U

    Missed the Wii’s halcyon hits? Nintendo just added native Wii support to the Wii U, meaning you can now purchase and play discounted Nintendo eShop versions of games like Super Mario Galaxy 2 (available now), Punch-Out!! (January 22) and Metroid Prime Trilogy (January 29) without the need to clumsily boot into “Wii Mode.” And if the game supported the Wii Classic/Pro Controller, you can sub in the Wii U GamePad, too.

TIME Video Games

You’ll Soon Be Able to Play Xbox One Games on Your Computer

cooperatively
A control of a Microsoft's Xbox One game console is pictured in a shop in Shanghai on September 29, 2014. JOHANNES EISELE—AFP/Getty Images

Microsoft announced Wednesday that Windows 10 users will be able to play Xbox One games via their computer, tablet or phone

Want to play Xbox One games anywhere within range of your wireless network, but without dragging your Xbox One along? You’ll be able too soon, Microsoft promised at a Windows 10 press event Wednesday. All you’ll need is a device powered by Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 10 operating system, slated for release sometime this year.

Microsoft’s Redmond, Wash. event was mostly geared towards showing off new features of Windows 10, which will run on PCs, tablets and mobile phones. But after the company spent an hour touting Windows 10’s new multi-platform focus and universal app-driven DNA, Microsoft Xbox honcho Phil Spencer took the stage to talk Xbox One-related Windows 10 integration.

Where the company intends to bring Windows 10 to all sorts of devices from PCs to tablets to phones, it’s holding the Xbox One off in a kind of walled garden. Microsoft noted that Windows 10 is “coming to Xbox 10,” but not in what fashion, or when. Instead, the company announced an Xbox One app for Windows 10 devices.

Think next-gen SmartGlass — in other words, an app designed to bridge the Xbox One / Windows 10 platform firewall, one that’ll allow you to share gaming highlights and activities across all of your Windows 10 devices. Those activities will include, among other things: cross-platform chatting with friends, browsing activity feeds and sharing (to Xbox Live or any other social network) recorded video clips–including ones captured in Steam, automatically saved at 30-second intervals.

What’s more, Microsoft appears to be reintroducing cross-platform support for Windows and Xbox One (last seen circa 2007), demonstrating two players—one on Xbox One, the other on Windows 10—cooperatively playing Lionhead’s forthcoming Fable Legends action-roleplaying game.

Spencer took a few moments to tout DirectX 12 as well, the company’s new game programming API, showing a complex scene rendered in realtime on two separate computers configured with the same hardware (one running DX11, the other DX12) to illustrate the performance advantages of DX12’s ability to more directly access your computer’s graphics processor.

Spencer claims DX12 will “increase performance of games by up to 50%,” adding that it’ll also “cut power consumption in half” when employed on mobile devices. And in a significant coup, Spencer confirmed that DX12 is coming to Unity, the popular cross-platform development platform behind many critically-acclaimed indie games.

But the most significant announcement was the revelation that Windows 10 will support wireless streaming of games from an Xbox One to any Windows 10 PC or tablet. When? Spencer said to look for the new streaming technology to arrive “later this year.”

TIME Video Games

5 Reasons to Buy the New Nintendo 3DS and 5 Reasons to Wait

Nintendo

Should you pick up Nintendo's newest handheld? Here's TIME's review

Picture your ideal gaming handheld. What does it look like? Dual joysticks? Ergonomic gamepad? A plus-sized screen? Headgear-free 3D? High fidelity sonics? The battery life of a Kindle?

You won’t get all of those from Nintendo’s “New Nintendo 3DS,” the revamped 2015 edition of its popular portable, but you will get a few. The question then becomes, should you fork out $200 for the new 3DS—especially if you already own one—when it becomes available in stores on February 13?

I’ve been playing with the system for a week, polishing off a long game of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (started back in 2011!), fooling with the forthcoming Majora’s Mask remaster, and having a look at Capcom’s Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate. Here’s my take:

The arguments for buying one

You’re really into stereoscopic 3D

The 3DS’s feature namesake seemed very cool when I first tried it at the handheld’s E3 unveiling in 2010. Seeing three-dimensionally without headgear or eyewear of some sort still feels like Clarkeian magic. Trouble is, to maintain the illusion, you had to keep your head still. Move a bit either way, and the image garbled.

The New Nintendo 3DS rectifies this by introducing camera-based eye tracking, something the company calls “Super-Stable 3D.” Now, at setup, you’ll be trained to work within a field of view that’s pretty generous, allowing you to move your head more freely without jeopardizing the effect.

It still requires you hold the handheld at least a foot (Nintendo recommends 14 inches) from your eyes, and it’s not like an IPS monitor where you can twist the screen and still see everything clearly—you’re still limited to a few degrees of leeway either way—but it’s far more forgiving than it was. Enough so that I’d deem it usable. I’ve long considered 3D on the 3DS unusable, and simply turned it off; I’m reconsidering my use of the technology now that it basically works as it should have from the start.

The only caveat: I wear glasses, and noticed the eye tracking would occasionally get confused when I had them on, whereas it was rock solid when I had them off. (I’d say it works as advertised 95% of the time with glasses on.)

You’ve been waiting for a dual joystick Nintendo handheld

The new C Stick—it looks like a pencil eraser and sits just northwest of the face buttons—isn’t as precise as a true second joystick. But if all you need is a way to shift the camera around in a 3D game, it gets the job done. Nintendo launched something called the “Circle Pad Pro” in 2012, a kludgy-looking righthand joystick attachment for older 3DS models. The C Stick works in any game with Circle Pad Pro support (a partial list is here), albeit less exactingly, like the trackstick technology once popular in older laptops.

I wouldn’t want to have to rely on it to play games that require brisk reticle finessing, say I’m aiming a ballistic weapon in a frenetic shooter, but in others like Monster Hunter 4 and Majora’s Mask, where it’s employed to swivel the camera and eyeball the scenery as you maneuver an avatar through the world with the left joystick, it’s indispensable, and should be a system seller when Xenoblade Chronicles hits in April.

Better sounding sound

Nintendo isn’t advertising this one, but I think it’s noticeable enough to callout: the stereo speakers—now piped through five-point cross-shaped holes—sound notably louder and clearer than the ones on the older models. Did Nintendo include superior sound hardware (or algorithmic processing)? Or is it simply the size of the holes and/or the shape of the speakers? I have no idea, but something’s clearly different, and better.

The promise of future power

We’re taking Nintendo’s word here, but Nintendo of America CEO Reggie Fils-Aime claims the new 3DS’s leap over the old 3DS, power-wise, is tantamount to the 3DS’s processing leap over the DS. If the claim’s accurate, it’ll be a pretty serious bump, though all we’ve seen so far, game-wise, is preliminary video of Monster Games’s Xenoblade Chronicles port.

Nintendo says getting around the 3DS’s menus should also be faster. I haven’t done any comparison timing tests with my standard 3DS XL, but then interface speed never felt sluggish to me on the prior models.

The most tangible improvement? Download speeds. I had no idea how much data transfer from the eShop was hampered by the system itself in the older models, but the new system is wowsers fast, capable of pulling down 5,000-block files in a matter of minutes.

All the tiny but significant refinements

Want a battery that lasts slightly longer? An ambient light-sensitive backlight that automatically adjusts the screen brightness? Built-in amiibo and NFC wireless support, so you don’t have to buy an add-on peripheral? A web browser that can finally playback videos? A second set of shoulder buttons that mimic the secondary triggers on a gamepad? A volume slider that now sits comfortably on the lefthand side of the screen, parallel to the 3D one? All the activity indicator lights in one place? Easily depressible Start and Select buttons positioned where Start and Select buttons belong?

This is clearly the best version of Nintendo’s 3DS, in other words. If you’re into the games and the idea of two-screen gaming, this is without question the iteration to own. True, 3DS owners who’ve already paid hundreds of dollars have to fork out another $200, but when you consider what some people pay to upgrade smartphones or tablets annually—and as a mainstream gaming device, the 3DS leaves smartphones and tablets in the dust—it’s arguably a steal.

The arguments against buying one

You think stereoscopic 3D’s a gimmick

My regular 3DS XL’s 3D switch has been off pretty much since I bought it. I avoid 3D versions of films in theaters. I’ll never owned a stereoscopic 3D television. I have no interest in the current flavors of the technology’s crude, eye-straining, aesthetically pointless visual trickery. You can still disable the technology on the New Nintendo 3DS, but as a system-selling feature it’s still ironically the least interesting thing about the 3DS.

You’re waiting for a Nintendo handheld with a retinal display

The New Nintendo 3DS’s main screen still runs at the old 3DS’s 400 by 240 pixel resolution. On a nearly 5-inch screen, that’s pretty anemic, well below even the old NTSC standard (640 by 480 pixels) that games like Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask supported back in the 1990s. (By contrast, the PS Vita’s 5-inch screen has supported 960 by 544 pixels since 2011, and Apple’s 4.7-inch iPhone 6 runs up to 1334 by 750 pixels.)

It’s not a dealbreaker: games on the 3DS, new or old, look perfectly competent. But it’s past time Nintendo brought its handheld visuals up to par with industry trends. Imagine what a high-definition Nintendo handheld might do for the company’s coffers.

You hate glossy exteriors

My original Aqua Blue 3DS had a shiny, high-reflective finish. I didn’t mind because the non-black coloring mitigated visible fingerprint smudging. But I was happiest with the 3DS XL, which employed something nearer a matte finish, making it easier to grip and smudge-proof.

Not so the New Nintendo 3DS, which resurrects the old shellacked look in either red or black colors. Nintendo sent me the black model, so I can’t comment on whether the red finish mitigates fingerprint visibility, but the black model’s outsides look pretty grubby after extended use.

All the odd feature back-stepping

For instance: the New Nintendo 3DS doesn’t come with a separate AC adapter, though it’s compatible with any other 3DS adapter. The power button now weirdly sits on the bottom of the unit instead of on the interior lower half of the clamshell, which can lead to accidentally turning it on. It also trades SD for micro SD support and ships with a paltry 4GB card. Worse, a tiny screwdriver is required to remove the entire backplate just to access/change said card.

Of all the changes/subtractions, the removal of a hard “wireless off” switch and shifting of the stylus and game cartridge slot to the system’s underside make the most sense, but the rest—compromises based on form factor rejiggering, or in the adapter’s case, to keep the price at $200—leave a slightly sour taste.

You really wanted a non-XL option

The New Nintendo 3DS, which shipped in both basic and XL versions in Japan, is only available in XL sizing stateside. Getting specific, that’s a not insubstantial weight difference of 329 grams (XL) versus 253 grams (basic), and a proportions one of 6.3 inches by 3.68 inches by 0.85 inches (XL) versus 5.6 inches by 3.17 inches by 0.85 inches (basic).

Nintendo says it’s only selling the XL version stateside because that’s the version buyers prefer, and who am I to argue? (It’s certainly my preferred version.) It’s just a shame the market couldn’t accommodate the apparent minority looking for something a little lighter and more totable: the basic version was just barely pocketable; the XL definitely isn’t.

TIME Video Games

These Will Be the Hottest Xbox One Games of 2015

Check out the biggest Microsoft-exclusive games coming to Xbox One in 2015

Here’s a look at the year’s 10 most anticipated games for Microsoft’s Xbox One console, excluding rumored 2015 projects with as yet indeterminate timeframes (hello Crackdown, Gears of War, Scalebound and Phantom Dust!)

  • Screamride

    Screamride is how you take a boring-sounding (albeit popular) older franchise (Roller Coaster Tycoon) and transmogrify it into a madcap, stomach-upending, gravity-bending, structure-exploding jamboree. Want to cobble together jet-propelled rail rides so G-force intensive they eject shrieking riders mid-loop? Lob wrecking balls at towering structures that collapse in gloriously intricate detail on horrified passerby? This is the American Society for Testing and Materials’ worst nightmare.

    Available: March 3

  • Quantum Break

    Quantum Break is studio Remedy Entertainment’s next big thing after bringing us Max Payne and Alan Wake: a third-person adventure about three characters who gain the ability to manipulate time in various ways, say examining the future to better inform present choices, or freezing temporal activity entirely.

    Available: Q2 2015

  • Halo 5: Guardians

    While the 2013 E3 trailer for “Halo on Xbox One” was about cinematically teasing Halo 5: Guardians, 2014’s “your journey begins” was all about the forwards-looking-backwards Master Chief Collection. Having remastered the series, Microsoft and developer 343 Industries will take the next inexorable step in Halo’s second trilogy, though experienced through the eyes of a new protagonist, Spartan Locke, searching for the missing-in-action Master Chief.

    Available: Holiday 2015

     

  • Fable Legends

    Like Turtle Rock Studios’ asymmetric shooter Evolve, Fable Legends is a 4 (heroes) vs. 1 (villain) cooperative roleplaying game that borrows lightly from Bullfrog’s Dungeon Keeper. Up to four players tackle quests orchestrated by a villain (also optionally a player), including the battles, in which the villain can deploy creatures against the heroes in realtime.

    Available: TBD 2015

  • Inside

    Developer Playdead’s Limbo was a lovely little chiaroscuro-friendly puzzle game that sort of collapsed the second you went probing for deeper import. Their followup, Inside, looks to be a far more elaborate vamp on the dystopian platforming trope, at times appearing to take cues from Delphine Software’s groundbreaking Out of This World.

    Available: TBD 2015

  • Ori and the Blind Forest

    Moon Studios’ otherworldly platforming adventure has so far trafficked exclusively on its sublime Miyazakian look, but if the sidewise leaping, clambering and puzzling live up to the set design, this could easily be one of 2015’s finest.

    Available: TBD 2015

  • Rise of the Tomb Raider

    Studio Crystal Dynamics’ followup to 2013’s Tomb Raider is technically a timed exclusive (meaning it’ll eventually land on PC and PS4), but that may be all Microsoft needs to move systems in 2015 given the plaudits accorded the reboot.

    Available: TBD 2015

  • Cuphead

    And now, something totally different: a platforming game–emphasis on run-and-gun with elaborate boss battles–that looks like an early 20th century cartoon. Cuphead sports hand-drawn visuals, mono-mastered (original) swing tunes and a protagonist with a candy cane drinking straw stuck in his porcelain brainpan. Who knows how it’ll play, but I could watch for hours.

    Available: TBD 2015

  • Below

    The characters and creatures in Capybara Games’ Below seem awfully tiny, but assuming you can zoom in (so you won’t go blind playing this thing), exploring a new, highly dangerous, permanent death-threatening game world designed by the studio responsible for Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP is more than enough to draw my attention.

    Available: TBD 2015

  • Space Engineers

    The glib-sounding pitch for Space Engineers seems to be “Minecraft in space.” That’s not my takeaway from the trailer (or the formal description, which sounds much narrower than Minecraft‘s freeform LEGO riffing, focused as it is on the “engineering, construction, and maintenance of structures in space.”) But I’ll grant this: it does look considerably nicer than Mojang’s opus.

    Available: TBD 2015

TIME Video Games

Nintendo’s New 3DS XL Handheld Finally Hits Stores Next Month

Nintendo

Nintendo's newest gaming handheld features control tweaks and a significant performance boost

Nintendo’s newest handheld gaming device will be available in the U.S. on February 13, 2015, the company announced Wednesday. The New Nintendo 3DS XL — “New” is formally part of the moniker — is faster, has a second joystick and fixes a longstanding problem with its 3D screen.

Nintendo announced the console’s release date at its first Nintendo Direct of 2015, a 46-minute barrage of information ranging from surprises like a new Fire Emblem game (for 3DS) to an outpouring of new amiibo figurines to long overdue Wii U tweaks that stand to improve the console’s backward compatibility.

But the pièce de résistance came toward the show’s end, when Nintendo of America CEO Reggie Fils-Aime stepped in to confirm recent rumors that the company’s next handheld will launch in less than 30 days. And like the existing 3DS XL, it’ll run $200. (Nintendo didn’t announce a price drop for the current 3DS XL, but I’d wager one’s imminent.)

The New Nintendo 3DS XL (hereafter NN3DS) doesn’t wow at first blush. Save for the new grayish nub poking from above the face buttons and some nominal switch realignment, you’d probably mistake it for the old 3DS XL. The size, weight and frame appear unchanged. But in theory, the upgrades beneath the hood could be significant.

The handheld’s new righthand C-Stick feels a little late to the party (Sony’s PS Vita finally landed dual thumbsticks in 2011, and games that benefit from left/right sticks have been mainstream since the 1990s), but at least it’s finally here. The game that’ll arguably benefit from it most, Capcom’s Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, will launch with the NN3DS alongside Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3DS remake on February 13.

Nintendo says it’s also improved the device’s 3D gameplay — its technological raison d’être — by using the front-facing camera to track where your head is, adjusting screen output accordingly. I’m still not sure that’s enough to justify stereoscopic 3D as either a novelty effect or gameplay component, but in theory, this rectifies the existing problem where shifting your field of view even a little warps or distorts the 3D screen image.

Other improvements are subtle but important: the NN3DS includes amiibo and NFC support (you have to buy an attachment for this if you own an existing or older 3DS). Nintendo also says it’ll add amiibo support to Super Smash Bros. for 3DS by February 13. A new light sensor automatically adjusts screen brightness based on ambient lighting, thus providing some battery relief. And the battery itself lasts “slightly longer,” per Nintendo.

Nintendo’s added a second set of Z-trigger shoulder buttons, bringing the control layout nearly to par with a standard console gamepad (and, notably, superior in this regard to Sony’s PS Vita). The new internal layout required Nintendo to downshift from standard SD cards to the micro SD format. Nintendo says each NN3DS will include a 4GB micro SD card (Instructions will be provided how to transfer data from older 3DS systems). And the handheld will come in “New Red” and “New Black” colors at launch.

The most potentially significant (albeit intangible) upgrade: a faster processor, which Fils-Aime touted as analogous in magnitude to the leap that occurred from the DS to 3DS back in 2011. Nintendo was vague about how that’ll parse on the gaming side—the screen’s individual resolutions haven’t changed, still a lowly 400 by 240 pixels (upper) and 320 x 240 pixels (lower)—but the company says the interface should be zippier, citing improved surfing performance and faster download times.

Weirdly, the NN3DS will be the first Nintendo handheld in ages to ship without an AC adapter. Nintendo says you can use your existing adapter if you already own a 3DS, which either means the company’s pitching this thing at current 3DS owners, or it’s poised to befuddle potential new owners accustomed to mobile devices coming with all the essentials (you can purchase an AC adapter separately).

The rest of the presentation focused on firming up known product release timeframes. Kirby and the Rainbow Curse for Wii U will arrive on February 20. Splatoon, the company’s clever 4v4 paint-gun shooter, will be available in May. The company’s amiibo figurines are ramping up big time, including a new Super Mario series (Mario, Luigi, Peach, Yoshi, Bowser and Toad) that’ll arrive on March 20 with Mario Party 10. A Xenoblade Chronicles port for the NN3DS is coming in April. And Xenoblade Chronicles X, the Wii U game topping all others for me personally (including the new Zelda!), is still just “2015.”

Lastly, Nintendo is adding native Wii game support to the Wii U, allowing select titles to live in the Wii U ecosystem without having to boot into Wii mode. It looks like it’ll require title by title support, so it’s not a blanket reprieve for all Wii games off the block, but rejiggered Wii titles that supported the Wii’s classic or pro controllers will also (finally!) support direct control with the Wii U GamePad.

And you don’t have to wait for that last improvement: Nintendo says you can grab select Wii games from its eShop today, starting with Super Mario Galaxy 2–each runs $10 for a week, shifting to $20 thereafter–followed shortly by Punch-Out!! (Jan. 22) and Metroid Prime: Trilogy (Jan. 29).

Update: Some are wondering why Nintendo hasn’t announced a non-XL version of the NN3DS stateside, a version already on the market in Australia and Japan. Wired‘s Chris Kohler speculates helpfully about the why here.

I’d add this: I wonder how much it’ll impact the NN3DS’ appeal to younger players with much smaller hands and an age-dictated ergonomic preference. I’ve seen no studies or reports indicating how those demographics have played out with 3DS vs. 3DS XL sales, but assuming there’s a certain age group that might actually prefer the smaller system (to say nothing of the extra price relief), and given Nintendo’s traditional focus on younger players with its handheld systems, it’s a curious omission.

TIME Video Games

These Will Be the Hottest PlayStation 4 Games of 2015

Check out the biggest Sony-exclusive games coming to PlayStation 4 in 2015

Here’s a look at the year’s 10 most anticipated games for Sony’s PlayStation 4 console, excluding rumored 2015 projects with as yet indeterminate timeframes (hello Final Fantasy XV, Tearaway Unfolded, Rime and Gran Turismo 7!)

  • The Order: 1886

    Imagine The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by way of T.H. White’s The Once and Future King, staged in Victorian London, with dollops of Lovecraftian horror. Wrap all of that around a third-person shooter that’s like a gothic Gears of War, and the only question’s whether the gunplay–criticized as ho-hum in hands-on demos–can live up to the visually ambitious set design.

    Available: February 20

  • Bloodborne

    Revered Demon’s Souls and Dark Souls developer From Software’s latest vamp on the existential abattoir maintains the concept’s combat-focused, risk-reward core, but refines how you do battle, lending you more agile combatants and Victorian-styled weapons capable of transformations that let you vary melee tactics to counter a broader range of combat scenarios.

    Available: March 24

  • No Man’s Sky

    In your imagination, open universe ambler No Man’s Sky really is as infinite as developer Hello Games keeps boasting, giving you an endless, procedurally generated cosmos to plumb (and enough to do that you’ll never tire of doing it). In reality, no one has the faintest idea whether all the game’s random-seeded vastness is going to be beautifully significant, or astronomically shallow. Fingers triple-crossed, then.

    Available: TBD 2015

  • Persona 5

    Developer Atlus’ fifth “high school shindig plus dungeon reconnoitering” roleplayer has enormous shoes to fill, after Persona 4 made just about everyone’s “best roleplaying game in forever” list. All we know about Persona 5 is that–weirdly but also intriguingly–director Katsura Hashino’s been pitching the game as an interactive self-help experience.

    Available: TBD 2015

  • Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

    Since Uncharted series mainstay Amy Hennig abruptly left developer Naughty Dog last year, I’ve been worried about Nate and Sully’s fourth tour of duty. The game looks as terrific as you’d expect it to in preliminary gameplay videos, so the question’s whether the series’ conventions–another “lost treasure” adventure, clambering over elaborate scenery (mostly on autopilot in the prior games) and relentlessly gunning down hordes of foes–haven’t overstayed their welcome.

    Available: TBD 2015

  • Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture

    End of world stories are as cliched as Adam and Eve potboilers (we’re nothing if not species-obsessed with alpha/omega narratives). But this one’s by Dear Esther creator The Chinese Room (they’re actually located in Brighton, U.K.), and so worthy of notice–an existential “adventure” examining the lives of six people living in the English village of Shropshire as the apocalypse unfolds.

    Available: TBD 2015

  • Deep Down

    Jump to the 4:25 mark in the video above to see developer Capcom Online Games’ original tease for Deep Down back in 2013, an extraordinary-looking dungeon crawler (even then) with optional multiplayer elements. It’s had to endure a barrage of presumptive comparisons to Dark Souls, but there are worse things, right?

    Available: TBD 2015

  • Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance

    Grander than any Disgaea game to date, developer Nippon Ichi Software’s recalibrated tactical roleplaying adventure will reportedly feature bigger battles (up to 100 characters on screen at once, courtesy the PS4) and new combat wrinkles, including team-up maneuvers.

    Available: TBD 2015

  • Let It Die

    Thought it metamorphosed from one game (Lily Bergamo) to another at E3 last year, developer Grasshopper Manufacture’s original hack-and-slash, extreme action, online-focused premise appears intact. The difference appears to lie in the way death works, prompting dispatched players to trade roles as they transition between sessions, and culling non-player characters from players’ deceased avatars.

    Available: TBD 2015

  • Ratchet & Clank

    Alas, Sony has released neither a trailer nor screens of its upcoming Ratchet & Clank reboot (until then, you’ll have to settle for the film trailer above, first shown at E3 last year). What do we know about the game? That it’s essentially a remake of the original, released back in 2002 for the PlayStation 2, updated to take advantage of the PS4’s oomph and coincide with the film’s arrival sometime later this year.

    Available: TBD 2015

    Read next: The 15 Best Video Games of 2014

TIME Video Games

Why You Probably Can’t Play the New Call of Duty Game

Activision's first online-only Call of Duty goes into public beta today, but only for gamers in China

The biggest experiment in games magnate Activision’s history is underway right now. No, it’s not Bungie’s Destiny, nor Blizzard’s latest World of Warcraft expansion. And it’s not a resurgent live-streaming version of Guitar Hero, nor is it the world’s first toy-game (Skylanders) MMO.

I’m talking about something bigger still, and, ironically, something most of you reading this can’t play at all.

It’s Call of Duty Online, a bona fide free-to-play, PC-only multiplayer version of Activision’s popular Call of Duty shooter franchise that’s shifting from open beta to what Activision calls a “public open beta” today.

The catch: it’s for China, and China only.

Activision

Surprised? Don’t be. China is a gaming behemoth. The country is home to an estimated 368 million video game players. That’s more than the entire population of the United States. The surprise would be a company as affluent and internationally beholden as Activision not launching a major project like this in China.

Call of Duty Online isn’t “World of Warcraft with guns,” nor is it a geographically continuous first-person shooter drawn from predominantly fresh content.

Instead, longtime Call of Duty developer Raven Software and Activision Shanghai have cobbled together material from the Black Ops and Modern Warfare series subsets, folding them into a kind of multiplayer anthology. Imagine the top competitive maps and modes from the Black Ops and Modern Warfare games rolled into a single package and flavored with localized content, then shoehorned into a free-to-play framework with connective character-building tissue.

And the game’s local network host? Shenzen-based Tencent, the fourth-largest Internet company in the world after Amazon, Google and eBay.

Not that moving from West to East could have been simple. Consider the Western obsession with shambling corpses in books, films, TV shows–and in several of the Call of Duty games.

“We discovered a few interesting differences along the way,” Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg said when I asked him to list some of the cultural challenges in making the game. “For example, zombies play a big role in Call of Duty in the West, but culturally, characters that are undead have a very different cultural meaning in China.”

In the West, zombies are generally depicted as brainless, shambling husks. In China, the undead, or “jiangshi,” are rigor mortis-stiffened corpses that ambulate by hopping. The solution for Call of Duty Online? Zombies are out, cyborgs are in.

What about China’s so-called “anti-fatigue” system? This is China’s state-mandated watchdog approach to limiting how much time players can spend playing games, rolled out in 2007. An Activision spokesperson confirmed to me that yes, in fact, Call of Duty Online is fully compliant with Chinese playtime requirements (a curious requirement that presumably impacts Activision’s revenues).

Chinese gamers have had access to the game for at least a year, of course, making this more of a transitional event. What’s the difference between an “open beta” and an “open public beta” anyway?

“This is the first time it’s really out in the wild,” said Hirshberg. “Everything we’ve done up to now has been for more controlled, finite audiences.”

So why tease Western gamers with a game they can’t play? Hirshberg says it’s simply because there’s been a lot of curiosity in the West about the new title. Not that anyone’s saying Call of Duty Online won’t eventually visit other regions. As Hirshberg himself noted a year ago, speaking about what his company stands to learn from a Call of Duty game spun in microtransactive form: “[There] are a few other regions where that would be very relevant.”

Read next: Why 2014 Was the Year Sex Got Real in Video Games

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TIME Video Games

Why 2014 Was the Year Sex Got Real in Video Games

BioWare

At least sometimes and in some titles

What can last year’s mainstream video games tell us about the state of sex in gaming? Attempts to grapple with sex maturely in gaming remain elusive—though there were some standouts in 2014.

Cable and even old-fashioned broadcast TV now feature explicit sex routinely, whereas games, on balance, offer cruder visions of humans in erotic scenarios. In part, the industry’s hands are tied by technological limitations that can make graphic sex feel clumsy or inhuman.

Worse, games are still judged by double standards. A BDSM-explicit “erotic romance” like E.L. James’ novel 50 Shades of Grey or the rape scene in an episode of HBO’s Game of Thrones provoke at best passing social media chatter. By comparison, the option—that it’s a choice and an inessential side activity are crucial distinctions—to follow implied sex with violence in a series like Grand Theft Auto leads to widespread outrage, not to mention sending legislators scrambling to introduce censorial bills. Consider the row that erupted in 2005 when someone unearthed a crude sex-related mini-game in Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, the presumption being that mere exposure to these things in a game (as opposed to a film or movie) somehow guarantees bad behavior.

On the other hand, agency in games gives players broader authorial control over their experience. One’s behavior in a roleplaying game, for instance, can modestly or substantially alter the evolution of a romantic journey that might culminate in scenes of physical intimacy. A player can spend dozens of hours with a relationship-driven game, examining (if the game supports it) the ramifications of choices for both the gameplay and story, perhaps exploring romance-related avenues that broaden appreciation of the game’s characters or plot dilemmas. The payoff might be the act itself, a typically non-interactive sequence in which lovers are depicted doing what lovers do. Or it could simply be the sense of having explored an optional storyline that didn’t relegate sex to a tawdry stereotype or crass objectification.

Here’s a closer look at sex in games last year:

Dragon Age: Inquisition

BioWare’s been at the fore of grappling with mature sexual themes in its roleplaying games for years, challenging cultural assumptions about sex both in and outside gaming. Dragon Age: Inquisition continues that tradition, allowing players to pursue friendships that can morph into romantic relationships with its cast of secondaries, be they male or female, human or not. The sexual choreography itself still feels awkward (again, technological limitations: when the act ensues, it’s a little like watching marionettes couple), but writer David Gaider raised the bar by including what he describes as the “the first fully gay character” he’s written. (You could have same-sex relationships in BioWare’s Mass Effect, but the characters were apparently bisexual.)

Wolfenstein: The New Order

You’d expect a sequel to a series of all but plotless games mostly about shooting Nazis to treat sex cheaply, but Wolfenstein: The New Order‘s two sexual liaisons (render and animation limitations notwithstanding) wouldn’t be out of place in a film or television show. The New Order‘s story won’t win any Emmys, but the sex scenes feel more like intimacy variables plugged into broader character-development exercises than mere titillation. And, who would’ve thought a Wolfenstein game could be as much about character-building as enemy-butchering?

Grand Theft Auto V

Sometimes humans behave very badly, and sometimes holding up mirrors involves guileful irreverence. (As Emily Dickinson wrote, “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant.”) That, it seems, to me anyway, is Rockstar’s point throughout Grand Theft Auto V. You can argue the studio’s overplayed that hand, that the point is made crudely, and that making the same point game after game moves too freely between expressive and exploitive. There’s room for debate here.

But sex in Grand Theft Auto V—often raucous, violent and ridiculous—is hardly a celebration of bad behavior. This is a game that views both women and men through a lens absurdly. I tend to hold with Take-Two Interactive CEO Strauss Zelnick when, responding to a question about sexual violence in the game, he said: “Look, this is a criminal setting. It’s a gritty underworld. It is art. And I—I embrace that art, and it’s beautiful art, but it is gritty.”

TIME ces 2015

Here’s the $200 Competitor Oculus Should Worry About

Razer

You can even build one yourself if you're so inclined

Imagine a world in which virtual reality standards weren’t dominated by mega-billions corporations with sometimes controversial agendas. It’s not the world we live in, but PC peripheral-maker Razer wants us nudge us in that direction with something it’s dubbed OSVR, or open-source virtual reality.

On paper, OSVR is just what it sounds like: an idea for a standard that’s still just a proposition. Razer says it wants to “push the the VR gaming experience forward,” meaning it wants to plant its flag on challenge that matters most when you’re after winning hearts and wallets by delivering experiences and not just overhyped promises: developer support.

Razer

Here’s Razer’s take:

OSVR stands for Open Source Virtual Reality. It is an ecosystem designed from the ground up to set an open standard for Virtual Reality input devices, games and output with the sole goal of providing the best possible game experience in the Virtual Reality space. Supported by Industry Leaders and focused on gaming, the OSVR framework rallies gamers worldwide together to push the boundaries of VR-Gaming.

Razer’s basically pitching OSVR as an initiative to get the ball rolling on the software side, the idea being to support a flourishing ecology of hardware and software components in a harmonious VR ecosystem that even works hand in glove with Oculus Rift. If Oculus wants to be the iOS of VR, Razer’s positioning OSVR to be the Android.

Razer

If Razer’s pitch were just another rhetorical PR flourish, you might write it off as wishful thinking from a niche power player. But Razer appears to be doubling down with what it’s calling its OSVR Hacker Dev Kit, a bona fide wraparound VR headset accompanied by open-source software “that enables programming for any variety of VR technology.” What’s more, priced to move at $200, it could be $100 less expensive than Oculus’ Rift when it ships this year in June.

On paper, the headset sounds compelling: Razer claims it’s managed to work out an optics solution that reduced distortion to less than 13%, providing what the company calls “an almost perfect image.” You’ll view that image through a 5.5-inch 1920 by 1080 panel with a 100-degree field of view running at 60Hz (thus 60 frames per second)—a step down from the Oculus Rift DK2’s 75Hz. Standard features like an accelerometer, compass and gyroscope are present, but lacks positional tracking hardware (the DK2 has this), though you could remedy this with a hardware plugin.

Razer

Want to build one yourself? In keeping with open-source principles, Razer says it’ll support that, too, allowing intrepid DIY’ers to freely download the device’s 3D files, to be printed and assembled into a working headset. (In fact, the plans are available for request from osvr.com right now.)

Note that Razer isn’t the first to pose an open-source VR standard: a group called the Immersive Technology Alliance announced yesterday that it, too, wants to see open-source standards emerge for VR and beyond–the ITA’s scope sounds like it may be broader, encompassing everything from VR devices to related peripherals like cameras, sensors, phones, motion controls and so forth, though as noted by Tom’s Hardware, the ITA, like Razer, intends any such standard to be complementary to what Facebook and Oculus VR are up to, not adversarial.

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