TIME Video Games

Now You Can Play ‘Super Smash Bros.’ on a Graphing Calculator

Graph this

Math class has never been so fun.

A user named Hayleia on Internet forum Omnimaga, which is dedicated to game programming, created a code clone of Super Smash Bros. Melee for the Nintendo GameCube to be used on z80 calculators. Users can tweak the source code for their own devices, as well as create their own characters.

Handheld gaming blog Tiny Cartridge reported on the game Friday.

The game is available for download here to import it to a compatible TI-83 or TI-84 calculator through USB.

It should be a fun distraction while fans of one of the greatest fighting games in history await Nintendo’s release of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U next Friday.

TIME Video Games

Everything You Need to Know About World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor

Blizzard

Blizzard's latest expansion to World of Warcraft is finally available. Here's what's new

Warlords of Draenor sounds like the sort of thing you’d find in the B-movie section of your local gas-n-shop, maybe starring Jean Claude von Damme and Dolph Lundgren wearing horned helms and codpieces.

But in this case it’s the moniker on the latest expansion to the most popular MMO in history, available now (PC, Mac) for $50. If you’re new to the series or thinking about returning and wondering what’s changed, here’s a look at Draenor‘s standout features.

Characters can finally hit three digits

Happy 100th level, World of Warcraft characters, you’ve more than earned it (in fact you’ve probably slogged like few gamers will ever slog just getting to the last expansion’s heady nine-zero). Characters in Draenor will be able to leap from 90 to 100 at last, commensurate with new abilities and access to the world of Draenor itself.

One character can leap to level 90 immediately

This sounds a bit like handing a toddler a clutch of dynamite–or asking them to figure out how to work the mechanism that sets it off–to me. But if you’re so inclined, Blizzard will let you boost one character straight to level 90. Seasoned players looking to fast-level an alternate character will be grateful, but if you’ve never played the game, I worry it’ll be like expecting someone who just learned how to play chopsticks on the piano to dash off a plausible rendition of Bud Powell’s “Tempus Fugit.”

Blizzard

The story’s actually kind of interesting

I couldn’t tell you a thing about the World of Warcraft-verse’s fiction, and I played at least one character up to the mid-70s back in the day. But I remember when the Cataclysm expansion hit, and how nice it was to see Blizzard trying to frame all its relentless creature farming and errand-running with better scripted story beats that made leveling up, at least at the lower levels, feel less like cynically pinballing from one punctuation-crowned signpost to another.

Draenor pulls a J.J. Abrams (Star Trek) and taps a dimension-hopping storyline to shunt players over to an alternate history timeline and the days a comparably fractional number of gamers were going gaga over Warcraft II back in 1996. (Allow me to speak directly to Warcraft II nerds for a moment: characters like Grom Hellscream, Ner’zhul, Gul’dan and Blackhand put in appearances.)

I could attempt to paraphrase what that adds up to, or just hand the mic to Blizzard:

It is the era of an Old Horde, forged with steel rather than fel blood. A union of great orc clans, the Iron Horde, tramples the planet Draenor beneath terrifying war machines. Azeroth falls next. Worlds uncounted will follow.

You must mount a desperate charge on Draenor – savage home of orcs and adopted bastion of stoic draenei – at this pivotal moment. Your allies are legends from across time; your fortress a foothold in an alien land. Lead the armies of one world against another…before the future itself is unmade.

No, you can’t change keystone World of Warcraft history, this is just Blizzard’s way of letting players goof around with beloved Warcraft-ian lore without tying the writing team’s hands.

It’s the biggest graphical overhaul in years

Blizzard’s approach to art design with World of Warcraft always had two things going for it: it’s a PC game and so scales to whatever native display and resolution you like, and it employs a Disney-like cartoon aesthetic that transcends the notion that visual progression is some sort of linear march toward photorealistic fidelity (whatever that even means in the context of imagined worlds anyway).

Nonetheless, Draenor has some visual tricks up its sleeves. According to Blizzard, the classic Warcraft races “sport higher detail, updated animations, and new visuals that reflect the soul of their original models.”

Blizzard

It has a more pliable quest system

Blizzard describes Draenor‘s new quest system as “refined” and “flexible,” and in a crucial reward-related sea change, the company notes that “any quest can randomly award bonus rare or epic items.”

You can carve out your own fortress-space

New dungeons (seven), raids (two), bosses, class talents and abilities you’d expect, but Blizzard’s adding fixed-world-point garrisons this time: customizable home bases that include addable substructures like alchemy labs, salvage yards, tanneries and more. There’s even a meta layer that’ll let you set up trade routes or recruit followers (read: loyal minions!) you can then deploy to go dungeon-spelunking, run errands and craft items in your stead, whether you’re on or offline.

The new map looks huge

Draenor is kind of enormous, with seven areas and one PvP to explore, a “land of magma and metal, stone and steam,” writes Blizzard.

City-forges wrap her twin moons in smog, and wheels deform the earth. Vicious saberon, winged arakkoa, spike-skinned gronn, and more unusual creatures rule the edges of the world, feasting on anything they kill.

Enigmatic draenei refugees have built a coastal foothold into a glimmering state replete with the libraries and worship-halls of their timeless civilization. Meanwhile, the Iron Horde’s slaves labor on engines of war pointed at the draenei and worlds beyond.

Blizzard

It’s not the last expansion

I wondered if Draenor might be World of Warcraft‘s swan song, given this is the 10th anniversary of the game and subscriptions have dropped in recent years (at its peak in October 2010, World of Warcraft had 12 million subscribers). But according to Blizzard just last month, subscriptions are up from a post-peak low of 6.8 million to 7.4 million worldwide. That’s a predictable Draenor-related bounce, sure, but a reminder of how significant the upswings can be, if Blizzard can keep the new content rolling.

And no, Draenor definitely isn’t the last expansion for Blizzard’s tireless MMO: according to the game’s lead designer Ion Hazzikostas, there’s every intention for the game to soldier on for at least another decade. “I definitely can’t tell you what our 20th anniversary is going to be. I can tell you there is definitely going to be one,” Hazziokostas told Cnet in a recent interview, adding that the company is “definitely planning into the future, talking about what the next expansion is going to be, and what the one after that is going to be.”

TIME Video Games

This Is How Insanely Beautiful the New Halo on Xbox One Is

Halo has never looked this good

Released Nov. 11, Halo: The Master Chief Collection combines more than a decade of Halo history into one high-gloss package. The Xbox One exclusive is not only a celebration of the video game franchise’s past, but a major preview of its future—a.k.a. the upcoming Halo 5: Guardians. The collection combines Halo 1 through 4 and reimagines their looks with more current graphics. The results are impressive; take a closer look above.

TIME Video Games

Assassin’s Creed Unity Review: Not Quite the Revolution We Were Promised

Ubisoft

Ubisoft's recreation of the French Revolution looks and sounds incredible, but the game's design leaves something to be desired

I’m perched on a Notre Dame gargoyle, Batman-like, some 70 meters above a rabble-thronged square. From here I can see the gabled roof of the Palais de Justice and Sainte-Chapelle, the royal church’s spire the next highest object punctuating Paris’s Seine-circled Île de la Cité. Across the river I spy the Louvre, and along the right bank, the Grand Châtelet.

Swiveling 45 degrees, a medieval temple overlooks the 3rd arrondissement. Turning another 45, there’s the Bastille, its broken crenellations like the jags of a giant shattered tooth. The cathedral’s shadow darkens the square below me, where hundreds of tiny figures jostle one another, dangling flaming effigies on poles, chanting, squabbling and occasionally scuffling with the guards, the city alight with hope and terror.

Assassin’s Creed Unity‘s attention to French Revolutionary Parisian detail is remarkable, every landmark and monument built to scale. (It’s also intimately scalable by the player.) Distractions abound: you could spend an hour registering the gothic minutia of a Rayonnant edifice’s tracery, or another enumerating biblical scenes in a church’s stained glass windows. Observe the burnished filigree crowning the massive wrought-iron gates to the Cour du Mai, the Corinthian portico of the triple-domed and frescoed Panthéon, or the sun glinting off lustrous iconography blanketing the dome of Les Invalides. It’s all here, and kind of nuts.

So is Unity a game or interactive diorama? Another tale of secret warring societies supported by its dazzling late 18th century metropolis, or architectonic fetish with a side of pulp?

Ubisoft

Maybe both. But then you push a button and leap from your roost and start moving through this ridiculously intricate insurrection simulator, clambering over realistically uneven slate rooftops and corroded chimneys linked by fictional passage-smoothing plank and rope skyways, only to find the actual game sagging beneath the weight of its world design. In short, Unity is a phenomenal world-building achievement held back by a glitchy navigation system.

Moving through the Assassin’s Creed games has always been fidgety, but it’s steadily improved over the years. Unity feels like a step back, though it’s hard to pinpoint why. Perhaps it’s the busier world geometry, its handholds and footpaths multiplied who-knows-how-many-fold, making it even easier to snag on something. Sometimes it’s clearly the game’s impaired frame rate in large crowds lagging behind your input. (That’s not an idle complaint; the game actually stutters severely in spots.) Maybe it’s just buggy. Maybe some of that will be ironed out in future patches. What I do know, is that Arno, the game’s French protagonist–an assassin who’s confused revenge for redemption in the game’s story–sometimes has a mind of his own.

If I push one way, he’ll occasionally leap in another. If I zig, odds are one out of four he’ll zag. I expect some slack in any 360-degree motion system, but this is something else. I haven’t fought the controls like this since the original Assassin’s Creed. It’s harmless enough when you’re wall-crawling freeform, but under the gun, say in one of those target-tailing missions with bonus challenges like “don’t touch the water,” whiffing the mission because Arno decides to dive off a wooden post into the drink instead of leaping to the next one on the third or fourth replay is exasperating.

But the biggest problem is that sometimes Arno won’t do anything at all.

Ubisoft

Climb a building with clearly navigable points and sometimes Arno gets stuck. Not “That next thing’s too high up, find another way” stymied, but “Why am I halfway up this continuous lattice and hitting all the right buttons and he’s frozen stiff?” I’m not misreading the path, because if I hammer the buttons or reset the thumbstick, he’ll swing into action and clear the distance, no problem. And I ran into this in even the simplest scenarios: dangling from a rope between buildings or hanging from the edge of an unobstructed platform (he’d neither climb nor drop), or trying to dive Dukes of Hazard style through an open window (hammering the button the game keeps telling me to hammer while ignoring my input). This is next-gen parkour?

It’s a shame, because so much else about Unity‘s design overhaul works. The new 3D overview map helps you better pinpoint objects in a 3D world. A downward free-run option (hold a button to climb down automatically) makes descending from even the highest points quick and safe. And Eagle Vision, the game’s spot-the-bad-guys radar system, now only works for brief periods, encouraging more judicious use.

There’s even a modest roleplaying angle: weapons, clothing, stealth moves and combat abilities–most familiar with a few wrinkles–are now spending-based unlocks that let you finesse your play style meaningfully. One of those skills, lockpicking, finally strikes the right balance between twitchy and skillful and now applies to doors that can open up alternate routes in missions. Those missions now feel like proper assassination puzzles, the game dropping you outside heavily patrolled fortresses and folding in optional goals you can engage to tweak your infiltration routes or unlock distractions. Carried over to the new cooperative play modes, where you and up to three other players can work together to dispatch operatives or recover loot, and Unity surpasses its predecessors.

Ubisoft

Some of the improvements are simple subtractions: The removal of automatic counters revitalizes combat, which regains some the original’s brutal simplicity and timing-related volatility. Guards on alert can no longer be assassinated from hiding spots (like hay wagons), encouraging shrewder stealth tactics. The home improvement game has fewer spending tiers and ties this more to side missions like the frontier activities in Assassin’s Creed III. And assassin-recruiting, training and deploying is no more, eliminating a pseudo-strategic moneymaking layer I never particularly liked.

Other changes seem like half-measures or outright missteps. Adding a button that lets you crouch gives you more approach options (to say nothing of making you feel stealthier), but the new guard-luring gimmicks–cherry bombs or taunting guards to probe by letting yourself be spotted then breaking the sightline–often fail because the guards seem to know you’re waiting and stop short of your hiding spot, even as you absurdly pepper them with fireworks.

While combat is more gratifying and enemies more aggressive, your bag of tricks remains small and the opponent A.I. types still too undifferentiated. (I powered through the game using the same attack-parry-stun-attack combos.) The new press-a-button-to-stick cover system often disregards your input and can’t be depended on during hair-trigger maneuvers. And what passes for a future story about leaping between servers and playing through alternate timelines to avoid detection (the series is basically The Matrix meets Ken Follett) recalls the dreary “Desmond climbs” missions in Assassin’s Creed III, where you prosaically pushed the thumbstick in the direction you wanted to travel and watched stuff happen.

Ubisoft

Speaking of the story, Ubisoft was wise to make it about Arno and keep most of the Revolution’s politicking in the background, but the character as written barely connects. Whatever we’re meant to feel about the things he endures, whatever the writers intended beyond a bit of brooding, debauchery and sense of being dragged along by tidal forces, Arno’s a little boring, his arc more an undifferentiated slope. His romantic interest has far more brio, and makes you wonder what might have been, had you been able to explore her story instead.

Shall I bother to malign the ending? Have endings in these games ever delivered? Here it’s another anticlimactic, predictable and tediously difficult mess, where–minor spoiler warning–you’re essentially dueling with Emperor Palpatine (think about what Palpatine’s known for), making use of none of the things you’ve just spent the entire game learning to do, while he chants “I have you now!” (Yes, that’s verbatim.)

“The past is not lost, the past lives inside us,” says a narrator during the game’s intro. It’s supposed to be a reference to the game’s parapsychological conceit about genetic memory, not ironic commentary on the game design. Unity has plenty of moments where some of its re-grounded systems harmonize, but too many where they don’t. Historical flavor and architectural verisimilitude alone can’t carry a game, and may in fact be part of what works against this one, even as I’ll admit to being gobsmacked at the audacity of Ubisoft’s city-replicating exercise, a towering achievement unto itself.

3 out of 5

Review using the PlayStation 4 version of the game.

TIME Video Games

Dragon Age Inquisition Review: This Is the One You’ve Been Waiting For

Bioware / EA

BioWare's latest RPG is a grand romp through a breath-taking fantasy setting. And it features some of the most interesting characters we've yet seen in a Dragon Age title

Scouting the rain-hammered shoreline of a coastal region in Dragon Age: Inquisition, one of my companions spies a giant with tusks thick as logs trading blows with a dragon. “Badass,” he says, chuckling. And I stop to watch, because it is badass, like so much else in this alien otherworld: the sun flaring like a UFO in a forest of trees tall as redwoods; skies that look by turns cerulean or bloomy or haunted or storm-wracked; phantasmagoric landscapes with deranged rock cities and archetypal motifs out of a Jungian nightmare; dragons spitting fireballs like meteors.

Which is strange, because you could argue the Dragon Age games up to now have been the opposite of impressive, with pedestrian visuals, anticlimactic battles, fiddly interfaces and narrative non sequiturs. Theirs were societies saved not by long-slogging armies or international diplomacy, but scrappy squads of godlike activists.

Bioware’s best known for the latter, devotedly tilling ground popularized by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson in the 1970s. The Canadian studio’s second game in the late 1990s was a licensed Dungeons & Dragons homage, which begat a minor renaissance in computerized D&D-play. But the studio slaved itself to that system’s ideas, and when Dragon Age: Origins arrived over a decade later, we were still, in essence, replaying Baldur’s Gate: a choose-your-own-adventure bricked together by peripatetic exploration, reductive arithmetic and relentless conflict resolution.

Bioware / EA

Dragon Age: Inquisition, the latest installment for game consoles and Windows, isn’t a seas-parting rethink–it’s invested in the same basic ideas about roleplaying as its predecessors. But here it employs them on a scale we haven’t seen since a meme about career-ending missiles graced one of the most popular shows on TV.

This, finally, is Bioware world-building with the mythic sweep of a Peter Jackson or Todd Howard, cultivating a sleek, reimagined, wildly blown up rendition of writer David Gaider’s fantasy preserve that feels at once grander and more holistic, a world whose craftsmanship you can admire and at points obsess over and occasionally even gawp at. If Dragon Age II was a weird, turtling retreat to button-mashy, bam-pow brawls in a village-sized city patched together from generic, recycled components, Dragon Age: Inquisition feels like the yang to its yin. On an epic scale.

Some may worry, hearing the setup, that it borrows too much from Bethesda’s Oblivion. As in that game, breaches in space-time have appeared around the world from which demons pour forth. Your job, as the amnesiac leader of a group that calls itself an “inquisition” but behaves more like a magnanimous oligarchy, is to go around sealing the holes and righting wrongs.

But The Elder Scrolls games take fewer risks, and though the writing isn’t appreciably better here, Inquisition engages edgier concerns: religious belief (or lack thereof), same-sex relationships, the psychological horrors of war, racial bigotry and economic classism to name a few. Yes, you’re still obliged to de-villain caves and dungeons, and there’s still too much errand-running, but you’ll also get to wrestle weightier subject matter. So for instance: the fractious relationship between a father and, in the series’ first treatment of an openly gay character, his son. If the writing in the end hews nearer Tolkien than Peake when it’s trying to subvert cliché, at least it’s trying.

Bioware / EA

For all its Game of Thrones flavoring, you’re either fighting stuff or getting ready to fight stuff between Inquisition‘s story beats, and combat hasn’t been a series strong point. Dragon Age: Origins, the first game, saddled an already fiddly battle system with a laborious interface, while Dragon Age II dispensed with tactical nuance and went for mediocre leap-and-dodge combat instead.

Stumble into a clutch of bad guys in Inquisition, by contrast, and yes, you can still hammer buttons to conjure ability flourishes or batter opponents, but you’ll get better results if you pace yourself in the rejiggered tactical view. Tap a button and the game freezes, letting you glide over the battlefield like a steadicam operator, inspecting friend or foe at leisure, finessing melee or distance attacks and coordinating flanking maneuvers. Once you’ve finished, you can hold another button to roll the clock forward or shift back to real-time mode. It’s a remarkably elegant system that’s both lively and nuanced, scalable complexity on a gamepad that works.

Eventually the game you thought you were playing–the one where you pingpong from quest to quest and battle to battle–becomes a game within a game, as you’re asked to deploy allies to complete timed missions to gain power or influence, which you then spend at a home base “war table,” unlocking new areas or increasing the rank of the inquisition or selecting perks with effects that ripple through the other gameplay systems. Without spoiling plot points, I can say that what starts as a thing about making do with what’s at hand eventually becomes a thing about building bigger and better. Home improvement in a game is nothing new, but it’s handled competently here, and has its own satisfying wrinkles.

Bioware / EA

A few problems remain: Why can you “rest” and refresh your party just a few yards from attacking enemies? Why place lengthy background text on ephemeral loading screens that vanish after a few seconds? Why can’t I follow more precisely the impact of my dialogue choices? Why are folks still leaving treasure-filled chests in the middle of nowhere? Must so many quests still depend on the quest-givers being fundamentally lazy? And why, in a story about an inter-dimensional apocalypse, would anyone ask a bunch of super-beings to slaughter a dozen rams to load up on ram meat?

Dragon Age: Inquisition didn’t work for me at first, but then I realized I’d been playing it too much like Dragon Age II, mashing through battles and racing between to-dos and ignoring the filler because why would Bioware know anything about riveting world design? Then I slowed down, and in slowing down discovered how wrong I’d been–how much more the design team managed to fill this iteration with. Sometimes gaming’s as much about the caught-you-off-guard zen moments as the lunatic action ones, and sometimes the workmanship’s enough.

4.5 out of 5

Reviewed using the PlayStation 4 version of the game.

TIME Video Games

5 iPhone and Android Games You Can’t Miss This Week

Give 1-Bit Hero a shot

Sick of Temple Run and looking for something new to play on your iPhone? TIME rounded up some favorites worth a download this week.

  • 1-Bit Hero

    1 Bit Hero 1 Bit Hero

    Although many developers have been designing retro 8-bit games for a few years now, it takes a lot of courage to go back to square one and put out a game that evokes an entire lost generation of entertainment. 1-Bit Hero is a true, 1-bit game in which players guide a hero through increasingly challenging obstacles with the simple goal of keeping the character alive. In the style of traditional 1-bit games, this one also overstates itself in its cover art.

    1-Bit Hero is available free in the App Store.

  • Doodle Jump DC

    Doodle Jump Doodle Jump

    Although Angry Birds: Star Wars will forever be the ultimate crossover iPhone game, Doodle Jump DC comes close. Play as Batman and jump through different levels of Gotham city, fighting villains from both the comic book and film Batman universes. Half the fun is toying around with Batman’s gadgets. Overall, a very well designed iPhone game and a lot of fun to look at.

    Doodle Jump DC is available free in the App Store.

  • South Park Pinball

    South Park Pinball South Park Pinball

    A close second to Stick of Truth, this may be one of the best games to come out of the South Park universe. The game brings together an entire cast of beloved characters just in time for the show’s newest season, letting players zoom through familiar spots around town, looping in countless jokes from the show. South Park’s cut-out animation has found a perfect marriage with an equally simple and no-frills kind of game.

    South Park Pinball is available for $3.99 in the Google Play store.

  • The Sailor’s Dream

    Sailor's Dream Sailor's Dream

    Similar to Myst, The Sailor’s Dream allows players to explore a long-abandoned fantasy universe in order to piece together a narrative. It’s less a game played for entertainment than it is a storyline to be explored by gamers who enjoy puzzles and plot-driven entertainment. However, The Sailor’s Dream is just as much a visual game, offering striking digital seascapes and glimpses into this strange, almost-haunting world.

    The Sailor’s Dream is available for $3.99 in the App Store.

  • Haunt the House: Terrortown

    Haunt the House Haunt the House

    For those still mourning the end of the all-too-short Halloween season, or for the crowd already planning their costumes for next year, Haunt The House is a fast-paced, charmingly designed game in which players take the form of a ghost. The object is to float from level-to-level until the entire town has been successful spooked and haunted. The game also has a puzzle component, which must be solved before the night is over in order for the ghostly character to reclaim possession of the town.

    Haunt the House is available for $.99 in the Google Play store.

TIME Video Games

Check Out This New Halo Ad Set to Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You’

Halo: The Master Chief Collection is out next week

Halo: The Master Chief Collection, a jam-packed collection of specially remastered Halo titles, rolls out on Xbox One consoles next week, just in time for the holiday shopping season. To celebrate the launch, Microsoft is running this TV ad starting today, featuring footage from the game set to Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”

Microsoft is hoping that The Master Chief Collection, which includes Halo: Combat Evolved, Halo 2, Halo 3 and Halo 4 in addition to access to the Halo 5: Guardians multiplayer beta, will boost sales of its Xbox One console, which many people think is losing the sales battle against rival Sony’s PlayStation 4 console. In another attempt to boost holiday sales, Microsoft recently lowered the price of new Xbox One consoles by $49 down to $350 through the end of the year.

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

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