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)

TIME Video Games

Microsoft Offering Xbox Live Refund Ahead of Massive Changes

Subscribers can ask for pro-rated refunds between from June until the end of August.

Microsoft is offering refunds to Xbox Live Gold subscribers who want out of their memberships ahead of drastic changes to the service, the company revealed Wednesday.

The refund, announced in an FAQ page, comes weeks before Xbox owners who subscribe to entertainment services such as Netflix, Hulu or HBO GO will no longer need an additional $60 annual Gold membership to those services on their console. However, they’ll still need a Gold membership for most online gaming.

Once the changeover happens in June, subscribers will be able to cancel their Gold memberships and get a pro-rated refund, according to Microsoft’s FAQ page. You can make a request through Microsoft’s support website, with a cutoff date of August 31 for refund requests.

Microsoft’s Xbox Live subscription changes come as the company is locked in a sales battle with rival Sony and its PlayStation 4 console. PlayStation owners who also separately subscribe to entertainment services like Netflix have never needed to pay Sony an extra fee to use those services on their console, a major selling point in the PlayStation’s favor.

TIME Video Games

4 Reasons the $399 Xbox One Without Kinect Is Good for All of Us

Kinect may have needed us, but we don't need Kinect. Giving us the option to exercise our preferences (while saving $100) is precisely the right maneuver.

Look, I know you want to pick a horse when it comes to video game consoles, and you don’t want anyone telling you that you picked wrong, or less than ideally. Everyone loves their horse. To be clear, that’s not what I’m up to here. I love the PlayStation 4: it’s a phenomenal piece of hardware. This is me endorsing Microsoft’s decision to sell a version of Xbox One without Kinect, not an endorsement of Microsoft or Xbox One. I have platform preferences like anyone, but they’re not part of this piece.

These are simply my thoughts about Microsoft’s decision today to announce a Kinect-less Xbox One for $399, coming on June 9. I think it’s as good an idea as any the company’s had since it dreamt up the Xbox 360 last decade. And given all the hoopla the company’s made about Kinect being an essential part of the Xbox One experience, I think it’s just as tectonic.

It levels the playing field, price-wise.

Obviously, but that’s important for less obvious reasons: the Xbox One was already selling reasonably well at $500, if nowhere near PS4 numbers, and that’s a relevant point. But the Xbox One is well ahead of Xbox 360 sales for the same period, and it’s doing so in a fraction as many markets as the PS4.

And now it’s $100 less expensive. Officially. You can make the argument it was already $50 to $100 less expensive thanks to retailer deals and promotions, or after you factor in the cost of this or that bundled game, but making the Xbox One’s baseline price official locks Microsoft in, and makes future price shaves or bundle deals that much sweeter.

I know: You want to tell me the playing field isn’t really level, how a game like Assassin’s Creed IV runs at a lower resolution on the Xbox One than it does the PS4, and how that’s been a problem for several other games, too. I get it, but that’s always struck me as a shortcut to thinking, a way of reducing artful experiences to processing cycles (to say nothing of its presumptions about what these systems are going to be capable of in a year or three).

Is the platform powerful enough to render the games you want to play? That’s what matters. Unless you’re a videophile — and in that sense, a fraction of a fraction of the populace — that’s the only thing that ought to matter.

It lets Microsoft off the hook, vision-wise.

I have no idea if recently appointed Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella had his hand in this, so I’ll just say that I find Kinect a fascinating experiment, and one I’d love to see continue. It’s what you get when you marry Minority Report, Sony’s Eye Toy and Dragon Dictate, a post-Wii riff on futuristic notions that your body and voice are all you need to make stuff happen in increasingly semantic, augmented reality environs. But it’s currently like that (possibly apocryphal) Gandhi quote, where he supposedly said in response to a question about his views on Western civilization, “I think it would be a good idea.”

I think Kinect would be a good idea. But it’s a work in progress. And foisting it on gamers as part and parcel of the Xbox One experience was probably not a good idea, especially given what it did to the system’s sell price. This move lets the company double down on pitching the Xbox One to serious gamers — their first line of supporters, same as Sony’s PS4.

It tells us that Microsoft’s willing to act, even when it hurts.

Imagine Apple doing this with…well, any of its products. Microsoft’s yanked feature after feature from the Xbox One’s launch arsenal — mostly for the better, in my view. That’s partly the sign of a company having trouble reading its audience, and too much of that can shut you down, but it’s also the sign of a company that’s willing to admit defeat and follow wildly different vectors.

Yes, the Xbox One’s trajectory since launch looks like a series of withdrawals, from its position on home invasiveness to those stringent preliminary used-game requirements. But ask any military leader: sometimes you have to retreat to find your footing.

It dovetails with Microsoft’s equally surprising paywall shift.

After years of stonewalling (and griping by blowhards like me), Microsoft’s finally going to unpack apps like Netflix and Hulu from its $60-per-year Xbox Live subscription requirement (and that’s for both the Xbox One and Xbox 360). That requirement’s always felt like double-dipping, since you were in essence paying Microsoft a toll to access something that had its own subscription fees (and for which you paid nothing on Sony’s more open-ended PlayStations 3 and 4). Launching a Kinect-less Xbox One now is the meat and potatoes here, but unbundling entertainment apps from Xbox Live is the gravy.

Final Thoughts

Yep, pulling Kinect out of the box poses problems for the handful of games that depend on it — games like Just Dance 2014 and Kinect Sports Rivals. But by doing this early on, Microsoft’s minimizing the fallout, which could have been considerable had this instead happened two or three years out (though to all the developers who’ve slaved to make the peripheral relevant, including those at Microsoft designing the One’s interface, you have my sympathies).

But where I can see the logic in arguments that selling a platform with innovative peripherals can increase diversity in game design, I’m not sure Kinect’s such a peripheral. It’s been a boon for armchair innovators who’ve paired Kinect with PCs to come up with unexpected, often very cool contraptions, but it’s also important to remember this move changes none of that.

This decision is Microsoft recognizing two things: that Kinect isn’t a killer enough idea to justify a $100 price differential with its closest competitor, and that a $399 Kinect-less system probably moves a ton more systems than a $499 one.

We’ll see. The worst that could happen to video games at the platform level, in my view, is a major competitor pulling too far ahead of another. That might sound like victory to diehard fans, but it’s trouble down the road. Microsoft would never couch it as such, but the Xbox One will cost $399 in June in part because of the PS4. It only benefits us then, as consumers, if this maneuver allows Microsoft to regain a bit of lost ground, keeping the pressure on Sony, and for both systems to move forward, side by side.

TIME viral

Watch Cats Attempt to Play Candy Crush 

The video game is catnip to humans, too

Cat videos and Candy Crush are two of the most addicting things in the world, so what happens when they come together? This video compiles cats from all around the world trying their luck at the matching video game, and the results are hilarious.

The cats swipe madly at the candies—which might be as good a strategy as any for the game’s higher levels. The video is destined to join the same pantheon of animals-playing-video-games videos that includes skateboarding dog plays video game and this frog trying to catch virtual ants.

At least you don’t need to spend extra money to keep playing with cats. Unless you’re in a cat cafe, that is.

TIME Video Games

Boom: Microsoft Releasing a $399 Xbox One Without Kinect in June

The surprise announcement comes on the heels of revelations that the company will unbundle popular entertainment apps from Xbox Live $60-per-year subscription requirements.

Things must either be tough enough sales-wise, or Microsoft’s just feeling generous enough spirit-wise, that it’s paying heed to games luminary (and ex-Microsofter) Peter Molyneux’s bold early April declaration, when he said in an interview, “I’m sure they’re going to release an Xbox One without Kinect. It would be unthinkable that they wouldn’t.”

Make that thinkable: Microsoft just announced a new Xbox One SKU, and it’s priced to compete with Sony’s PlayStation 4 at $399. The only catch: no Kinect.

That’s as tectonic a move as any we’ve seen in years. It’s almost surely Microsoft capitulating on some level, because all we heard about from company executives in the months leading up to the Xbox One’s November launch (and ever since) is how absolutely essential Kinect is (or was) to Microsoft’s view of the gaming-verse.

The new model will be available on June 9 in the U.S. The announcement follows recent news that Microsoft intends to let loose various entertainment apps from behind the company’s $60 a year Xbox Live paywall, including access to popular streaming video apps like Netflix and Hulu.

TIME Video Games

Nintendo Apologizes for Not Allowing Same-Sex Relationships in Tomodachi Life

Nintendo Tomodachi Gay Marriage
This photo provided by Nintendo shows a screenshot from the video game, "Tomodachi Life." Nintendo/AP

The company issued a formal apology Friday and promised to be "more inclusive" and "better [represent] all players" in future versions of the life simulation game. The apology comes after a wave of protests demanding the company include same-sex relationships in the game

Stating that it’s “committed to fun and entertainment for everyone,” Nintendo issued a formal apology Friday afternoon for it’s failure to include same-sex relationships in the upcoming 3DS game Tomodachi Life.

Billed as a “life simulation,” Tomodachi Life allows players to use virtual avatars knowns as Miis to engage in everyday activities with each other, from eating to modeling clothing to falling in love with other Miis right up to (and including) marriage. The same-sex controversy arose when, in the original Japanese version of the game, players unearthed a glitch that allowed users to re-gender male characters as female, allowing the semblance of same-sex relationship. But Nintendo eliminated that bug, unleashing a wave of protests and campaigns demanding the company enable same-sex relationships as part of the game’s upcoming North American and European release (it launches stateside and in Europe on June 6).

Here’s Nintendo’s apology in full:

We apologize for disappointing many people by failing to include same-sex relationships in Tomodachi Life. Unfortunately, it is not possible for us to change this game’s design, and such a significant development change can’t be accomplished with a post-ship patch. At Nintendo, dedication has always meant going beyond the games to promote a sense of community, and to share a spirit of fun and joy. We are committed to advancing our longtime company values of fun and entertainment for everyone. We pledge that if we create a next installment in the Tomodachi series, we will strive to design a game-play experience from the ground up that is more inclusive, and better represents all players.

It’s impossible, standing on the outside, to say how “significant” the development change Nintendo refers to would have been, but Nintendo’s quality control is legendary in the industry — it does nothing lightly or easily. The company is doubtless hoping its formal apology and promise to be “more inclusive” and “better [represent] all players” in future versions will quell or at least mitigate some of the outrage.

TIME Video Games

5 Great No-Fuss Sites for Finding Classic Computer Games

You could sit there at your desk pretending to work all day or you could play some of your favorite old-school computer games instead.

Actually, pro tip: a lot of these sites contain old adventure games that require you to do a lot of typing. And typing sounds just like work. You’re now pretending to work by playing old-school computer games. Everyone wins! Except your company, but it’s not like you’re employee of the year anyway.

Let’s move on. Here are five sites that remind us all of simpler times.

GOG.com

GOG
GOG.com

The “GOG” in GOG.com stands for good old games, and the site delivers. With more than 700 retro titles, you’re bound to feel the warm tickle of nostalgia coursing through your now-withered veins. This site is your childhood, in web form. And now you have money.

Games generally run between $5 and $20 or so, depending upon their popularity and year of release. Everything you buy is kept in a library you can access whenever you like, and games can be easily downloaded and installed on any of your computers.

Steam

Classic games on
Steam

Like GOG.com, Steam’s classic games section sports a bunch of blasts from the past. Keep an eye out for sales, as they happen often: Some games can dip as low as a few bucks, while collectors editions and multi-packs can run upwards of $30 in some cases. You’ll need to download and install the Steam app in order to access your games, too, but they’ll all be there waiting for you when you’re ready to play.

Web-Adventures.org

Web Adventures  Full Games List
Web-Adventures.org

The half hour I spent playing Zork while researching this piece? Not the worst half hour of my life. I forgot how hard it is to try to retain a mental map, though. That’s the challenge of text-based games where your imagination processes all the graphics. Web-Adventures.org houses just shy of 20 old-timey text-based adventure games, all playable right from within your browser.

Sarien.net

Sarien  Instant adventure gaming
Sarien.net

Speaking of browser-based adventure games, if you ever got hooked on Sierra games as a kid (like I did, repeatedly), Sarien.net is a must-visit site. It’s home to seven versions of classic Sierra games (King’s Quest I to III, Police Quest, Space Quest I and II, and more), all of which are playable from within your browser. You can create save points and everything, and the kicker is that you can see other people’s characters wandering around if a bunch of you are playing the same game at the same time.

AGD Interactive

Adventure Game Downloads
AGD Interactive

If you can’t get enough Sierra (obviously I can’t) but you wonder what some of your favorites would feel like as more modern-day reboots, you should absolutely check out AGD Interactive’s site. This game studio has painstakingly recreated the first three King’s Quest games and the second Quest for Glory game — with completely overhauled graphics, music and all-new voice tracks. They’re all free, too, which is insane.

Bonus Level

If you’ve somehow managed to play your way through the five sites mentioned above, make sure to also check out Abandonia. The site houses almost 1,400 old-school titles, some of which are available to download if they’ve been deemed “abandoned” by their creators, and others that contain links to where you can purchase them. Even if you don’t play a single game, the site itself is a blast, with screenshots and writeups of all the old classics.

If you do decide to get your hands dirty by downloading some old titles, you’ll need to use emulation software to run them. In that case, the gold standard for most old games is DOSBox. If you’ve never used DOS, DOSBox can get a little tricky but it’s worth learning — see a good how-to here. It’s an excellent life skill to have, like knowing how to golf or being able to French-roll your jeans. I don’t have to tell you that the conversation at every dinner party invariably ends up being about DOSBox once everyone gets a few drinks in them, so you might as well know what you’re talking about.

And if you really want to do some digging, the Internet Archive has a collection of more than 5,700 classic games, many available for download or playable in-browser. It’s a lot to wade through, but there are some real gems if you’re patient.

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