Posts with «author_name|kris naudus» label

Pokémon satire 'Palworld' serves cute creatures for dinner in a new trailer

Last summer we (well, the Engadget staff at least) collectively lost our minds at the announcement of Palworld, a monster catching and battling game in the vein of Pokémon, but with guns. And labor exploitation. This past weekend developer Pocketpair dropped another trailer and well… it’s not any less shocking.

The new trailer puts the guns right up front, along with several “pals” that really look like knock-offs of Pokémon like Ampharos, Umbreon and Xerneas, among many other familiar faces. The back half of the new trailer also showcases the factory scene we saw last year, as well as some new disturbing images. 

If that wasn’t troubling enough, the Steam page is live, and the game description promises you can “sell them, butcher them to eat, give them hard labor, pillage, rob and exercise complete mayhem but this is completely up to the players to make adult decisions” with the added warning, “Just don't get caught!”

There’s still no set release date for the Japanese-developed game, but the timing of this latest trailer might be because of the impending release of Pokémon Legends: Arceus for the Switch this week. Palworld promises both open-world and multiplayer, two features that Pokémon players have been requesting for ages. But time will tell if Palworld will scratch that itch when it comes out later this year... if it's not issued a cease-and-desist first.

'Prodigy' is becoming a headache for Star Trek's chronology

The following contains minor spoilers for episode six of 'Star Trek: Prodigy.'

Star Trek: Discovery may have gone on an unexpected hiatus, but the new year does mean the return of its franchise stablemate Prodigy. When we last left the young crew of the USS Protostar, they had just left the Murder Planet and successfully fled the Diviner’s ship thanks to the activation of the ship’s secret experimental engine. Episode six, Kobayashi, picks up this thread, pushing the story… and possibly the timeline forward in some significant ways this week.

The title is a dead giveaway to one of the threads running through the episode, at least: “Kobayashi” is the name of the ship from the infamous “Kobayashi Maru” test (“Maru” means ship in Japanese). It’s basically a no-win scenario that cadets at Starfleet Academy are run through to test their readiness for command, except this time it’s self-proclaimed captain Dal in the big chair via a holodeck simulation.

Nickelodeon

That plot in itself is a fairly predictable set of circumstances, as Dal refuses to accept failure and tackles the holographic test again and again… and again. Aside from the absolute hilarity as Dal’s frustration mounts, it’s a pretty standard character study, designed to flesh out Dal and craft him more into the leader he wants to be.

There’s also some fan service here thanks to cameos from some favorite characters brought to life thanks to the wonders of CGI and well-chosen sound clips. As with Janeway, the show being animated keeps the older characters from having that creepy Rogue One Princess Leia look, but the audio samples could have used a lot more processing to have them match up. And why a show designed for newcomers needed this much fan service, I don’t know, but at least it’s not Rise of Skywalker bad.

Nickelodeon

The real progress in the episode occurs in the B-plot, where Gwyn is sulking after her father’s betrayal and she and Zero try to learn more about the protostar engine at the heart of their ship. Janeway has the files, except they’re classified and it’s up to Gwyn and Zero to try to open them up. And, though the initial reveal from them is a bit of a shocker (to be delved into next week), it’s the flashback sequence early in the episode that yielded the juiciest info for now.

We’re shown the Diviner 17 years earlier, in horrible health and already looking for the USS Protostar. He decides to create a “progeny,” in the hopes of continuing his race, even though it is against the rules. (Whose rules? That’s another unanswered question.) But the interesting reveal here is that the Diviner was already looking for the Protostar 17 years ago, suggesting that this series may not occupy the 2383 time frame we were given in press materials (though never mentioned on-screen).

Nickelodeon

Star Trek: Voyager returned from its Delta Quadrant trip in 2378, meaning that in order for a holographic recreation of Kathryn Janeway to exist (and the captain of the Protostar to be who it is) the earliest the Protostar could have disappeared is 2379. Even assuming the Protostar is built and launched in a year (which I doubt), Prodigy can’t take place any earlier than 2396, placing it firmly around the time of Picard, which is set in 2399. It’s possible that Prodigy is actually a few years later, however, making it the first Star Trek series set in the 25th century. Or the Protostar traveled through time, complicating things even further.

But assuming the time period is, in fact, the 25th century, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen the future of the Federation or Starfleet: Discovery is now set in the 32nd century, after all. But being much closer to the time period of earlier shows like The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and, of course, Voyager makes Prodigy more of a direct continuation of that era. The inclusion of Janeway as a training hologram already gave us a peek as the vaunted status the Voyager crew holds after their Delta Quadrant sojourn, but now the advanced tech seen in episode three “Starstruck” suddenly makes a lot more sense knowing it might be a few years… or decades since Voyager.

With the exception of Picard, the live-action shows have largely stayed away from the immediate future of the TNG-DS9-Voyager era, choosing instead to retread the 23rd century or even jump forward nearly a thousand years. It’s certainly odd given the popularity of those shows, but in leaving it be Paramount+ has left a lot of room for Prodigy and Lower Decks to do something interesting there, experimenting with new genres while still appeasing hard-core fans. This may be the future we’ve been waiting to see on Star Trek.

HyperX’s first game controller is built for your Android phone

For the longest time, console gamers were second-class citizens when it came to gaming accessories. Keyboards and mice are, of course, mainly PC gaming peripherals, and the vast majority of customization software is made for desktop machines. Even most headsets were built with PC gaming in mind, though that’s changed in recent years. But for most folks a gamepad is the iconic console gaming accessory, and the options outside of first-party controllers have been lacking until recently. Now gamers have their option of high-end accessories from companies like Scuf, Razer and today, HyperX.

HyperX

This week HyperX introduces its first gamepad, the Clutch Wireless Gaming Controller. It’s an Xbox-style peripheral, with two thumbsticks, a D-pad on the left, dual shoulder buttons and triggers, and the standard four lettered buttons on the right. The name “clutch” comes from the included clip, which makes it possible to mount an Android phone to the controller, or prop up a phone on a surface for tabletop play. 

HyperX

The $50 Clutch is mainly intended for use with Android devices, and connects wirelessly via Bluetooth 4.2 or a USB-C wireless receiver. (A USB-C to USB-A cord is included for wired gameplay with the PC or console of your choice.) However, those wireless options should also make it compatible with the Nintendo Switch. Given that your gamepad selection for the Switch is mostly limited to the official Pro Controller and the various offerings from 8BitDo and PowerA, this is a welcome addition to the market, one which we’ll have to test once it ships in March.

HyperX

Follow all of the latest news from CES 2022 right here!

‘Let’s Play! Oink Games’ is no Jackbox, but it's a worthy party game collection

Every year I try to have a little “holiday gaming café” gathering at my apartment, where I invite friends over to play board and card games. While last year’s party was understandably cancelled, this year I invited a small group over and we indulged in tabletop titles like We’re Doomed and Parks. Inevitably we reached the point in the evening where people’s attention started to stray so it seemed like a good idea to switch to party video games. But instead of the old standby Jackbox, I remembered that Oink Games had just released a board game collection and decided to give that a spin.

We discovered that Let’s Play! Oink Games was not like Jackbox Party Packs at all, as it did not work with phones and required separate copies of the game on separate consoles. Pass. So we turned off the Switch, hooked up my laptop and started up Jackbox Party Pack 8 instead.

If you live in a friendless cave and aren’t familiar with Jackbox, it’s a pretty great series: Each “Party Pack” has five party games that anyone can join in with their phone (or any web browser) by going to Jackbox.tv and inputting the special room code. The narrator explains how to play and walks the group through each round — which makes it pretty great for those guests who aren’t paying attention or are super, super drunk. Most of the games involve drawing, trivia or writing silly words. (My particular favorite is ‘Mad Verse City’ from Jackbox Party Pack 5, a rap game.)

After everyone left, I decided to give Let’s Play! Oink Games another try. And, while it isn’t an alternative to Jackbox (it’s more like Clubhouse Games, if anything), it is still a somewhat fun experience, though not worth the $22 I spent.

There are only four games included with the set: Startups, Deep Sea Adventure, A Fake Artist Goes to New York, and‘Moon Adventure. They’re all computerized versions of Oink’s tabletop games, which come in little card-deck-sized boxes and usually cost $20 each. In that respect, the video game version does seem like a good deal. You have a choice to play online with either people you know or strangers, offline with people you know, or offline with CPU opponents.

Oink Games

Offline with friends wasn’t happening since, as I pointed out earlier, you all need your own copy of the game and a console. I tried to find an online match, only to discover there weren’t any going on. So my only choice was offline with CPU opponents.

Unfortunately, A Fake Artist Goes to New York can’t be played with CPU opponents, as it’s a drawing game where all the players but one are given a prompt, and you have to figure out who the “fake” artist is. I also discovered that Moon Adventure can have multiple players, but the user is tasked with playing them all since it’s a cooperative game. So it’s really a battle with resource management as you attempt to gather supplies before your oxygen runs out. I found this one the toughest of all, even after looking at the helpful instructions and videos the game builds in. For all my qualms with the title, the instructions are really well-done.

However, the instructions didn’t get me any closer to winning Startups, one of the two games where CPU players can participate. And man, are they merciless. The idea is to gather as many “shares” in a company as possible, but if you don’t have the most you end up having to pay out to the person who does. It’s like a modern version of Monopoly where you land on Boardwalk all the time. At least this one plays a lot quicker.

The last game, Deep Sea Adventure, is my favorite. It’s sort of competitive and sort of cooperative, as all the players must share the same oxygen supply and diving too deep will deplete it quickly. Once I got into the rhythm of gathering treasure and running back to the sub as soon as possible I mastered the game and was regularly kicking CPU butt.

While it was perhaps unfair of me to expect Let’s Play: Oink Games to be a Jackbox replacement, there’s still a lot of room for growth in what they have. I’d like to see a mode where users who don’t own the game can play on their own systems with a person who does, similar to how Mario Kart used to work on the DS. And I do hope they add more games, if only because this is an easier way to learn how to play instead of trying to puzzle out badly translated print instructions from Japanese, which is what you deal with in the physical versions.

The best accessories for your new Nintendo Switch OLED edition

The new Switch OLED is out, and it’s a real beaut. It has a larger 7-inch screen, longer battery life and a few other welcome design improvements to its handheld gaming mode. I was impressed when I reviewed it back in October, and it’s been flying off store shelves since its release. It’s so hard to get one right now, in fact, that you may have to go to eBay to snag one before the holidays. But if you do have one — congrats! Now you probably want to make the most of your new system, and there are a few accessories that will go a long way toward making the Switch OLED a truly stellar console.

SanDisk microSD card

SanDisk

With only 64GB of on-board storage, you’re going to want to get a microSD for your Switch OLED to store downloaded games, save files and screenshots. And with the redesigned slot it’s easier than ever to put it in or take it out of the system, too. You can use pretty much any microSD card with your Nintendo Switch, but the Nintendo-branded ones from SanDisk are solid, and you can get a 256GB model at a pretty affordable rate right now. They’ve been specifically tested with the system so you know they’ll work seamlessly.

Buy SanDisk microSD card (256GB) at Amazon - $53

8Bitdo Pro 2

Mat Smith, Engadget

With the improved stand on the back of the OLED Switch it’s now a lot easier to play in tabletop mode. But you’re still dealing with the same old Joy-Cons, which might be a bit too small for players with larger hands. In that case you’ll want to upgrade to a more pro-level gamepad. And yes, there is Nintendo’s Pro Controller, which is still the best choice for your Switch overall if you can get one, but 8Bitdo’s Pro 2 is also great, not to mention incredibly flexible; you can use it with your Android device, as well as a PC or Mac desktop. And it’s $20 cheaper than the Nintendo-made option.

Buy 8Bitdo Pro 2 controller at Amazon - $50

8Bitdo Lite

8Bitdo

While the official Pro Controller and the Pro 2 are nicely full-featured gamepads, one thing they aren’t is small. That makes a big difference on the go when you don’t have a lot of space in your bag but need something just a bit bigger than the Joy-Cons to play with. In that case I recommend the 8Bitdo Lite, which offers up two d-pads and an extra set of directional buttons, perfect for 2D gaming. It’s color-coded to match the Switch Lite, but that doesn’t mean it’s not also a solid companion for your Switch OLED.

Buy 8Bitdo Lite at Amazon - $26

PowerA Enhanced Nano controller

PowerA

When you need a Pro-style controller but don’t have space for a Pro-style controller, PowerA has you covered with its Enhanced Nano gamepad. It looks a lot like the official Switch Pro controller thanks to its grips, shoulder buttons and matte black coloring, but it’s two-thirds the size and includes a set of back buttons you can program to suit your needs. It’s easy enough to tuck away in your bag for a gaming emergency, and it’s affordable, too.

Buy PowerA Enhanced Nano controller at Amazon - $55

SteelSeries Arctis 1

SteelSeries

Recently, Nintendo pushed out a firmware update that lets you use any Bluetooth headset natively with your Switch, which is fantastic if you already own a wireless gaming headset. But if you don’t have one, or find it a little too bulky, I’m still going to recommend the Arctis 1 from SteelSeries as a good option for the Switch. It sounds great, is super comfortable and stylish, and the included USB-C dongle is still easier than connecting to the console via Bluetooth. At $100, it’s also reasonably priced for a gaming headset.

Buy Arctis 1 at Amazon - $100

Razer Barracuda X

Razer

Like the Arctis 1, the Barracuda X uses a USB-C dongle to connect to your console. Unlike the Arctis, though, it comes in assorted colors like quartz pink and white, the latter of which matches the Switch OLED’s panda-colored Joy-Cons. Aside from that, it’s just as solid as the Arctis 1, with 40mm drivers and a super light but sturdy design that feels and looks great on your noggin.

Buy Barracuda X at Amazon - $100

iVoler Tempered Glass Screen Protector

iVoler

The Switch OLED’s screen is beautiful enough that you’ll definitely want to give it an extra layer of protection. Because it’s slightly larger than the screen on the standard Switch, you’ll need to make sure you get a screen protector that’s specifically made for the OLED model, and I also recommend a tempered glass kitl because it’s more durable than plastic. The iVolver screen protector costs $10 for a pack of four, so it’s super affordable, and your system will still fit nicely in the dock when you slide it in for a charge.

Buy iVoler screen protector at Amazon - $10

Anker PowerCore+ 26,800 charger

Anker

If your Switch lives in your bag or backpack, it'll be useful to keep a battery pack with you for whenever you run out of juice. Most of Anker's high-capacity power packs will charge up the Switch, but we like this PowerCore+ bundle that includes a 26,800mAh power bank, a USB-C to C port and a 60W adapter, the latter of which enables fast charging. While it's on the expensive side, you're getting all the pieces you need to speedily recharge on the go and the system works with smartphones, tablets and laptops, too, so it's a true multipurpose accessory.

Buy PowerCore+ 26,800 bundle at Amazon - $160

Amazon Basics Switch case

Amazon

The Switch Pro might be a premium-level system but you don’t have to spend big bucks to protect it. The Amazon Basics Carrying Case is my preferred method for toting my Switch around, and it fits the Switch OLED just fine. There’s also a nice-sized pocket for carrying around cords and other accessories, and a panel with slots for 10 Switch game cards that’s padded on the other side to protect your screen. And, on a personal note, the outside is super fun to cover with stickers.

Buy Switch case at Amazon - $15

Amazon Basics large case

Amazon

If you’re the type who likes to take your entire system to places like say, a friend’s house or a gaming convention like PAX, the large case from Amazon Basics is an easy and affordable way to carry the whole kit and caboodle. It can fit the new dock, the system, a controller and all the cabling you need, snug and tidy. It even comes in some snazzy colors like neon yellow or red, to match your Joy-Cons or a favorite outfit.

Buy large hard shell case at Amazon - $32

'Star Trek: Discovery' finally embraces standalone storytelling in its fourth season

The following contains minor spoilers for season four, episode six of 'Star Trek: Discovery' (and vague discussion of episode seven).

There’s a bit of a trend or tradition among Star Trek shows, starting with The Next Generation. Somewhere around season three or four the show finds its way and actually becomes good, if not great. This isn’t a phenomenon limited to Trek, of course, but only Trek has a specific name for it: growing the beard. This is in reference to commanders William Riker and Benjamin Sisko, who both started their respective shows clean-shaven but grew beards around the time The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine got noticeably better. And Discovery might finally be ready to do its own metamorphosis, but instead of a beard it’s a change of format that has fans talking.

One of the complaints about Discovery’s first three seasons — besides the grimdark tone, the infallibility of Michael Burnham and all the crying — was that it largely embraced a more serial format, where each episode was another installment in one long ongoing storyline. Sure, there were occasional one-off adventures, but each episode was still firmly focused on the larger story.

CBS

Season four started off in the same manner, with the season premiere and second episode dedicated to setting up the new status quo of rebuilding the United Federation of Planets and introducing this season’s big threat: the Dark Matter Anomaly (DMA). However, unlike previous seasons where each episode would have been focused on one step toward finding a solution, the problem-solving has taken a back seat to a largely standalone A-plot.

The shift could be first seen in episode three, where Burnham and her crew are tasked with tracking down a rogue member of the Qowat Milat (as I described them to my editor: ninja nuns). The DMA is more of a C-plot in this episode, with the B-plot position occupied by the story of Gray Tal and his new android body. Episode four was Tilly trying to train and keep a group of Starfleet cadets alive (in a plot reminiscent of Voyager episodes ‘Learning Curve’ and ‘Good Shepherd’). Episode five saw the crew tasked with evacuating a planet threatened by the DMA. The anomaly may have been the instigating force in the episode, but it was in fact interchangeable with pretty much any other planetary threat since the episode was focused more on Michael’s struggle to free six prisoners on the surface.

CBS

This week’s episode finds Discovery traveling into a subspace rift created by the DMA and becoming stranded, with the ship’s newly sentient AI Zora unable to lead the crew to safety. However, while the anomaly is once again the cause of Discovery’s problems it’s also, once again, an interchangeable threat. The real drive of the episode is the problem-solving to get the crew out, and the personal struggles of characters like Zora and Cleveland Booker.

Next week will bring the Dark Matter Anomaly back to the forefront, but that’s only logical since the seventh episode marks the rough midpoint of the 13-episode season as well as the end of our calendar year. It’s not unusual for many television shows to use this time to “check in” on their major storylines and advance those plots to the next phase. But it is unusual for Discovery in that it doesn’t represent as clean a divide as in previous seasons: season one went from the Klingon War to the Mirror Universe, season two went from the mystery of the Red Angel to battling the evil AI Control. Next week’s episode represents a smoother transition than previously.

CBS

That smoothness is mostly due to the fact that the ongoing storyline hasn’t been given as much time to openly flourish, instead bubbling in the background while the show instead focuses on character-building single-shot adventures. Standalone episodes might feel outdated in an era of streaming and binging, where viewers can get their answers right away so there’s no need to make each individual chapter feel “complete.” There’s no chance to become unsatisfied by the content of an episode when the next one is merely seconds away. Even shows that premiere week by week have fallen into the trap, assuming that most viewers will binge the show later on anyway, with only the diehards watching each installment as it drops.

But for most of its existence at this point, Star Trek has been a franchise for the die-hards. The people who can’t wait for the next episode, the people who will read and write recaps on their favorite pop culture sites and those who share theories on social media. Paramount+ has put a lot of its chips on the strength of this die-hard base, stacking its production schedule with five different Star Trek shows that rarely overlap, meaning a fan who wants to see everything as soon as possible will need to maintain their Paramount+ subscription all-year-round.

CBS

While fan complaints may have played a big role in Discovery’s decision to switch to a more episodic format, it’s likely that the desire to keep fans on the hook for the show’s entire run played an even bigger part. When Discovery was the only Star Trek show, and one of the few Paramount+ offerings period, it was common for viewers to only sign up for a subscription when they wanted to binge something — sometimes even within the free week the service offers to new customers. Shows like Lower Decks, Prodigy and the upcoming Strange New Worlds already operate with a more episodic format, meaning Discovery could have created a “hole” in an ongoing subscription for viewers, a chance for them to take a break from Star Trek and from paying $6 a month.

With an episodic show it’s a lot harder to ignore it while it’s running; each episode represents a complete viewing experience, making the wait between episodes less excruciating. And when Discovery encounters new worlds and new adventures every week, it gives the fans something new to talk about, instead of rehashing the same old theories about the ongoing storyline again and again until the season ends. Star Trek was just made for episodic viewing, and embracing the format will make it easier for Discovery to hold fan interest over time.

An appreciation of the PlayStation Vita on its 10th birthday

A decade ago today saw the Japanese release of Sony's last dedicated gaming handheld, the PlayStation Vita. It wasn't quite as popular as its predecessor the PlayStation Portable (or its main rival the Nintendo 3DS), and Sony is still trying to bring its gaming experience to mobile, but the Vita still holds a special place in the hearts of those who owned one. At Engadget, that's Nathan Ingraham and Devindra Hardawar, who have both extolled the virtues of the system in our internal Slack many times over the years (yes, I checked). So on the Vita's 10th birthday we've asked our resident experts what their favorite games for the system were, and inspired them to dig the shiny little handheld out of their closets for another go-around. — Kris Naudus, Buyer's Guide Editor

Gravity Rush

The freedom of Gravity Rush’s acrobatic gameplay, which lets you fall through the air in every direction, as well as walk along the sides and bottoms of buildings, went hand-in-hand with the Vita’s portability. That made it a game I couldn’t help but love despite its frustrations. Gravity Rush took full advantage of the system’s motion controls — you had to tilt the Vita to control your flying momentum — and its watercolor anime aesthetic looked incredible on the Vita’s screen. Few games captured the magic of the system’s hardware that well.

Sure, the combat was simplistic and the story didn’t make much sense. But the visceral feeling of flying was hard to match, especially on a portable console. I never got around to playing the PlayStation 4 Gravity Rush remaster, mostly because my memories of the game are so intimately tied to the Vita. I suppose it’s time to finally get over that hangup, though. The Vita is well and truly dead, and if I wanted to play the sequel, I have no choice but to move over to my PS4. — Devindra Hardawar, Senior Editor

Lumines: Electric Symphony

Every portable console needs a good puzzle game. For the PS Vita, it was Lumines: Electric Symphony. The first Lumines game was a launch title for the Vita’s predecessor, the PlayStation Portable, and Electric Symphony arrived when the Vita went on sale. The basic gameplay remained the same: you manipulate 2-by-2 squares of varying colors together and match those colors to clear things out. If your screen gets overloaded, that’s that.

What makes Lumines: Electric Symphony so engrossing is the way the gameplay is matched up to the beat of a lengthy selection of classic electronic tunes from artists like LCD Soundsystem, Aphex Twin, The Chemical Brothers and about 30 more. Each song has a different speed, and that speed is reflected in the gameplay; it’s not like Tetris where things progressively get faster and faster. It’s actually more like Tetris Effect, which was the first Tetris game to make music and sound a crucial part of the gameplay experience.

Lumines: Electric Symphony doesn’t reach the lofty heights of Tetris as a puzzle game, but that’s not a huge knock. It’s hard to compete with one of the most popular video games of all time, but Electric Symphony is still a great way to kill some time, either through a short session or a long play-through of the more than 30 tracks the game has to offer. — Nathan Ingraham, Deputy Editor

Modnation Racers: Road Trip

Ever since Super Mario Kart arrived in 1992, game developers have tried to emulate its appeal with little success. For my money, Modnation Racers: Road Trip came pretty damn close. The PS Vita title was a new version of a PS3 game that came out in 2010. Both installments follow the Mario Kart script pretty closely: crazy tracks with weapons and items that let you even the odds against your competition.

What the Modnation Racers games did differently was offer endless customization — of your kart, racer and, most crucially, the courses themselves. Even on the somewhat scaled-back Vita game, you could download all manner of creations from the Modnation community, something that gave the game life for years until Sony inevitably shut down the servers.

Even without all the community content, though, Modnation Racers: Road Trip is still a blast to play. The 30 tracks in its career mode are extremely well designed, and the driving mechanics simply feel great. After almost 10 years, this game is showing its age, but it’s a great example of Sony’s promise to bring console-quality games to the Vita. The graphics don’t look quite as sharp as they used to, but the racing experience remains a blast. — N.I.

OlliOlli

Sony initially pitched the PS Vita as a way to play console-quality games on the go, but its legacy is just as much about the smaller, indie games that hit the handheld. OlliOlli and its sequel OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood are two games that I played for hours on end, even though they weren’t as flashy and high-profile as games from bigger studios.

OlliOlli is a masterful side-scrolling skateboarding game that combines lo-fi music and graphics with gameplay that was simple to learn, but maddening to master. And let me be clear, “maddening” is a complement. Once I figured out how to do more advanced moves and pull off longer combos to juice my score, I got addicted to the challenge of mastering every level.

And there’s a ton to master here; both games had five worlds to conquer, each with five “amateur” and “pro” levels. And, each level has five objectives to nail if you really want to be a completist. Usually, I don’t try to hit 100 percent of all the goals in a game, but here I was compelled to keep on pushing myself to beat as many challenges as I possibly could.

Both games have held up over the years, with the sequel adding crucial new mechanics like manuals, so you can skate through entire levels without stopping your combo. I recently replayed both, and still really enjoy trying to do a level as cleanly as possible — if you like chasing high scores, OlliOlli is a great option. And if you never tried these games, I’ve got some good news: both are available for current PlayStation consoles, and a new game, OlliOlli World, is coming out on February 8th. — N.I.

Persona 4 Golden

I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to the world of Persona than this title on the Vita. Persona 4 Golden’s bold and colorful aesthetic practically popped off of the system’s OLED display. (I can’t say if the later LCD Vita handled it worse.) It also featured one of the most memorable JRPG soundtracks I’ve ever encountered. Best of all, the Vita’s portability was perfectly suited to P4G’s grind. Being able to bring the game outdoors, on the subway and all over my apartment made leveling up feel more like a genuine adventure, rather than a typical JRPG chore.

For me, someone who grew up with every iteration of Game Boy, Persona 4 Golden also proved that portable systems could finally deliver a premium experience similar to home consoles. Sure, there were limitations around battery life and screen size, but in 2012 playing a deep and visually rich RPG on the Vita felt like a miracle. And honestly, it still does. Time to dig up my Vita. — D.H.

Xenogears

I know this is a bit of a cheat. But the Vita is one of the last systems I own that can still run Xenogears, Square’s brilliant and enigmatic Neon Genesis Evangelion-esque RPG. As someone who was fundamentally shaped by both Chrono Trigger and Evangelion in the ‘90s, Xenogears is that rare bit of culture that has always felt specifically made for geeks like me. I love it all: the unique combat, the eclectic Yasunori Mitsuda score and the giant mech battles. Hell, I even dig the exposition-heavy final act. Once the Vita arrived, being able to play Xenogears on the go made me fall for it all over again. — D.H.

The best gaming deals you can get for Black Friday

When you’re a gamer, you’ve always got an eye out for good deals on your favorite titles. For hardware and accessories it’s a bit trickier though — they don’t go on sale as often, and it’s hard to tell what will serve your needs best. However, we’ve found a few intriguing picks worth checking out this Black Friday, either because you’re in the market to upgrade your battle station, or you just want to try something new but not spend a lot of money while doing so.

8Bitdo Sn30 Pro+

8Bitdo has a reputation for making comfortable, affordable game controllers, and we thought the Sn30 Pro+ was its best yet for the Nintendo Switch when it first came out. The wireless accessory has a design based on the iconic SNES controller with a plethora of buttons and handles that rival the comfort provided by Nintendo's own Switch Pro controller. On top of that, it comes with a removable battery pack and it supports AA batteries as well. Today only, you can pick up the Sn30 Pro+ for only $40, or 20 percent off its normal price and a new record-low.

Buy Sn30 Pro+ at Amazon - $40

Razer Blade 15 Advanced

The Razer Blade is one of our favorite gaming laptops thanks to its slick design, array of customization options and strong performance. Today only, you can grab the 2020 Razer Blade 15 Advanced for $1,400, or $1,200 off its normal price. This model has a Core i7 processor, RTX 2070 Super Max-Q graphics, 16GB of RAM, 512GB of storage and a 1080p 300Hz display.

Buy Blade 15 Advanced at Amazon - $1,400

Razer Huntsman Mini

Engadget / Kris Naudus

60 percent keyboards are all the rage now, and the Huntsman Mini is one of the best. That’s all thanks to features like its super quick opto-mechanical keys, braided USB-C cord and brilliant RGB lighting. It’s great for people who don’t have a lot of space at their workstation, as well as anyone else who’d like to slim down their gaming space. Right now you can add this to your desk for only $80, so it won’t take up a lot of your space or money.

Buy Razer Huntsman Mini at Amazon - $80Buy Razer Huntsman Mini at GameStop - $80

Corsair HS60 Haptic

Engadget / Kris Naudus

I wasn’t entirely sold on haptics at first, but the HS60 won me over. The vibration actually ended up being a big boon during the stress of the last year, and the large, comfortable cups meant I never needed to take it off. The only real drawback was that this is a wired set of cans — but for $90 it’s still a steal for a high-quality gaming headset.

Buy Corsair HS60 Haptic at Amazon - $90

Elgato Streamdeck

Will Lipman Photography for Engadget

If you or someone who know wants to break into the game-streaming world, Elgato's Streamdeck is one of those gadgets that can make it much easier to do so. It's a small desktop controller with 15 LCD keys that you can customize to manage programs like OBS, Twitch and others. It makes multitasking while on stream much easier and it'll make your entire setup feel more professional, too. The Streamdeck is on sale right now for $100, or $50 off its normal price.

Buy Streamdeck at Amazon - $100

Blue Yeti microphone

Blue Microphones

Having a good microphone is essential if you're going to live stream, and Blue's Yeti is one of the best values out there. It's a USB mic, so you can simply plug it into your setup and start using it. It also has a special setting that's ideal for streaming. The mic's on sale for $90, or only a couple dollars shy of its all-time low, and the Blue Yeti Nano is also on sale for $80.

Buy Blue Yeti at Amazon - $90Buy Blue Yeti Nano at Amazon - $80

Razer Wolverine Ultimate

Razer

The controller that comes with your Xbox is pretty good, but sometimes you might need a little more features from your gamepad. The Wolverine Ultimate may be wired, but it also has interchangeable thumbtacks and d-pads, so you can actually tweak the controller’s layout according to the games you play and your own personal preferences. If you’re serious about your gaming it’s a good investment, made even easier by a price drop to $100.

Buy Razer Wolverine Ultimate at Amazon - $100Buy Razer Wolverine Ultimate at GameStop - $100

Razer Kishi

Engadget / Nick Summers

Touchscreens are fine for casual games, but when you’re tackling something a little more hardcore like Fortnite the Kishi is just the thing you need. It adds d-pads and shoulder buttons to your gaming experience, and folds up nicely when not in use. Since it connects to your device directly via Lightning port or USB-C and not via Bluetooth you don’t have to worry about keeping it charged, though you do need to make sure you buy the right one for your device. Right now it’s an affordable $45, a 44 percent discount, while a bunch of other Razer peripherals are on sale, too.

Buy Razer Kishi at Amazon - $45

Oculus Quest 2 + $50 gift card

Engadget / Devindra Hardawar

The high price of many headsets plus the need for a computer that can run the programs has kept VR out of a lot of people’s reach. The all-in-one Oculus Quest 2 only needs a phone to set up an account with, and can give you plenty of excellent VR experiences for only $299. This week it becomes a whole lot more tempting with the addition of a $50 gift card from Amazon, Best Buy and Target, which can be used toward any product you want, though we’d recommend the Oculus Link cable so you can connect your headset to a computer.

Buy Oculus Quest 2 at Amazon - $299Buy Oculus Quest 2 at Best Buy - $299Buy Oculus Quest 2 at Target - $299

Google Stadia

Engadget / Jessica Conditt

Google’s Stadia service has seen a lot of upsand downs since its launch, but it still has a lot of promise. Right now you can grab yourself a Stadia Premiere Edition for only $22 over at the Google Store. The first month of the service is free so it’s not a lot of cash to drop to try it out, and even if you decide it’s not your cup of tea you’re still the proud owner of a Chromecast Ultra (normally $20 on its own), as well as a comfortable gamepad that can be used for PC games as well.

Buy Stadia Premiere Edition at Google - $22

PlayStation Plus

Engadget / Sony

If you like to play online multiplayer on your PS4 or PS5, a PlayStation Plus is non-negotiable, but even if you’d rather go solo a subscription can be a big bonus. You get cloud backup for your saves, discounts on games from the PlayStation store, built-in game assistance for select PS5 games. But the best part of all has to be the roster of free games doled out monthly — November has Knockout City, Kingdoms of Amalur: Re-Reckoning and First Class Trouble, while previous months have seen AAA titles like Final Fantasy VII Remake and Mortal Kombat X. Usually a yearly subscription is $60, but right now you can sign up (or extend an existing plan) for only $40.

Buy PlayStation Plus (1 year) at Amazon - $40

Nintendo Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit

Nintendo

Toys that blend the real and virtual worlds are a dime a dozen lately, but this take on the legendary Mario Kart series is one that even adults can enjoy. You can build your own courses at home, and race against virtual opponents on the Switch. The normally high price point of $100 for a single cart has kept this out of a lot of gamers’ hands, but right now it’s a much friendlier $60 — so all you need to worry about having room for building your dream track.

Buy Home Circuit at Best Buy - $60Buy Home Circuit at Target - $60

Nintendo Ring Fit Adventure

Devindra Hardawar / Engadget

If you want to feel a bit better about the amount of time you spend gaming, consider adding the Ring Fit Adventure to your repertoire. The game has you exercising in order to progress through the story while the Switch's Joy-Cons, attached to the provided leg straps and ring, track your movements. You might be surprised by how quickly you break a sweat while fighting fantasy creatures and exploring the game's world. The ring Fit Adventure sold out numerous times over the past year or so — likely thanks to many trying to make working out at home more fun — and it's an even better buy at this $54 sale price.

Buy Ring Fit Adventure at Amazon - $54

Get the latest Black Friday and Cyber Monday offers by visiting our deals homepage and following @EngadgetDeals on Twitter.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Anime film ‘Belle’ highlights when parasocial relationships aren’t enough

For the past few decades it’s been de rigueur for science fiction stories to be set in virtual worlds, from the early neon-lined stylings of Tron to the hedonistic pop cultural temple of Ready Player One. The stories once treated these places like a fantasy world on par with Middle Earth or Hyrule, but as we’ve edged closer to them existing in reality they’ve gotten a lot more humdrum, maybe even ordinary. With this shift we’ve seen the real and virtual worlds increasingly collide, and it’s that interconnection between the two that forms the core of the new anime film Belle, arriving in US theaters in January.

Belle is the latest movie from Mamoru Hosoda, the director who brought us time-travel adventures like The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and Mirai. But he’s also known for Summer Wars, a movie that posited a world where everything is connected in the virtual sphere, not just for play but also work, finance and healthcare. Back in 2009, this seemed like a bit of a stretch, but as companies like Google, Apple and Amazon have expanded the concept has become eerily prescient. Now Hosoda is once again tackling the divide between the real and virtual worlds with Belle, a film that splits its time between rural Japan and the computerized world of “U.”

Belle is the story of Suzu Naito, a “country bumpkin” living alone with her dad and still dealing with the trauma of losing her mom several years before. When a friend sends her an invite to U she finds it to be an escape from her trauma, a place where she is beautiful and can sing. Her first performance quickly goes viral, with the clip spreading rapidly and her phone blowing up with notifications in a sappy Dear Evan Hansen sort of way. She becomes a sensation, but her newfound fame goes off the rails when one of her concerts is interrupted by a player known only as “The Dragon.” Suzu/Belle becomes intrigued by the Dragon and begins an investigation into his identity, even as self-appointed vigilantes are working to track and expel him from U.

Studio Chizu

The world and technology of U are interesting, with access gained via an app and a set of special earbuds. The earbuds can apparently overlay sight as well as sound, and they build a person’s avatar using their biometric data. It’s certainly a leap ahead of the bulky VR headsets seen in Ready Player One, or just the “theater of the imagination” that a lot of movies and TV employ, where the virtual as an actual “space” with rooms and buildings and so forth only exists in the minds of the user. Here, it’s more like entering the Metaverse of Persona 5, complete with avatars that reflect a person’s true self.

In U there’s no “if you die in the game you die in real life,” but the biggest threat is still treated as such: to be “unveiled” is to lose your anonymity and have your true form revealed to the world of U, upon which a user will literally fade away from the virtual arena. It’s weird to see this used as a plot hook when real-life social media is overly concerned with real names and verified accounts, but this is a fantasy story, after all.

Studio Chizu

As such, it takes influence from other fantasy works, most notably Disney’s classic animated feature Beauty and the Beast. Both main characters are named Belle, and the design and temperament of the Dragon is very similar to that of the Beast; the mix of animals blended into one hunched, brooding creature, the mysterious castle with a squad of cutesy servant-sidekicks. There’s even a damaged portrait over the fireplace mantle! After years of anime fans complaining about American films “stealing” from anime (Kimba the White Lion, Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water and Perfect Blue), it’s funny to see an anime borrow so blatantly from the West. I can’t wait for the inevitable shot-by-shot comparison videos on YouTube; Belle even recreates the iconic ballroom dancing scene (notable at the time for its early use of CG).

There is nothing particularly groundbreaking about the animation in Belle, though it is certainly a gorgeous film. The world of U is shown as a city of sweeping towers populated by flying avatars. Animation allows the filmmakers to give each character a unique avatar, of whatever size or shape fits that person best. Suzu becomes a beautiful woman, but others are depicted as babies, fairies and cute animals. The Dragon stands out for being such a dark character, with bruises spread across his back like a fungus.

Where Belle really differentiates itself is how it melds our current internet reality with its future fantasy visions. In early depictions of virtual worlds they were always treated as a separate place that never interacted much with the real world, a “secret life” that users had so very different from their actual existence. As technology moves forward, we’ve largely found that to not be true; our virtual existence is dominated by social media and live-streaming and parasocial relationships, and all of these are generally accepted as part of our “real” lives these days.

So it is that social media is heavily entwined with spectacle in the world of U, with messages flying as fast and furious as their avatars fly through the computer-generated cities. It isn’t just a thing that “the kids” are into; the residents of U are seen to be an incredibly diverse mix of ages and races, as seen from their messages and videos. But there is still a sense that this space matters more to a particular generation: Context clues reveal that Suzu’s village is a victim of the demographic crisis in Japan, where the populace is aging up with not enough children being born to replace them. Suzu is very much alone a lot of the time in her village, with various chat rooms and the world of U serving as her one constant connection to other people.

Studio Chizu

In the end, it will be the other people in her real life that will push her to do what she needs to do to save the Dragon.The fantasy elements take a back seat to the fact that there are real people behind each avatar, and just as the service creates a look for them based on their personality, so are their problems in U are just reflections of their real life situations. And in that case, it won’t be Belle who can save the day, but an ordinary girl named Suzu Naito.

Nintendo bundles 'Mario Kart 8' with the Switch for Black Friday

We all know that Nintendo doesn’t discount its games often, so Black Friday ends up being one of the few times you can snag a great deal on its consoles and first party games. This year we’re looking at a nice bundle for the Nintendo Switch itself nearly identical to the one it offered last year, which packages a Switch with a digital copy of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and three months of Nintendo Switch Online. 

Nintendo

Those two freebies will normally cost you $68 by themselves, but they come included in this package for the standard Switch console price of $300. Take note that this is the regular Switch and not the OLED edition, which still costs $50 more (if you can find one) and doesn’t come with a free game.

Buy Nintendo Switch bundle at Amazon - $300Buy Nintendo Switch bundle at Best Buy - $300

Also on sale are a slew of first-party titles from Nintendo, including the recent classic Breath of the Wild alongside other great titles like New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe, Splatoon 2, Super Mario Maker 2, Paper Mario: The Origami King and Xenoblade Chronicles: Definitive Edition. Also included? Engadget staff faves like Astral Chain and Fire Emblem: Three Houses, which both made our year-end best-of list back in 2019.

However, the two heavy-hitters to look out for are Ring Fit Adventure and Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit. Engadget senior editor Devindra Hardawar and editor-in-chief Dana Wollman had pretty nice things to say about the former, which was perennially out of stock in 2020 as players stuck at home used it to stay in shape.

Buy Ring Fit Adventure at Amazon - $55Buy Ring Fit Adventure at GameStop - $55Buy Ring Fit Adventure at Best Buy - $55
Nintendo

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit, essentially a remote control vehicle that lets you turn your home into a real-life Mario Kart course, gets the biggest discount of all: Normally it’s a $100 game, but this week it’s down to a tidy $60 at selected retailers.

Buy Mario Kart Live Home Circuit at Amazon - $60Buy Mario Kart Live Home Circuit at GameStop - $60Buy Mario Kart Live Home Circuit at Best Buy - $60

Get the latest Black Friday and Cyber Monday offers by visiting our deals homepage and following @EngadgetDeals on Twitter.

All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.