TIME Nintendo

Duck Hunt Will Land On Nintendo’s Wii U on Christmas Day

Duck Hunt
Duck Hunt Nintendo

No plastic gun this time

Nintendo has a retro Christmas gift in store for people who own its Wii U console.

Duck Hunt, the legendary fowl-hunting, gun-slinging game originally released for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985, is coming to Nintendo’s newest console on Dec. 25. The game will be downloadable on the Wii U’s virtual console, which brings classic Nintendo titles to the system.

The Wii U version of Duck Hunt replaces Nintendo’s classic light gun accessory with the Wii Remote, which players use to shoot birds or clay pigeons bouncing around their screen.

“Test your sharp-shooting skills as your targets take flight in this legendary NES classic,” reads Nintendo’s press release. “Be quick to knock them out of the skies, or your canine companion won’t hesitate to make you the laughing stock of hunters.”

TIME Video Games

Get the First Look at the New Zelda’s Massive World

Zelda series creator Shigeru Miyamoto and current Zelda director Eiji Aonuma showed off several minutes of live footage of the game

Nintendo has been dropping hints all year that the next Legend of Zelda game for the Wii U would have a huge overworld. New footage of the upcoming title shows just how massive that world is.

Zelda series creator Shigeru Miyamoto and current Zelda director Eiji Aonuma showed off several minutes of live footage of the game. In the clip, the developers guide Link to the top of a high overlook, where he can look across a vast landscape. He sees a tower far off in the distance and proceeds to travel to it. They also show off Epona, Link’s famous horse, which he can use to ride across the game world. Aonuma says the journey to the tower would take five minutes, and it only covers a small portion of the world map. All signs point to this being the largest Zelda yet.

Check out all the footage in the video above.

TIME Video Games

There’s a Secret Game Hidden in Nintendo’s New 3DS

The New 3DS isn't due out in the U.S. until next year

Nintendo’s upgraded New 3DS isn’t due out in the United States until next year, but Japanese gamers have already discovered some interesting secrets on the new handheld.

After opening the device’s Internet browser, if a user taps the touch screen to the tune of the Super Mario Bros. theme song, a Breakout-style game will emerge. The blocks that have to be crushed will be in the shape of the URL currently in the browser.

Here’s a video of the game in action, via The Verge:

what happens if you tap out the mario theme in the new 3DS browser?

A video posted by sam byford (@345triangle) on

It may be a while before American gamers can see what other secrets the New 3DS may have — Nintendo hasn’t offered a specific stateside release window for the device.

TIME Video Games

13 Reasons I’d Still Pick Nintendo’s Wii U Over the PS4 and Xbox One

The case for Nintendo's flagship console in 2014.

A year ago, the argument over which game console to buy went something like this: The PlayStation 4 and Xbox One were shiny black spec-troves of next-gen performance assurances glossed with wishful gameplay hypotheticals wrapped around the reality of comparably anemic launch titles, whereas the Wii U had Super Mario 3D World, LEGO City Undercover, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, Pikmin 3 and The Wonderful 101. The best PS4/X1 launch game, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, was on the Wii U, too, and so the choice seemed obvious, at least through December 2013.

But 2014 turned out to be a weird year. People actually bought the new consoles, despite much morbid prophesying in the years leading up to their arrival about the death of set-tops. The PlayStation 4 went on to sell so many units worldwide that by August even Sony was scratching its head in bewilderment. And while the Xbox One appears to be selling at lower volumes (Microsoft’s been reticent about its performance), it’s still outpacing life-to-date sales of its predecessor. Both companies are performing at levels they weren’t supposed to, in other words.

Nintendo, too. Pundits prematurely mourned the Wii U (including yours truly) after gloomy fiscal 2013 figures in early May, as Wii U sales slowed to a trickle. But the Wii U rebounded a week later off the arrival of Mario Kart 8, and the company on the whole rebounded in October (thanks to indefatigable Mario Kart 8 sales) when Nintendo announced a surprising fiscal course reversal. Nintendo’s Wii U has at last check sold over 7 million units, and that’s before Hyrule Warriors, Bayonetta 2, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U or the forthcoming Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker hit the books.

MORE: This Is Why Nintendo Is Crushing It All of a Sudden

So 2014 basically wants to plunder your bank account (and probably already has). And the looting’s just started: we’re now looking at a console triumvirate in 2015, each system staking out sustainable turf, and each now boasting a bevy of unmissable existing games and anticipated upcoming ones. What to do?

You could buy them all, of course, but that’s a hardcore move and financially impractical for most. You could pick two, and even if you’re dead set on owning gaming with a PC, PlayStation 4 or Xbox One, there’s a powerful argument here for the Wii U as a must-have secondary system, given the caliber of its exclusive content.

But let’s assume you have none of the above, and that you’re finally ready to pull the trigger on something that isn’t a smartphone, tablet or PC. Were that my circle to square, and if I didn’t do this for a living…

I’d still pick the Wii U…

1. Because it still has the first- and second-party games I most want to play now

It’s been a good year for third-party games you won’t find on Nintendo’s Wii U. Alien: Isolation, Far Cry 4, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and Dragon Age: Inquisition are terrific. But you could also argue the rest of 2014’s triple-A darlings are basically recycling bin material: Diablo III, Grand Theft Auto V, Tomb Raider Definitive Edition, The Last of Us and Halo: The Master Chief Collection look tremendous in their new digs, but they’re still remakes of games we already played, however compellingly wrinkled.

As far as standout exclusive new-IP goes, the Xbox One has Sunset Overdrive and Forza Horizon 2 (and maybe Titanfall), while Sony has Final Fantasy XIV and Velocity 2X. But that’s it. And, not that I’m complaining, the PS4 and Xbox One are basically cheap midrange PCs, parleying the lingua franca of a decades-old gaming paradigm interface-wise. Any notion of inventive holism pretty much died when Microsoft unbundled Kinect from Xbox One.

Nintendo’s playing a very different game with its very different-looking console, where, absent robust third-party support, it’s doubled down on first- and second-party properties, as well as banking on the fact that no one else (on consoles, handhelds, computers, or mobile devices) has the sort of franchise cross-demographic appeal it does. You could call that requirement to self-propel a liability — or an opportunity.

Thus on Wii U, you now have a small library of standouts, like: Bayonetta 2, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Hyrule Warriors, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD, LEGO City Undercover, Mario Kart 8, New Super Mario Bros. U, Pikmin 3, Pushmo World, Super Mario 3D World, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and The Wonderful 101. It’s an enviable exclusive lineup by any measure.

Nintendo’s also been making something of the fact that on Metacritic, eight Wii U games (Super Mario 3D World, Rayman Legends, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, Bayonetta, Bayonetta 2, Mario Kart 8, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD and Pikmin 3) currently hold critic scores of 85 or higher and user scores of 8.5 or better, compared with just two games all told across rival consoles. I’m ambivalent about score aggregation sites (and scores in general) as quality arbiters, but it is interesting to note that rare confluence of critical and public appraisal.

2. Nintendo doesn’t need third parties the way Microsoft and Sony do

The point in any for-profit business is, by definition, to be profitable. If Nintendo can figure out how to stay in the black, given the company’s first- and second-party software attach rates, I’m not sure how much unit sales matter in terms of who’s first, second or third, so long as there’s steady growth.

No, you’ll never see crazy Grand Theft Auto V figures on the Wii U, where you’re selling tens of millions of copies of a game across platforms with a combined install footprint of over 150 million units (for that matter, it’s hard to conceive of Mario Kart Wii sales levels). But at 2 or 3 or 4 million units a piece, the bestselling Wii U titles are selling at perfectly respectable levels given the number of systems in the wild.

And if the Wii U continues to make install base inroads and its first/second party attach rates remain high, Nintendo may be all the support Nintendo needs to make good on its platform for at least the next several years, while at the same time being able to plausibly brag that the Wii U has the best games per capita.

It’s a shame Nintendo hasn’t been able to lure more third-party bigwigs, but whether that’s the development environment (the Wii U lacks processing headroom, contrasted with its peers) or the chicken-egg install base conundrum, it’s also ironically turning out to be a bootstraps referendum on a company’s ability to singlehandedly revitalize its flagship platform.

3. Nintendo just opened a massive new game development center in Kyoto

An addendum to the last point, Nintendo of America president and CEO Reggie Fils-Aime confirmed in a phone interview that the company’s focus is now squarely on Nintendo-delivered content.

“We have to use our first-party and increasingly second-party content to grow our install base, that’s our mission,” Fils-Aime told me, then qualified this by noting Nintendo just opened a research and development facility in Kyoto, right next to the company’s global headquarters.

“This R&D center will be the home to 1,500 game developers,” Fils-Aime said. “Companies would be thrilled to have that many game developers working on their business. We have these game developers creating content exclusive to our platforms.”

Again, the key phrase here is doubling down. It guarantees nothing, but to the extent educated guesses matter when making buying choices, I’d say it means we’ll see a lot more Nintendo-led content emerge from Kyoto in the years to come–content designed to justify the kinds of idiosyncratic holistic experiences that Nintendo specializes in.

4. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is already buoying the system (as Mario Kart 8 before it)

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U sold just shy of half a million copies in the U.S. alone from November 21 to 23, making it the fastest selling Wii U game to date. That’s not a surprise, given the franchise’s appeal and the game’s unanimous critical plaudits. But looking at how much Mario Kart 8 alone did for the platform, it also undergirds the argument that Nintendo may be able to sustain the Wii U simply by delivering compelling Nintendo-incubated experiences rolling forward.

5. Speaking of, the Wii U’s 2015 lineup looks terrific

Some of the games I’ve personally been waiting for longest on any platform arrive next year: Splatoon (a cooperative anti-shooter in which teams attempt to slime swathes of a base with paint-guns for points), Yoshi’s Wooly World (the followup to Kirby’s Epic Yarn for Wii), Kirby and the Rainbow Curse (the followup to Kirby: Canvas Curse for the Nintendo DS), Xenoblade Chronicles X (a spiritual sequel to the best open-world roleplaying game I’ve ever played), Star Fox (the behind-the-scenes E3 demo I played was a little shaky, but some of the ideas and related “Project” mini-games were intriguing) and of course the enigmatic new The Legend of Zelda (you can take “enormous high-def world” for granted–producer Eiji Aonuma’s plans to subvert classic Zelda tropes is far more interesting).

6. Off-TV gaming still rules

Yes, Nintendo hasn’t made the second screen as novel and vital an interface as the Wii Remote and Nunchuk were for the Wii, and yes, the system’s meager wireless range (about two dozen feet) can be prohibitive. But if you want to yield control of your TV to someone else, the Wii U GamePad is the perfect size and interface to game off-screen, and an indulgence I’ll miss if the Wii U’s successor nixes the option.

7. It’s the only portable game console

The Wii U remains the only game system you can readily shlep around like a handheld, and one with friendlier ergonomics for longterm sessions than either Sony’s PS Vita or Nintendo’s own 3DS. The PS4’s slender enough, but you’d need to lug a screen with you, and it’s the screen that’s probably the biggest hurdle here. By folding the screen into the gamepad, Nintendo has essentially designed the first portable gaming platform that doesn’t in some fundamental way (think the tiny thumbsticks on the Vita) compromise the interface to said platform.

8. It’s powerful enough…

No, the Wii U can’t run games like Far Cry 4 or Assassin’s Creed Unity (looking as good as they do on PS4 or Xbox One, anyway), but that’s also the wrong reason to buy a Wii U. Look at the right reason–the system’s unmatchable first/second-party lineup–and the Wii U shines as a high-def platform in its own right.

For the record, several Wii U games on the system run at native 1080p (including Super Smash Bros. for Wii U). But even the ones that don’t–those running at 720p or some sub-1080p variant, say Mario Kart 8–look fantastic on a 1080p screen.

9. …while not at all power-hungry

Relative to the PlayStation 4 (137 watts) and Xbox One (112 watts), the Wii U sips just 34 watts of power on average when playing games, according to a report by the Natural Resources Defense Council. When streaming video, it employs less than half as much power (29 watts) as the next-worst console (the Xbox One at 74 watts). Its standby power is less than 1 watt (versus 8.5 watts for the PS4 and 15.7 watts for the Xbox One), and in annual energy use, it rates 37 kWh/y, versus 181 kWh/y (PS4) and 233 kWh/y (Xbox One).

10. It has the Virtual Console plus Wii backward-compatiblity

The PS4 still plays PS4 games and the Xbox One, only Xbox One games. The Wii U plays Wii U games, but also the entire Wii library (over 1,000 and counting), as well as NES and Super NES classics via the Virtual Console, from Super Metroid to F-Zero and Earthbound to Super Mario Bros. 3.

Sony is tinkering with its PlayStation Now streaming service, now in open beta, but the service forces you to make compromises, chiefly visual ones related to streaming inconsistencies derived from the intrinsic fickleness of the Internet.

11. It’s an unabashed games console, not a media player

Nintendo makes no bones about this, and that’s actually kind of nice. The PS4 and Xbox One are either too cumbersome or thermally challenged to nestle in cramped entertainment centers, nor are they as versatile as something like an Amazon Fire TV or Roku (or even an Apple TV, if you’re after iTunes library streaming).

You can access basic streaming services like Amazon, Hulu, Netflix and YouTube on the Wii U, and I’ll grant that Nintendo would benefit from adding music alternates like Spotify or Pandora. But I don’t miss Blu-ray or DVD or music CD support, because I don’t use physical media in set-top boxes anymore (and haven’t for years). That’s just a way-the-wind’s-a-blowin’ thing.

12. Amiibo adds gameplay wrinkles no one else has

Amiibo–Nintendo’s take on the toy-game market dominated by Skylanders and Disney Infinity–was designed from the get-go to work with each Nintendo game uniquely. And while current Hyrule Warriors and Mario Kart 8 functionality seems superficial (either daily bonuses or costume unlocks), its integration with Super Smash Bros. for Wii U is all but essential.

In the latter game, your amiibo becomes your sparring partner, leveling up as you train it and “feed” it stat boosts and mold it into something that’s uniquely your own. You can then use it in battles against other players’ amiibos, or–and this is a crucial idea-seller for me–as a way to study your own strengths and weaknesses: if you’re great at a certain maneuver, your amiibo will be too, but if you’re not doing something you ought to be, say raising your character’s shield, neither will your amiibo.

13. It’s still the cheapest current-gen console

$300 plus two pack-in games (Super Mario 3D World & Nintendo Land), versus $400 for Sony’s PlayStation 4 and $350 for Microsoft’s Xbox One (until $50 off deal expires in early January). That $50 to $100 differential adds up to additional games and accessories.

There’s also no annual subscription fee to access Nintendo’s online services, which, contrasted with Sony and Microsoft’s all but mandatory fees, saves you another $50 to $60 per year.

And while games like Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, Hyrule Warriors and Mario Kart 8 have made the leap to $60, the Wii U still has the most non-indie sub-$60 games today, from Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze, New Super Luigi U and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD to LEGO City: Undercover, Nintendo Land and Wii Party U.

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TIME

Everything You Need to Know About Nintendo’s New Toy Figurines

Ty Milford / Nintendo

They're called Amiibo and they can do some incredible things

If I have a single critique of Nintendo’s amiibo, it’s that information about the company’s toy-game versions of its iconic characters like Mario, Link and Yoshi has been scattershot since the figurines were first revealed at E3 in June.

Nintendo rectified this by putting up a helpful amiibo website recently, but there’s still a fair amount about how amiibo works—and what makes them unique in a now fairly crowded toy-game market space—that you have to cobble together for yourself. The figures themselves sell in informationally blank receptacles, exhorting you to simply “collect, customize, and compete.” They don’t come with instructions, nor do the games they’re designed to initially work with offer robust tutorials.

So if some of these are on your holiday maybe list, here’s everything you need to know, including my initial impressions of some of the launch models.

We’re not sure what amiibo means either

But when I asked Nintendo’s director of product marketing Bill Trinen about it, this is what he told me:

They came up with the name in Japan, and the ‘amii’ portion comes from a little something in Japanese that conveys the sentiment of friend, of playing with your friend. That’s what they’re really trying to convey with it. I think for us it sounds a little like amigo. That’s not the origin of the name, but it conveys the intent.

The figures launch on November 21 alongside Super Smash Bros. for Wii U

That’s the release date for both franchises in North America, and at this point. And each of the dozen amiibo figures available at launch, as well as the ones coming later this year and early next, are part of Super Smash Bros.‘s massive fighter lineup.

Amiibo as it exists on November 21 is clearly biased toward Smash, too–the golden base tops even sport the Smash series’ trademark crosshatch logo.

They’re not ridiculously expensive

Nintendo’s suggested retail price is $12.99 per figure, which is what everyone appears to be selling them for heading into the holidays. With a dozen figures available at launch, they’ll set you back $156 if you’re looking to collect the set.

The figures talk to your Wii U GamePad using NFC

NFC, or near-field communication, is just a standard for two devices to communicate wirelessly over extremely small distances. In amiibo’s case, the figures have chips in their bases that activate when placed near the NFC sensor in the Wii U GamePad (you just tap the amiibo figure’s base to the designated area). If you own a Wii U, it’s the lower lefthand space on the GamePad with an icon that looks like a white rectangle pushed into a corner.

They don’t require batteries

The amiibo stands are roughly half an inch thick, bottom to top, without ingress points–they house no power sources because the NFC chip in each figure’s base is activated by its proximity to the Wii U GamePad’s NFC sensor. The figures don’t need batteries or anything else that’ll need replacing to do what they do, in other words.

Here’s every amiibo announced, and when it’s coming

The first 12 amiibo figures launch on November 21, and include the following characters: Mario, Link, Samus, Kirby, Fox, Donkey Kong, Pikachu, Peach, Marth, Yoshi, Villager and Wii Fit Trainer.

Nintendo’s planning to release six additional amiibo figures figures this December (dates unspecified): Diddy Kong, Zelda, Luigi, Captain Falcon, Pit and Little Mac.

And in February 2015, we’ve been told to expect: Bowser, Toon link, Sheik, Sonic, Mega Man, King Dedede, Ike, Rosalina & Luma, Shulk, Lucario and Meta Knight.

Here’s the list of amiibo-compatible games at launch

At launch, amiibo supports two games: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and Mario Kart 8, and the updates to those games which enable amiibo functionality are live now.

And the list of amiibo-compatible games (probably) in the offing for later this year

Nintendo has announced amiibo support for both Hyrule Warriors (already out) and Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker (due on December 5). Nintendo’s Trinen told me he expects the amiibo update to Hyrule Warriors to arrive shortly after amiibo’s launch this week, though it’s unclear if we’ll see Captain Toad‘s update arrive in December or slip into 2015.

How does amiibo work in the launch games?

It’s different with each game, and this is where amiibo can get a little confusing. With Activision’s Skylanders and Disney’s Infinity, those franchises’ respective figures are designed to work in relatively uniform ways with very specific games.

Amiibo, by contrast, was designed from the get-go to work with each Nintendo game uniquely. As Trinen put it when I spoke with him, Nintendo designed amiibo such that each studio can build amiibo functionality into their game in whatever way they feel best suits the gameplay, thus how your amiibo functions in one game may bear no resemblance to the way it functions in another.

In Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, for instance, your amiibo becomes your sparring partner. It levels up as you train it and “feed” it stat boosts, in essence molding it into something that’s uniquely your own. You can then use it in battles against other players’ amiibos, or as a way to study your own strengths and weaknesses: if you’re great at a certain maneuver, your amiibo will be too, but if you’re not doing something you ought to be, say raising your character’s shield, neither will your amiibo.

In Hyrule Warriors, by contrast, using amiibos will unlock special once-a-day weapons or bonuses–unique ones if you use the Link or Zelda amiibos. And in Mario Kart 8, using an amiibo unlocks new racing outfits: basically costumes inspired by each amiibo that your Mii character can wear.

What other games will amiibo support?

Nintendo’s confirmed at least three future games will support amiibo: Mario Party 10 (2015), Yoshi’s Woolly World (spring 2015) and Kirby and the Rainbow Curse (February 13, 2015).

It’s a safe bet that others, especially anything mainline like the next Legend of Zelda, will also include some form of amiibo support.

They’re seem beautifully made

I don’t collect action figures and have little experience of miniatures beyond some exploratory Warhammer figurine painting in the mid-2000s, but the three amiibo figures Nintendo sent me–Mario, Link and Kirby–seem immaculately manufactured. Each has a stylish pose and instantly recognizable expression, crisp design lines, intricate texturing and zero color bleed between even the tiniest zones.

They don’t work with Nintendo’s 3DS

Not yet, though Nintendo plans to eventually support the 3DS by way of a special NFC attachment the company’s pegged for 2015. For North American gamers in 2014, amiibo only works with the Wii U.

Amiibo does work natively with the “New Nintendo 3DS”–that’s its unofficial English name by way of Japanese translation at this point, anyway. But that slightly more powerful and joystick-doubled version of Nintendo’s dedicated gaming handheld isn’t available in the U.S. this year, and unless you’re fluent in Japanese, there’s no reason to bother importing one. Chances are we’ll see the new 3DS stateside in 2015, but Nintendo has only confirmed availability in Japan, Australia and New Zealand for 2014.

TIME technology

Here’s The Life Aquatic as a Classic Video Game

Complete with pixelated Bill Murray

Mission: Find the jaguar shark. Step one: Smoke grass. This is how Wes Anderson’s 2004 film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou would begin if it were an 8-bit video game. David and Henry Dutton of Cinefix, a YouTube channel that bills itself “the ultimate destination for true movie buffs,” have rendered the movie as a Nintendo-esque short, complete with David Bowie soundtrack (only this time the songs are played on what sounds like a Casio keyboard rather than sung in Portuguese).

In their 8-Bit Cinema series, they’ve retold nearly 40 popular movies — from The Big Lebowski to Fight Club to Frozen — as 8-bit video games. The term 8-bit refers to the third generation in gaming, which began in 1983 with the release of what would come to be known as the Nintendo Entertainment System. For The Life Aquatic, the Duttons decided to use 16-bit to capture the film’s vivid colors and textures.

Video games today are so realistic that the Call of Duty Kevin Spacey is almost indiscernible from the real Kevin Spacey. But it’s always nice to take a trip back in time to our pixelated past.

TIME

The 5 Best 3DS Games Right Now

Have a look at our essential video game checklist for new 3DS owners

Nintendo’s 3DS currently prevails over the dedicated games handheld market, as have all Nintendo’s handheld since the original Game Boy in 1989. Smartphones may dominate mobile in general, but they lack a handheld’s deterministic nuance (read: buttons, triggers, and thumbsticks), to say nothing of the 3DS’s indispensable two-screen interface. And because the 3DS has done so well in its own right, it’s the mobile platform game developers gravitate to, culminating at this point in a library of compelling choices. Here’s a list of the ones we think are the best at the moment.

  • Fire Emblem Awakening

    The Fire Emblem games are as old as the Game Boy, though they didn’t appear on a Nintendo handheld (the Game Boy Advance) until 2002. They’re some of the best turn-based tactical roleplaying games you’ve probably never heard of, and Fire Emblem Awakening is the perfect opportunity to make their acquaintance. This above all others is the 3DS game to buy for depth and breadth, with customizable characters (who can marry, have children, then battle alongside their offspring), a skill-dependent multi-class system and an enthralling interwoven story.

    Buy this game if… You’re in the mood for a thoughtful, chess-like tactical battle simulator.

    Steer clear if… Poring over battlefields while finessing tactical minutia, one turn at a time, turns you off.

    What critics said: “This is a special game. The kind that makes you stop and think for a long time about whether it’s ever been done better” (Eurogamer); “Intelligent Systems has produced some fine games for Nintendo over the years; Awakening can proudly sit next to fellow strategy gem Advance Wars as the studio’s best work to date” (Telegraph); “… completely engaged me while I was playing it, whether I was connecting with its well-written characters or taxing my (limited) intellect as I tried to win a difficult battle while keeping everyone alive” (GamesBeat).

    ESRB Rating: Teen

  • The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

    A direct sequel to Super Nintendo game The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, A Link Between Worlds hews close to Zelda traditions like roving around an enemy-thronged overworld between dips into dungeons or dalliances with mini-games and collection quests (here, one involving the return of child-like creatures to their mother). The gameplay twist this time involves being able to flatten against walls and move along 2D planes, picture-like, to solve spatial puzzles.

    Buy this game if… You loved A Link to the Past and you’d like to play its superior companion.

    Steer clear if… You didn’t care for A Link to the Past, or you’ve simply had enough of the Zelda franchise.

    What critics said: “A perfect handheld Zelda experience, offering the classic gameplay you cherish at a snappier pace” (Joystiq); “Not only does it feature some of the best dungeons and bosses in the series’ long history, but its stunning use of the system’s 3D effect should make anyone thinking about saving a few bucks by getting a Nintendo 2DS pause and reconsider” (GamesBeat); “…as amazing as A Link to the Past is, I can’t think of a single thing A Link Between Worlds doesn’t do better” (Game Informer).

    ESRB Rating: Everyone

  • Pokémon X & Y

    The 3DS’s first full-fledged Pokémon game (if we don’t count Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity) recasts the series in full polygonal 3D, which may be the most remarkable thing about it, since the game mechanics sound mostly un-messed-with: You still play as a Pokémon novice, off to round up the little critters and challenge other Pokémon trainers in turn-based battles on your way to becoming a Pokémon Grand Master.

    Buy this game if… You’ve been waiting forever to play a 3D version of Pokémon.

    Steer clear if… You’re looking for an edgier roleplaying game or a dark fantasy world to save.

    What critics said: “…the various design tweaks and visual upgrades brings out the joy of this world to match that first time you caught a Pokemon or beat a gym leader” (Quarter to Three); “It’s a coming of age story, essentially, with the saccharine beginnings of a jolly jaunt giving way to harsher challenges along the way” (Telegraph); “For the young, the game is a soothing promise that, if you work hard, concentrate and look after others, victory and success will be yours. For the young at heart it’s a warm reminder of the childlike thrills of discovery, compilation and care” (Eurogamer).

    ESRB Rating: Everyone

  • Pushmo

    Pushmo is as it sounds: a puzzle game about pushing things, though it’s not the name of the protagonist. That would be Mallo, who happens to be a sumo wrestling cat (who knows why–just go with it). Your job is to move blocks around each “Pushmo” playground (the game has more than 250) to create steps that let you climb to rescue trapped children. It sounds simplistic, and in a way it is, but it’s also arguably the best puzzle game a Nintendo studio’s ever made.

    Buy this game if… You love deceptively simple block-based puzzles games.

    Steer clear if… Cutesy puzzlers aren’t your thing.

    What critics said: “Move over Minesweeper, ta ta Tetris, leave it out Lemmings – Pullblox is the new puzzling gaming god in town” (Pocket Gamer UK); “In many ways, Pullblox is Nintendo’s answer to Portal. Both are budget puzzlers released to little fanfare that exhibit the finest qualities of their respective developers” (Eurogamer); “Simple gameplay and a great level creator help make Pushmo a stellar puzzle game for your pocket” (GameSpot).

    ESRB Rating: Everyone

  • Shovel Knight

    The best NES game you never played sporting glorious high-definition pixel-block levels and incredible chiptunes and superlative platform-bounding gameplay? Shovel Knight is something like a crowdfunded miracle, the new archetype in gaming (or any other creative medium) for what letting developers who know exactly what they’re doing actually do it, unencumbered.

    Buy this game if… You miss the 8-bit NES aesthetic, you want to play the apotheosis of the best side-scrolling, platforming games popularized by Nintendo’s breakthrough 1980s system.

    Steer clear if… You never really went for the whole NES thing.

    What critics said: “Shovel Knight is, at the risk of repetition, brilliant, beautiful stuff” (Cubed3); “Dig out some eShop credits: you’re not going to want to miss ye olde Shovel Knight” (Pocket Gamer UK); “…a game that handles like a brick that handles like a Maserati” (Wired).

    ESRB Rating: Everyone

TIME Video Games

The 5 Best Wii U Games Right Now

Our essential video game checklist for new Wii U owners

So you just picked up Nintendo’s Wii U, and you’re wondering what to buy. That’s something we can say now—the “after you bought it” thing—because with the newer consoles, every game is available through the console’s e-tail store as a digital download. Or maybe you haven’t bought one yet, but you’re leaning in Nintendo’s general direction. Either way, we think these are hands-down the best games on the platform at the moment.

  • Bayonetta 2

    Bayonetta 2 belongs to a tradition of over-the-top, anime-inspired, mythology-suffused, beat-em-up extravaganzas in which heroes and infernal foes imbued with godlike abilities leap and pirouette with the grace of wuxia warriors, deploying carnage on an epic scale. This is the sequel to what some consider the finest hack-and-slash game ever made, and while nothing’s really changed here, you could argue nothing really had to.

    Buy this game if… You love expertly finessed battle controls, cathartic combos and elaborate tactical and environmental puzzles.

    Steer clear if… You’re not prepared to grapple with the conundrum of a female protagonist whose hyper-sexualized realization (by a female character designer) straddles the line between exploitive and worshipful.

    What critics said: “…some of the most solid fighting mechanics and phantasmagorically gonzo visuals in gaming to date” (Kill Screen); “The sheer polish applied to every part of Bayonetta 2 is something every major studio should aspire to” (Guardian); “… a masterclass in pure, unadulterated action-game design” (GameSpot).

    ESRB Rating: Mature

  • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD

    The most visually interesting Zelda yet made, The Wind Waker HD also remains one of Nintendo’s most ambitious. The Wii U version remasters the GameCube original action-adventure about a green clad child-hero saving the world to ultra-crisp 1080p fidelity and modifies a few gameplay-slowing activities, allowing you to sail more quickly between locations, trawl for treasure faster and complete one of the game’s major quests with less busywork.

    Buy this game if… You want to experience the superior version of the best wrought Zelda game Nintendo’s yet made.

    Steer clear if… You played the GameCube original ad nauseam, or don’t like open-world adventures (like Assassin’s Creed IV) involving a ridiculous amount of sailing.

    What critics said: “…crisp and energetic, spirited and soulful, just a little bit wayward – and it hasn’t aged a day” (Eurogamer); “…takes note of the finger-wagging gripes unreasonably lobbed at the original and tweaks details to elevate an already fantastic journey to towering heights” (Slant); “…the definitive version of perhaps the most original Zelda adventure” (EGM).

    ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+

  • Mario Kart 8

    Imagine a carnival of race tropes, a grab bag of driver profiles, tactics and race types, a melange of little gameplay iterations and configuration tweaks and “Holy crap, I’m racing up and down that?” moments jammed into a single game. This is the best of all Nintendo’s Mario Karts to date: lavish, kaleidoscopic, gasp-inducing, ingenious, exotic, balletic and something you’ll be playing for a very long time.

    Buy this game if… You have even the slightest affection for racing games, especially competitive platform-leaping, sky-soaring, fruit-lobbing, kart-grooving ones.

    Steer clear if… You have problems with vertigo.

    What critics said: “…a reminder that when the company’s firing on all cylinders — even when it’s standing on its own shoulders, gameplay-wise — its creative output remains peerless” (TIME); “Mario Kart 8 embodies what Nintendo does so well. They take something that works well and they eventually make it smooth and great and absolutely irresistible” (Quarter to Three); “What Nintendo’s designers do with this new spatial freedom ranges from amazing to even more amazing” (Guardian).

    ESRB Rating: Everyone

  • Shovel Knight

    The best NES game you never played sporting glorious high-definition pixel-block levels and incredible chiptunes and superlative platform-bounding gameplay? Shovel Knight is something like a crowdfunded miracle, the new archetype in gaming (or any other creative medium) for what letting developers who know exactly what they’re doing actually do it, unencumbered.

    Buy this game if… You miss the 8-bit NES aesthetic, you want to play the apotheosis of the best side-scrolling, platforming games popularized by Nintendo’s breakthrough 1980s system.

    Steer clear if… You never really went for the whole NES thing.

    What critics said: “It deserves wholeheartedly to be on a list of nominees later this year. Play Shovel Knight. It is a damn delight” (Game Revolution); “Shovel Knight is one of the best platformers I’ve ever played, period” (Destructoid); “…a game that handles like a brick that handles like a Maserati” (Wired).

    ESRB Rating: Everyone

  • Super Mario 3D World

    Not quite the Super Mario 64 or Super Mario Galaxy followup Mario buffs keep clamoring for, Super Mario 3D World manages to be a rousing hybrid of 2D and 3D perspectives, expanding on the gameplay ideas established by Super Mario 3D Land for the 3DS. You get five playable characters (one unlockable, and each with complementary special abilities in a nod to Super Mario Bros. 2), four-player cooperative play and some of the most creative levels to yet grace a Nintendo Mario game.

    Buy this game if… You’re in the mood for the best of the new-gen Mario platform games.

    Steer clear if… You don’t like leaping between pedestals, battling nonsense enemies or grooving to bubbly, goofy game music.

    What critics said: “…full of virtuosity and richness that combines the tight mechanics of old school games with sophisticated formal experimentation, full of liberty, complexity and mastery that reminds us that art has no limits” (LevelUp); “To some, Super Mario may appear tired: a mascot whom Nintendo trots out every few years to sell another console with repackaged but fundamentally stale ideas. Super Mario 3D World is a fierce rebuttal to the accusation” (Guardian); “…a tightly-designed platformer, raucously fun in multiplayer, and a master’s class in level design” (Shacknews).

    ESRB Rating: Everyone

TIME Video Games

Nintendo Just Turned Profitable and Wii U Sales Are Past 7 Million

Wii U sales more than doubled between April and September 2014, bolstered by sales of Mario Kart 8.

Surprise, Nintendo just made a pile of unexpected money: 14.3 billion yen in net income, or about $132 million, for the six month fiscal period that ended in September. For the same period last year, the company posted just 600 million yen in net income.

And in the last three months, July to September, the company’s had unexpected quarterly operating profits as well, reaching 9.3 billion yen, or about $86 million, reports Reuters, which adds that the weaker yen boosted overseas earnings. Analysts had predicted a significant loss for the quarter.

The unanticipated turnaround means Nintendo could see its first annual profit in four years. And the company’s sticking with its full-year prediction, made back in May, of 40 billion yen (versus a 46 billion yen loss last year).

Wii U sales look considerably better, too, with 1.1 million units sold between April and September — more than double the prior year’s sales. Software sales were 9.4 million units for the period, up from 6.3 million units the prior year, and Nintendo cites Mario Kart 8 and Hyrule Warriors as key drivers. The Wii U is now sitting at a relatively healthy 7.29 million units shipped worldwide, behind Sony’s more than 10 million PlayStation 4s sold (reported in August) and ahead of Microsoft’s 5 million Xbox Ones shipped (reported in April).

The only downer for Nintendo here is 3DS hardware sales, which dropped from 3.89 million units April-September 2013 to 2.09 million units for the same period this year. Nintendo says it sold about 23 million software units for the period, down from about 27 million units the prior year. (Note that Super Smash Bros. for the 3DS, the likely game-changer for 3DS hardware sales in 2014, only arrived a few weeks ago — late September in Japan, early October everywhere else.)

But the takeaway seems clear: Nintendo’s skating these systems from first-party release to first-party release, and seems to be making serious headway — so far, anyway. Long-term survival on that basis sounds improbable in theory, but then you look at the Mario Kart 8 phenomenon, and the breaking Super Smash Bros. for 3DS one, and all the glowing reviews for Bayonetta 2, then ahead to amiibo and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, and — moving on to 2015 — a formidable-looking lineup that includes Splatoon, Mario Maker, Mario Party 10, Yoshi’s Wooly World, Xenoblade Chronicles X and the next Legend of Zelda.

TIME Video Games

50 Things Nintendo Wants You to Know About Super Smash Bros. Wii U

Nintendo just rolled out a special Nintendo Direct that walks through 50 of the game's new features, including an eight-player offline Smash mode.

Some of us, myself included, were worried Nintendo’s Super Smash Bros. for Wii U wouldn’t make 2014. But then Nintendo ska-kawed our disquiet at the not-quite eleventh hour, announcing a few weeks ago that, yes, the game would arrive this year: November 21, in case you missed it.

Now the company’s released a 35-minute primer on the game that’s basically a feature pitch video. It’s (almost) nothing Smash aficionados don’t already know, but everything that’s new gets nicely compiled into a single straight-through look.

It’s also a helpful thing to watch if (a) you haven’t yet bought the 3DS version and so have no idea what’s different from Super Smash Bros. Brawl, (b) you’re a fighting-game fan who’s never played a Super Smash Bros. game but you’re Smash-curious, or (c) you want to see what the corybantic madness of eight-player offline Smash – a series first — looks like.

And with that, I suppose I’d better finish watching it, since I’m going to be playing the Wii U game tonight at a Nintendo event in Detroit.

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