TIME Video Games

Rock Band 4 Exists and It’ll Be on PS4 and Xbox One This Year

The massive music game franchise is ready for a comeback tour

Prep your sweatbands, eyeliner and hair extensions: an official sequel to Rock Band will happen this year for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, says longtime series developer Harmonix.

Better still, the studio’s revamped, group-angled rock-a-thon—dubbed Rock Band 4 and due by this fall—will be backward-compatible with pretty much everything from prior installments, including all the songs (over 2,000), plastic faux-guitars, rubber drum kits and keytars you’ve doubtless sequestered away somewhere, you know, for precisely this moment.

The last band-focused Rock Band game happened five years ago in 2010 and sold well enough, but after years of market saturation (remember the deluge of Guitar Hero titles?), the thinking was that maybe folks needed a make-believe musical break. Harmonix released a one-off in the interim, a downloadable rhythm game for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 called Rock Band Blitz that eschewed special controllers for catchall gamepad-tapping. But the worry post-2010 was that maybe the phenom had passed.

And who knows, perhaps it has. Harmonix’s challenge, with scads of copies of earlier games and all their accessories still widely available, is convincing players Rock Band 4 is more than just the last band game they played with souped-up visuals and refurbished content. Out front, it sounds like the studio understands that concern.

Speaking to Harmonix’s past work, product manager Daniel Sussman puts it this way: “In retrospect, I think we innovated in a lot of areas that were not necessarily the right ones. We’re really trying very hard this time around to be very creative in ways that will impact everybody in the band.”

Two hitches. First, we have no idea what Sussman’s talking about, because Harmonix is only soft-announcing the new game today and avoiding specifics (probably to fend of copycats for as long as possible). All you’ll hear in the “behind the scenes” video above are a few fuzzy buzzphrases, like “evolution of the way that you play” and “now we’re very indie.”

And second, everything I typed about backward compatibility above? Scratch 2009’s masterful The Beatles: Rock Band, arguably the apotheosis of Rock Band-dom. According to Wired, that musical gold mine’s off the books for licensing reasons, at least for now.

TIME Video Games

The Surprising Reasons People Buy the PlayStation 4, Xbox One or Wii U

Sony Launches PlayStation 4 In Japan As Console Retakes U.S. Retail Lead Over Microsoft's Xbox One
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images The first customer to purchase the PlayStation 4 (PS4) video game console holds the box at the launch of the PS4 console at the Sony showroom in Tokyo, Japan, on Saturday, Feb. 22, 2014.

New data offers a few head-scratching reasons why consumers buy

Infometrics guru Nielsen just published the results of an inquiry into why people are buying the latest game systems from Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo. The results are surprising in part.

Consider the following chart, which breaks the decision-making variables impacting each system into “factors” ranked by survey respondents:

Nielsen

The chart’s results are weirder than they appear at first. Take resolution, the number of horizontal by vertical lines output as video signal, and constitutive of the number of pixels onscreen. Several first-wave, multi-platform games ran at higher resolution on the PlayStation 4 than the Xbox One, owing, everyone in the media’s assumed based on anecdotal developer chitchat, to disparity between the two systems’ processing power.

The presumption is that slight visual differences shouldn’t matter, that you’re just being slavish to detail if you’re obsessed with subtle pixel differentiation. Yet there it is, the topmost reason for buyers of Sony’s console.

And what’s “Blu-ray Player” doing as PS4 factor number two? The Xbox One’s just as capable a Blu-ray system. Is this telling us something about a Microsoft messaging failure? Or wait—isn’t packaged media all but dead? Whether people are really watching scads of Blu-rays on their PS4s or this is just the psychological “want the option” factor is unclear.

“Game Library” is another head-scratcher. The Xbox One’s library is just as big and just as critically acclaimed as the PlayStation 4’s, while neither system offers native backward compatibility. Is this indication of a preference for the kinds of exclusives Sony’s system offers? And looking across the way at Nintendo, what’s the difference between “Game Library” (PS4) and “Exclusive Games/Content” (Wii U)?

I’m also a little confused about “Brand,” which tops the Xbox One’s factor column. Sony’s PlayStation-as-brand is, judging by platform sales across all systems, far better known than Microsoft’s Xbox—unless it’s more a Microsoft versus Sony (than PlayStation versus Xbox) thing.

And what does “Innovative Features” refer to? Xbox One Kinect, a peripheral the company yanked from the system before its first anniversary? SmartGlass integration? The bifurcated operating system (and Metro-styled interface)? Or the list of features the company wound up retracting in the wake of controversy over player privacy and digital rights management?

What this more likely confirms is that perception remains nine-tenths ownership.

TIME Video Games

The Order 1886 Review: Sony’s Exclusive Blockbuster

Ready at Dawn

Ready at Dawn's latest revisits the "interactive movie" concept with mostly positive results

“When you play a game, one moment you’re just controlling it and then suddenly you feel you’re in its world,” said Nintendo luminary Shigeru Miyamoto in a recent interview, adding that playing a game is thus “something you cannot experience through film or literature.”

What to make of developer Ready at Dawn’s gloomy, Victorian, supernatural pastiche The Order: 1886 then, a game that frequently takes player control away?

On the one hand, The Order: 1886 is an interactive drama (or what we might have called an “interactive movie” back when Under a Killing Moon and Phantasmagoria were in vogue) that spends Hideo Kojima quantities of time in the driver’s seat. It’s a kind of participatory film with occasional bursts of third-person action, in other words. But are games only games when we’re manipulating the action? Is player agency the be-all, end-all? Or is there something potentially fascinating when simply watching what happens is a large part—or most—of the experience?

All I can tell you is that I generally enjoyed The Order: 1886‘s hybrid approach to whatever it is we want to call what we’re doing these days when we play/receive/experience/watch a game. In fact the more I delved into Ready at Dawn’s Arthurian legend retelling, the more I appreciated the way the studio seemed to know just the right moments to step forward and tell its story, then back away to let you maneuver through its James Bond-meets-Nikola Tesla ballistic scenarios for yourself.

Ready at Dawn

If there’s one thing The Order: 1886 does very well, it’s providing that sense of continuously inhabiting a detailed world. Call it a PlayStation 4 tech demo if you like, it’s still an achievement: the render complexity of Square Enix’s Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within finally realized in realtime, any lingering benefits of pre-rendered cutscenes extinguished in one gorgeously shaded and illuminated swoop.

Sometimes that leads to overindulgence. You can pick up items and glean vague plot-related details, for instance, but they’re window dressing (and at best worth a few PlayStation 4 trophies). The Order: 1886 isn’t an adventure game where you sleuth for clues to solve puzzles, but hefting objects for admiration’s sake alone feels like a missed opportunity. I spent a fair lot of time perusing doohickeys, papers and photographs, finding nothing gameplay-related, and wondering if I’d missed the point (or joke).

But there’s undeniably something more intimate about this sort of carefully controlled, story-emphatic, single-player approach that’s absent from freeform games: the shifting abilities (sometimes you can walk, run, climb, shoot, sometimes one at a time, sometimes all together) that ironically increased my involvement with my surroundings, and the way the studio uses the game’s slower pace to unpack the characters and plot.

Ready at Dawn

Not that Ready at Dawn’s design choices are unimpeachable. The story, however well told, feels a bit too Underworld in an era of hackneyed monster mashups. The quicktime events are as derivative and lifeless as quicktime events have ever been, and the only minor innovation–having to swing the camera around to unmask which button to push–feels like a pointless tack on.

That goes double for all the repetitive input. Game studios still haven’t figured out that asking players to jam on a button to make whatever mechanism work (like moving an elevator) is a cliched and frankly impoverished substitute for actual interactivity. If, for instance, you’re going to make sending Morse Code integral to the game, great, but if you’re just asking me to tap out a few letters on a control surface once and for novelty’s sake, then as Hume said, to the flames.

I’m also a little conflicted about the game’s gunplay. A few of the weapons are halfway interesting (in particular a monstrous thing that lets you fire combustible powder, then ignite it with a followup flare). The enemies are more than competent, and the difficulty spikes satisfyingly brutal. But there’s something a little formulaic about the way enemies appear during these sequences—like pop-ups in a carnival game, the deadlier heavies arriving only after you’ve passed a threshold, making battles less about learning to react shrewdly than pattern recognition.

Ready at Dawn

But then I also love the way low cover obscures your view during shootouts, encouraging you to seek taller cover (you can see more, standing and shooting around corners), or to find cover that’s a mix of both so you can alternate fluidly. I love that snipers won’t shoot until you pop up, that if you’re not using cover judiciously bullets can hit and knock you into the open, that shotgunners flank at close range and that you can dodge grenades.

A word about the ending, which didn’t work for me. As spoiler-free as possible, I can say it comes down to a choice, or the lack of one, and at the only point I wanted the freedom to choose. I get that Ready at Dawn needs to tell its story, that as far as its concerned the choice made is the only one possible, but boy oh boy that ending…it’s the one place where auteurism and agency feel most like matter touching antimatter, and not in an artsy or revelatory way.

Some players are going to buck Ready at Dawn’s approach no matter what I say, and by all means steer clear if “interactive drama” isn’t your thing, but I submit that’s the wrong place to raise bulwarks. The Order: 1886 has flaws enough without conflating personal taste and flawed presumptions about game design—though it’s also a promise, assuming Ready at Dawn gets the go-ahead to make a sequel, of what this sort of author-player partnership could yield, better tempered, down the road.

3.5 out of 5

Review using the PlayStation 4 version of the game.

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TIME Video Games

5 Things to Know About Evolve’s Humans vs. Monsters Multiplayer Mayhem

The 4v1 online game drops Tuesday for PS4, Xbox and PC

I’m lukewarm toward competitive online-predominant shooters, but Evolve‘s quick pitch sounds interesting enough: four players with unique abilities dash through smallish levels and cooperatively square off against a giant Lord of the Rings-like troll-creature–a monster who’s vastly more agile and powerful, who evolves into an even deadlier thingamajig over time, and who can tap one very nasty bag of tricks.

The highbrow word to describe that is “asymmetric,” meaning lopsided, though here it’s still a carefully balanced kind of lopsided. That makes it different from conventional equal-sides shooters, though not new to gaming outright: the Splinter Cell games pioneered asymmetric multiplayer, and Fable Legends (due later this year) is doing more or less the same thing, only in a fantasy setting, pitting four heroes against a villain Dungeon Keeper-style.

Evolve‘s novelty grab, then, is the idea that both the players (dubbed Hunters) and the monster can evolve over the course of events, keeping a match’s tactics in flux.

I’m still working out how I feel about Evolve, which arrives for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One Tuesday from developer Turtle Rock Studios. But here’s my initial take in five parts:

Playing as the monster feels a little shambolic…

Hey Godzilla, swat some flies! Playing as a hulking giant of a monster, hunting tiny and far more agile human opponents, is like trying to wallop birds with a wrecking ball. That’s as intended, but it takes some getting used to.

You can clamber up anything and quickly leap chasms, even sneaking about and lunging at prey, and you can get a little speedier if you choose certain power-ups at evolution points. But you’re not some spike-spined, gargantuan rendition of an Assassin’s Creed hero. You’re a tank–the tank of all tanks, in fact, and commensurately sluggish.

…but your ability picks let you build the perfect beast

The monster levels up quickly, and forces tough ability-related choices each time. There’s also no room for lallygagging, because you’re vulnerable during transitions. Evolution is therefore as much a locational and subterfuge strategy as a points distribution one.

Do you want the ability to charge an enemy (or, crucially, flee from one) while taking out anything in your path? Lob boulders at significant distance? Leap from high points to smash down on foes? Set the world (and your enemies) ablaze with billowing bursts of fire?

The basics feel a little…basic

You need to feed to evolve, which is a story way of shoehorning in the monster’s evolution mini-game. But the missions tend to play the same: the monster attempts to avoid the hunters while scarfing fauna and leveling up, then either tries to butcher its pursuers, or destroy/defend key objects. Vice versa for the players.

Variations on that theme include levels with destroyable monster eggs (the monster has to defend these for so many minutes), and others staffed with fleeing colonists (the monster has to kill–and the hunters save–a certain number to win). You get 16 levels at launch to stage in, and you can tweak settings like wildlife population, damage output and round length, or add in variables like a monster-spotting patrol ship, teleport gates or secondary monsters (monster minions!).

But we’ve seen a gazillion objective-related riffs in these kinds of games, and none of Evolve‘s leap out, or seem to at this point anyway. In the end, the only novel idea here may be the monster-vs-humans dynamic. Will it be enough to keep players chipping away at Evolve a month from now? A year?

Solo mode is just a multiplayer wrinkle…

Evolve‘s listed in various places as supporting single player. That’s really a misnomer. Is there even a story? I may have missed it, not that I’m sure I need one either way.

Think of Evolve‘s solo claim as part of a multiplayer hub, one where you’re given the option to select and tweak levels populated by bots (that is, computer-puppeted opponents). In that sense, it’s no different from any other online shooter with configurable levels and practice dummies. You can queue up five levels in a “dynamic” campaign, but it’s just a series of chained maps with carryover variables (boasts about hundreds of thousands of cross-relational effects in this mode are the usual mathematical hyperbole).

Don’t expect much from the monster A.I. (or the A.I. hunters), but if you just want to get a feel for each match type’s framework and pacing as well as scout the levels, soloing’s as helpful here as in any other multiplayer game’s practice rooms.

…and yet Evolve may turn out to be the multiplayer game for soloists

The monster hunters come in four flavors: Assault, Medic, Support and Trapper, the first three functioning essentially as you’d expect. The Trapper’s the most innovative of the bunch, able to spring vast Epcot-like containment half-spheres that prevent the monster from simply running away when it’s doing poorly, or needs to feed in private to evolve. The hunter personas come in 12 flavors, each with unique weapons and abilities (I’ve only fooled with a handful so far).

I prefer playing as the monster (or monsters–you can unlock more as you go) because it’s so immediately gratifying. Taking down each monster as part of the hunter team has its moments, but feels like any other lengthy battle of attrition. Laying out an irritating four-player squad of human do-gooders as the monster is endlessly cathartic, though–especially if you, like me, have little patience for the tactical particulars of team coordination.

In that sense Evolve brings two multiplayer mindsets together: the well-coordinating team player type, versus the lone wolf with a penchant for leaping first and looking later.

TIME Video Games

Is It Really Time to Abandon Sony’s PlayStation Network?

Sony, Microsoft Sony's PlayStation 4 (upper-left) and Microsoft's Xbox One (lower-right).

Is Sony's PlayStation Network as terrible as some seem to think?

It’s tempting to view online services as perennial. You probably paid money for the privilege of using them, whatever the fine print you didn’t read actually says about availability, and you expect the vast province of interlinked devices we call the Internet to operate with the continuity of running water or electricity (never mind the number of power outages I’ve endured living in southeast Michigan).

When things go south, you get mad, the friends you wanted to play with are nonplussed, grumpy cat gets even grumpier–who isn’t fuming?

Thus when something like Sony’s PlayStation Network goes kaplooey, as it did at some point on Sunday, is it any surprise we’re seeing angry, hyperbolic, message-board-like news headlines? Writers jotting off zingers like “Why trust Sony ever again?”

Why indeed. But before we aim our collective invective at Sony or its online gaming peers, it’s helpful to review the pathology. Have Sony’s PSN outages crossed the Rubicon? Is it really time to cancel your online subscription? Maybe take your business across the aisle?

When people think of the PlayStation Network as unreliable, they’re really thinking about April 2011, a monumental mess wherein PSN collapsed and stayed down for nearly a month (followed by further hacks of other Sony services and embarrassing data leaks). Hackers attempted to snatch sensitive personal data, succeeding in pilfering vast troves of essentially innocuous names and addresses. The outage length–a record 23 days–was because Sony had to rethink its entire online security apparatus.

In late August 2014, the PlayStation Network as well as Sony Online Entertainment were briefly disrupted by a denial of service attack (the group responsible reportedly tweeted a bomb threat at SOE President John Smedley as he was flying to San Diego–the plane was consequently diverted to Phoenix). Microsoft’s Xbox Live was also disrupted during this period.

In early December 2014, Sony’s PlayStation Network as well as Sony Online Entertainment were once again briefly disrupted by a denial of service attack. Microsoft’s Xbox Live was also disrupted during this period.

In late December 2014, Sony’s PlayStation Network was unavailable for several days (including Christmas), apparently the victim of a malicious traffic-related disruption. Microsoft’s Xbox Live was similarly impacted.

In early February 2015, Sony’s PlayStation Network was briefly disrupted by another denial of service attack. (Microsoft’s Xbox Live went down briefly in late January–it’s still not clear why.)

Setting aside planned maintenance outages, Sony’s PlayStation Network has thus been unavailable as a result of nefarious activity less than a dozen times. Furthermore, Microsoft’s Xbox Live, while spared the colossal (and importantly, lingering) public shaming Sony endured back in 2011, has been down nearly as often. Both companies have attempted, in various ways, to compensate users for these outages.

Cognitive distortion can make molehills into mountains. The question, given the volatility of a global network susceptible to sudden malicious traffic missiles, is whether companies like Sony and Microsoft are over-promising availability, or whether consumers–obliged, in my view, to see more shrewdly through corporate hyperbole–need to take a dimmer view of what the Internet in 2015 can deliver. Denial of service attacks in 2015 remain a problem to which no company or service is immune.

I’m not apologizing for incompetence (where indeed incompetence can be proven), I’m just suggesting we’ve been sold a bill of goods about online dependability (in our minds, anyway–the fine print says otherwise) that can’t live entirely up to its claims. Not in 2015, anyway.

Is 98 or 99% availability the end of the world? I’m not so sure, though I’d definitely like to see companies like Sony and Microsoft level with us rolling forward, perhaps implementing an if-this-then-that remuneration clause, e.g. this much outage time equals that much compensatory service. At least you’d know the parameters going in.

TIME Video Games

These Are the 50 Most Anticipated Video Games of 2015

Check out the biggest games coming to PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Wii U and 3DS this year

These are the biggest games for PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Wii U and the Nintendo 3DS due this year. Highlights include Bloodborne, The Legend of Zelda, Halo 5: Guardians and Batman: Arkham Knight.

  • Evolve

    Whoever put this Evolve trailer together did their best to make developer Turtle Rock Studios’ fire-breathing extraterrestrial monster frightening. It’s not (after you’ve seen you’re umpteenth Balrog-like, you’ve seen them all). But here’s what is: 4 vs. 1 cooperative play, meaning four players, each with unique abilities, who square off with a fifth player manipulating the deadly monster–a monster capable of “evolving” and becoming even more nightmarishly strong.

    PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows

    February 10

  • The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D

    Another New Nintendo 3DS launch title, Majora’s Mask 3D follows in Ocarina of Time 3D‘s footsteps: an enhanced remake of one of–if not the–best Zelda games in the series’ history. If Ocarina of Time was design legend Shigeru Miyamoto splicing cutesy storytelling with groundbreaking three-dimensional gameplay, Majora’s Mask is director Eiji Aonuma and Yoshiaki Koizumi’s edgier followup, pitting players against a leering, runaway celestial object and time itself.

    3DS

    February 13

  • Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate

    One of the first games to highlight the New Nintendo 3DS’s view-swivelable C-Stick, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate kicks Capcom’s popular creature-stalking sim into vertical mode, allowing you to leap from ledges, climb walls and even grab-attack the new topographically-mindful monsters.

    3DS

    February 13

  • 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.

    Wii U

    February 20

  • 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.

    PlayStation 4

    February 20

  • 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.

    Xbox One

    March 3

  • 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.

    3DS

    March 13

  • Final Fantasy Type-0 HD

    Didn’t buy a PlayStation Portable? Or you did, but didn’t play this action roleplaying battle mashup when it first hit in 2011? Here’s your chance, then, to play a high-definition remaster of what many consider one of the best Final Fantasy games yet published by Square Enix.

    PlayStation 4, Xbox One

    March 17

  • 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.

    Wii U

    March 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.

    PlayStation 4

    March 24

  • Pillars of Eternity

    The first of the mega-successful crowdfunded video games financing-wise, Pillars of Eternity promises to indulge fans of games like Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale, an old-school fantasy world-building exercise flush with isometric 2D visuals, real-time tactical gameplay (with pausing) and some of the genre’s most famous names–Tim Cain, Chris Avellone and Josh Sawyer, to name just a few–at the design helm.

    Windows, OS X, Linux

    March 26

  • Mortal Kombat X

    Mortal Kombat X looks like a modest gameplay overhaul of developer NetherRealm Studios’ 2011 series reboot draped in next-gen visual finery, but it sports a few notable changes: you can now vamp on environmental variables to reshuffle your battle tactics, and characters have different move profiles that significantly alter how they fight.

    PlayStation 3/4, Xbox 360/One, Windows

    April 14

  • Mighty No. 9

    A Mega Man reboot by another name, Mighty No. 9 takes that classic 2D platforming game’s ideas–a robotic protagonist, clever weaponry and crazy end-level boss battles–and adds unique transformational abilities gathered from defeated enemies.

    PlayStation 3/4/Vita, Xbox 360/One, Wii U, 3DS, Windows, OS X, Linux

    April 2015

  • Xenoblade Chronicles

    One of the smartest roleplaying games in the genre’s history comes to the New Nintendo 3DS (and only to the New 3DS–it’ll be the first that taps the new handheld’s souped up processor). This is your chance to play what by all accounts looks to be the definitive version.

    New Nintendo 3DS

    April 2015

  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

    Two words: open world. That’s what sets roleplaying epic The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt apart from its celebrated predecessors: Polish developer CD Projekt Red turned heads when it described the game as roughly a full fifth larger, geographically speaking, than Bethesda’s vast Skyrim.

    PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows

    May 19

  • 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.

    Wii U

    May 2015

  • Batman: Arkham Knight

    The eponymous villain in developer Rocksteady’s third (and perhaps final) engagement of DC’s Batman mythos should hopefully breathe a little life into a series long overshadowed by the Joker. The biggest change, aside from the grander city and shift to newer platforms, is the inclusion of the Batmobile, like a grimmer versions of Ratchet & Clank, in which you shift between Batman and his ride to solve puzzles or augment battle tactics.

    PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows

    June 2

  • Adr1ft

    Everyone’s comparing 505 Games’ Adr1ft to Alfonso Cuaron’s Gravity, because both involve someone in orbit floating through the wreckage of who-knows-what. Best case scenario? We’ll get to play a video game that one-ups Cuaron’s Gravity (which needlessly mangled basic scientific principles) by making rigorous physics per the hostile extremes of orbital space the game’s unremitting antagonist.

    PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows

    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.

    Xbox One

    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.

    Xbox One

    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?

    PlayStation 4

    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.

    PlayStation 4

    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.

    PlayStation 4

    TBD 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.

    Xbox One

    TBD 2015

  • 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.

    3DS

    TBD 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.

    Xbox One

    TBD 2015

  • Hyper Light Drifter

    What if hack-and-slash Diablo looked like an 8-bit console game and felt like playing a Studio Ghibli movie? Hyper Light Drifter sounds and looks just weird enough to maybe (just maybe) pull off that nostalgia-mashup trifecta.

    PlayStation 4/Vita, Xbox One, Wii U, Ouya, Windows, OS X, Linux

    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.

    Xbox One

    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.

    Wii U

    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.

    PlayStation 4

    TBD 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?

    Wii U

    TBD 2015

  • Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

    The exploitable A.I. in Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes pretty much broke the prequel/demo for me. Stealth-gaming entree Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain promises to deliver smarter enemies and a game world “200 times” that of Ground Zeroes…with a commensurate helping of director Hideo Kojima’s maddeningly (if often ingeniously) esoteric storytelling.

     

    PlayStation 3/4, Xbox 360/One, Windows

    TBD 2015

  • 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.

    PlayStation 4

    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.

    Xbox One

    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.

    PlayStation 4

    TBD 2015

  • 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.

    Xbox One

    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.

    PlayStation 4

    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.

    Xbox One

    TBD 2015

  • Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues

    The latest Ultima by another name, Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues is Richard Garriott’s return to epic computer roleplaying, a crowdfunded (and developed), episodic (five total), Ultima Online-like, optionally offline (with a solo story mode) fantasy reapplication of Garriott’s respected design principles.

    Windows, OS X, Linux

    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.

    Xbox One

    TBD 2015

  • StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void

    Blizzard’s third and final Starcraft II real-time strategy installment, Legacy of the Void adds the alien Protoss to the mix (following humans and Zerg) as well as the latest multiplayer/eSports bells and whistles. Look for the public beta to launch sometime this year.

    Windows, OS X

    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.

    Wii U

    TBD 2015

  • That Dragon, Cancer

    Unless you’ve had a child diagnosed with a terminal illness and lived through years of that process playing out, it’s impossible to grasp the magnitude of heartbreak involved, but the parents of just such a child are designing a game about their experience, as both a testament to their son’s life, and a way to help us understand.

    Ouya, Windows

    TBD 2015

  • Tom Clancy’s The Division

    Another epic angle on Ubisoft’s recent obsession with open-world games, The Division imagines a The Stand-like disease upending civilization, and a group of U.S. sleeper agents–trained to respond to just such a breakdown–emerging to do battle (in third-person) against the forces responsible for the virus’s deployment.

    PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows

    TBD 2015

  • Torment: Tides of Numenera

    Torment: Tides of Numenera takes its name from roleplaying touchstone Planescape: Torment, bringing a fantasy world designed by Dungeons & Dragons heavyweight Monte Cook to life wrapped in an isometric engine, tabletop-like rules and a trippy, existentially complex story set in a distant, earthbound, science-fantasy future.

    Windows, OS X, Linux

    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.

    PlayStation 4

    TBD 2015

  • Volume

    Robin Hood meets Metal Gear Solid meets Andy Serkis, who in fact plays one of the characters (Gisborne) in developer Mike Bithell’s anticipated followup to Thomas Was Alone.

    PlayStation 4/Vita, Windows, OS X

    TBD 2015

  • The Witness

    In development for years, creator Jonathan Blow’s followup to Braid looks like a straightforward puzzle game–a maze-like island divided into subsections that players explore, where each puzzle doubles as a teaching tool for later puzzles–that apparently conceals anything but straightforward things.

    PlayStation 4, Windows, iOS

    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.)

    Wii U

    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.

    Wii U

    TBD 2015

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

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.

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