TIME Video Games

Splatoon Is the Best Game Nintendo’s Made in Years

Nintendo

The iconic Japanese developer rolls out another brilliant first-party game that's unlike any other

How goofy was the elevator pitch for Nintendo’s Wii U team shooter Splatoon? Play as a head-tentacled, paintgun schlepping biped that can morph into a turbo squid? Zip around multiplex obstacle courses, squaring off against fellow ink-spuming cephalopods while spraying viscous goo to brand your turf? Grind on gloop-splashed rails like a madcap Tony Hawk/Jackson Pollock mashup?

Too weird to succeed? I hope not, because with all due respect to rethinks like last year’s Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, I haven’t played a Nintendo game this gonzo and flat out fun in years.

Here’s how it works: Two squads of four players (not platoons, though that’s what inspired the catchy portmanteau) battle in skatepark-inspired arenas, outfitted with ink-spewing gadgetry and one imperative, to cover as much of the area’s ground space with your team’s color as possible before time runs out. The controls are simple: pick up the Wii U’s tablet controller, thumbstick in the direction you want to move, and swivel the tablet in the one you want to shoot.

You can ink over already saturated areas and take out enemies by assaulting them with your weapon, but don’t look for kill counts or headshot tallies, because Splatoon is about maximum coverage, not carnage—an anti-sanguine splatter-fest, and a graffiti vandal’s dream come true. And it only sounds shambolic. There’s a deep tactical shooter lurking beneath all that polychromatic spatter.

Before you’ve so much as glimpsed the leveling and gear grind, you’ll have to grapple with Splatoon‘s funky shapeshifting tactic, either firing paint slugs as a slow-moving bipedal Inkling, or holding a button to insta-morph into a squid. In squid mode, you can dart across ink-glazed surfaces, moving twice as fast while recharging your dwindling ink supply. Swim into enemy ink, of course, and you’ll slither to a stop, opening yourself up to enemy fire.

Splatoon builds on its ink-traversal idea by letting you craft “roads” through enemy lines, or swim up otherwise unclimbable platforms. What if Tony Hawk had to lay pipe to get anywhere? It’s a smart, often pivotal incentive to fashion shortcuts, take out snipers, cut through enemy-covered terrain, or get somewhere high fast to maximize your ink-spatter-to-surface-area ratio (the further ink falls, the more area its soaks). Think an extreme sports game meets a jet ski racer meets a coloring book.

The possibilities snowball when you factor all the gear abilities (dozens of speed, damage and stealth perks associated with headwear, shirts and shoes) and special weapons (bombs, mines, ink-tornado-flinging bazookas, mongo paint-rollers) that you can buy from shops with cash earned by leveling up in online matches. But it’s also beginner-friendly: The game keeps special weapons in check by requiring you ink so much ground before they unlock, then limits how long they’re usable. And a helpful “super jump” does away with lonely re-spawns (at your base, after someone takes you out) by letting you touch a teammate’s icon on the Wii U GamePad’s screen and rocket across the map to wherever they’re currently battle-painting.

Don’t let how insane any of that sounds put you off playing. It’s not how Splatoon feels in action, whether inking some quiet corner, or in a duel with a higher level opponent. Low level players can routinely steamroll high level ones, because Splatoon‘s basic maneuvers work as a kind of competitive equalizer. I’m not talking about luck, or something like Mario Kart‘s blue shell, where there’s an ultimate rock that can crush someone else’s scissor, just that Nintendo’s designed the game so that how you play—your “play style,” as the company puts it in the manual—often trumps what you’re playing with.

I do wish Splatoon had an offline bot mode so you could practice when the matchmaking service peters out (you can “recon” levels solo, but that’s it). And the game definitely needs an option to cancel while waiting for an online match to start. As it is, once you’ve agreed to join, Nintendo locks you to a timeout while searching for matches (the clever little Doodle Jump-inspired game you can play on the Wii U GamePad is amusing but poor compensation). It’s there to help seed the game’s online pool, but having to flip the Wii U’s power switch to kill the process when real life intervenes is plain unfriendly.

I wasn’t able to try the Battle Dojo, a 1-on-1 mode where you and another player in the same room compete by shooting ink at balloons. And I’ve only dabbled with the offline story mode, though it’s so far classic Nintendo: platform through linear levels with ink-related conundrums, then battle cunningly designed bosses (think Shadow of the Colossus‘s enemy-climbing angle, only with ink). It’s as cutesy and goofball and clearly designed to fit within Nintendo’s family of future-looking franchises as you’d expect of a new IP as heavily marketed as this one’s been.

But those activities feel like distractions from Splatoon‘s triumphant team-play mode, the game’s heart and soul, and the reason a guy like me, no fan of competitive online shooters, can’t stop playing the darned thing. There’s nothing else quite like it, nor the cathartic dopamine jolt to be had when you squid-skim up a paint-smeared quarter pipe, an Inkzooka at the ready, leap over the edge, take aim with your weapon, and reduce a startled opponent to goo.

5 out of 5

Reviewed on Wii U

TIME Video Games

How The Witcher 3 Just Got Significantly Better

Just about a week after its initial release

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt launched last week to a fanfare of critical acclaim. CD Projekt Red’s massive, open-world role-playing game is being heralded as a “shot across the bow of the open world genre” (Polygon) and “one of the biggest games of the year” (PC Gamer). TIME’s games reviewer, Matt Peckham, has neither been seen or heard from since he loaded a promotional code for the game into his Playstation 4 more than a week ago.

But there has been some controversy over the game’s graphics. Some players have complained that the final version’s graphics aren’t quite what developer’s implicitly promised in early demonstrations and promotional videos. And most reviewers have dinged the game for occasionally stuttering frame-rates on the Playstation 4 and Xbox One versions. Extensive benchmarking of The Witcher 3 for PC seems to show that some of the title’s built-in graphics technology can significantly affect frame rates.

MORE: 10 Tips for Mastering The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

A new patch for the PC version of the game, released by CD Projekt Red on May 25, aims to begin addressing some of the issues. It also adds some player-requested features such as extensive key-binding options. From the 1.04 patch notes:

-Rebinding of all keys is now available after switching on the ‘Unlock Bindings’ option in the Options\Key Bindings submenu.

-Corrects an issue in the dialogue system that might have caused dialogue looping in certain scenes.

-Fixes an issue with incorrect behavior of Wild Hunt warriors after they were affected by the Axii Sign.

-Corrects a bug that caused spontaneous combustion of gas clouds.

-1280 x 720 resolution is now properly displayed as a valid resolution option.

-Fixes boat stuttering in cutscenes.

-Texture rendering quality for the high and ultra presets has been improved.

-Further improvements made in NVIDIA Hairworks performance.

-A few additional gwent cards are now available in the Prologue area.

-Fixes an issue where users with usernames incorporating non-Latin characters were unable to import saves from The Witcher 2.

-Includes a series of overall stability and performance improvements.

-Fixes issues related to alt + tabbing and minimizing the game window.

-Updates the game icon.

-Enlarges the loot pop-up window in the UI.

-Fixes an issue where, in certain circumstances, the comparison window could extend beyond the game borders in the UI.

-Upgrading items included in gear sets no longer destroys rune sockets on said items.

-Introduces small tweaks in the UI for gwent.

-Corrects some missing translations in localized versions.

TIME Video Games

How to Play Pac-Man for Free on Its 35th Anniversary

Pac-Man arcade game.
Dennis Hallinan—Jupiter Images/AP Pac-Man arcade game.

Celebrate the anniversary by playing the iconic game

Happy birthday, Pac-Man! The world’s favorite hungry yellow orb turns 35 today. The arcade game was a sensation from the time it launched in 1980, eventually inspiring an animated series, a top-10 single and a never-ending cycle of sequels and spinoffs.

Today, thankfully, you no longer need a pocketful of quarters to enjoy one of the world’s most iconic video games. Here are a few ways you can play Pac-Man for free right now:

Google

For Pac-Man’s 30th anniversary, Google made one of its most famous Google Doodles, turning the logo on the search engine’s homepage into a customized version of the arcade game. The game, which marked the first time Google ever made its logo interactive, is still available to play in the company’s Doodle archives.

Pac-Man Lite

Bandai Namco, the creator of Pac-Man, is offering a limited version of original game for free on iOS. Users only get a limited number of continues before they have to either have to pay for additional tokens or watch video ads to unlock more levels. But all 256 levels of the original title are here waiting to be conquered.

Pac-Man + Tournaments

The Android version of Pac-Man features the classic game available for free as well as weekly tournaments featuring new mazes that players can pay to access. In some modes the classic Pac-Man ghosts are replaced with Android robots.

Read Next: This Is What Pac-Man’s Creator Thinks 35 Years Later

TIME Video Games

This Is What Pac-Man‘s Creator Thinks 35 Years Later

TIME talked to the creator of one of the most important characters in gaming history

He’s made billions off slot-fed quarters, starred in 15 mobile games since 2008, featured in that goofy Bud Light commercial at this year’s Super Bowl, and even appeared his own Google Doodle. Who would’ve thought 35 years on that we’d still be raving about a banana-colored, dot-noshing disc with a love/hate ghost fixation and a more-than-mild fruit fetish?

Today marks the 35th anniversary of Pac-Man‘s arrival in Japan on May 22, 1980, an arcade game whose eponymous character remains the most recognizable in the annals of gaming. We caught up with Pac-Man‘s Japanese creator, Toru Iwatani, who reminded us of what inspired the character, then told us how he feels about the game today.

Iwatani first saw Pac-Man in a pizza

It’s a long-told tale, but in case you haven’t heard it, Iwatani says his inspiration for the Pac-Man character came from one of the most popular dishes in the world.

“While thinking about the word ‘eat’ when taking a piece of pizza, I saw that the rest of pizza looked like a character, and that’s how Pac-Man’s iconic shape was created,” says Iwatani. “I realized that although keywords such as ‘fashion’ and ‘love’ would appeal more to women, my opinion is that the word ‘eat’ is universally appealing and would attract their attention as well. That’s why I went with this idea.”

At the time, arcades were basically boys clubs

“In the late 1970s, there were a lot of games in arcades which featured killing aliens or other enemies that mostly appealed to boys to play,” explains Iwatani. “The image of arcades was that they were darkly lit and their restrooms were dirty.”

Iwatani wanted to make arcades into date hangouts

“This perception [of arcades as dude hangouts] was similar in Japan,” says Iwatani. “I wanted to change that by introducing game machines in which cute characters appeared with simpler controls that would not be intimidating to female customers and couples to try out … and couples visiting arcades would increase.”

35 years later, Iwatani sees the game as plausibly feminist

“My opinion is that Pac-Man became popular with everyone, from youngsters to elders to men and women because of our original idea to make a game that spoke to both female customers and couples,” he says. “Empowering Pac-Man to chase the ghosts gives players a refreshed perspective on the game’s core gameplay, and I think this idea also appeals to a new generation of female players who have grown up empowered and want to be the pursuer rather than being the pursued.”

He “modeled” the sound effect Pac-Man makes when swallowing to sound designer Toshio Kai himself

“I asked for a game version of the typical Japanese mimetic words ‘Paku Paku’ that’s commonly used to describe people eating food,” explains Iwatani. “I described the ‘swallow’ sound effect that I wanted to Kai-san by eating fruit, and by making actual gurgling sounds.”

He sees Pac-Man as one of the medium’s exemplars

“It might be a bit of a stretch to use a Beatles comparison, but if the song “Yesterday” is looked at as THE standard musical number for music, then I think Pac-Man is THE standard for games. Thus, Pac-Man will be loved forever, and I’m proud of that.”

And there’s still more he’d like to do with the character

“Outside of the original Pac-Man within the maze-game concept, there was the Pac-Land arcade game in which Pac-Man appeared as more of a full character with hands and feet giving him more abilities (the game also took him out of the maze),” says Iwatani, reflecting on some of Pac-Man’s later appearances. “And there’s Pac-Man World, when Pac-Man entered a 3D world.”

“I’ll keep working on ideas for Pac-Man,” he says, then slyly adds “Perhaps there’s room for a singing Pac-Man in the future.”

 

TIME Video Games

Here’s Everything We Know About the Warcraft Movie So Far

After a decade, it's finally coming out

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The upcoming Warcraft movie—an epic fantasy drawn from one of the most popular video game franchises in history—doesn’t have to be great. It just has to be better than the next biggest action-tastic blockbuster scheduled for June 10, 2016.

Think of it as a little like the two campers chased by a bear (the bear, in this case, symbolizing critical presumptions that any film based on a video game must by definition be dreadful): you don’t have to beat the bear, you just have to outrun the next guy. What do we know about the film so far, aside from the fact that its fellow runners-from-bear include an Angry Birds film, a Ratchet & Clank film and an Uncharted film? Here’s the breakdown:

It’s been in the offing for nearly a decade

That’s the nature of projects like these: sometimes they bounce all over creation before coming to fruition. Blizzard announced plans to develop a live-action Warcraft film back in May 2006. The film resurfaced intermittently, in various stages of development, for years after, but didn’t really move forward until 2013, when Blizzard announced it had brought esteemed filmmaker Duncan Jones onboard.

Its director’s last two films were solid

We can thank Warcraft director Duncan Jones for both 2009’s Moon and 2011’s Source Code, two totally different (one introspective, the other a little gonzo) science fiction films that had one thing in common: they didn’t suck. Jones seems a deft hand both behind the camera and in front of a word processor (he wrote the story for Moon, and co-wrote the screenplay for Warcraft).

Jones surfaced on the project after Blizzard parted ways with the film’s former director, Evil Dead‘s Sam Raimi. Blizzard’s properties couldn’t be less in his wheelhouse, tonally and historically speaking, but he’s a coup (for Blizzard) by any measure.

And Jones seems to understand a crucial tenet of contemporary filmmaking

“I hear this ‘CGI in film sucks,’ mantra again & again,” wrote Duncan a few months ago on Twitter, rejecting the blanket claim that computer generated imagery wrecks movies. “It doesn’t,” he continued, arguing that “It’s a tool like any other. It can be done well & it can be done shit. The best CGI has you forgetting its CGI, and accepting the visual as whatever it is supposed to be. Like props. No one has an issue with ‘props’ in film, do they?”

Blizzard’s own Chris Metzen wrote the story

Metzen is to Blizzard as George Lucas to the Star Wars saga: the world-builder responsible for Blizzard’s iconic Warcraft, Diablo and StarCraft narrative universes. It’s his story vision that Jones and co-screenwriter Charles Leavitt (Blood Diamond) distilled into the film’s script.

How excited should that make you? If you’re not a Warcraft wonk, it’s impossible to say. And if you are, ask yourself this: How excited have you been about the frame stories (not the gameplay) that Blizzard’s been telling in these games for the past two decades?

It’s about orcs fighting humans

Blizzard’s first Warcraft game was called Warcraft: Orcs & Humans. That pretty well sums up the film’s elevator pitch: humans versus orcs! (Or “the alliance” versus “the horde,” in Warcraft-speak.)

Okay, so with Jones attached, we’ll hopefully get a bit more storytelling subtlety than the games provide, ideally something more introspective and character-driven that capitalizes on Warcraft‘s basic two-sided racism trope.

It has a few female actors, but the cast is mostly guys

It looks like Paula Patton (Déjà Vu, Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol) and Ruth Negga (Breakfast on Pluto, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.) are the only two women of note. If you want to see a bunch of guys getting their Gladiator on, on the other hand, box presumably checked.

The guy who scored HBO’s Game of Thrones is doing the music

That would be Ramin Djawadi, also known (and respected) for his work on films like Blade: Trinity, Iron Man and Pacific Rim, as well as TV shows like Prison Break and Person of Interest.

It was originally due this December

We can thank Star Wars: The Force Awakens for Warcraft‘s bump to mid-2016 (not the film’s production—filming itself ended back in May 2014). Not even an estimated $100 million film based on a video gaming juggernaut (the highest grossing game of all time, with revenue eclipsing the highest grossing films of all time) could stand against Disney’s upcoming take on a galaxy far, far away.

TIME Video Games

10 Tips for Mastering The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

It's massive, it's gorgeous, but it's by no means easy

CD Projekt Red’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt launched this week. The epic, sandbox-style roleplaying is, well, everything. It’s Skyrim plus Grand Theft Auto V plus Red Dead Redemption plus Nintendo’s upcoming version of Zelda for the Wii U.

The Witcher 3 is the “biggest open-world roleplaying game of the year, one of the most critically acclaimed in years, and the final act of a trilogy that since the first act arrived in October 2007,” according to TIME’s Matt Peckham. Also, it’s not very easy. The Polish developer’s saga about a cat-eyed monster slayer—available for Playstation 4, Xbox One and PC—is an acquired taste, both in terms of narrative and game mechanics. Players are only beginning to unpack everything hidden inside the game. But here are a few tips and resources if you’re just digging in.

Change the difficulty if you’re stuck. Luckily, you can alter it in the settings menu at any time.

Choices have consequences. Taking a little extra time to help out an NPC can yield results far down the line. Likewise, being brusque or unhelpful can hinder your progress. Choose wisely.

Listen or read the dialogue—all of it. Seems obvious, but it can be tempting to skip through the often-lengthy jags of NPCS. Most of the time, the dialogue contains useful quest hints that can cut down on the time it takes to complete them. They’re usually quite funny too.

Blow the doors off. Many objects—such as doors or weak rock walls—can be destroyed by using the Aard sign.

Be greedy. As you wander the world, you’ll be presented with a prompt to loot, well, just about everything. Do so, aside from the occasional haul from chest, even smaller batches of loot will turn up useful crafting and alchemy items.

Orient yourself. Perusing notice boards in the game’s various hamlets and towns also reveals nearby points of interest with side quests and other activities.

MORE: 5 Reasons People Love The Witcher So Much

Rely on your senses. Your Witcher senses to be specific. Even when you’re not on a quest that requires detective work, they’ll help you spot loot-able items in the environment.

— Booze matters. Alcohol can be used to recharge your store of potions when you’re mediating/resting.

— So do trophies. They’re for more than just show. Always have one trophy equipped as they provide useful bonuses at zero cost.

Patch up your gear. Items can be repaired (for a cost) at blacksmiths. Purchasing a few repair kits to fix up your gear mid-quest is a wise move.

For more help, the subreddit on The Witcher has tons of very useful information. Kotaku has an extensive guide here, as does IGN.

TIME Video Games

Nintendo Actually Just Hired Bowser to Head Sales

No word on whether the new executive will give a fiefdom to his seven children

For Nintendo lovers, Bowser is the ultimate baddie, the fire-breathing lizard king that has absconded with Princess Peach since the 1980s. For some Nintendo employees, Bowser is now their boss. And not a video game boss.

Nintendo of America announced today that it had hired Doug Bowser as VP of sales. Before joining Nintendo, Bowser worked at Electronic Arts.

It has been a bust few months for Nintendo, a one-time video game leader that had had a tough few years, marked by disappointing sales of its WiiU console. In March the company announced it was finally ready to embrace mobile games, meaning Mario and friends could be on your iPhone soon.

You can read the full press release here.

TIME Video Games

Test Your Super Mario Bros. Skills in Nintendo’s World Championships

Nintendo

From California to Florida to New York

For those who immediately began practicing their Super Mario Bros. skills after the announcement that the Nintendo World Championships would make its return, Nintendo has revealed how players can actually compete—and what they’ll be playing.

Nintendo announced on Tuesday that qualifying competitions will be held in eight Best Buy locations throughout the United States on May 30. The best player from each location will move onto the final competition in Los Angeles, which is being held during E3 in June.

The qualifying round will test players with Ultimate NES Remix for the Nintendo 3DS, which puts a new spin on classic games. Players will try their hand at challenges based on Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, and Dr. Mario. Competitors will be able to reach their highest scores at each location from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Here are the eight locations:

  • 1717 Harrison St. San Francisco, CA
  • 3675 Pacific Coast Highway Torrance, CA
  • 10760 NW 17th St. Miami, FL
  • 900 E. Golf Road Schaumburg, IL
  • 12905 Elm Creek Blvd. N Maple Grove, MN
  • 5001 Northern Blvd. Long Island City, NY
  • 9378 N. Central Expressway Dallas, TX
  • 2214 S. 48th St. Tacoma, WA

Another eight competitors will be chosen by Nintendo to play in the finals on June 14.

This article originally appeared on EW.com.

TIME Video Games

Microsoft Taps Hit Game Producer to Develop ‘HoloLens Experiences’

Spike TV's "2010 Video Game Awards" - Arrivals
Frederick M. Brown—Getty Images BioWare co-founder Ray Muzyka, Mass Effect 2 executive producer Casey Hudson, and BioWare co-founder Greg Zeschuk at Spike TV's "2010 Video Game Awards" held at the LA Convention Center on December 11, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.

BioWare's Casey Hudson will focus on designing 3-D games for Microsoft's augmented reality headset

BioWare game producer Casey Hudson, who spearheaded the development of blockbuster titles such as Mass Effect, will join Microsoft as “creative director” of its gaming unit, with a focus on developing augmented reality games for the HoloLens.

“I was fortunate to try an early prototype of HoloLens before it was announced, and I was blown away by the technology and what it was already capable of,” Hudson said in an interview posted to Microsoft’s official Xbox blog on Monday. “I feel that the work being done at Microsoft on mixed reality and holographic computing will have a tremendous impact on how all of us interact with technology in the coming years.”

Hudson will report to Kudo Tsunoda, corporate vice president of next gen experiences.

TIME Video Games

Microsoft Challenged the Whole World to a Solitaire Tournament

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PhotoAlto/Odilon Dimier—Getty Images/PhotoAlto Woman playing solitaire, cropped view of hands and cards

To celebrate the Windows game's 25th birthday

Microsoft has challenged the world to a Solitaire tournament that will pit the company’s strongest players against the game’s biggest fans.

The tournament will launch on June 5 to mark the 25th anniversary of the game, which has long remained a permanent fixture of the Windows operating system.

The battle begins with an internal match among Microsoft’s employees. The winners will then lead a worldwide match against the general public, or as Microsoft put it in an official post: “you’ll be challenged to bring your best to defeat our best.”

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