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 Video Games

Some PlayStation Vita Owners Will Get Refunds After FTC Settlement

Either a $50 voucher for select merchandise or a $25 cash or credit refund

Sony Computer Entertainment America will issue refunds to customers who bought its PlayStation Vita handheld video game system before June 2012 to settle false advertising claims brought by the Federal Trade Commission, the agency said Tuesday.

The FTC claims that Sony misled consumers about “game changing” features of the Vita, including the ability to seamlessly begin playing any PlayStation 3 game immediately on the handheld Vita. That feature only worked as advertised for certain games, the FTC acknowledged.

Customers who bought the Vita before June 1, 2012, are entitled to either a $50 voucher for select video game merchandise or $25 cash or credit refund. Given sales of the PS Vita in the U.S. at the time, total refunds paid out could reach $14 million. Sony will notify customers who qualify for the refunds via email.

The FTC also claimed that Sony’s advertising agency, Deutsch LA, deceived consumers by having its employees try to generate hype for the gaming system on Twitter without disclosing their association with the product. The agency is banned from such practices in the future.

Sony is the latest in a growing list of tech companies that have been accused of misleading customers by the FTC. Apple, Amazon, Google, AT&T and T-Mobile have all had to contend with FTC settlements or lawsuits this year. A Sony spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

TIME Video Games

Halo: Master Chief Collection Developers Apologize for Xbox One Problems

Experience: HALO by Xbox 360
Master Chief stands guard at the Liechtenstein border during the HALO 4 launch by Xbox 360 on October 29, 2012 in Balzers, Liechtenstein. Getty Images—2012 Getty Images

"We will make this right with our fans."

The game developers behind Xbox One’s Halo: The Master Chief Collection released a public apology to gamers Tuesday for a multiplayer glitch that has left fans fuming over social media.

“Please accept my heartfelt apologies for the delay and for the negative aspects of your experience to date,” wrote Bonnie Ross, 363 Industries studio head, in an open letter posted to the Xbox website.

The glitch became apparent shortly after the November 11 release of the Master Chief Collection, a package of remastered Halo games for Microsoft’s latest console. Some gamers queueing up for a multiplayer game waited for minutes to upwards of an hour for matches to begin. Gamers vented their frustration over Twitter under the handle “#halomcc.” Some tweeted demands for refunds.

Halo’s developer, 343 Industries, acknowledged that the glitch would take a series of fixes to the game’s back-end servers and patches for the game itself to fix. The studio vowed to keep gamers in the loop about their progress through a running blog.

“Once we’ve done that, we will detail how we will make this right with our fans,” Ross wrote.

TIME Video Games

The 10 Craziest Things I’ve Done in Far Cry 4 So Far

Ubisoft

Ubisoft's Nepal-inspired Himalayan sandbox doubles as an adrenaline-junkie thriller

Far Cry 4 throws a spanner into the narrative that Ubisoft lost its mojo this year, by which I mean the Assassin’s Creed Unity debacle, though “debacle” probably overstates the issue.

A quick word about Unity: It’s not a bad game, it’s just not the series-upending shift we were led to expect. Plus, it shipped with bugs, a glitchy navigation system and a tendency to stutter in game-impacting ways when fighting amongst the game’s ballyhooed masses. No wonder Ubisoft delayed the game’s release from October. In hindsight, they should have pushed it off to December, or even early 2015.

Not so Far Cry 4, which shipped relatively trouble-free and flush with incremental improvements in accord with the studio’s modest prerelease claims. If you come to Ajay Ghale’s Himalayan romp expecting narrative profundity, or a more subversive take on the Westerner-in-exotic-climes trope, you should probably look elsewhere. But if you just want Far Cry 3‘s elaborate playscape with a better sense of activity equilibrium and all the play systems not so much further sanded as subtly sandpapery (offering gratifying pushbacks, particularly in combat scenarios), this is it.

It’s also the most Point Break of the games in the series, bristling with utterly preposterous high octane thrills. Here’s a list of the ones I’ve managed to pull off so far:

Hijack a vehicle…from another vehicle

You can execute this bit of vehicular derring-do one of two ways: driving alongside another vehicle, looking toward the driver and clicking the takedown button, or doing the same from your lofty perch in the “Buzzer,” the game’s able gyrocopter.

There’s even an achievement for the vehicle-to-vehicle version of this stunt, but you’ll need to pull it off riding shotgun, meaning you’ll want to recruit a skilled co-op pal and driver to help you do the deed.

Take an outpost by lobbing grenades from the gyrocopter

It’s a measure of how important verticality is to Far Cry 4 that each time the game deposits you in some new story-space, it gives the elevation alongside the place name–and the gyrocopter’s your ticket to exploiting it.

Why wouldn’t you take Far Cry 4‘s versatile sky-ride with you everywhere, circumventing combat snarls and geographic chokepoints?

It’s a workable theory if you’re trawling for loot chests, masks and all the game’s other collectible miscellany (below its stall point, anyway). But in practice, Ubisoft has built in offsets that complicate aerial ubiquity, namely this one: the gyrocopter moves like a floating boulder, meaning you’re easy prey for snipers as well as the game’s insanely distance-accurate combat regulars.

But if you’re intrepid and handy with the game’s M-79 grenade launcher, you can knock out the game’s smaller outposts quickly, helped along by the miracle of kickback-free physics.

Square off with a herd of honey badgers

The toughest animals in Far Cry 4 by a Kyrati mile if you’re hunting by way of bow and arrow aren’t its deathly-fleet tigers or you-flattening bears, they’re a little creature the world barely knew before this video went viral. Good luck taking just one out with a bit of recurved carbon fiber and fletching, much less a pack if you happen to invoke the unfortunate wrath of a squadron.

Irony, thy name is mellivora capensis.

Take a radio tower by wingsuit

This one’s tricker than it sounds: you’ll need (a) a sense of optimal height and distance, and (b) timing to deploy your parachute, and (c) further spot-on aiming to steer your parachuting body onto the sloped rim of the tower’s topmost areas, and (d) to do all of that with a tower that’s situated low enough so you don’t stall out the gyrocopter climbing to a high enough altitude to make a, b and c possible.

No, you can’t simply land the gyrocopter on the tower top and step out. I’ve tried at least a dozen times, and maybe I’m just inept, but the game always ejects me (and the gyrocopter) several meters off the side of the tower.

Note: Be careful you don’t steer into the zip-line as you’re parachuting in, or you’ll hook that by accident and find yourself angling all the way back to the ground in a blink.

Take a fortress while riding an elephant

You’ll need the “elephant rider” skill to saddle a pachyderm, but once you have it, you’re all but invincible in small scrums where you can overpower enemies by charging and bashing them. (vehicles, too.) There’s even a related elephant-riding achievement, and you can hasten progress toward it by directing your four-legged be-trunked tank at one of the game’s guard-choked fortresses.

Yes, the guns-a-blazin’ route invites the guards to sound the alarm and call in reinforcements, but so long as you’re adept at knocking helicopters from the sky with the grenade launcher, those extras become opportunity targets.

Pro tip: It’s best to stealth-eliminate any snipers on the ramparts first, else you’ll find yourself ended moments after alerting the guards to your presence.

Get chased all the way up a radio tower by a killer tiger

I kid not, this happened to me. After lobbing bait near the base of a tower and rushing past a lured tiger–then attacking my enemies–to scale the first ladder, I discovered tigers in Far Cry 4 are as deft at jumping impossible distances as the domestic cats I’ve owned when it comes to clambering up kitchen larders.

In other words: heights in Far Cry 4 offer fleeting respite from giant man-eating cats.

Climb Eklo Beindu Summit and watch the sunrise

Eklo Beindu Summit would be the mass of vertiginous cliffs and precipitous overhangs situated in Far Cry 4‘s south-central area, and they represent the most impressive instances of combat-free, grapple-based sightseeing I’ve encountered so far. If you want to get lost in the game’s climbing puzzles for upwards of hours, angling ever-higher as you scan for grapple points and optimal swing arcs over chasms, Eklo Beindu offers several worthy collectibles, and better still, some of the game’s finest views.

Kill an enemy from 60 or more meters away with an arrow or bolt

Another achievement-related feat, this one’s best performed by an outpost that’s situated near foothills or a cliff, so you can take advantage of height to get close enough to spy your target while maintaining sufficient distance.

The game doesn’t model wind, so you’ll always fire straight, you’ll just need to take into account gravity and aim slightly over your target instead of dead on.

Fly thousands of meters in the wingsuit

Fly 5,000, in fact, and there’s an achievement in the bargain. The quickest way to do this: take the gyrocopter as high as it’ll go near Khilana Bazaar (the first outpost you’ll liberate in Kyrat’s southwestern area), leap out, fly as far as you can, then pull up the map, quick-travel back to the outpost’s safe house (re-parking a gyrocopter that sits just up the road), and repeat.

Catch sight of a giant bird carrying a pig into the sky

Not a piglet, I’m talking about a full-grown fattened swine here. Birds in Far Cry 4 are second only to the honey badger when ranking wildlife by unexpected creepiness. Think the gooney birds in J.B. Stamper’s Tales for the Midnight Hour.

TIME Video Games

Top 10 Video Games of 2014

From Mario Kart 8 to Dark Souls II, these are the best video games of the year.

  • 10. Velocity 2X

    Velocity 2X
    FuturLab

    A shoot-em-up meets a platforming game meets a stopwatch with a stick, Velocity 2X thrills and punishes and ultimately delights. Want to zip a spaceship through vertical obstacle-riddled levels that require precision execution of unique button sequences? Fold those split-second demands into a sidescrolling maze of daises, chutes and teleportation portals? Alternate between both in levels that unfurl like nested lines of code, shifting from one to the other like a crazy interstellar duathlon? Then play Velocity 2X.

  • 9. Sunset Overdrive

    Sunset Overdrive
    Insomniac Games

    Sunset Overdrive taps the same screwball vein as developer Insomniac’s Ratchet & Clank series, only with a grownup twist. Imagine a punk quasi-parkour game by way of a zany skateboarding simulation by way of a metropolis-sized circus playground that wants you to know it knows it’s a nerd-power fantasy. Think Tony Hawk meets Sam Raimi crossed with Sid Vicious multiplied by pinball.

     

  • 8. Shovel Knight

    Shovel Knight
    Yacht Club Games

    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.

  • 7. Monument Valley

    Monument Valley
    Ustwo

    Making the impossible possible, Monument Valley celebrates non-Euclidean geometry, beautifully bizarre architecture and the art of silent storytelling. Combine royalty with optical trickery, trajectory-fiddling with bonsai pruning, aesthetic contemplation with tactile interaction and you wind up with something like designer ustwo’s delightful, enigmatic puzzler.

  • 6. Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor

    Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor
    Interactive Entertainment/Warner Bros

    In Shadow of Mordor, developer Monolith fashions a Middle-earth playground that finally works. You play as Talion, an undead Gondorian ranger merged with a wraith-like entity and endowed with supernatural abilities. The game’s unusually clever and hierarchically organized enemy orcs as well as Batman Arkham series-inspired combat dovetail brilliantly, producing something that shines with or without the Tolkien license.

  • 5. Mario Kart 8

    Mario Kart 8
    Nintendo

    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.

  • 4. Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft

    Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft
    Blizzard Entertainment

    Part of the allure of Blizzard rolling its bejeweled carriage through the hoof-tramped mud of a played-out genre (collectible card games) is the Blizzard name. But that names signifies scrupulous playtesting and elaborate design values, all of which converge here to make Hearthstone the quickest, slickest, goofiest, most lavish online CCG around.

     

  • 3. Dark Souls II

    Dark Souls II
    From Software

    A game that celebrates the notion of death as strategic outlook, Dark Souls II is less an improvement on its predecessors than a superlative alternate take. It rejiggers its rules in ways that echo through its combat subsystems, revitalizing the approaches you can take as you hew to its otherwise familiar approach-study-fight-die-repeat formula.

  • 2. Alien: Isolation

    Alien: Isolation
    The Creative Assembly

    You, a derelict space station, platoons of deranged androids and one relentless, homicidal, agile, terrifyingly perceptive xenomorph. Creative Assembly’s hulking orbital haunted house may be the most frightening game of hide-and-seek ever made. It’s also a stunning homage to Alien film artists H.R. Giger and Ron Cobb’s conceptual work, a chance to inhabit and scrutinize the world they and director Ridley Scott created in 1979 as if it in fact existed.

  • 1. 80 Days

    80 Days inkle

    80 Days is less about gameplay subversion than stylish, thoughtful immersion, employing a beloved genre–interactive fiction–to set you loose in a reimagined, politically contemplative rendering of Jules Verne’s novel Around the World in 80 Days. Here be mechanical golems, underseas trains and steam-powered creatures as you traverse a game world (designed by a British-Indian woman) that doubles as trenchant commentary on the nature of colonialism.

TIME Video Games

Microsoft’s Black Friday Xbox One Deals Will Blow You Away

Visitors At The Eurogamer Expo 2013 For Gamers
A logo sits on an Xbox One games controller during the Eurogamer Expo 2013 in London, U.K., on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013. Matthew Lloyd—Bloomberg / Getty Images

The Xbox One is about to get $50 cheaper

Microsoft is slashing the price of its Xbox One gaming console by $50 price and offering further discounts for select game titles for the Black Friday holiday weekend.

The Xbox One will retail for $349 at participating retail stores — or, for gamers who don’t care to be trampled under a Black Friday stampede, the console can be had at Microsoft’s online store.

A package deal that includes a Kinect and one free game from the popular Assassin’s Creed series will start at $449.

Further Xbox-related markdwons will be unveiled on Microsoft’s website as soon as this giant doomsday clock counts down to zero.

 

TIME Video Games

Call of Duty Exceeds $10 Billion in Sales

US-LIFESTYLE-GAMES-CALL OF DUTY
Boxes advertising the newest installment to blockbuster video game Call of Duty is displayed in a gamestop store in New York City on Nov. 3, 2014 Jewel Samad—AFP/Getty Images

More than the Transformers, The Hunger Games, Iron Man and The Avengers movie franchises combined

Battle-themed video game Call of Duty has crossed $10 billion in lifetime sales, significantly bolstered by demand for its latest installment Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare earlier this month.

Parent company Activision Publishing confirmed that the latest installment had the biggest launch of any entertainment product this year.

“Advanced Warfare is the biggest entertainment launch of 2014 in terms of revenue, surpassing all movie, music and book launches this year.” said Bobby Kotick, CEO of Activision Blizzard.

Since it was first launched in 2003, the game’s total proceeds have far exceeded combined box office receipts for the hit movie franchises The Hunger Games, Transformers, Iron Man and The Avengers.

Activision has been widely praised for the feat. “It’s hard to find a more successful video game publisher than Activision,” Forbes wrote. IGN UK called the latest release “the most successful departure from what’s expected from a Call of Duty.

Stories in the franchise are typically inspired by historical events. The latest installment is set in 2054 and pits players as soldiers against a new villain played by Academy Award-winning actor Kevin Spacey. This time around, Activision utilized advanced capabilities in new-generation PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles.

TIME Video Games

The Game of Thrones Video Game Trailer Looks Almost as Bloody as the Show

The game features the voices of Peter Dinklage and Lena Headey

HBO’s Game of Thrones TV series doesn’t return until the spring, but fans will be able to get their fix with a Playstation 4 video game based on the show.

The six-part episodic game from Telltale (which also turned the similarly popular Walking Dead series into a game) will follow the lesser-known House Forrester, a family from Westeros that has declared an allegiance to the Starks but who must find a way to survive during The War of the Five Kings. The family appears briefly in the George R.R. Martin novels, but not in the show.

Familiar characters like Cersei Lannister, Tyrion Lannister and Margaery Tyrell (voiced by the actors who play those roles on the show, Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage and Natalie Dormer) will make appearances. The game will begin around the end of season three of the series and end before the events of season five.

Telltale has yet to announce a release date for part one of the game, dubbed “Episode One: Iron From Ice.”

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 Video Games

Watch This Hilarious Fake Trailer for the New Super Smash Bros.

'Or throw out skill out the window by turning on Items'

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U hits store shelves Friday here in the U.S., and Nintendo fans around the country are amped up for the latest game in one of the company’s most popular series.

But before Bros. hits your Wii U, check out this hilarious “Honest Game Trailer” from Smosh Games, a YouTube channel covering all things video games.

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