TIME Reviews

Wolfenstein: The New Order Review: Deconstructing Blazkowicz

Wolfenstein newcomer MachineGames' deftly executed voyage through a horror-filled 1960s world -- and off -- conquered by Nazi Germany gives its jarhead protagonist more than just the Nazis to think about.

“It’s all up to you now, Blazkowicz.” You’ll get that a lot in MachineGames’ lurching gonzo-solemn “What if the Nazis won?” shooter, Wolfenstein: The New Order.

As if you needed reminding. It’s been up to William “B.J.” Blazkowicz since 1992, and four or five games running. Blazkowicz, who you play as once more in The New Order, is that slab of Polish-American hero who looked like Rambo ret-conned into The Dirty Dozen, fighting Nazis bare- (and barrel-) chested, wearing a red bandanna and mad-as-hell mien on all those old Wolfenstein 3D box covers. He was id Software’s marble-jawed hero, the patriotic revenge fantasy cliché, a narrative blank check players cashed in bullets, and an unstoppable convention of the genre.

But not in The New Order, where he’s traded a swashbuckler’s insouciance for beatnik brooding, as prone to spontaneous acts of near-poetry (in a voice that’s half-groan, half-whisper) as he is to plummet impossible distances, only to rise as if from a fall off a couch.

It’s weird at first, those misplaced introspective moments punctuating the game’s early over the top action sequences, including one where you leap absurdly from one plane’s wingtip to another. They play between the thunderclaps of arcing Tesla cannons on monstrous tripod automatons stalking shell-blitzed trenches you’ll clamber through before roping (and one-arm shooting) your way up faux-medieval fortress walls. They frame the screams of dozens of Nazi sturmtruppen shot, beheaded and occasionally blown to viscera-riddled smithereens as you infiltrate your Mengele-inspired adversary’s death citadel. And they’ll bookend a ghastly choice you’ll have to make early on that alters the narrative indelibly.

But then that head-fake Tarantino intro gives way to Philip Dick (though a high castle darkly) as you’re plucked from already alternate-versing 1946 and deposited in a wildly divergent 1960s Europe. The Nazis won. America surrendered. Resistance movements barely exist. Cities like London have been razed and re-sculpted from the footings up, filled with colossal post-art deco structures that wouldn’t be out of place in Half-Life 2‘s dystopian City 17. Big Ben survives, but dwarfed by Nazi architecture, the horror amplified by the juxtaposition. Blazkowicz’s grave soliloquizing comes into sober focus as the game flirts unexpectedly with the sort of unironic narrative depth you’d expect more from something like Band of Brothers than a game inspired by a glorified 1990s render-technology showcase built around an excuse to point a weapon at other people and cause them to die horribly.

Into this strange new world you’ll pour warehouses of bullets and retries, still G.I. Joe (if by way of Lieutenant Aldo Raine) at heart. Make no mistake, The New Order‘s gunplay still sums in kill counts, headshots and stylish clandestine dispatches — the original Castle Wolfenstein‘s stealth vibe returns, reimagined — quantified in stat screens by maneuver and weapon type. It’s still a series of finite story-linked levels filled with revenge fantasy kill-or-be-killed sprees that’ll end, once the credits roll, with an enemy body count in the thousands. You’ll still spend inordinate amounts of time hoovering up health packs and ammunition and armor-bolstering scraps of metal scattered about battlefields like glasses of champagne at a posh soirée.

That’s not the sign of a developer designing willy-nilly, too sloppy or untrained to commit: at times The New Order feels as calculated and observant as BioShock, if in the end, less ambitious. When it swerves from camp to cool cogitation, it does so knowingly, the latter moments unfurling during interludes spent wandering a resistance base chatting up other resistance members, your patriotic gusto threatened by a mirror MachineGames keeps holding up. It’s that unexpected attention to The New Order‘s world-building that makes this single-player-only game more than just a shooting gallery with a few new tricks — the sort of camaraderie and reflection in adversity, steeped in creeping dread and philosophical exposition, that made something like The Matrix more than just an expo for bullet time.

Not that the game’s perfect. Snatching up consumables can be confusing, your crosshairs indicating the presence of health packs or armor shards without highlighting them, stealing precious extra seconds as you’re forced to sort through blinking item dumps. The game’s polyvalent new laser weapon gains a godlike one-shot targeting mode towards the end that makes some of the final battles, even on the hardest difficulty setting, a bit too easy. And “perks,” the game’s roleplaying-lite nod to Wolfenstein RPG, which give you new abilities along certain play-style tracks (like stealth or demolition) if you perform prerequisite actions, tend toward the superfluous: I finished the game on the highest difficulty setting without bothering to pursue a single one.

And for all it subverts, The New Order still feels slaved to genre conventions: the Nazi in the hallway outside your room will point his gun at the hapless asylum patient infinitely, his bullet forever unfired until you press through the doorway, tripping the algorithmic trigger and forcing his hand. Item deployment within a level often spoils climactic encounters, the sudden appearance of health packs, armor and piles of grenades portending a deluge of bullets. And mini-boss enemies so hard-fought early on will eventually appear in twos or reinforced by underlings, like an iterative museum of horrors — yesterday’s main course served as tomorrow’s hors d’oeuvres.

There’s a flip side to The New Order‘s dalliance with moral depth (and concentration camps, and suicide bombings) as well. At one point early on, I had to approach from behind a seated Nazi commander speaking to his superior by phone. If you pause to listen to the conversation before knifing him, you learn, among other things, that he has children, that his wife is pregnant and that he’s hoping for a promotion. And then you’re required to kill him, because progress is impossible if you don’t (the alternative being alerting and letting him kill you, or quitting the game and calling that that). It’s a false choice, a morally suspect scene in which you’re asked to identify with your all-too-human victim before ending his existence. But you’re given no other choice. It’s kill or quit. And gamers won’t quit. They never do.

4 out of 5

PlayStation 4

 

 

MORE: The History of Video Game Consoles – Full

TIME Rumors

What to Make of a Potential YouTube-Twitch Deal

On Sunday night, Variety reported that YouTube was about to acquire video game streaming site Twitch for more than $1 billion.

The deal may not be as imminent as that initial report suggested. While sources told The Verge that an acquisition is close, the Wall Street Journal reports that the negotiations are still in an early stage. As of Monday afternoon, Twitch and YouTube haven’t announced anything.

Nonetheless, some in the gaming community are in panic mode at the thought of another beloved service being swallowed whole by a tech titan. We did, after all, just go through this with Facebook and Oculus VR. To help understand what the big deal is, let’s consider what we know about Twitch, YouTube and YouTube’s corporate masters at Google to figure out what an acquisition might mean:

What is Twitch?

Twitch lets anyone stream video games in real-time, with their own live commentary on top. It’s used for everything from huge gaming competitions (such as the yearly Evo fighting game tournament) to amateur broadcasts, some of which have become hugely popular. At first, broadcasters needed special video capture software to stream games from their PCs, but new apps for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 make it easy to broadcast from those consoles directly.

In addition to the basic video feed and commentary, each stream has its own chat room, where users can comment on streams as they happen. The Twitch Plays Pokemon phenomenon from earlier this year made extensive use of this feature, allowing commenters to dictate every move in the game. Using Twitch isn’t just about watching other people play video games; it’s about hanging out with people around a set of common interests.

Why would Google/YouTube want that?

The problem with YouTube is that people tend to swing by for short video clips, and they have little patience for ads. As the Wall Street Journal points out, Twitch users will watch videos for hours on end, which means plenty of opportunities to advertise, and at premium rates.

Perhaps more importantly, Twitch may be the closest thing YouTube has to a threat. Google buying Twitch would be kind of like Facebook buying Snapchat (which almost happened) or Instagram (which did happen). Even if they aren’t direct competitors, they are competing for the same audience attention and ad dollars.

Would Twitch get shoehorned into Google+, then?

Probably not. If recent rumors are accurate, Google has realized the error of trying to ram its own social network into every product, like it did with YouTube last year. By that logic, Google should be smart enough to leave the Twitch community alone.

But that doesn’t mean Google wouldn’t be interested in tracking Twitch users for advertising purposes. Some sort of optional Google-based sign-in or account link would be a safe bet if this acquisition went through. (Here’s a hypothetical: Sign in with your Google account during Evo and get the HD stream for free, instead of having to buy a $12 ticket.)

Would the Google-Microsoft rivalry spell doom for Twitch’s Xbox apps?

Again, probably not. Google only skips platforms when it thinks they’re too small to invest in, which is why there are no official YouTube apps for Windows 8 or Windows Phone. But there are YouTube apps for Xbox 360 and Xbox One, which means Google thinks Microsoft’s consoles are large enough not to ignore.

Just don’t expect an official Twitch app for Windows Phone anytime soon (although the unofficial LiveGaming app is pretty good.)

What’s the potential upside?

As in any acquisition by a big tech company, additional resources are the most obvious benefit. Twitch could tap into Google’s massive data centers to keep things running smoothly, and could make a bigger effort to improve its mobile apps. Chromecast support, with the ability to chat through your phone or tablet while watching a stream on TV, could be pretty awesome. An acquisition by Google could put mobile game streaming on the fast track, especially for Android.

And the downsides?

Twitch’s dominant position in live game streaming would be firmly established, and YouTube would have even less competition than it does now. If the combined companies make a bone-headed decision–requiring everyone to use a real name, for instance–you’d have nowhere else to go. And in a way, it’s just sad to see that the endgame for another small but fast-growing company is to get bought by a huge corporation.

The potential acquisition also raises some questions: How would game publishers respond? Could this be the start of a copyright mess, as publishers try to get their pound of flesh from Google? Would Twitch eventually try to move beyond games to other forms of entertainment, and would that end up watering down the gaming aspect?

If there’s one thing we can count on, it’s that Twitch would follow the usual pattern of major tech acquisitions, and promise that it won’t be royally messed up by its new overlords. But it doesn’t always work that way. All Twitch users can do right now is wait, and hope for the best.

 

TIME Video Games

Halo 5 Guardians Will Be the Xbox One’s Maiden Halo

Microsoft

The second installment in developer 343 Industries' new Halo trilogy will be exclusive to Xbox One and ship in fall 2015.

It seems Halo 5‘s skipping its presumptive E3 unveiling and going for a gala May party instead.

We all knew Halo 5 existed (just as we presume Halos 6, 7 and beyond do), but Microsoft chose this Friday spring morning, of all mornings, to de-cloak its second installment in 343 Industries’ new trilogy starring the be-helmeted Master Chief, and a bunch of exceptionally hard-to-kill new aliens (if you played Halo 4‘s campaign on “legendary” difficulty, anyway).

“How do we begin and where to we go with ‘Halo’ on Xbox One?” asks Microsoft in the press release. Toward even grander gameplay scales, running at 60 frames per second, it answers, calling that task “non-trivial.” So yes, Halo 5 Guardians, as it’s officially titled in full, will be an Xbox One exclusive, despite the trilogy’s Xbox 360 beginnings. And 343 Industries says we can expect it not this year, alas, but sometime fall 2015.

Handing the mic to the studio:

“Halo 5: Guardians” is a bigger effort than “Halo 4.” That applies to the content and scope of the game, as well as the technology in what’s now a brand new and more powerful engine. Certainly there are some core elements carried over from prior games, but we’ve invested a huge effort in retooling our tech to take full advantage of the Xbox One’s hardware and ecosystem to create worlds and experiences worthy of next-gen.

It’s a game that will hopefully demonstrate the talent, learnings and abilities of the 343 Industries team. A game that will incorporate the things we learned from “Halo 4” about technology, aesthetics, performance and scale – and perhaps more importantly, understanding and embracing a community of gamers who love what lies at the heart of this game, and the limitless potential of the “Halo” universe.

And 2015 won’t simply be the year of “Halo 5: Guardians,” it will also be a year that offers us a unique opportunity. The opportunity to invite old friends and new audiences into that universe through the “Halo” television series, launched as a unique collaboration with Steven Spielberg and some of the finest creative minds in the business. A series that will stand alone, as well as complement and enrich the game experience. We’ll have more to share on the “Halo” television series as we near its projected fall 2015 release.

343 adds that it’s approaching Halo as a “journey,” not a “destination,” implying the may be Halo-related content in the offing that we’ll see before 2015. Something like Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes (serves as a standalone game as well as prologue to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain)? We’ll see. Microsoft says it’ll give us “much more information about [its] plans for this year” at its upcoming Xbox E3 2014 Media Briefing, which happens (and I’ll be attending) on June 9.

TIME Video Games

PlayStation 4 Just Outsold Xbox One for the Fourth Month in a Row

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

April 2014 Xbox One sales declined significantly in the U.S., week by week.

Sony’s PlayStation 4 has once more tipped the scales — by how much we’re not certain, since we don’t have official figures — to assume the number one sales spot in the U.S., says retail tracker NPD. This makes April the PS4′s fourth dominant month in a row.

The Xbox One placed second, with 115,000 units sold, according to Microsoft, which notes the One has outsold the original Xbox 360 by 76 percent for both of those systems’ first six months in market.

Indeed, NPD says that to date, sales of PS4 and Xbox One hardware are more than double the sum total of PS3 and Xbox 360 hardware sales in their respective first six months.

That, for all the misleading doomsaying about Microsoft’s less-well-selling new console, is at least a preliminary indication of a far more robust appetite for next-gen set-tops than anyone expected, and positive news for gaming from a purely economic standpoint. And while I don’t read as much into year-on-year increases (or decreases), it’s worth noting that April 2014′s spending on hardware, new physical software (doesn’t include digital) and accessories was up by 17 percent over April 2013′s. All in all, a good month for the games industry viewed monolithically.

Here’s NPD’s list of bestselling physical software, with the caveat that SKUs are combined for multi-platform games, and it doesn’t include digital sales.

1. Titanfall (360, Xbox One, PC)
2. Call of Duty: Ghosts (360, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Wii U, PC)
3. NBA 2K14 (360, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, PC)
4. Minecraft (360)
5. LEGO The Hobbit (360, PS3, Xbox One, PS4, 3DS, Wii U, PS Vita)
6. The LEGO Movie Videogame (360, 3DS, PS3, Wii U, Xbox One, PS4, PS Vita)
7. LEGO Marvel Super Heroes (360, PS3, DS, 3DS, PS4, Wii U, Xbox One, PS Vita, PC)
8. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (PS4, 360, PS3, Wii U, 3DS)
9. Grand Theft Auto V (360, PS3)
10. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (360, PS4, PS4, Xbox One, Wii U, PC)

NPD adds that Yoshi’s New Island (3DS), Infamous: Second Son (PS4), MLB 14: The Show (PS3), Kinect Sports Rivals (Xbox One) and Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfares (360) rank in the top 10 if you list software without SKU combinations.

While the Wii U doesn’t seem to be registering here, NPD says its software sales were up year-on-year by over 80 percent. And while Microsoft’s selling fewer Xbox Ones than Sony is PS4s, it’s still leading in software sales across the Xbox platform, according to Microsoft, selling 2.6 million units (I assume that’s across physical and digital, but Microsoft doesn’t specify). Of that, the Xbox One accounted for 447,000 and the Xbox 360 2.2 million, “totaling 53 percent of the total software market share,” again, according to Microsoft. Microsoft adds that the Xbox 360 is still the dominant seventh-gen console, selling 71,000 units in April.

Let’s shift gears and consider a few contextual points.

As noted last month, the numbers don’t mean precisely what they seem to (though sales numbers rarely do). But the picture this month is a trifle clearer than last. Gamasutra reminds us, for instance, that on Microsoft’s recent earnings call, CFO Amy Hood admitted Xbox One console supply was outpacing consumer demand. And here’s Gamasutra’s take: “This is a situation that did not appear to exist during the early days of the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, which reputedly saw slower, supply-constrained beginnings.”

That said, it remains a truism, however bored some are of hearing it at this point, that Sony’s PlayStation 4 is available in far more countries than Microsoft’s Xbox One (72 versus 13 at last count). That’s not an attempt to excuse the unit sales disparity, which is substantial and important in its own right, but it is an attempt to factor in the broader reality. Yes, potential buyer demographics veer and lurch wildly from country to country for more or less obvious reasons (population differences chief among them), and it’s certainly not the case that all the countries Microsoft isn’t in automatically account for all of that 2 million (or more) sales gulf. But it’s also baldfaced nonsense to suggest Sony and Microsoft are competing on precisely equal terms. I doubt anyone disagrees the PS4′s outperforming by wide margins, but the points aren’t mutually exclusive.

In any event, as Gamasutra further notes, Microsoft clearly seems to be having problems maintaining next-gen momentum: 115,000 units sold in April is a significant downturn from 311,000 units sold in March. Respawn’s Titanfall was supposed to energize the console, and it did to an extent in March, but not enough to give Microsoft the edge it’s been looking for over Sony: the lion’s share of Titanfall sales in April were for Xbox 360.

That edge may have instead arrived this week, however, with a $100 price drop and Microsoft’s excision of its motion-sensing Kinect camera from a new $399 SKU that’ll consist of the Xbox One alone (you can still buy the Xbox One with Kinect for $500, but it seems likely the bulk of Microsoft’s June hardware sales and future ones besides — the new SKU goes live on June 9 — are going to be Kinect-less).

Conventional wisdom holds that Sony’s been winning because the PS4 is less expensive and perhaps a shade more powerful (that’s the perception I’d wager most have, rightly or wrongly, reading article after article about this or that multi-platform game running at lower frame rates or pixel counts on Microsoft’s Xbox One). Microsoft just solved its price-perception problem. The questions remains whether it can mitigate this performance-perception one.

Its software lineup’s appeal, built largely on multi-platform games at this stage, is arguably on par with Sony’s, and its Xbox Live online community was one of the Xbox 360′s crown jewels, so there’s incentive from that angle for all those Xbox 360 gamers — who’ve outnumbered PS3 gamers by millions in the U.S. for years — to follow the Xbox platform’s flightpath, if only for social network reasons.

TIME Video Games

Far Cry 4 Exists, and You Can Play It in November

Ubisoft

Ubisoft's next grand outdoors-y sandbox game will take place in a "perilous and wild region" of the Himalayas.

Surprise, Far Cry 4 is a thing, still a first-person shooter, and it’ll arrive not two years after the last installment. That’s November 18 in the U.S. and two days later in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

But unlike Ubisoft’s other big late 2014 release, Assassin’s Creed Unity, which’ll ship for PlayStation 4, Windows and Xbox One alone, Far Cry 4 will live on those three platforms as well as the older, better established PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

I wouldn’t read too much into the latter, since Assassin’s Creed IV was also available for all of those systems, and it arguably didn’t harm the significant upturn, visually speaking, with the next-gen versions.

Pack your parkas and thermal undies, because Ubisoft says we’re going to Kyrat in Far Cry 4, a “perilous and wild region” in the Himalayan mountains that’s come under the bootheel of a despot. I assume that’s a rendering of said despot in the promo art above. (Hey, give the guy props for wearing rosette in the jungle. And are those red alligator skin you-know-what-kickers?) Ubisoft says to expect a “vast array of weapons,” and notes that vehicles and animals will once more play a significant role.

As with Far Cry 3, Ubisoft says its flagship Montreal-based studio is the design lead, with assistance from the company’s Red Storm, Toronto, Shanghai and Kiev satellites. (Far Cry 3 included Sweden-based Ubisoft Massive and U.K.-based Ubisoft Reflections, so the newcomers here — replacements? — are Toronto and Kiev.)

The game’s executive producer Dan Hay says to expect the game to “surprise” players, and that it’ll reveal more — it says it’ll offer its first look during its E3 media briefing — “in the coming months.” Preorders are being taken immediately, and include the usual array of bonus upgrades in the form of downloadable content.

TIME Video Games

Flappy Bird Creator: The Game Will Return With Multiplayer

Matt Peckham for TIME

Game's creator reiterates commitment to make game less addictive.

Flappy Bird creator Dong Nguyen made it clear in March that his serendipitous and deceptively casual “endless flapper” would return, but as he put it at the time on Twitter, “not soon.” So we’ve known Nguyen planned to resurface the game at some point, just not when.

Until now, that is: CNBC caught up with Nguyen, who said on Closing Bell that Flappy Bird will be back in August and with multiplayer to boot. He added, however, the game would be less addictive.

Flappy Bird‘s shock ascent from obscure time-waster to viral chart-buster occurred last January, even though the game had been available as early as May 2013. It quickly generated waves of controversy, including allegations that Nguyen had used bots to artificially inflate Flappy Bird‘s improbable chart rankings and that he plagiarized gameplay and art from other games.

Nguyen yanked Flappy Bird from mobile app stores back in February, citing the game’s addictiveness and writing “I cannot take this anymore.” Several clones and near-replicas of the game, including ones with multiplayer components, have surfaced for mobile devices and computer browsers since.

[CNBC]

TIME Reviews

Mario Kart 8 Review: Just What the Wii U Ordered

Nintendo

If you have a Wii U, Mario Kart 8 is the proverbial no-brainer for any sort of player, casual to pro.

Scooting down a neon-gobsmacked raceway in Mario Kart 8, I snake left, then right, then left again, chaining mini-turbos and rocketing past visually thumping loudspeakers, pulsing purplish stars and a tower-sized EQ that throbs in time with the soundtrack’s symphony of techno. Everything’s moving and alive and lit up like one long, continuous Jumbotron. And then I’m gliding over lacquered blackness, my just-upturned anti-grav wheels flying inches above what looks like grooved vinyl, the music flanging, the track ahead twisting and looping back at me — above me — like a disco Möbius strip.

That’s what it’s like to wrap your hands around the Wii U’s GamePad and plumb Mario Kart 8‘s wild panoply of wonderfully absurd tracks — 16 new, 16 reimagined — spinning, sideslipping, soaring and tumbling, roaring down vast mountainside waterfalls or bulleting through squalling banks of lightning-lit clouds. (“Hello, hello… I’m at a place called Vertigo…“)

Imagine a carnival of race tropes, a grab bag of driver profiles, tactics and race types, a melange of little gameplay iterations and configuration tweaks and “Holy crap, I’m racing up and down that?” moments jammed into a single game. To sum up my affection for this best of all Nintendo’s Mario Karts to date in a few words: lavish, kaleidoscopic, gasp-inducing, ingenious, exotic, balletic and — let’s switch from words to statements — something I’ll be playing for a long, long time.

Not because the basic kart racing’s been rejiggered in some wondrous new Nintendo-fied way. It hasn’t. Think of it more like a 22-year-old snowball that’s still snowballing, a slightly bigger smorgasbord of soothing cartoon-scape tracks and fanciful kart types, a collage of all-terrain vehicles (including actual ATVs this time, enlarging racer metrics like speed, acceleration and handling), some new objects to toss (the cleverest: the piranha plant that snaps up items, coins and other racers and the three-use boomerang flower that does damage outgoing and incoming), upside-down anti-grav racing (though since the screen shifts to maintain perspective, it doesn’t feel like upside-down racing), more karts and kart parts and unlockables and so forth. And then Nintendo whops you upside both retinas with some of the most sublime visuals ever seen in or out of a Nintendo game.

The ballyhooed new mechanic — antigravity racing, your wheels automatically flipping perpendicular to the ground, like Doc Brown’s DeLorean during Back to the Future‘s coda — makes the new every-which-way (including upside-down and backwards) tracks feel cooler to course through, but that’s about it unless you’re playing cooperatively.

The novelty here’s that instead of avoiding drivers, you’re encouraged to ram them, which causes both vehicles to turbo off in different directions. But it’s too happenstance as a solo tactic, other drivers slamming into you from behind unexpectedly, or sliding away at the last minute and wrecking your angle of attack. Team up with another player, by contrast, and it becomes an indispensable tactic, the two of you slamming into one another willfully, rocketing down the course like a yo-yoing centrifuge.

The series’ signature element of chance remains: the most skilled players in the world can still wind up losing an otherwise expertly played race thanks to another player’s inopportunely dispatched blue shell. And as usual, finding the fastest path through a course (and figuring out how to maximize drifting through it) is at least half of winning. You can hone your skills learning from the best players by using returning features like Ghost mode (in Time Trials), uploading your own performances as you like. And though I wasn’t able to test it (it’s not working yet), the game now supports (modest) editing and uploading of video clips to YouTube, a move that only brings it up to par with its rivals, but warrants an attaboy nonetheless.

You can’t talk about Mario Kart 8, the most important game Nintendo’s yet released for its flagship console, without thinking about the troubled state of the Wii U. Mario Kart 8 alone won’t save the Wii U, if indeed the Wii U needs saving. That’s the implicit question, the kart-riding elephant in all the game’s glittering stadiums, water parks, shoals, harbors, mansions and electrodromes. No single game has the power to make (or, for that matter, break) something as multivalent as a platform. Mario Kart 8 is wonderful, thank goodness, but it’s still just one game.

Nor does the racer best emblematize what the Wii U stands for: playing games with a tablet that’s not a tablet, juggling input from disjunct screens that aren’t supposed to feel disjunct (and they definitely seem at odds here — I rarely felt comfortable enough to look down). Sure, the Wii U GamePad offers sometimes-complimentary feedback, but nothing about its stack of command center feeds tracking racer positions or letting you enable motion control steering on the fly feel essential, much less exude halcyon-days-Wii novelty.

Put it this way: if you have a Wii U, it’s the proverbial no-brainer for any sort of player, casual to pro. If you don’t own a Wii U, here’s a reason to buy one, with the caveat that the Wii U’s software future looks pretty hazy right now. Nintendo’s deluxe 32GB Wii U bundled with Mario Kart 8 runs $330, knocking $30 off the standalone price for the racer, so there’s that, but it’s still $330 for one game (plus a driving wheel and Wii Remote) and a platform with an uncertain future. But it’s also one of the best games Nintendo’s delivered, and a reminder that when the company’s firing on all cylinders — even when it’s standing on its own shoulders, gameplay-wise — its creative output remains peerless.

5 out of 5

Wii U

TIME Internet

Kim Jong Un Takes on the Capitalists in New Video Game

With additional assistance from the North Korean leader's best friend, Dennis Rodman

Other video games let you experience life as a cat, but now you can pretend to be a dictator.

Atlanta-based Moneyhorse Games created a side-scrolling video game that will be available soon for PCs and mobile devices. It features North Korea’s Kim Jong Un gallivanting through forests on unicorn and dashing through the streets of Pyongyang, battling U.S. paratroopers and eventually setting fire to an American flag.

Oh, and of course, Kim Jong Un’s noted bestie Dennis Rodman will be involved.

As the Guardian points out, this game — simply titled “Glorious Leader!” — could trivialize the very serious accusations against the dictator’s regime and the many perceived problems within the secluded nation. Moneyhorse Games CEO Jeff Miller told the Guardian that the company hopes to “carefully walk the line of satire without being an apologist for the regime.”

(h/t The Daily Dot)

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser