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June 25, 2019
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Nintendo

Yoshi’s Crafted World is classic gaming joy, Nintendo-style

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In 1995, Yoshi had his moment. The character’s Super Mario World debut was so strong, Nintendo handed the dinosaur sidekick his own sequel. A surprise divergence from the Mario franchise found the character escorting a baby version of the plumber in search of his kidnapped twin.

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island was regarded as an instant classic for the Super Nintendo. The positive reaction was due, in part, to some bold aesthetic choices. The game featured a shaky line style, both in keeping with the playful infant motif and to further highlight that the title wasn’t just another Mario game.

Yoshi’s island has received a number of its own sequels and spinoffs over the years. This is, after all, Nintendo we’re talking about here. The company has turned riding out IP into a kind of art form. But while many of those followups were generally well-received, but none managed to capture the pure joy of the original.

2015’s Yoshi’s Wooly World came close, but ultimately failed to meet the high standards of many Mario fans. And the fact that the Wii U was ultimately a doomed console didn’t help matters much.

From a design perspective, Yoshi’s Crafted World clearly shares a lot of common DNA with that predecessor and, for that matter, Kirby’s Epic Yarn, with developer Good-Feel being a common denominator in all three.  But the Switch title is a far more fully realized and cohesive package than the Wii U title. And like Yoshi’s Island before it, it’s a joy to play.

The first time I saw gameplay footage, I’d assume the game was a bit more of an open-world adventure — the Yoshi’s Island to Super Mario Galaxy’s Super Mario World. But while the new title gives you some choices, it never lets you stray too far from the standard platformer path.

To this day, side scrollers continue to be Nintendo’s bread and butter, even as it pushes the boundaries of gaming with other titles. At its worst, that means redundancy. At its best, however, Nintendo manages to put a fresh spin on the age old genre, as is the case here.

Clever mechanics like 3D world flipping and paths that point Yoshi down roads in a third dimension keep gameplay interesting. The addition of seemingly infinite Mario 3-style cardboard costumes, coupled with the DIY crafted design language, meanwhile, make it downright joy to play.

Yoshi’s Crafted World is an all-ages title, through and through. In fact, on first playing, the game asks whether you want to play “Mellow Mode” or “Classic Mode,” reassuring you that you can switch things up at any time. Even in Classic Mode, the game does a fair bit of handholding.

But the game’s simple and slow pace is more comfort than annoyance for even older players. The title plays like a casual game, writ large with a fun through line that finds Yoshi hunting down scattered “Dream Gems,” like so many Dragon Balls. It’s never as immersive or addicting as a title like Mario Galaxy, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s the kind of game you can happily play in spurts and come back to, after you’re done living your life.

It’s a reminder that games can be an escape from, rather than cause of, frustration and stress. And it’s definitely the best Yoshi star vehicle in nearly 25 years.

EC Weekly: Gaming, crypto, shipping and the multiple future strategies of tech

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Niantic EC-1

Illustration by Nigel Sussman

Greg Kumparak published the first part of his planned four part EC-1 series on Niantic yesterday, focusing on the founding story of the AR/gaming unicorn from Keyhole and Google Earth to a complicated spinout from Alphabet. Lots of great nuggets on how companies get formed and built, but one I particularly enjoyed was this one:

Like most companies, Google doesn’t like when employees leave. Especially employees who ran key parts of the company for years. Leaving means competition. Leaving means potential opportunities lost.

John [Hanke, CEO of Niantic] eventually sat down with Larry Page to figure out what it’d take to keep him within Google . They talked about John’s interest in augmented reality. They talked about a book called Freedom™ by David Suarez, which centers around an out-of-control AI that taps a network of real-world operatives to control the world (the earliest hints of Niantic’s first game, Ingress, already sneaking in here years before it’s made.)

John wanted to take his interest in AR and his background in maps and gaming and mash them all up and see what it could look like. Larry wanted it to happen within Google.

What I loved is that Eliot Peper wrote a piece for Extra Crunch just a few weeks ago about the importance of speculative fiction in the creation of startups, and also gave a guide on just what books he recommends to find your next startup.

Expect Part 2 of the Niantic EC-1 to drop early next week as we do a rolling release.

Game streaming is the new battlefield among tech giants

Bryce Durbin / TechCrunch

Game streaming is quickly becoming one of the most important strategic arenas for owning users, with offerings from all major tech and gaming companies. Devin Coldewey provided a comprehensive strategic overview of the stakes involved this week, and why so much money is being poured into a technology that until now seemed impossible due to bandwidth and latency. It’s like Super Smash Bros: Tech Melee edition:

Nintendo makes the old new again with Mario, Zelda, Tetris titles for Switch

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The afternoon brought an eventful series of announcements from Nintendo in one of its Direct video promos, and 2019 is looking to be a banner year for the Switch. Here’s everything the company announced, from Super Mario Maker 2 to the unexpected remake of Game Boy classic Link’s Awakening.

The stream cold opened with a look at the new Mario Maker, which would honestly be enough announcement for one day. But boy did they have more up their sleeves.

First the actually new stuff:

Shown last but likely to garner the bulk of the internet’s response is the remake of Link’s Awakening, which came out more than a quarter of a century ago on Game Boy. I admit to never finishing this, but I loved the feel of it, so I’m dying to play this new tilt-shifted, perspective-switching 3D version.

Platinum has an intriguing new game called Astral Chain, in which you appear to control two fighters at the same time in some crazy-looking robot(?)-on-robot action. Talent from The Wonderful 101, Bayonetta and Nier: Automata ensure this will be worth keeping an eye on.

The recent trend of battle royale and perhaps the best game ever made, Tetris, combine in Tetris 99, where 100 people simultaneously and competitively drop blocks. It looks bonkers, and it’s free on Switch starting right now.

And on the JRPG tip:

Fire Emblem: Three Houses got a long spot that introduced the main characters, whom you’ll no doubt ally with and/or be betrayed by. Romance is in the air! And arrows.

From the back-to-basics studio that put out I Am Setsuna and Lost Sphear comes Oninaki, an action RPG that looks like a good well-crafted bit of fun, if not particularly original.

Dragon Quest 11 S — an enhanced version of the original hit — and DQ Builders 2 are on their way to Switch later this year, in Fall and July respectively.

Rune Factory 4 Special is another enhanced, remastered classic in a series that I adore (though I wish they’d remaster Frontier). It was also announced that RF5 is in development, so thank God for that.

Final Fantasy VII is coming at the end of March, and Final Fantasy IX is available now. I’m ashamed to say I never played the latter but this is a great opportunity to.

Sidescrollers new and old:

BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL! is a new entry in a well-like puzzle platformer series that introduces some new characters and multiplayer. Coming in April.

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night got a teaser, but we’ve heard a lot about this Castlevania spiritual sequel already. Just come out!

Yoshi’s Crafted World comes out March 29, but there’s a demo available today.

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker gets an update adding multiplayer to its intricate levels, and soon, a paid pack for new ones. I might wait for a combined version but this should be fun.

Miscellaneous but still interesting:

The new Marvel Ultimate Alliance is coming this summer and I can’t wait. The second one was a blast but it came out way too long ago. A good co-op brawler is a natural fit for the Switch, plus being a superhero is fun.

Daemon X Machina, the striking-looking mech combat game, is getting a demo ahead of the summer release. They’re going to incorporate changes and advice from players so if you want to help shape the game, get to it.

Disney Tsum Tsum Festival… I don’t know what this is. But it looks wild.

Deltarune! It’s the sequel-ish to the beloved Undertale, and you can get the first chapter on Switch now. Play Undertale first, or you won’t get the dog jokes.

There were a few more little items here and there, but that’s the gist. Boy am I glad I have a Switch!

You can watch the full Direct here.

Nintendo is releasing a free battle royale version of Tetris

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It came right in the middle of the Nintendo Direct announcement this afternoon: “99 players… but only one reigns supreme.”

It could be a tagline for just about any of the run-and-gun shoot ’em up battle royale games that are so popular right now, à la Fortnite or Apex. Instead, it’s the tagline for the new… Tetris?

Nintendo only touched on it for about 40 seconds (so details are a bit light), but the company says it’s releasing later today a free-to-play, 99-player version of Tetris called Tetris 99. It’ll be a free download for Nintendo Switch Online members.

It seems to mostly be the Tetris we all know, with a twist: performing particularly well will let you attack other players with garbage, filling their carefully curated rows with a bunch of junk.

No word yet on if you’ll be able to make your blocks Floss or do the Carlton dance.

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