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SYFY WIRE video games

Gaming: Microsoft eyes simpler, cheaper Xbox; Patrick Stewart’s Plants Vs Zombies rhyme; more

By Benjamin Bullard
The Xbox One gaming Console from Microsoft

While Project Scarlett looks poised to satisfy serious gamers’ taste for cutting-edge next-gen graphics and eyeball-searing 4K, Microsoft is reportedly taking aim at the more casual console market with a cheaper, more conventional Xbox machine as it begins to look beyond its current Xbox One lineup.

Multiple sources are citing people familiar with Microsoft’s next-gen gaming plans, and it appears those plans include a trimmed-down, more affordable Xbox console that, like the Nintendo Switch Lite, could put the platform within reach for people who don’t want (or need) to spend Project Scarlett money just to sit down and enjoy a game with their conventional entertainment setup.

First reported by Kotaku (and later verified by The Verge), unnamed sources close to Microsoft say the console will come without a disc drive and rely on internet connectivity to get games into your home. If that comes true, Project Scarlett (still a codename for Microsoft’s next gaming flagship) would be the high-end machine in the lineup, with the cheaper console roughly filling the role currently filled by the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition, which also comes without a disc drive.

Even though the lower-tier console — codenamed “Lockhart” — reportedly would bypass 4K, it sounds like a step beyond the capabilities of present-day machines. “[O]ne game developer briefed on Lockhart analogized it to the PlayStation 4 Pro in terms of raw graphical power,” reports Kotaku, adding that the scaled-back version would ship with a solid-state drive, as well as “a faster CPU than any current video game console” — both factors that could minimize loading times and access to menu features.

Both Microsoft and Sony are planning to launch their next generation of gaming platforms in time for the 2020 Christmas shopping season.

If you’re looking for the voice of Christmas, look no further than the mellifluous pipes of the venerable Sir Patrick Stewart. In a fun diversion from his work on the upcoming Star Trek: Picard for CBS All Access, Stewart recently lent his voice to set up the new, holiday-themed expansion for Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville — and you don’t even need to be a PvZ fan to appreciate Stewart reciting cutely twisted lines in his new take on "’Twas The Night Before Christmas."

Take it away, Sir Patrick!

The new update brings Christmas — er, make that “Feastivus” — to PvZ, and with it a collection of new co-op maps and play modes. “Explore the all-new, extra-messy map, Oozevoir, visit frosty free-roam regions filled with festivities, and earn seasonally sensational surprises in the Feastivus Prize Map,” EA Games teases. But really, EA — you had us at “Patrick Stewart.”

Plants Vs Zombies: Battle for Neigborville is available now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.

Nintendo has hopped in the wayback machine for the December update to its growing collection of NES and SNES classics for Switch Online, and this one comes with a Fox McCloud-approved barrel roll.

Star Fox 2 — the canceled SNES sequel that caused a spin when it finally showed up back in 2017 — leads off four Super Nintendo titles arriving for the Switch this month, along with Kirby Super Star, Breath of Fire II, and Super Punch-Out!! (go get ‘em, Little Mac!) A pair of original NES games — action-RPG Crystalis and space-‘bot fighter Journey to Silius — are also along for the six-game update. 

Fox McCloud hopped back in the cockpit for Star Fox 2, but despite being developed for the Super Nintendo, the game was canceled ahead of its planned 1995 release in the face of next-gen gaming competition from Sony and, eventually, Nintendo’s own in-development Nintendo 64. Nintendo couldn’t let a good thing lie idle forever though, and finally released the sequel — more than 20 years after the fact — for the Super NES Classic Edition retro console in 2017. 

Now that Fox is hitting the Switch, here’s hoping his roguish charm gets to rub off on a whole new gaming generation. All six games go live on Dec. 12 for Nintendo Switch Online subscribers.