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.

TIME Video Games

8 Takeaways From the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One September Sales

Some of the more interesting points plucked from NPD's September video game sales figures.

Continuing a long upward-downward trend that’s defined much of 2014, combined sales of video game hardware like the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One were up significantly year-on-year for September, while physical software sales were down, reports NPD.

Let’s step through the pullouts.

The Xbox One didn’t outsell the PlayStation 4 after all

Did anyone think it would? They did: Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter predicted earlier this week that the Xbox One would outsell the PlayStation 4 in September.

“We expect Xbox One sales to exceed those of the PS4 for only the second month since launch,” Pachter said, according to VentureBeat.

And yet Sony claims the PS4 “won the month of September, nearly tripling August sales” (it credits the limited-edition white Destiny PS4 bundle as a major factor).

Remember that we don’t know by how much the PS4 outsold the Xbox One (perhaps it was photo finish), and to be fair, analyst predictions are never guarantees.

New physical software sales are plummeting…

New physical software sales took another dive in September, dropping 36%, says NPD.

Save for May, which was basically “Mario Kart 8 month,” new physical software sales have been slightly to dramatically down every month through September. Bear in mind that NPD’s figures don’t take into account used retail game sales or digital software sales, and focus strictly on classic video game demographics (that is, not smartphones, tablets, other mobile devices or microconsoles and so forth).

…but new hardware sales have skyrocketed

Hardware sales were up 136% for September, year-on-year, says NPD. The lowest year-on-year month for hardware was January, just 17%, which makes sense because January 2013 was a five-week reporting period (whereas this year was just four), plus January’s the sales hangover after the holiday splurge.

Generally speaking, year-on-year hardware sales percent increases have been in the high double and occasionally low triple figures. Considered against the declining new physical software figure, and given that you can buy just about anything on the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One digitally, well, let’s hope someone reputable’s conducting insightful surveys, so we can get a better sense for what the correlations are, and whether software sales are in fact up.

Destiny broke at least one record

Destiny was the top-selling video game for September, whether considered as a standalone SKU or against other multi-SKU competitors. NPD calls it “the most successful launch of the year so far,” then adds that “an even more prestigious feat was the fact that Destiny had the best launch month of all-time for any new IP in video game software.”

Traditional sports games ruled the roost

While Destiny took the top sales slot, Madden NFL 15, FIFA 15 and NHL 15 (all thee with cross-generation versions) each placed in the top 10. On current-gen consoles, Sony says those three game sold the most on the PS4.

Super Smash Bros. can still do big business for Nintendo

September was all about the 3DS, from Nintendo’s vantage anyway. Even if the game was only available for the last two days of the month, Super Smash Bros. for 3DS easily placed in the top 10, competing with multi-platform SKUs to snatch the fourth slot, beating Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, NHL 15, Minecraft, The Sims 4, Disney Infinity 2.0 and Diablo III.

Nintendo’s pocket-brawler sold 705,000 units in all, with over 135,000 of those as digital downloads. The game bolstered 3DS sales, too, helping Nintendo to 140,000 units, a 55% increase over August sales.

Where’s the Wii U in all of this?

Up 50% in unit sales over August, says Nintendo, helped along by sales of it Zelda brawler Hyrule Warriors (190,000 units), and sustained sales of racer Mario Kart 8 (60,000 units, for a lifetime total of nearly 1.2 million units).

Pay no attention to the noise

Sony’s September sales breakdown has a bunch of stuff in it that you might call “infometrics,” not to be confused with the science of informetrics (note the “r”). Infometrics is a buzzword I used to hear a decade or so ago from “data intelligence” companies trying to up-sell their analysis services. It’s basically a fancy neologistic way of saying “look, some numbers!”

So we have Sony’s claim, for instance, about “social sharing” amounting to 450,000 hours of live gameplay. Trouble is, we have no idea what that number actually means or what to stack it against in the press release. It sounds impressive–nearly half a million hours of stream sharing!–but consider that game streamer Twitch alone does something like 15 billion minutes a month, or 250 million hours, total.

On the other hand, this is interesting and tangible: Sony says Destiny is the most-played PS4 game, with “total gameplay hours” five times higher than the next-most-played game.

TIME Video Games

Super Smash Bros. Wii U and Amiibo Are Going to Make 2014 After All

Nintendo

Super Smash Bros. Wii U arrives on November 21, along with Nintendo's first 12 amiibo toy-game figures.

Was that ever in doubt? It was. I’ve heard more than one forum-goer, podcaster and Nintendophile fret about possible Super Smash Bros. Wii U slippage into 2015 in the wake of E3, where the company’s gaze was fixedly on the 3DS version.

But no, Super Smash Bros. Wii U is coming this year, and you can throw down with the likes of new characters from the Mario series, Punch-Out!!, Pokémon X and Y, Xenoblade Chronicles and more on November 21.

That’s just a few days after the season’s final heavy-hitters make their showings (Dragon Age Inquisition, Far Cry 4, LittleBigPlanet 3 and Grand Theft Auto V are due on November 18). It’s also the final Friday and weekend before everyone hops into planes, trains and automobiles for destination Thanksgiving-ville (and, more crucially for both sales and retailer stocking reasons, it’s a full week prior to Black Friday).

Nintendo’s also revealed that November 21 will be the day it simultaneously rolls out its preliminary amiibo lineup. Amiibo is Nintendo’s characteristically quirky-sounding vamp on the vaunted toy-game. Like Skylanders and Disney Infinity, players buy clusters of figurines (in this case, Nintendo-specific) which are then capable of wirelessly interacting with Nintendo’s 3DS and Wii U, as well as–and here’s one of amiibo’s unique selling points–swapping data between the two platforms.

To make a data transfer happen, you just tap the figures on the Wii U GamePad, and Nintendo says several of the figures work across multiple games. Upcoming games that support amiibo at launch will include Super Smash Bros. Wii U, Mario Party 10 and Yoshi’s Woolly World, as well as Mario Kart 8, but Nintendo’s not saying when the latter will happen, and notes the game “may” require a software update to make it amiibo compatible (why “may” and not “will” is anyone’s guess).

In the initial November amiibo wave, Nintendo’s rolling out Mario, Peach, Yoshi, Donkey Kong, Link, Fox, Samus, Wii Fit Trainer, Villager, Pikachu, Kirby and Marth (that’s 12 in all). It’ll follow with a second wave in December that’ll include Zelda, Diddy Kong, Luigi, Little Mac, Pit and Captain Falcon (six in all, or 18 all told by 2014’s close).

Checking up on sales of the 3DS version of Super Smash Bros., Nintendo says the beat-em-up’s done quite well, sales-wise, turning out more than 2.8 million copies sold worldwide, counting both retail and digital versions (it launched on October 3 here, and on September 13 in Japan). In fact, Nintendo isn’t doing half bad this year in first party sales, considering the Wii U’s chicken-egg install base problem. Mario Kart 8, its Wii U-buoying force of gonzo-racing nature went on to sell in the vicinity of three million copies after its arrival last May.

Nintendo says Super Smash Bros. Wii U‘s suggested retail price will be $59.99, while its amiibo figures will sell for $12.99 a piece. Nintendo’s special Wii U adapter that’ll let Smash fans use up to four original GameCube or WaveBird controllers with the game will sell for $19.99. If you don’t have a GameCube controller, you can pick up Nintendo’s special (and I assume limited time offer) Super Smash Bros. Wii U one for $29.99. Of if you just want to grab everything in one package (game, controller, adapter) Nintendo’s selling a bundle for $99.99. All three of those SKUs will be available when Super Smash Bros. Wii U launches on November 21.

Last but not least, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, Nintendo’s Mario-series-spawned puzzle game starring a character that looks like a mushroom (but isn’t), will launch on December 5 for $39.99. Nintendo says the game will support amiibo figures as well, but sometime in 2015.

That’s Nintendo’s holiday in a nutshell. It’s also IP proving grounds time. With Disney’s and Activision’s respective toy-game updates just out, will Nintendo’s amiibo resonate? Will kids clamor as much for Mario, Peach, Donkey Kong and Zelda as I’m assuming they’ve been for Disney’s formidable stable of Marvel superheroes, or Activision’s reinvigorated originals by studio Toys for Bob?

Nintendo’s strategy, I’m assuming, involves Smash-bashing its way through the holidays, clinching a noteworthy chunk of family gaming sales, then emerging in 2015 with brag-worthy handheld and set-top sales figures. Trouble is, no one knows what’s coming in 2015 or when. Star Fox? Splatoon? Zelda? Xenoblade Chronicles X? Mario Marker? Yoshi’s Wooly World? We’ll see.

But Nintendo’s been lurching from first-party blockbuster to first-party blockbuster. That may be enough to tread water, and at least the company’s finally delivering on its first party promises. But since games take at least a year if not two to develop top to bottom, and given how much more technically advanced (read: not possible on the Wii U) today’s multiplatform superstar games are, it’s hard to imagine third parties falling off their horses in January 2015 and crossing their fingers the Wii U’s going to be able to keep pace with (much less supersede) its rivals through 2016.

TIME Video Games

Pokémon TCG, Nintendo’s First Affiliate iOS Game, Is Finally Here

Gamepad-fiddly platformers like Super Mario Bros. will never make sense on flat touchscreens, but card games like Nintendo's Pokémon TCG or Blizzard's Hearthstone seem like no-brainers.

Drop the word “Pokémon” into Apple’s or Google’s app stores (no need for the diacritical “e”) and you’ll unearth all sorts of odd-sounding concoctions, most of them creature-making tools or field guide paeans to Nintendo’s cutesy media franchise about a world full of exotic monster-pets you can catch and train to do your tactical bidding.

For years, Pokémon on smartphones and tablets has been a strictly fan affair, a cosmology of unofficial encyclopedias and builders, trivia games and wallpaper libraries. But all of those were unvarnished adjuncts compared to the wealth of games, cards, books and movies that swim in officially licensed waters.

Today everything changes: a Pokémon game is finally available on Apple devices. And not a port of one of the color-and-gem-obsessed Pokémon roleplaying games for Nintendo’s handhelds, but a translation 0f something that’s been around for as long as Pokémon itself.

When Pokémon Trading Card Game, or Pokémon TCG launched in 1996 as a physical card game (the same year Satoshi Tajiri launched the series with Game Boy games Pokémon Red and Blue), Patrick Stewart was squaring off with Alice Krige’s Borg, the original Beverly Hills 90210 was just past its halfway point, Sega’s barely one-year-old Saturn was staring down the headlamps from Nintendo’s oncoming N64 train, and Apple’s Bandai Pippin game system no one remembers arrived (and promptly disappeared).

After a run that’s approaching two decades and some publisher deck-chair rearranging, the partly Nintendo-owned property (via its The Pokémon Company International–a Nintendo affiliate) has gone where pundits have been claiming Nintendo needed to for years: Apple’s iPad and iPad Mini.

The Pokémon Company International says the new Pokémon TCG app is free-to-play, so gratis to download and get started. New players begin with a few freebie digital decks and can earn additional ones by winning battles–a little like Blizzard’s Hearthstone, in other words: play casually for nothing, but if you want to play competitively against other Pokémon sharks, you’ll probably have to spend money at some point. There’s also a cross-media incentive: If you buy physical Pokémon TCG products, you’ll get a code that unlocks their digital counterparts.

Pokémon TCG for the iPad and iPad Mini should feel familiar to OS X and Windows players, who’ve had access to it as a downloadable game since April 2011, says The Pokémon Company International. Who you are and how well you’re doing transfers cross-platform, too, so there’s no need to manage separate accounts. All the key PC game features–tutorials, online battles against the computer or other players, deck-building, trading cards, customizing avatars and so forth–are present in the iPad versions, adds The Pokémon Company International.

I’m not sure when the company plans to bring the game to Android devices, but given how vast the Android-verse is, it stands to reason such a version’s inevitable.

So is this Nintendo (directly or indirectly) reneging on past statements about not putting Nintendo games on non-Nintendo devices?

Not really. Nintendo can plausibly claim The Pokémon Company–“founded and affiliated with Nintendo”–is something rather different from the video game empire its design luminaries (like Shigeru Miyamoto, Takashi Tezuka and Eiji Aonuma) built.

In fact, you could argue Pokémon TCG is just Nintendo president Satoru Iwata (again, directly or indirectly) putting paid to a statement made earlier this year, when he said he wasn’t ruling out the possibility of creating games–even ones that use Nintendo characters–on smart devices, then added, “It is our intention to release some application on smart devices this year that is capable of attracting consumer attention and communicating the value of our entertainment offerings, so I would encourage you to see how our approach yields results.”

TIME Video Games

The 25 Biggest Video Games of Fall 2014

This fall's biggest PC, console and handheld video games are some of the most promising we've seen in years.

Welcome to summer’s end, the season where the air outside seems to sharpen and we’re turning lamps on sooner (the better to game in the evenings without having to draw the curtains or blinds, naturally).

It’s also the start of the busiest time of the year for gamers, the most lucrative annual window during which the industry rolls out its multimillions-marketed newcomers and supergroup sequels.

This season’s shaping up to be about the multi-platform perennials, with exclusives down to a trickle. It’s a little unusual, too, because several of the franchise publishers and studios — pilloried in recent years for sticking to the safe and predictable in their fiscally groomed annual rollouts — are trying harder than we’ve seen in years to do unique things with their respective money-spinners.

Before you dive in, a word on the selections: fall runs from September 22 to December 21, so if you don’t spy a game you’re looking for below, you can find it in one of three places. It could possibly be on a second list that’ll follow this one and focus on the season’s less prominent games. It might be outside the fall window entirely (probably bumped to next year, as were Batman: Arkham Knight, Dying Light, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Battlefield Hardline). Or it could be in unconfirmed limbo-land, meaning it’s listed nebulously as “Q4 2014″ and may or may not arrive before the New Year (I’m looking at you, Super Smash Bros. Wii U and Ori and the Blind Forest).

  • Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes

    Disney Infinity: Marvel Super Heroes represents Disney’s second charge into the toy-game space, this time mashed up with the corporate behemoth’s Marvel property characters as well as comics maven Brian Michael Bendis (Ultimate Spider-Man, Powers, Alias) working the writer’s box.

    The first-wave characters amount to 16 Marvel superheroes sorted into three play sets with corresponding stories: The Avengers, Spider-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy (weirdly, Nick Fury comes in the Spider-Man and not the Avengers set).

    Disney’s also significantly retooled its Toy Box mode, where players can forge their own mini-worlds, making the tool more granular and interface-friendly, and the company notes all Disney Infinity characters old or new work in the sandbox, though characters are still restricted to their play sets, save for a handful that can cross over if you collect coins found in each set.

    September 23 / iOS, PlayStation 3 & 4, Wii U, Windows, Xbox 360 & One

  • Hyrule Warriors

    If someone built a Zelda game that stripped most of the storytelling and roleplaying and exploration out, then replaced it with stepped-up combat (but included all the protagonist’s signature moves) versus battalions of Hyrulean Soldiers and Bokoblins and Deku Babas, would you play it?

    That’s the question in this team-up between Koei Tecmo (Dynasty Warriors, Ninja Gaiden) supervised by Nintendo Zelda series producer/director Eiji Aonuma. It’s not a proper Zelda game, but that’s by design, and it sounds like it’s more than just a hack-and-slash, in that it rewards thoughtful execution of balletic battle maneuvers over thoughtless button-mashing.

    September 26 / Wii U

  • Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

    Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor is a Lord of the Rings-inspired game that delves into Tolkien’s legendarium after the events of The Hobbit, and that may well do for Lord of the Rings games what Batman: Arkham Asylum did not just for Batman games, but gaming in general.

    Imagine the Arkham series’ sophisticated, combo-driven, arena-style combat merged with an emergent simulation of gang hierarchies (here, Tolkien’s Uruk-hai, a.k.a. incredibly badass orcs) and volatile vendettas that culminate in a pliable webwork of escalating threats to you and others (that is, the A.I.) within that network.

    Push Shadow of Mordor‘s A.I. ecology of plebes, captains and warchiefs and it pushes back, though even inaction is a form of action: watch the time march by and your enemies will evolve and strengthen independently to become even tougher foes.

    September 30 / PS4, Windows, Xbox One (November 18 for PS3 and Xbox 360)

  • Forza Horizon 2

    At E3 2014, this southern Europe-located road racer’s creative director sat in front of a display screen that offered astonishing Xbox One views of vehicles that seemed almost hyperreal.

    As we watched someone navigate a gleaming 2015 Lamborghini Huracán through the game’s open world, the director delivered line after line of crisp, immaculately rehearsed bullet-point-ese, talking up the game’s expansive scale (three times bigger than the original Forza Horizon), the improved Drivatar technology (A.I. vehicles you can race against, based on the driving attributes of real players’ in your friends list) and the startling way light now refracts through drops of moisture, the render tech plausibly simulating something as intangible but essential as the earth’s atmosphere.

    September 30 / Xbox 360 & One

  • Super Smash Bros. 3DS

    Super Smash Bros. for 3DS is a big deal, because the 3DS is still a big deal (the 3DS, released in early 2011, has sold over four times Sony’s record-busting PlayStation 4 units-wise). That, and it’s been eight years since we’ve had a new Smash Bros. game. The last one, Super Smash Bros. Brawl for the Wii released back in 2006, just passed 12 million units worldwide. The Smash Bros. series as a whole lives in that lofty, rarefied group of game franchises that have sold more than 20 million copies.

    That’s the power of Nintendo. No one else has its first-party allure. And while I can’t claim to be any good at the Smash Bros. games, I probably enjoy them more than anything else in fighter-dom. The series’ modestly reimagined debut on 3DS is still a four-player brawl where you’re trying to knock your opponents off the play field, layered with strategic depth stemming from character abilities, item traits and level design.

    The twist this outing is that you can modify Super Smash Bros. characters (Miis or Nintendo icons), transfer them between the 3DS and Wii U versions of the game, or train characters using Nintendo’s upcoming Amiibo toy-game figurines.

    October 3 / Nintendo 3DS

  • Skylanders Trap Team

    Toy-game pioneer Activision returns with another Skylanders and a narrative hook to justify selling even more plastic geegaws: the series’ big bad, Kaos, has freed the worst of the worst, and it’s up to players to nab them using translucent “traps” that physically connect to an NFC-enabled “Traptanium Portal.”

    Once captured, you can turn the bad guys into good guys (they work for you), but comprehensive do-gooding sounds real-world pricey: Activision says you can collect over 60 Skylander toys, and trap more than 40 villains (you can only have one villain per trap).

    The most interesting development this round may be Activision’s support for mobile devices, whose specially-tailored Traptanium Portal includes a tablet holder (it works like a kickstand) as well as a wireless gamepad, letting you play the full game just as you would on consoles, but on the go.

    October 5 / Android, Fire OS, iOS, Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation 3 & 4, Wii, Wii U, Xbox 360 & One

  • Driveclub

    Sony’s Driveclub was originally supposed to ship around the PlayStation 4’s launch last November, but wound up delayed until early 2014, then delayed again, which is one of these flip-a-coin, good-or-bad signs.

    This is developer Evolution Studios’ maiden voyage with a road racer, but the studio’s banking from years of experience developing the gonzo off-road Motorstorm series. And while it’s hard to get a sense for what makes Driveclub drastically different from other road racers–the trailers are the usual gleaming vehicles prowling high-octane catwalks–the novelty here seems to be cooperative play: that you can form clubs of up to six players, each working to advance your club by completing challenges.

    October 7 / PlayStation 4

  • Project Spark

    Project Spark is Microsoft’s game about making games for Windows, the Xbox 360 and Xbox One. Think of it as a creative gamepad, mouse/keyboard, tablet (SmartGlass) or Kinect manipulated canvas, touted in videos as a kind 3D fantasy play-scape you can reshape from macro to micro, retooling the way objects behave down to the smallest levels, all of them shareable with other players.

    Topping the list of cool, unexpected features: you don’t need a $60 a year Xbox Live membership to play, and the game stars Conker, the slightly obscene, alcoholic squirrel last seen in a 2005 Conker’s Bad Fur Day remake for the original Xbox.

    October 7 / Windows, Xbox 360 & One

  • Alien: Isolation

    It’s been decades since I’ve found anything to like about an Alien movie or video game (granted, I seem to recall enjoying 1997’s Alien Resurrection a bit more than its screenwriter, Joss Whedon, but then it only had to be better than Event Horizon, The Postman, The Lost World and Starship Troopers). And sadly typical of iconic ideas every moneymaker wants to draft off of, no one’s yet managed to craft another experience that translates the sense of existential, almost nihilistic dread we felt seeing Ridley Scott’s Alien for the first time.

    “I guess it all started because no one had made the game that we wanted to play, a game that really captured the spirit of the original movie,” says studio The Creative Assembly’s Al Hope, the game’s creative lead. That’s Alien: Isolation‘s promise, a game set between the events of the films Alien and Aliens that’s explicitly not another rambunctious, alien-killing, glorified shoot-em-up, but rather a thoughtful horror-stealth game starring you as Amanda, daughter of Ellen Ripley (the gender stereotype toppling protagonist played by Sigourney Weaver in the films), sleuthing for information about your missing mother on a derelict space station.

    October 7 / PlayStation 3 & 4, Windows, Xbox 360 & One

  • The Evil Within

    A new survival-horror game directed by the creator of the Resident Evil series (Shinji Mikami) that deliberately walks the genre’s increasingly action-focused gameplay backwards to reinvent it? What could go wrong?

    We’ll know soon enough. The game’s plot sounds awfully cliched: an unwitting detective, a ghastly murder, a phantasmagoric asylum and an unstoppable supernatural force. But the idea, according to Mikami, was to subvert survival-horror conventions by slowing the pace, fractionalizing access to weapon ammo and revisiting the land of ridiculously cramped confines.

    My hands-on time with the game at E3 didn’t bowl me over (muddy controls, not very scary enemies, difficulty seeing anything), but I’m hopeful the full experience and that area in context justify whatever chances the studio took.

    October 14 / PlayStation 3 & 4, Windows, Xbox 360 & One

  • Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel

    If you’re rocking a computer or last-gen console, you’re in for a very Borderlands 2-like experience (plus new items and weapons) in 2K Australia’s prequel-sequel to one of publisher 2K Games’ most successful games yet. The story this time, to the extent anyone cares, follows the last game’s villain, Handsome Jack, and his turn to criminality.

    The twist: low or no gravity motion mechanics that’ll force you to rethink how you get around, since the game transpires both on the Moon and in space.

    October 14 / Linux, OS X, PlayStation 3, Windows, Xbox 360

  • Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth

    If you’re not put off by the notion of a game that unfurls at the pace of paint drying (and in plenty of cases, paint dries faster) and you count yourself a fan of hard-sci-fi-informed interstellar strategy games, this is quite possibly the most important PC game to come along in years.

    Some of us have been waiting exactly 15, in fact, for a spiritual successor to Firaxis’ Alpha Centari. And now that game’s finally here, building on the turn-based strengths of Civilization V‘s resplendent new engine and shift to hex-based play, and hopefully–fingers triple-crossed after all the trouble with Civilization V in this regard–sporting computer opponents that can actually play the game competently here.

    October 24 / Linux, OS X, Windows

  • Bayonetta 2

    It’s hard to know what to make of Bayonetta 2 amidst escalating concerns about gender representation in gaming: is its unsubtly sexualized imagery–the protagonist throwing back her head and sighing as a lance slow-mo slides along her body, for instance (watch from 0:26 above)–a celebration of feminine sexuality? Or gratuitous, stereotype-riddled, male demographic targeted exploitation?

    Series fans are probably going to shrug off that question and fuss instead over the game’s hack-and-slash particulars. Are the controls and combat maneuvers and time slowing mechanics up to the original game’s acclaimed standards? Are the angelic and demonic enemies versatile and unique enough to sustain interest? And above all else, is the game (and remastered inclusion of the original Bayonetta) compelling enough to warrant buying a Wii U?

    October 24 / Wii U

     

  • Sunset Overdrive

    Sunset Overdrive, developer Insomniac’s first try at an open world game, is Microsoft’s only major Xbox One exclusive this fall (not counting Halo: The Master Chief Collection).

    At first blush, it sounds eerily similar to Sucker Punch’s Infamous games: irreverent dude with super powers who can grind on rails and scale walls has to save his dystopian city from nefarious forces. But on closer inspection, the differences pop out: a hyperrealistic, punk-informed, quasi-parkour game by way of a zany skateboarding simulation by way of what looks almost like a metropolis-sized circus playground.

    October 28 / Xbox One

  • Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

    The annual Call of Duty rollouts have become some of the grandest run-of-the-mill events in gaming: mechanically predictable, fictively clumsy and dramatically overwrought, but selling in the gazillions anyway–even as the users generating those record-selling figures weirdly storm review score aggregators to gripe and bring the average numbers down.

    Advanced Warfare wants to capsize those assumptions by bringing in heavy guns like: Kevin Spacey, lending both his visage and voice to the game’s ostensible villain (as well, perhaps, as more credibility to the story about a private military corporation gone rogue); studio Sledgehammer, whose co-founders previously worked at Visceral Games on the Dead Space series; and near future warfare tech in the way of exoskeletal suits that give players superhuman abilities, lending the game a sci-fi feel, though one grounded (so we’re told) in meticulously researched extrapolation from existing military concepts.

    November 4 / PlayStation 3 & 4, Windows, Xbox 360 & One

  • Assassin’s Creed Unity

    2014 could go down as the year annual franchise games caught a glimpse of their spiraling sameness in the mirror and opted for more than superficial change. To that end, Assassin’s Creed Unity is Ubisoft’s–and specifically sub-studio Ubisoft Montreal’s–stab at reworking its popular action-stealth series from the ground up, as groundbreaking a shift, according to the design team, as the first game was when it appeared in 2007.

    Tackling the hugely complex period leading up to and through the French Revolution (an inexorable historical destination for this France-based publisher), Unity changes the way you parkour through its Parisian urban-scapes (you can speed down the sides of towering structures as well as up, however improbably), reinvents the way it handles combat (counter- and chain-killing are both gone), lets you move into and out of buildings without separate load areas or scripted animations, and lets you play the game’s story cooperatively, optionally, with up to three other assassins.

    November 11 / PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One

  • Halo: The Master Chief Collection

    The indefatigable Halo series is back in a kind of glorious, seam-splitting, mongo-deluxe collection that crams all of the numbered games from 1 through 4, including multiplayer maps and game mode extras, onto a single Blu-ray disc. Think of it as nigh ecclesiastic fan service conveniently intersecting with 2014’s calm before next holiday’s Halo 5: Guardians tempest.

    Each version’s been fully remastered here (better lighting, shadows, reflections, other little details, including tweaks to the already-remastered Halo: Combat Evolved) and runs at 60 frames per second and 1080p resolution, though Halo 2 gets the lion’s share of improvements, as this November marks that original Xbox sequel’s 10-year anniversary.

    You’ll also get two interesting additives on the disc: playlists, meaning roll-your-own lineups of levels (or Microsoft-curated ones), so that for instance, you can opt to play the Master Chief and Arbiter levels in Halo 2 sequentially instead of intermittently; and access to Halo: Nightfall, a live action digital feature produced by director Ridley Scott that ties into next year’s Halo 5: Guardians.

    November 11 / Xbox One

  • LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham

    Picking up the threads where LEGO Batman 2 left off, Traveller’s Tales’ three-quel pits Batman and pals against Brainiac, the alien android better known for harassing Superman. Not to worry, Supes is here, along with some 150 other heroes and villains from DC’s storied universe.

    If that sounds pretty much like the last game with the numbers jacked up, it’s because it is. And that’s the most worrisome thing about what Warner Bros. has been doing with the LEGO series of late, tributing its own iconic IP in these charming rehashes of earlier ideas without meaningfully driving the gameplay anywhere.

    November 11 / Nintendo 3DS, iOS, OS X, PlayStation 3 & 4, PS Vita, Wii U, Windows, Xbox 360 & One

  • Assassin’s Creed: Rogue

    I’d be shocked if Ubisoft didn’t give Assassin’s Creed: Rogue the PlayStation 4, Windows and Xbox One treatment at some point down the road (perhaps standalone, perhaps as part of an eventual remastered collection–imagine that).

    In the meantime, you’ll have to dust off those last-gen boxes to play Ubisoft’s late-breaking narrative sequel to Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag unveiled just last month (its story bridges Black Flag and Assassin’s Creed III). As in Black Flag, Rogue‘s naval game will predominate, only here you’re sailing through ice-riddled boreal seas as an Irishman and former member of the eponymous Assassins, who’s mysteriously switched sides and joined the rival Templars.

    November 11 / PlayStation 3, Xbox 360

  • World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor

    They’re still making World of Warcraft expansions? They are indeed. We’re still looking at nearly 7 million people playing the game, in fact, which–whether anyone wants to criticize the game for overstaying its welcome or no–makes the quibble pretty much economically irrelevant.

    Warlords of Draenor, which follows Mists of Pandaria‘s release two years ago, is Blizzard’s fifth expansion to its MMO-to-rule-all-MMOs. The new features probably won’t barrel you over: The level cap, which topped out at 60 when the game launched 10 years ago in 2004, finally hits three figures (from 90 to 100). The game’s getting its customary graphical uptick (in this case, its the older races being improved) and a smattering of new dungeons and raids. And Blizzard’s adding user-created garrisons that let players recruit in-game characters to handle loot-gathering busywork.

    November 13 / OS X, Windows

  • Dragon Age: Inquisition

    The first Dragon Age game, Origins, was a decent enough romp, so long as you parleyed Dungeons & Dragons and didn’t mind the way the game mistook expletives, implied sex and blood spatter for narrative gravitas. But the second installment was a mess of half-measures designed to appeal both to button-mashing action fans and stat wonks, excelling at neither.

    Dragon Age: Inquisition revamps BioWare’s dark fantasy series by opening up the game world (it’s not Skyrim-sized, but far bigger and spread out than the last two games) and delivering a combat system that, while still action-oriented, allows for deeply strategic, tactically-nuanced and preplanning-driven battles.

    Some of those battles–I can confirm this firsthand, after watching a demonstrator tango with a dragon–may take upwards of 15 minutes to half an hour and involve multiple stages to complete; you sense the MMO genre’s fingerprints here, perhaps in a good way.

    November 18 / PlayStation 3 & 4, Windows, Xbox 360 & One

  • Far Cry 4

    The last time we got to ramble around the Himalayas in a big ticket game was Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 2, and what a gorgeous glimpse that was. Far Cry 4 looks to be far prettier, but unlike Uncharted 2, it’s a sprawling open-world shooter that models the mountainous microcosm of a play-box you get to tramp around (snared by the horrors of a regional civil war) with incredible verisimilitude.

    Plus: see 4:25 in the gameplay video above (warning, language), and among the many side-activities and forms of travel Far Cry 4 supports, you’re looking at the world’s first game-based wingsuit simulator.

    November 18 / PlayStation 3 & 4, Windows, Xbox 360 & One

  • LittleBigPlanet 3

    LittleBigPlanet 3‘s two biggest changes are as follows: One, instead of the series’ lovable, burlap-adorned, but ultimately singular protagonist, the game will have four, each with unique abilities design to complement the others’ and help solve the new game planet’s multifaceted puzzles. And two, the series’ original developer and creator, Media Molecule, is on to other things, replaced by series newcomer Sumo Digital.

    If you’ve already invested in either of the last two games, Sony says their content (in particular, all the user-generated levels) is transferrable to LittleBigPlanet 3, turning this third installment into something of a LittleBigPlanet emporium. And if you’re a hard-nosed level tinkerer, the level creator now supports a whopping 16 (versus just three) layers of depth, and the levels themselves are only limited in scale by the size of your hard drive.

    November 18 / PlayStation 3 & 4

  • Grand Theft Auto V

    Grand Theft Auto V‘s been around for nearly a year, but it’s on this list because Rockstar’s remastered version may well outsell everything else this fall when it lands on both of the new consoles. (It’s the sixth-bestselling video game of all time, courtesy the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, and the bestselling game of the past half-decade).

    It’s also far more rhetorically nuanced and thoughtful than its critics give it credit, a sort of misanthropist’s revelry glossing subtler, darker points about American consumer culture. Calling it misogynist, for instance, misses its point, but then that’s also part of its point.

    November 18 / PlayStation 4, Xbox One

  • Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire

    Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire are the latest in publisher Nintendo and developer Game Freak’s remakes of older, ridiculously popular Pokémon games. Here, they’ve added Greek letters to their original names, Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire.

    The originals for Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance are over a decade old, so the most obvious change is going to be from primitive 2D to the reimagined 3D graphics and the 3DS’s dual-screen interface split. The rest of the changes amount to the sort of arcane minutia only Pokémon devotees will understand, but that’s sure to have them lining up in droves to buy both versions when they ship in late November.

    November 21 / Nintendo 3DS

TIME Viral Videos

Teens React to the Nintendo Entertainment System in Hilarious Video

Starring Game of Thrones' Maisie Williams

Grab your controllers, because the latest installment of The Fine Bros. web series, “Teens React” introduces the raised-on-Wii kids of today what the past generation had to use to play Legend of Zelda.

The games themselves stumped some of the new players. While the tech-savvy teens had all heard of Super Mario Bros., thanks to the fact that it had been released for the Nintendo DS, Dragon Warrior 3 elicited confusion across the board, from “No, but it sounds rad!” to “No, I don’t LARP.”

The players were left to their own devices to figure out how to insert the seemingly giant cartridge into the console, but when trouble struck, the film makers instructed them on the fine art of blowing on the game cartridge. The teens were then allowed to play the first round of Super Mario Bros. and they all struggled to use the controller (“This is the least comfortable controller ever!”) while trying to collect coins and being chased by evil mushrooms (“I literally died the first time”) and gawking at the old-school graphics (“I feel like I’m in Wreck-It Ralph!”)

After getting versed in the history of the NES, the teens did take a moment to offer their respect to the classic console, thanking the little gray box for introducing the world at large to the joys of at-home gaming.

While the teens may have found the exercise slightly humiliating, the more insightful ones knew that it was pure karma. “I always make fun of my dad for not knowing how to use stuff,” noted one dejected teen. “Now he’s going to be watching this.”

MORE: Little By Little, Violent Video Games Make Us More Aggressive

MORE: Watch Kids React in Utter Bemusement at the Sight of an Old Computer

TIME Gaming

The One Reason the New Nintendo 3DS Is Going to Crush Competitors

Nintendo New 3DS Nintendo

Doubling down on what tablets and phones simply can't do

Nintendo unveiled an updated design for its popular handheld system, the 3DS, on August 29. The sleek new version is more powerful and packs a number of incremental improvements like better cameras and screens. As competition for consumers’ attention with phones and tablets increases, the Japanese gaming giant is also doubling down on something Apple iPads and devices powered by Google’s Android system typically don’t have: buttons. The New Nintendo 3DS features a new analog control stick as well as two new buttons.

Buttons matter because, no matter how much more powerful phones and tablets get or how much more sophisticated the software that runs on them, manipulating many games without them is still cumbersome. The best mobile games have devised unique control methods for touch interfaces, but titles with traditional setups—guiding a character across 3D space, for instance—still suffer. Nintendo’s trio of new buttons amounts to a keen doubling down on what a gaming-dedicated device like the 3DS still does best, namely playing console-like games.

On Nintendo’s new device, the right analog knob is located above the right-hand face buttons. In addition to the new controller, the gadget has third and fourth back trigger buttons, dubbed ZR and ZL buttons, located for use in conjunction with the new stick. The New 3DS will be available in both regular and XL-sized models with dimensions similar to current hardware.

In a presentation, the company promised a wider 3D viewing angle than previous models. Additional features include an automatic brightness adjustment sensor, Micro SD card slot, camera improvements, and colorful face buttons. The New 3DS will be available in Japan in October 2014. A U.S. release date has not been set yet.

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TIME Video Games

This Is What Happens When Jimmy Fallon Plays Goldeneye 007 with Pierce Brosnan

Hint: It does't go well for Mr. Brosnan.

Want to see Jimmy Fallon square off with James Bond actor Pierce Brosnan (playing as his digital Bond-ian self) in Nintendo’s Goldeneye 007? Wish granted for roughly two minutes if you click the video above.

It’s weird watching someone like Brosnan, who I’m guessing isn’t a routine gamer, play a game like Goldeneye 007 on national TV. And that’s the point: It gives you little sense of what it’s like to play a fan-beloved game plenty would call Rare’s magnum opus, but then you’re watching to see how merciless a relatively serious gamer like Fallon’s going to be (relatively merciless), whether Brosnan’s going to be a good sport about it (a very good one), and what the audience is going to make of Fallon’s trademark sputtering and faux-obsequiousness.

Why was Brosnan on Fallon last night? To talk up his new film, The November Man, a spy flick about an ex-CIA agent drawn into the thick of an agency coverup.

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