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The Week in Gaming: Nintendo powers up holiday plans. Plus Crash Bandicoot, Star Wars: Squadrons & more
Welcome to The Week in Gaming, the place where we pause each week to take a look at the video game news beats both big and small that you might be missing — while also taking a peek around the corner at what's ahead. Check in each Friday for news (and occasionally even views) on everything from sprawling RPGs to Metroidvania platformers to the latest in VR and free-to-play. We'll even throw in a good old-fashioned board game every now and then!
Sony and Microsoft have been basking in the next-gen spotlight for the past few weeks, but Nintendo — still plugging along with a Switch lineup that puts a handful of its exclusive titles among this year’s top sellers — hasn’t exactly been snoozing through all the hype. Marshaling its A-team of brand mascots this week for a series of announcements and updates that could easily keep players busy through the Halloween season and beyond, the Big N is bolstering its already formidable Switch slate with new characters, new games, new additions to the eShop, and new seasonal events.
So let’s don Mario’s Wing Cap to get a plumber’s-eye view — because Nintendo’s definitely given us a lot of ground to cover.
In the days since its Sept. 18 release, Super Mario 3D All-Stars has blasted off to what early reports suggest may become the Switch’s second most successful launch ever. Beating out blockbusters like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate in opening-week sales, the Switch-upgraded three-game bundle reportedly collected more coins in its first four days of release than any other Switch title except for Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
Why are people snapping up 3D All-Stars like a runaway Chain Chomp? Because it packs in three of the best mainline Mario games of the 3D camera era, all for the $59.99 asking price of a single standalone game. The Switch bundle lets players glide in and out of a trio of classics, including the Nintendo 64’s groundbreaking Super Mario 64 from 1996; the GameCube’s Super Mario Sunshine from 2002 (one of the most delightful Mario games ever), and the Wii’s Super Mario Galaxy from 2007. Better still, each title has been optimized for the Switch, meaning that even Super Mario 64 manages to look great on oversized modern TVs. Add in the portability of undocking the console to take your trio of Mario favorites to go, and Super Mario 3D All-Stars feels like a big Nintendo no-brainer…even for Bowser.
Next up is Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, which just this week blocked out space for a Minecraft crossover with news that Minecraft’s Steve and Alex will soon be joining the ever-growing ranks of the brawler’s starting lineup. Revealed during a Nintendo webcast, the addition of a little Minecraft flavor to Ultimate’s roster — a robust character hall of fame that already includes faves like Banjo-Kazooie, Sonic, Solid Snake, Pac-Man, Joker, Ryu, and tons more — merges the accessibility of Nintendo's go-anywhere console with the fan fervor behind the best-selling video game of all time.
Nintendo’s saving more details — as well as a specific arrival date for Steve and Alex — until its Oct. 3 webcast (tune in at 10:30 a.m. ET), but when they do enter the ring, they’ll be bundled in with Fighter Pass Vol. 2, the newest Ultimate update. Nintendo reportedly still has four more characters to announce for the $29.99 DLC bundle, so we’ll be watching...and training.
We’ve just gotta pause right here and say — Mario is seriously putting in the overtime this week. When he’s not facing down his newest Smash Bros. challenger, he’s stepping up to the challenge of putting a Nintendo-style twist on the battle royale genre. If you ever wanted a Mario-themed, last-player-standing platforming fracas, your friendly neighborhood plumber enters the fray this week with Super Mario Bros. 35, a 35-player test of survival that just arrived as an exclusive pickup for anyone with a Nintendo Switch Online account. It’s one thing to go back in time and revisit familiar levels from the original Super Mario Bros., but it’s something else entirely to do it when the world is watching — and doing everything it can to trip you up.
Timed (and named) to commemorate the 35th anniversary of Super Mario Bros.' arrival on the NES, Super Mario Bros. 35 is set only to stick around as a Switch Online offering until March 31 of next year. Time is actually of the essence everywhere you look in this game, because racing against the clock while plotting your attack strategy puts a new wrinkle in the the old-school formula of simply hopping and bopping your way to the flagpole finish line. Check out Super Mario Bros. 35 while you can — and bone up on those retro button-mashing skills.
Let’s give Mario a much-needed break and drop in on Animal Crossing: New Horizons for a glimpse at how the change of season is shaking things up on the islands. Fall is descending on ACNH, complete with pumpkin harvesting, autumn-themed DIY crafting projects, a Halloween-night celebration to get your island-hopping friends outdoors, and more.
When Oct. 31 rolls around, the plaza (complete with spooky decorations) will become a hub where the global ACNH community will get a visit from Jack, a “mysterious guest” whom Nintendo’s teasing as “The czar of Halloween.” Lavish Jack with candy and lollipops to earn Halloween-themed rewards, and be sure to do the same for your neighborhood trick-or-treaters — “Or you might get pranked,” as the game helpfully cautions. The in-game changes are already underway and continue all month long, so check out Nintendo’s landing page for a full rundown of everything you can do in ACNH while the leaves are still falling.
Not one to spurn a change in seasons, Link is heading back to Hyrule with a full party of Zelda fighters ready to stage the epic battle that sets the events of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild in motion.
Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity revealed this week that Impa — the Sheikah protector of Zelda lore with an almost prophetic role in guiding Link towards his destiny — will be a playable character in upcoming BOTW prequel, aged 100 years younger than the placid older version who hangs out in Kakariko Village in the earlier game.
Age of Calamity may be a combat-based action game in the vein of its 2014 hack-and-slash predecessor, but the trailer above shows it’s not skimping on the art style or story beats that made Breath of the Wild such a blockbuster success for the Switch. Watch for Impa to join the fight when Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity arrives on Nov. 20, while we wait for Nintendo’s next update on the upcoming BOTW sequel.
The best of the rest
Crash Bandicoot: 4th time’s the charm
Nowhere on our 2020 bingo cards did we have Crash Bandicoot sitting near the top of game reviewers’ wish lists. It’s not that the manic marsupial isn’t deserving — after all, he helped cement Sony’s early console lineup and brought The Last of Us developer Naughty Dog to prominence all the way back in 1996 with the original PlayStation game. It’s just that we hadn’t gotten a true mainline Crash game since 1998’s Crash Bandicoot: Warped, and even that was an old-school PlayStation exclusive.
Fast forward to today, when Crash Bandicoot: It’s About Time comes whirling onto both Sony and Microsoft consoles with a different developer and a fresh look that, for many fans, will likely be their first introduction to a slice of 1990s nostalgia. It’s a good thing, then, that critics are falling for the 4th proper main installment — at least in terms of Crash’s timeline and lore — to return the series to its platforming roots. Activision and developer Toys for Bob have evidently hit on a winning formula, because It’s About Time is sitting at a cozy 86 rating over at Metacritic, with 32 reviewers (so far) weighing in.
The new game breathes new life into the old platforming action genre, pairing Crash with his sister Coco in a multi-dimensional quest to thwart the evil Dr. Cortex, who somehow hasn’t learned his lesson after more than a quarter century (wow — is Crash really that old?) This 4th installment packs in tons of winks and nods to its wayback roots, from discoverable VHS tapes that unlock “flashback” levels to a “retro” mode that gives you an arcade-style finite number of lives. But it only takes a glance at the new-for-2020 "N. Verted" mode, a mirrored mode that springs all kinds of current-gen graphical surprises, to see how It’s About Time hasn’t lost a step as Crash spins into the modern era of gaming.
Crash Bandicoot fans who’ve long awaited a proper comeback are nothing if not patient, so this is their day — Crash Bandicoot: It’s About Time debuts today for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Star Wars: Squadrons — choose your fighter
Speaking of big-name games that are ready for takeoff: Now’s the moment to strap in and load out for a post-Death Star fight. Star Wars: Squadrons makes the long-awaited jump to hyperspace today, bringing players along for a dogfighting sim experience that’s only just beginning when the single-player campaign ends.
Reviews for EA’s remarkably movie-like take on Star Wars’ heart-pounding space combat are still trickling in, so it’s too early to gauge the critical consensus. But the visuals we’ve seen in the trailers have all been on point, as has the choose-your-fighter menu of options — which puts you in the cockpit of a variety of iconic Star Wars ships piloted by both sides in the galactic fight that rages between the remnants of the Empire and the Rebellion after the events of The Return of the Jedi.
With a starfighter lineup that covers eight separate classes from both the New Republic and the Empire, Squadrons also features full VR support for both its campaign and its multiplayer mode, which those who’ve already played the game say is where the action really heats up. No matter how you play, there’s no more waiting to make the jump to light speed: Star Wars: Squadrons comes in hot starting today for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
Blair Witch hits the boards
- Horror can be at its scariest when the mystery unfolds in its own sweet time, which is especially good news for Blair Witch fans. In its first-ever partnership with a big-screen franchise, the serial tabletop maestros at Hunt A Killer are teaming with Lionsgate to bring the creepiest secrets of the Burkittsville woods to a slow-burning interactive board game.
The Blair Witch tabletop role-playing game pairs Hunt A Killer’s brand of narrative murder mystery with the legendary supernatural history surrounding the Blair Witch legend, letting players work together with friends or go it alone to solve a missing persons case near the infamous Black Hills Forest. Over the course of six boxed episodes in Hunt A Killer’s subscription-based story season, players will “investigate the mysterious woods and learn about any disappearances, while finding out more about the powerful forces that reside there,” the team teases. “From there, they must piece together the clues, face the horror of the Blair Witch and those who serve her, and find out if they can survive the woods.”
Set out on a season of mystery and horror with Rosemary Kent — “a woman who lives near the edge of the forest and is looking for help to find her missing son” — and then apply your savviest survival skills by “sifting through a variety of cryptic documents, audio recordings, and unsettling puzzles.” Available from Oct. 1, Hunt A Killer’s Blair Witch tabletop adventure is ready now to order online.
...and Game of Thrones
Crazy how long it’s been since A Game of Thrones: The Board Game first debuted all the way back in 2003, but the wars of Westeros are finally getting a fresh update for online players. Asmodee Digital is bringing the tabletop experience into the internet realm beginning next week, when the eponymous game’s Digital Edition hits the Steam Store.
Developed by Dire Wolf Digital (with a track record of adapting board game hits like Eternal, Raiders of the North Sea, and Root for online play), A Game of Thrones will pit the great houses of Westeros (Lannister, Stark, Greyjoy, Martell, Tyrell, and Baratheon) against one another in massive conflict — just as you’d expect from the George R.R. Martin A Song of Ice and Fire book series on which it’s based.
Asmodee teases that online players will have to rely on the same “combination of strategic planning, masterful diplomacy, and military might” as in the tabletop version, vying for control of one of the six houses to claim the Iron Throne. Over the span of 10-round matches, “players must use diplomatic and combative means to control as many castles and fortresses as possible, in order to claim the title of ruler of the Seven Kingdoms.” From now until the game’s Oct. 6 launch date, a $15.99 pre-order will save players 20 percent off the regular $19.99 base price, so head to the Steam Store early to reserve your copy for PC or MacOS.
...and The Last of Us
This one comes with fewer details and no release date, but it also comes with an impeccable post-apocalyptic pedigree. CMON, the same company that’s already teamed with Sony to bring Bloodborne and God of War to the tabletop, is bringing its board gaming magic to Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us.
Announced this week, The Last of Us: The Board Game marks the franchise’s first-ever crossover into tabletop territory, with CMON teasing the same vibes and survival beats that suffuse the PS3 original, as well as this year’s landmark The Last of Us Part II (and, we’d venture to guess, the upcoming HBO TV series).
TLOU is as much a narrative experience as it is a stealthy horror series, and CMON sound like it’s tapping the franchise’s deep story beats, teasing “the heart-stopping suspense of suddenly hearing an unseen clicker behind you; the intensity of a firefight as you desperately try to tell friend from foe; the heartbreak of being double crossed and seeing all your plans fall apart,” and more. “The Last of Us is a series that provides a deep, emotional experience combined with endless thrills and excitement,” the company says — and anyone who’s followed Joel and Ellie to the bitter end in Naughty Dog’s first two games certainly can’t argue. Watch for more news on The Last of Us: The Board Game — including a debut date — in the days to come.
Spare parts (the Sony edition)
If Nintendo’s been busy this week, Sony hasn’t exactly been sitting around waiting for the PS5 to launch itself. A flood of new game trailers and update tidbits for all PlayStation platforms came flowing across Sony’s social channels and the PlayStation Blog this week, and it’d be a sin to let the biggest highlights slip by. Here’s a quick-hit rundown of the latest:
The Walking Dead Onslaught — Sony and developer Servios bring AMC’s undead Walkers to virtual reality this week with The Walking Dead Onslaught, a VR survival horror adventure that puts players in the shoes of TV favorites like Rick, Michonne, Daryl, and Carol. Scrounge for resources to help shore up the Alexandria safe zone and fight off the invading hordes, all while trying to boost the human population and keep your weapons upgraded. The Walking Dead Onslaught is out now for PlayStation VR.
Godfall — Up until this week, most of the early looks we’d gotten at Godfall showed a PS5-exclusive brawler that looked slick in the melee combat department — but didn’t reveal much about the story, or the game’s otherworldy setting. But Sony and developer Counterplay Games gave fans a much bigger picture this week, releasing a cinematic trailer that shows how a brother-against-brother family feud leads to one epic sci-fi conflict. Get set to hone your sword-swinging prowess in a colorfully spaced-out corner of the universe when Godfall arrives for the PlayStation 5 as a day-one console debut on Nov. 12.
Sackboy: A Big Adventure — Sackboy’s come a long way from his stellar pint-sized debut in 2008’s Little Big Planet for the PS3. Now Sony and developer Sumo Digital are putting big confidence in their diminutive platforming hero to help the PS5 achieve liftoff with Sackboy: A Big Adventure, bringing a nerve-wracking degree of challenge to a new 3D platformer that gets a deeper look in Sumo Digital’s new close-up trailer above. Don’t let the cuteness fool you — this game looks like an adult-sized challenge. Stitch a date on your calendar for Sackboy: A Big Adventure to hop aboard the next generation as a PS5 exclusive on Nov. 12.
Genshin Impact — An ambitious open-world action-RPG snuck up on the PS4 (as well as PC and mobile devices) this week, introducing a colorful new adventure from developer/publisher miHoYo that’s drawing plenty of comparisons from game reviewers to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Aside from its anime-inspired style, though, there’s one distinct difference: Genshin Impact is free to play. Get tips on how to master the game's seven elements at the PlayStation Blog, and then set off with your party in Genshin Impact’s beautiful (but dangerous) big world.
More spare parts
- Here they come, shambling toward Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War to add a much-appreciated undead element to the stalemate global politics of the edgy 1980s. Yep, Activision is unleashing CoD’s venerated Zombies mode on Cold War, bring 4-person co-op play to an all-new “incredible Zombies story” that Activision and developer Treyarch tease will begin “to unfold in mysterious and unexpected ways…” Check out the deep-dive reveal trailer above, and head to the Zombies blog post for more announcement goodies. Zombies returns to Call of Duty: Black Ops when the full Cold War experience arrives on Nov. 13 — with full cross-gen crossplay, no matter which console you pick — for PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, and PC.
- When they’re not busy updating The Outer Worlds with DLC or fielding questions about whether another Fallout game is in their future, Obsidian Entertainment finds time to push out support for titles like Grounded, the shrunk-down survival adventure that pits your tiny avatar against comparatively giant hazards like grass-blade thickets and menacing bugs. The latest addition brings a new lab, ziplines, a handful of bug fixes (no. not the flying kind) and more quality-of-life enhancements. All month long, watch for new Halloween items to appear in the deceptively dangerous backyard — including some that can even be harvested for food and crafting. The new content update is out now for Grounded on Xbox One.
- We’ve seen plenty of gameplay, but now Ubisoft is sharing a bit more of the backstory ahead of next month’s release of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. Sporting a male lead this time in the character-customizable role of protagonist Eivor, the new clip shows Sigurd, Eivor’s brother, as the early driving force behind the Vikings’ voyage to the shores of Great Britain. Watch for Assassin’s Creed Valhalla to make landfall on Nov. 10 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Google Stadia, and PC, with next-gen versions for Sony and Microsoft consoles soon to follow.- What makes someone a criminal? “Getting caught,” says Keanu Reeves (aka Johnny Silverhand) in the new trailer for Cyberpunk 2077, debuted this week as a TV spot during the NBA Finals. There’s not much new here aside from a quick glimpse at the mean Night City streets and some painfully cool-looking body mods, but any chance to see Keanu repping his upcoming Cyberpunk 2077 character in prime time is is reason enough to be hyped for the game’s Nov. 19 release.
- Dress up like a certain clawed mutant in Fortnite with the game’s latest update, which puts Marvel’s X-Men slasher in the battle royale spotlight. The new Wolverine outfit comes as part of Fortnite's newest Chapter 2, Season 4 update, available now from Epic Games.
- Mobile gaming company Netmarble is bringing one of South Korea’s most popular downloads to U.S. shores with A3: Still Alive, a genre-crossing game that combines the huge, dynamic setting of an open-world RPG with the frantic combat of a 30-person battle royale. Set in “a beautifully dark world of strife, conflict, and turmoil,” Still Alive frames intense hack-and-slash PvP fighting against an “apocalyptic fantasy world of swords and sorcery” where player compete to be the last one standing — all while looking for new ways to level up their gear. Pre-register at the game’s website, the Apple App Store, or Google Play for more story and gameplay details (as well as early sign-up prizes that can be used in-game) before A3: Still Alive opens for download later this fall.
- Use these now; thank Naughty Dog later. We’ve been looking for a reason to use these insane The Last of Us reaction gifs ever since they were gifted to fans as part of last weekend’s blast of game-related goodies for The Last of Us Day, and we’re super-compelled to share them as a fun sendoff this week. From Abby riffing on Dutch’s meme-able bro-fist in Predator to Ellie doing her best Antonio Banderas “ooo” impersonation, the full suite of gifs Naughty Dog dropped at Giphy (and believe us, these are just a small sample) is sure to take your meme game to the next level. We admit it — Joel’s awards-show clapping come-apart feels a little off-key in light of everything he’s been through…but man, it’s hilarious.