5 Virtual Ways to Have Safe and Geeky Fun Over the Thanksgiving Holiday

A Sasquatch statue dressed as a pilgrim with a face mask is spotted in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

A Sasquatch statue dressed as a pilgrim with a face mask is spotted in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
Photo: Mark Makela (Getty Images)

For millions of people, Thanksgiving is going to look a little different this year. Because of the novel coronavirus pandemic, I’ve chosen to stay home instead of traveling for the holiday and interact with my family over video. But it doesn’t just have to be making an awkward toast to “These Strange Times” before sitting down to a smaller-than-normal meal—there are ways to get fun, creative, and nerdy virtually.

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Here are a few suggestions for geeky activities to do with family and friends during this Thanksgiving holiday (or through December, really). They are (mostly) family-friendly, meaning everyone from the smallest kid to the more senior of citizens can participate (with a little coaching in digital fluency, of course). If you have any other ones you’re trying out with your family and friends, be sure to leave them in the comments! I hope each and every one of you are having a safe and covid-free season.

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Felicia Day guest-judges some treats in an episode of Netflix’s Nailed It!

Felicia Day guest-judges some treats in an episode of Netflix’s Nailed It!
Image: Netflix

Baking Competition

Anyone who read my sourdough interview will know that my sister Christine loves to bake, and it’s a habit that’s running in the family. One of my nephew Mateo’s favorite shows is Netflix’s Nailed It, and it’s inspired him to take up baking himself. They’ve participated in a couple Nailed It At Home competitions, which feature kits for cakes and treats from movies like Netflix’s animated feature Over the Moon. Sadly, there aren’t any open slots for December’s competition, so instead we’re gonna try doing a virtual baking competition between households this holiday season (since I’m a horrible baker, I figured my competitive skills will be on par with a 4-year-old child).

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The process is simple: You get your ingredients ready, turn on your web camera, and get to baking! As far as what to make, there are a lot of ways to go about doing this—especially for folks wanting to keep it nerdy. You can find a mutually interesting recipe online—like this one for French macarons, which can easily be turned into Baby Yoda’s favorite treats for a lot less than $50. Nerdy Nummies founder Rosanna Pansino also has a bunch of free recipes on her website with varying degrees of skill. You can also buy baking kits online! Poppikit has a bunch of great ones, including kits designed for kids…and people named Beth Elderkin. Still a bit too tough? Can’t go wrong with a gingerbread house.

That’s quite a family reunion.

That’s quite a family reunion.
Image: InnerSloth

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Family Game of Among Us

Among Us is the latest video game obsession, becoming a staple on Twitch over the past month or so. One of the reasons it’s so great is because not only can you play it from your mobile device…it’s also cross-platform! That means everybody has a chance to give it a try together. Any folks looking for a fun family activity can give it a try, figuring out who among them are really good at doing tasks, making murders happen, or lying their socks off.

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There are plenty of other fantastic games you can play virtually with family and friends (we’ve got some selections here), but don’t discount a good betrayal in space. Among Us is one to add to the pile this holiday season.

Get ‘Creative’ with Turkey Hand Art

It’s the tried-and-true Thanksgiving holiday crafts tradition, where you trace your hand and turn it into a turkey. If you’re looking to have a little arts and crafts time with your family members, you can’t go wrong with this project. But who said Turkey Hand Art had to be boring? My suggestion? Get a little weird with it. Turn your turkey into the latest incarnation of Doctor Who. Pretend it’s Baby Yoda’s first art project and give it a decidedly Star Wars look. Maybe draw it as an alien Face Hugger—though you might not be able to show that one to the kids. Not only will it make an activity that you stopped doing decades ago a bit more entertaining…you might get an extra chuckle out of the little ones. Kids love funny shit.

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The Red Titan from Ryan’s World balloon for the 94th Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which will be driven by tractors instead of walked.

The Red Titan from Ryan’s World balloon for the 94th Annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which will be driven by tractors instead of walked.
Photo: Eugene Gologursky for Macy’s (Getty Images)

Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade Bingo

This year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is going to be weird. Not only will there be no actual parade. The organizers are limiting the location to a few square blocks around the Macy’s department store but it’s going to be missing marching bands, kids, and so many other things that make it one of the holiday staples of the year. Since we’ll be watching from home, I thought it might be fun to organize some family or friends bingo sheets for all the normal (and abnormal) things you can expect from this year’s parade. Things like: a sadly deflating balloon, the awkwardly lip-synced musical number, or even a cameo from another NYC parade staple like the Coney Island USA Mermaid parade. It’s a fun and unique way to feel like you’re in the same room.

Virtual Escape Room

It doesn’t matter if you’re a gaming novice or expert: People love a good puzzle game. Luckily, there are a lot of escape groups that have been brought to the virtual world—some of which are even free! For folks wanting something that’s in-depth and organized, there are several companies like Mystery Escape Room that offer virtual packages for pretty reasonable rates (there’s a new one centered around the story of Scrooge that looks like fun). There are also some free digital escape rooms that have been made in Google Forms and other places, like the ones here and here.

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All you have to do is turn on your web camera and, through screen sharing, get working on solving the mystery. It’s something you can easily bring a large number of folks together to do since it’s about collaborating together instead of competing. That way if someone feels a little lost, the others can help them out. I’m not saying that would be me, but I’m not saying it wouldn’t be either.

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This Game Boy-Inspired Handheld Is Exactly What I Wish Nintendo’s New Handheld Had Been

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Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

The release of the Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros. seems to confirm that Nintendo has no plans to revive or revisit the Game Boy as it did with its NES and SNES throwback consoles. It’s time to move on because there are other companies happy to indulge your Game Boy nostalgia. With a matching Famicom-inspired design, Anbernic’s new R280V delivers the retro experience that many gamers feel Nintendo’s new Game & Watch revival should have.

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Note: A sample of the Anbernic Retro Game 280V was provided to Gizmodo by online retailer KeepRetro.

For the past couple of years Anbernic has been churning out better and better Linux-powered handhelds that leverage software emulation to play retro games from classic consoles like the Atari 2600, Game Boy, and Sega Genesis, to even more powerful 3D systems like the original PlayStation and the N64. Our current recommendation for retro gaming on-the-go is the Anbernic RG350P featuring a landscape design (like the original Game Boy Advance) and a pair of analog joysticks that are crucial if you intend to play 3D games that include camera control. It’s a lovely piece of hardware, but a 3.5-inch screen and those joysticks means the RG350P isn’t particularly pocket-friendly. Enter the new RG280V.

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If you took an original Game Boy, the Game Boy Advance, and Nintendo’s new Game & Watch and mashed them all together to create a handheld highlighting all their best features, you’d end up with a console like the new Anbernic RG280V.

Internally it shares almost all of the same guts as the RG350P, including a dual-core 1.0GHz JZ4770 processor, 512MB of RAM, and a slightly smaller 2,100 mAh battery that promises up to seven hours of battery life assuming you steer clear of playing more CPU-intensive games. That means, like the RG350P, the new R280V can emulate consoles like the PlayStation and N64, but you’re probably going to want to make the PS1 your cut-off in terms of what games you’ll actually try to play on this thing.

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The RG280V is much smaller than the RG350P and features a vertical design (hence the “V” in the name) like the Game Boy and the later folding versions of the Game Boy Advance. It’s a little on the chunky side—much thicker than Nintendo’s new Game & Watch—but at the same time it’s much easier to slip into a pocket. However, the improvement in portability comes at the cost of losing the RG350P’s analog joysticks.

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The RG280V features just a four-way directional pad, a set of four action buttons, and dedicated buttons for Start and Select. As with previous Anbernic handhelds all the controls feel fantastic with just enough click and resistance, and they’re larger than the buttons Nintendo included on the new Game & Watch which is a definite plus. But it means that while you can limp along playing some PlayStation titles, you’ll just be frustrated trying to tackle any N64 games. The RG280V is better suited to games from the 16-bit era and older.

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Gamers with larger hands might have a struggle reaching the RG280V’s shoulder buttons with their index fingers.
Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

Is the RG280V too small? It depends on the size of your hands, and the games you’re playing. The two sets of tiered shoulder buttons on top are needed for playing GBA, SNES, and Genesis games, and if you’ve got larger hands like yours truly, it can be a little tricky to bend your index fingers down to reach them. I do find handhelds like the larger RG350P more comfortable to hold for longer play sessions, but it doesn’t mean that those of us with beefy paws necessarily need to stick to simpler games from the pre-shoulder buttons era on the RG280V. Comfort is often just one of the necessary sacrifices for smaller handhelds—remember the excellent Game Boy Micro? My fingers still hurt.

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The RG280V’s screen is beautiful, with a laminated design that makes it bright and crisp with excellent viewing angles. At 2.8-inches it’s smaller than the RG350P’s 3.5-inch screen, but also features a small resolution bump so actually looks better.
Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

The RG280V’s smaller footprint also means the RG350P’s 3.5-inch screen has been reduced to 2.8-inches here, but a minor resolution bump to 480×320 pixels means it looks a little better, despite being smaller. It also features the same IPS laminated display as the RG350P which sits flush with the screen cover. As a result the RG280V’s screen looks fantastic and crisp with excellent viewing angles, and I would actually choose it over the screen Nintendo used on its new Game & Watch.

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ROM files can be loaded using a microSD card loaded in a slot, while the RG280V’s software lives on another microSD protected with a sticker that is challenging to cleanly remove. As a result, software and firmware updates aren’t easy.
Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

The RG280V (and any retro gaming device that relies on ROM files) does require some basic competency when it comes to getting games onto the device. The RG280V is easier than most, letting you simply fill a microSD card with ROM files that then pops into a slot on the side of the handheld. It doesn’t come with any games, however, which brings us to the point in the review where I remind you that playing games using ROM files, not the original cartridges or discs, is a legal gray area which also complicates sourcing these types of files.

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There’s no sugar-coating it: the RG280V’s software is ugly and often frustrating to use. But it’s functional, and the handheld delivers excellent performance for 16-bit games and older.
Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

You’ll also need to brace yourself for the RG280V’s Linux-based operating system which lacks the polish and user-friendliness of the front-ends on most mainstream gaming systems. More simply put: OpenDingux is ugly, kind of a pain to navigate, often confusing, and usually a challenge to perform firmware and software upgrades. You don’t need to be a hacker to figure it out, but you will need the patience of a saint. If you’re wondering why you can get a handheld gaming system with a beautiful screen that can play thousands of games for less than $100: this is why.

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If you’re looking for an all-around excellent handheld emulator, the RG350P is still my top recommendation and a solid piece of hardware that still shines. If portability is your priority, or you’re just looking for a modern take on the Game Boy, or you’re disappointed that Nintendo is now selling a $50 handheld that only plays Super Mario Bros. and a stick figure juggling game, the RG280V is the better way to go. Most of my retro gaming happens with the consoles of my youth like the Game Boy and SNES, and the RG280V plays all of those games wonderfully. The hardware and capabilities of the handheld more than make up for the lack of polish in the operating system, and assuming you’re not singularly obsessed with Super Mario Bros. you’re better off spending a few extra bucks on the RG280V over the new Game & Watch.

README

  • It’s about $35 more expensive than Nintendo’s new Game & Watch, but the hardware is more versatile and it’s capable of playing thousands of retro games.
  • No analog joysticks which means that playing N64 and PlayStation games is going to be a challenge. It’s better suited for 16-bit titles and older.
  • No HDMI out.
  • The lowest volume setting for its speaker is still kind of loud, but you can pop in headphones if you don’t want to disturb others.
  • The Linux operating system and OpenDingux user interface is ugly, occasionally confusing, and often frustrating, but not impossible to use.
  • You need to supply your own ROM game files which is a legal gray area.
  • The screen is beautiful with bright colors and excellent viewing angles.
  • The shoulder buttons can be a little tricky to reach for gamers with larger hands.

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Watch Dogs: Legion Lets Anyone ‘Wear the Mask’ to Its Own Detriment

Promotional art for Watch Dogs: Legion.

Promotional art for Watch Dogs: Legion.
Image: Ubisoft

The recently released Spider-Man: Miles Morales video game follows the core message from the feature film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse: “Anyone can wear the mask.” But there’s one video game out right now where that’s also true: anyone can wear the mask in Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs: Legion but that doesn’t mean everyone should.

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Legion is the third techno-dystopia video game in the ongoing Watch Dogs series. It’s about a group of hackers named DedSec who “fight the power” to protect people’s privacy, data, and free will from government overreach and greedy software developers. The latest game heads to London for a worst-case scenario where, after a string of domestic terrorism attacks, a private army has been given carte blanche to control the city with drones, predictive algorithms, and microchips. In response, DedSec has grown from a small group of hackers into an amorphous blob of mask-wearing vigilantes that anyone can be brought into. They are Legion, for they are many.

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Ubisoft has experimented with something pretty revolutionary for Watch Dogs: Legion, in that every single NPC you come across can be recruited into DedSec. From that point on they are a playable character that you can turn to anytime you like. Each of them has one or more skills that can assist with different types of missions—whether it’s carrying a certain kind of weapon, having a faster “hack rate,” or being able to control drones without needing special upgrades. There are a few folks who come with penalties, like limited mobility due to age or a shopping addiction (a few of them fart a lot). Then there are those who come with unique abilities that no one else has, like the Robotic Beekeeper.

Small but noticeable complaint: Characters always default to their original outfits in cut scenes, even if you’ve given them awesome new ones.

Small but noticeable complaint: Characters always default to their original outfits in cut scenes, even if you’ve given them awesome new ones.
Screenshot: Beth Elderkin via Ubisoft

This isn’t the first video game to offer a wide variety of NPCs to become part of the gaming experience—for example, Dragon’s Dogma allowed players to build their own teams of “Pawns” using either the pre-set options or customizable NPCs created and shared by other players online. But this is the first game of this caliber, where literally anyone in the city can become the protagonist…for as long or as little as the player wants. In theory, it’s a fantastic concept, playing on the inspirational message from Into the Spider-Verse that anyone can wear the mask. Unfortunately, the game fails in the execution.

The problem with Legion is that all the characters are homogenized piles of nothing, with no distinct personalities or traits to set themselves apart from another. This wouldn’t be a problem if this was a generic fighting game where we care more about the combat than the characters, but this is a story-based linear video game—with a concrete plot, narrative, villain, and goal—without one or more linear protagonists to go on the journey with. Instead, every character acts the same way and says the same things, with very little deviation to make players feel like they’ve embodied a character with their own backstory, viewpoints, and behaviors. For example, every time you hand-off control from one character to another, their interaction usually boils down to: “It’s time to fight the power,” followed by “Hell yeah, I’m down.”

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This is largely because of the behind-the-scenes mechanics, which are impressive on paper but yield disappointing results onscreen (anyone who played Assassin’s Creed Unity, with its overpopulated masses of NPC mobs, is very familiar with Ubisoft’s track record of cool ideas that fail in execution). In an interview with Edge Magazine (as shared by Gamesradar), creative director Clint Hocking said they created “20 different versions of the script” that they had actors voice, using AI technology to then turn each of those individual actors into dozens of potential characters. What results is meeting hundreds of characters who technically sound different but don’t sound unique. They all say slightly different versions of the same general script, so they come across as clones instead of identifiable protagonists. It also doesn’t help that the technology makes many of them sound jilted and unnatural, something on display in the following video.

This isn’t just limited to how the characters look and sound, it’s also in how they exist in the world. You can tell that Ubisoft ran out of time to create variety in the character stories and gameplay because eventually everything starts repeating itself. Different NPCs will share “unique” skillsets (carrying a wrench is the most popular) or have similar recruitment missions, which usually boil down to “Can you rescue this person or hack this terminal for me?” Then after they’re recruited, they are folded into your collective and become lifelong DedSec members who bring a few cool tricks but nothing resembling a unique voice or perspective. And for some reason, they’re all instantly pro-hackers! Every recruit can perform complex hacks and melee attacks, skills that were presented as pretty hard to master in the previous two games. But now, no training required. Better look out for grandma!

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I can’t help but compare Legion to its predecessor Watch Dogs 2, in particular to the lead character of Marcus. In that video game, he went on a journey similar to the one we’re taking in Legion, but we were more invested then because we were going on that journey through his eyes. We were seeing his thoughts, choices, and mistakes. We grew as he grew, and felt triumph when he succeeded. There’s no single person like that in Legion. Even the characters with totally unique skillsets, like the Robotic Beekeeper, feel generic. She only has one catchphrase when she lets loose her bees, and trust me it gets annoying after awhile.

Marcus shares a moment with Wrench (whose outfit I hope to cosplay someday).

Marcus shares a moment with Wrench (whose outfit I hope to cosplay someday).
Image: Ubisoft

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Just like in movies, story-based linear video games need one or more characters to identify with. We need a foundation for the story’s moral and ethical issues, someone to bounce off of so we can better understand what’s happening and judge whether it’s right or wrong. This is especially true in a series like Watch Dogs, which deals in a Black Mirror-esque vision of the near-future that—at least in the case of Watch Dogs 2—is terrifyingly accurate. Watch Dogs: Legion would’ve been better served with a smaller collection of truly unique recruitable protagonists, 5-10 people with their own personalities and voice actors, that could exist alongside the more generic NPC you pick up along the way. That way you’re still able to play as anyone, but you can still choose to play as someone.

While it’s true that “anyone can wear the mask,” the mask is only as worthy as the person wearing it. If you don’t care about who’s underneath, they haven’t truly earned it.

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Watch Dogs: Legion and Spider-Man: Miles Morales are both available on Xbox and Playstation systems.

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The Hacked Nintendo Game & Watch Now Plays Pokémon and Zelda Too

After successfully hacking Nintendo’s Game & Watch revival a day before the handheld was officially released, it didn’t lake long for Twitter user ‘stacksmashing’ to figure out how to get alternate games running on the device. They started with Doom, but have since succeeded in getting other retro classics like The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros. 3, and even one of the original Game Boy Pokémons to play on the handheld.

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At this point, if you’re going to hack a piece of hardware to run games it’s tradition to start with id Software’s classic first-person-shooter, Doom. stacksmashing was able to get it working on the Game & Watch, but because of the handheld’s diminutive amount of storage, they first had to shrink Doom considerably by stripping away most of the textures that brought its 3D world to life.

As a result, while it was technically playable, Doom looked awful on the Game & Watch, and the little handheld struggled to maintain a decent frame rate since it has just 1.3MB of RAM. As a proof of concept, getting Doom to even work at all on the Game & Watch confirmed the potential of the device for playing games other than Super Mario Bros. and its sequel, but it also confirmed the handheld won’t play everything.

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Thankfully, stacksmashing has followed Doom with tests featuring other classic video games, and the resulting gameplay and performance looks far more promising. On their Twitter account they recently shared short videos of the new Game & Watch playing Super Mario Bros. 3, Konami’s Contra, the NES version of The Legend of Zelda, and even a Game Boy version of Pokémon, and aside from that last one which exhibits some peculiar scaling issues, all the games look right at home on the Game & Watch’s screen.

But don’t run out and buy the new Game & Watch just yet with the intention of hacking it and playing your favorite retro game on it. There are some real challenges with getting your own software onto the handheld because its USB-C port is only used for charging the internal battery; it’s not connected to the mainboard for data transfers. As a result, swapping out ROM files requires physically opening the device and using custom hardware to reflash its memory chips, which of course requires a certain level of skill and proficiency with those tools to assure the little console doesn’t get fried in the process.

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stacksmashing has promised to publish a full guide on hacking the new Game & Watch once a streamlined method of doing so is finalized. But until then, just keep an eye on their Twitter account as they find new ways to repurpose the handheld and expand its limited capabilities.

I Miss Merlin, the First Electronic Game I Ever Played

I MissI MissGizmodo staff fondly remembers the extinct gadgets of years past.

Do you remember the first electronic game you ever played? Maybe it was Super Mario Bros. on the NES? Pitfall on the Atari 2600? Pac-Man at the arcade? For me it was Tic-Tac-Toe played on what looked like a cordless phone called Merlin The Electronic Wizard featuring a ‘screen’ made up of just 11 glowing dots.

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I don’t remember exactly how old I was when my dad dug a box out of the closet adorned with images of a silver robotic hand embracing a curious red device—maybe five or six years old?—but it immediately captured my attention and distracted me from my Lego, Lincoln Logs, and die-cast cars. At that age, aside from a TV, hifi stereo, and the phone hanging in the kitchen, my exposure to electronics was almost non-existent, and the fact that my dad was not only showing me what this device could do, but letting me play with it all by myself, was kind of an epiphany. As far as I knew gadgets were for grown-ups and for mostly boring tasks, but this one was designed exclusively for fun.

Merlin The Electronic Wizard (or just Merlin, to get right to the point) was created in part by a man named Bob Doyle who, after getting his degree in astrophysics, went on to work for NASA where he helped develop software that allowed observatories on Earth to sync up with a telescope on Skylab, America’s first space station. From there, Doyle became an inventor and eventually formed a video game company with his brother-in-law called MicroCosmos. In the ‘70s, Parker Brothers was looking to get into electronic games and hired Doyle’s company to come up with a product that would feel more like a toy, and less like a device designed for engineers.

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The collaboration gave birth to Merlin, which started life as a boring white box but soon evolved into a bright red handheld that, like a cordless phone, looked like it could be carried and enjoyed anywhere. Parker Brothers debuted Merlin at the New York Toy Fair in 1978 alongside Milton Bradley’s Simon which had more of a significant cultural impact than Merlin did, despite being technologically inferior. While Simon had just four light up buttons and a single memory game, Merlin featured 11 glowing buttons and six games, including Tic-Tac-Toe, Blackjack 13, Echo (the same game that Simon offered), and a basic music sequencer.

At that age I had already gotten bored of Tic-Tac-Toe and playing Blackjack really isn’t fun without the betting. So what drew me to Merlin was its music capabilities. Pressing each of the 11 buttons would produce a different tone, and the device let you record and play back a string of random button presses to create a song. The manual included step-by-step instructions on how to play several public domain tunes, but the real fun was creating my own musical masterpieces. In hindsight, I probably tested the limits of my parents’ patience with my sonic experiments because Merlin was released long before headphone jacks were a standard feature. As you can hear in the following video, Merlin’s crude sounds were not necessarily a treat for the ears.

Looking back, Merlin wasn’t much different than the other electronic handheld games released around the time, including a series of sports games from Mattel and Coleco. They all ran on 8-bit processors from companies like Intel and Texas Instruments and in lieu of even basic LCD screens used a grid of red LEDs which were the cheapest to manufacture at the time. What made Merlin still appealing to me years later was its design that allowed for multiple games to all run on the same device. Simon never appealed to me because it was a one-trick pony. If I got bored of music, I could always jump back to a quick game of Tic-Tac-Toe. As mobile distractions go, Merlin might be the closest thing to the smartphone’s great-great-great-grandparent.

Despite never being as popular as Simon (I don’t remember ever seeing a single Merlin toy commercial on TV as a kid, where as Simon seemed to be everywhere), Merlin The Electronic Wizard still went on to sell over 5.5 million units before being quietly discontinued sometime in the mid-’80s. It was groundbreaking when it was first released, but just a few years later Nintendo introduced its first Game & Watch handhelds with LCD displays featuring real graphics and animations. They, and the hundreds of LCD-based handhelds that were to follow from companies like Tiger Electronics, were much smaller and less power-hungry than Merlin was. Parker Brothers’ creation also faced stiff competition from the burgeoning home console market, and despite including multiple games, it didn’t come close to the number of games offered on consoles like the Atari 2600 and ColecoVision which used swappable game carts.

Like many of my childhood electronic toys, Merlin eventually died in storage, presumably at the hands of six AA batteries that corroded away over time. I wasn’t pleased to learn my parents had thrown it away, but I do appreciate them actually allowing me to enjoy and experiment with it when I was younger. I’m sure it was the catalyst for them bringing home a Commodore 64 a few years later, which was a fundamental part of my childhood and a big part of who I am today. But Merlin was definitely the first spark.

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Star Wars’ New VR Game Wanted to Build on Galaxy’s Edge, Not Just Recreate It

You’ll get real friendly with Seezelslak (voiced by Bobby Moynihan) in Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge.

You’ll get real friendly with Seezelslak (voiced by Bobby Moynihan) in Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge.
Image: ILMxLAB

Since Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge only exists in two places on our planet, one might expect a VR experience based on it would just copy them, and give fans who can’t get to Disneyland or Walt Disney World a chance to visit Batuu right from the comfort of home. Star Wars: Tales From the Galaxy’s Edge by ILMxLab sort of does that but, at least for now, it never sets foot in the actual park.

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“The goal for us was really to expand the world and to not recreate it,” game producer Alyssa Finley told io9. “You can go there and you can see [Black Spire Outpost] for yourself. But we wanted to make that world bigger and let you go out and see what the wilds are like. See what the spires are like. And even see what an ancient Jedi Temple on Batuu was like. It was much more about making a bigger world.”

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In Tales From the Galaxy’s Edge, the player assumes the role of a droid repair technician who crashes on Batuu and unknowingly finds themselves in the middle of a secret mission for the Resistance. Batuu is a big planet, though, so most of that story takes outside the walls of Black Spire Outpost, which is the “land” part of the Disney theme parks’ themed lands. In fact, the story acts as something of an origin story for what’s going on at the parks.

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This view is as close as you’ll get to the actual Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
Image: ILMxLAB

“The Galaxy’s Edge story itself is awesome,” game director Jose Perez III told io9. “And we just wanted to have enough room so that we could play too and experiment without affecting it. It just made a lot of sense to be slightly before it.”

So along the way, you’ll hear dialogue about that famous ship that recently landed outside, aka the Millennium Falcon. Or about how the Droid Depot owner is thinking about having customers build their own droids or that Oga’s Cantina just got a new DJ. None of which has anything to do with the story, of course, but it adds rewarding color to the realities of the theme park.

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Another thing that doesn’t exactly have much to do with the park but exists in the game is a legendary tale set during The High Republic. It’s accessed via the main hub of the game, Seezelslak’s Cantina, and sees players whisked back in time and into the shoes of Jedi apprentice Ady Sun’Zee who, along with her master, find an ancient Sith artifact. While the tale feels detached from the rest of the Galaxy’s Edge story, Perez explained it allowed the team to put in some additional mechanics and set up themes for future stories.

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This concept art for the High Republic story features a familiar face.
Image: ILMxLAB

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“Although it’s a completely different era and it’s all Ady and her cool lightsabers and the Force and stuff, there are actually themes we’re using that are tying all of this together,” he said. “And you’re going to find that over the course of part one and part two, hopefully at the end when you stand back and you look and see that all these threads actually do kind of relate in some of the bigger themes.”

Yes, you read that right. There will be at least a part two to Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge, which should be out next year. At launch, the game already has slots for additional High Republic tales, as well as more than a few clues in Seezelslak’s dialogue about what those might be. But that’s just the beginning.

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“We’re going to continue the droid repair technician story through part two and the tales are each going to be their own fun little experience that you have on your own,” Perez said. “You can expect us to explore other Star Wars areas and keep playing with different mechanics. So you’ll see some really different things come out of those two slots.”

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Mubo’s Workshop is in the back of the Droid Depot at Galaxy’s Ege.
Image: ILMxLAB

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No matter which time period you’re playing in, everything in Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge feels and sounds like Star Wars. One sound you won’t hear, however, is John Williams’ music—much like inside Galaxy’s Edge itself, Perez and his team really want the VR experience to carve its own unique niche in the franchise. The music was created by the likes of Bear McCreary (Battlestar Galactica, The Walking Dead) and Joseph Trapanese (Tron Uprising, The Greatest Showman), but not Williams.

“Right now it’s about us finding our own stories,” Perez said. “We’re experimenting, we’re playing, and we’re feeling things out. And I think you’ll find eventually that more of the kind of overall Star Wars-y vibe themes will seep in as we continue these stories.”

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Tales From Galaxy’s Edge is out now for Oculus Quest.

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The Very Best Retro Game Consoles

Illustration for article titled The Very Best Retro Game Consoles

Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

Modern video games and consoles offer a narrative experience that rivals Hollywood blockbusters, but also require a hefty commitment of your time to play through. Sometimes you just want to dive into the action, and your favorite 8 and 16-bit games of yesteryear are perfect for that. Retro gaming is more popular than ever, and finding the perfect retro gaming gear can be overwhelming, so we’ve done the hard work for you.

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Whether you’re a child of the ‘80s who’s been playing classic titles for decades and has a mountain of old cartridges (and a hard drive full of ROMs) or a teenager curious why so many people still love the Super Nintendo and the Sega Genesis, this guide will help point you to the best way to dive into retro gaming.

Buying forecast for the rest of 2020: As the manufacturing and shipping delays that slowed new hardware rollouts in 2020 continue into 2021, highly anticipated retro hardware releases like Analogue’s Pocket and Panic’s Playdate are still months away. Smaller companies, many based in China, are still releasing some excellent retro handhelds, including the new Game Boy-inspired RG280V from Anbernic. One of the hottest items for Christmas this year also promises to be Nintendo’s Game & Watch revival, but availability will be extremely limited and it’s for die-hard Super Mario Bros. fans only.

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The Best Portable Console for Experienced Retro Gamers

Illustration for article titled The Very Best Retro Game Consoles

Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

Who are you?

You’re a child of the ‘80s who cut their video game teeth on consoles like the Atari, the NES, the Super Nintendo, the Sega Master System, and the Genesis. You still have your original consoles and game carts, and over the years have amassed a sizeable collection of ROMs for your favorite games, and would love to be able to play them wherever you go, but you find the challenges of running emulators on a smartphone outweigh the convenience, and would rather have a dedicated portable with excellent physical controls built right in.

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Our pick: Anbernic RG350P ($90)

Just a few years ago, the handheld emulators created by Chinese retro gaming enthusiasts were good, but not great, and lacked the quality you’d find with hardware from large companies. That’s no longer the case. The Anbernic RG350P feels as solid as the Nintendo Switch, but instead of cartridges it plays games using ROM files stored on microSD cards, for consoles including the various Game Boys, the NES and SNES, the Sega Master System and the Genesis, the original Sony PlayStation, and even retro computers like the Commodore 64. At around $88, it’s also well priced for its capabilities, but just be prepared for some forum and tutorial searches when it comes to installing new emulators or performing software updates, as the RG350P is tailored towards those who are more technologically proficient.

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Also Consider

The RK2020 is similarly priced to the RG350P, includes a screen with a noticeable bump in resolution, offers decent controls and a faster processor allowing it to play a large number of games from more powerful 3D retro consoles including the N64 and the Sega Dreamcast. A single analog stick it makes playing PS1 games challenging (but not impossible), although the level of technical proficiency needed to just copy ROM files to its memory card which is formatted for the Linux OS makes the RK2020 more of a challenge to get working.

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The Game Boy-inspired Anbernic RG280V is extremely pocket-friendly but capable of playing thousands of retro games.

The Game Boy-inspired Anbernic RG280V is extremely pocket-friendly but capable of playing thousands of retro games.
Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

Instead of giving gamers a Classic Edition version of the Game Boy, Nintendo celebrated Mario’s 35th birthday this year with a revival of its old-school Game & Watch handhelds that defined portable gaming in the ‘80s. The new Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros. includes the original NES version of Super Mario Bros. and its sequel, as well as a classic G&W game called Ball that puts Mario and Luigi’s juggling skills to the test. It’s only available in limited quantities, however, and $50 is kind of expensive for just three retro games. As an alternative, consider Anbernic’s new Retro Game 280V. It stuffs the RG350P’s electronics into a smaller handheld that’s easier to slip into a pocket. The RG350P’s dual analog joysticks are sacrificed in the process, however, meaning the RG280V is better suited for playing games from the 16-bit era and older. At around $85 it’s pricier than Nintendo’s new Game & Watch, but it can also play thousands of retro games—not just three.

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The Best Portable Console for Casual Retro Gamers

Illustration for article titled The Very Best Retro Game Consoles

Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

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Who Are You?

Even though you grew up playing retro consoles like the SNES and Genesis, you left them all behind to collect dust in your parents’ basement and replaced them with the latest and greatest console of the day. Now that you’re all grown up you’re interested in reliving your favorite childhood games, but don’t know the first thing about emulators, ROMs, or dabbling in Linux. You want a pocket-friendly plug and play solution that’s as easy to use as the Game Boy, but not limited to simple monochromatic games.

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Our Pick: Evercade ($80+)

Unlike the RG350P and the RK2020, the Evercade doesn’t require users to supply their own games. Its creators have worked to license official games from the original publishers to create a collection of themed cartridges that each contain multiple games. There are over 120 games available for the Evercade right now, with more en route, and for $100 you can snag the portable console itself and three game-filled carts to get you started. The approach means the Evercade doesn’t rely on software emulators, so every game plays as well as it did on the original system, without slowdowns or issues with sound being out of sync.

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Also Consider

Until the Analogue Pocket officially arrives in May of 2021, there aren’t many portable console options that can run original game carts if you’ve still got your original collection on hand. But the $80 My Arcade Retro Champ can play original 8-bit NES and Famicom game cartridges if you’re okay with a portable console that’s too large for any pocket. My Arcade also revealed a follow-up, the Super Retro Champ at CES 2020 that can play both original Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis cartridges, but it’s currently another victim of pandemic-related manufacturing delays.

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Super Impulse’s credit card-sized Micro Arcade machines are some of the smallest handhelds you’ll find.

Super Impulse’s credit card-sized Micro Arcade machines are some of the smallest handhelds you’ll find.
Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

If size is a concern, Super Impulse’s Micro Arcade line puts classic games like Pac-Man, Tetris, Dig Dug, Galaga, Oregon Trail, and Qbert into credit card-sized handhelds that range in price from $20 to $25 depending on how many games are included on each. They were designed by the same engineer who created the open source Arduboy: a credit card-sized Game Boy that allows anyone to program and create their own games. With a black and white OLED display Arduboy games are about as simple as retro games can get and while you won’t find any A-list titles available for the credit card-sized handheld (aside from Tetris or Space Invaders clones) all the games currently available for it are completely free. You can snag a version of the Arduboy that lets you load one game at a time for $29, or wait until the fall of 2020 for the new $49 Arduboy FX which includes extra memory that can hold around 200 games at once.

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A custom Game Boy Advance created by Retro Modding.

A custom Game Boy Advance created by Retro Modding.
Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

Many retro handheld gamers think the genre was perfected with the original Game Boy, the Game Boy Color, and the various iterations of the Game Boy Advance. If you’d rather stick with what you know, companies like Retro Modding can build you a custom version of Nintendo’s popular portables using a mix of the old hardware (original motherboards) and newer parts that include rechargeable batteries, backlit LCD screens, louder speakers, colorful buttons, and housings that match the originals or feature more elaborate designs. Custom builds can cost you well over $500 if you choose to upgrade every last component and they often take a few weeks to build, but if you’re heartbroken your original Game Boys no longer work, a rebuilt replacement is the next best thing.

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Alternatively, with over 55 million consoles sold so far, there’s a good chance you have a Nintendo Switch or Switch Lite at home. Its cartridge slot won’t accept old Game Boy games—a feature that Nintendo included in newer handhelds for a while—but if you pay for the Nintendo Switch Online service ($3 per month or $20 per year) you might not realize there are two free apps you can download that give you access to a library of over 60 classic NES and SNES games, with Nintendo adding to the library every few months. It makes playing classic 8 and 16-bit Nintendo games incredibly easy and the emulation is perfect, but access is only granted for as long as you’re paying for the Switch’s online service.


The Best Console for Retro Gamers

Illustration for article titled The Very Best Retro Game Consoles

Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

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Who Are You?

You’ve lovingly stored and protected your original stack of Nintendo and Sega game cartridges as well as the consoles themselves, and want to enjoy them again on as large a screen as you can find. But technology has moved on and connecting your old hardware to a modern TV is more challenging than you anticipated. When you do get it working, your favorite games look kind of ugly, and nothing like they did on your parents’ giant CRT TV.

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Our Pick: Analogue Super Nt ($190)

In just a few years, Analogue has made a name for itself as the best possible solution for playing original retro game cartridges on modern TVs. Instead of relying on software emulators that can be buggy with performance that varies from game to game, Analogue’s 16-bit Super Nt uses a custom FPGA chip that perfectly emulates the Super Nintendo’s original hardware. Every game works flawlessly, and the console includes HDMI connectivity and endless options for customizing how games look on a giant screen so you can get as close as possible to recreating your childhood gaming experience. At $180 the Super Nt isn’t cheap, but the bigger issue is that Analogue only produces its hardware in small batches, so you might have to wait a while before the Super Nt is back in stock.

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Illustration for article titled The Very Best Retro Game Consoles

Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

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Our Other Pick: Analogue Mega Sg ($190)

Everything we said about Analogue’s Super Nt applies to the Mega Sg, except that instead of playing original Super Nintendo cartridges, the Mega Sg plays 16-bit Sega Genesis games, 8-bit Sega Master System games, Game Gear (with the proper cartridge adapter), and even Sega CD games flawlessly, with zero lag, no frame drops, and, more importantly, no audio sync issues which have plagued Sega software emulators for years. Analogue currently has the Mega Sg in stock for $190, but don’t drag your feet because the company’s hardware often sells out quickly and takes a while to restock.

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Also Consider

The Analogue Mega Sg can play original cartridges from over a decade’s worth of Sega consoles, but the Analogue Super Nt is SNES only. If you’ve got a collection of NES cartridges too, you’ll need to hunt down the $500 Analogue Nt or the newer $500 Analogue Nt mini which are currently both out of stock from Analogue itself but occasionally surface on eBay. If you’re after a cheaper solution and don’t necessarily care about being able to play your old cartridges, Nintendo fans should definitely consider the $80 Super Nintendo Classic Edition which comes bundled with 20 classic 16-bit SNES games and two matching controllers, or the $60 NES Classic Edition which includes 30 8-bit games and a pair of retro gamepads, but finding either could be a challenge now as Nintendo no longer produces the Classic Editions. Sega fans should have an easier time tracking down the $80 Sega Genesis Mini, however, which includes an impressive roster of 42 built-in 16-bit games running off of a polished Genesis emulator, while original PS1 fans can also grab the miniature all-in-one PlayStation Classic which, for $100, includes 20 games and a pair of controllers—although you don’t get the upgraded DualShock option with the side by side analog joysticks.

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It’s not hard to find an online tutorial for turning a Raspberry Pi into a solid retro gaming emulation box too. We did one using the Raspberry Pi 3, and the newer Raspberry Pi 4 is an even more powerful solution, and a bargain starting at just $35. If the DIY approach sounds too daunting, there are pre-built Raspberry Pi-based retro consoles as well. The clever Allcade Itty Bitty Collection all look like classic NES, SNES, and N64 cartridges, but are self-contained consoles with USB power and HDMI connections hidden inside. The $149 Allcade 8-Bit, $169 Allcade 16-bit, and $199 for the Allcade 64-bit, each come with a matching retro controller and the ability to easily load ROMs using a USB flash drive.


The Best Retro Gaming Controller

Illustration for article titled The Very Best Retro Game Consoles

Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

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Who Are You?

You get your retro gaming fixes on a variety of different platforms, including desktop computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones, and even modern consoles like the Nintendo Switch, but you want to game with a real controller—not a touchscreen, not a keyboard, and definitely not a pair of tiny Joy-Cons.

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Our Pick: 8BitDo SN30 Pro+ ($50)

If you’re on the hunt for a third-party wireless controller, you’ll be hard pressed to find a solution that offers more compatibility, more customizability, and a better in-hand experience than 8BitDo’s $50 SN30 Pro+. The control layout is closest to the PlayStation’s DualShock controller with analog joysticks sitting side-by-side, but the SN30 Pro+ can play with any device that supports controllers connected over Bluetooth. It offers excellent vibration feedback, analog shoulder triggers, motion controls, and a rechargeable battery that can be swapped with a pair of AA batteries in an emergency. But its best feature is 8BitDo’s Ultimate Software which allows all the controls and features of the SN30 Pro+ to be completely remapped and customized to a gamer’s specific tastes, with the ability to save specific profiles for various games and easily switch between them.

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Also Consider

With the extended grips, 8BitDo’s SN30 Pro+ is a bit large and as a result, isn’t the best option for gaming on the go. 8Bitdo’s $45 SN30 Pro features a similar control scheme layout but in a gamepad style that’s easier to stash in a pocket or a backpack, but lacks the customizability and its vibrating feedback feels underwhelming. If you’re going to exclusively be retro gaming using emulators on an Android device, 8BitDo’s $45 SN30 Pro for Xbox is an even better alternative as not only is it more portable than the SN30 Pro+, it also supports the company’s Ultimate Software allowing you to customize the functionality of the gamepad and remap the controls to your preferences, although it doesn’t feature any vibrating feedback. For ultimate portability, however, nothing can touch the tiny $20 8BitDo Zero 2 controller which is roughly the size of a Tic-Tac container but pairs four action buttons, a directional pad, and a pair of shoulder buttons with a rechargeable battery good for about eight hours of gaming.

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As excellent as 8BitDo’s controllers are, they currently do not support any iOS devices. Apple has long made its tablets and smartphones very restrictive when it comes to which wireless gamepads they can play nice with, but last year, when Apple Arcade was introduced, the company updated iOS 13, iPadOS 13, tvOS 13, and macOS Catalina with support for the $60 Xbox One Wireless Controller with Bluetooth and the $60 PlayStation DualShock 4 Wireless Controller. Both come from companies with major investments in gaming, and while these modern controllers might be a little overkill for playing retro-esque games (Apple’s mobile platforms are not emulator friendly) they’re solid options with excellent support services backing up each one.


The Best Retro Arcade Machine

Illustration for article titled The Very Best Retro Game Consoles

Photo: Andrew Liszewski/Gizmodo

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Who Are You?

You’re someone who spent time hanging around the local arcade, feeding quarters into cabinets with cutting edge graphics and wonderfully responsive joysticks and buttons. That’s the experience you’re trying to recreate—minus the stained carpets, dim lighting, and clouds of cigarette smoke.

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Our Pick: Arcade1Up Video Game Cabinets ($300)

If you’re willing to spend thousands of dollars, there’s no shortage of retro arcade machines out there to buy, powered by PCs running emulators that give instant access to thousands of classic games. Arcade1Up takes an entirely different approach. Instead of one machine that plays everything, Arcade1Up offers IKEA-style build-it-yourself arcade cabinets that focus on a specific series of games. (Such as the various iterations of Golden Tee released over the years.) The company’s arcades look exactly like the ones you’d find in a classic arcade, with matching graphics, light-up marquees, and even the original controls, but they stand just four feet tall if you’re not using an optional riser. The scaled down approach means you can even squeeze them into a tiny apartment, and they start at just $300.

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Also Consider

If you’re not quite ready to turn a room in your home into a private arcade, Arcade1Up also sells even smaller replicas it calls Counter-cades that can look and play exactly like their larger counterparts, but can easily be perched on a desk. Starting at $140 the Counter-cades are also a lot cheaper than Arcade1Up’s self-standing cabinets, letting you grow your collection faster.

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How has this list changed? Read back through our update history:

11/20/20: Added the Retro Game 280v and Nintendo Game & Watch to the Also Consider section of the Best Consoles for Experienced Retro Gamers.

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8/13/20: This is a new list. 🙂

You’ll Be Able to Play Fortnite on iOS Again Thanks to GeForce Now

Illustration for article titled Youll Be Able to Play iFortnite/i on iOS Again Thanks to GeForce Now

Screenshot: Joanna Nelius/Gizmodo

Nvidia just announced that its cloud gaming service, GeForce Now, is coming to Safari on iOS platforms. GeForce Now is already on MacOS, PC, Shield TV, Android, and as of recently ChromeOS. iOS has been the holdout as Nvidia hasn’t been able to get GeForce Now onto the App Store. That’s likely because of Apple’s policies regarding streaming services. Apple insists all purchasing of products on streaming platforms can be down through iOS (which means Apple gets a 30% cut). However, Apple does not have the same policies regarding its Safari browser, which leaves the door wide open for developers to provide browser-based experiences and circumvent Apple’s 30% commission rate.

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Fortnite is part of GeForce Now’s library of supported games, which means fans on iOS will be able to play again. Not only can anyone play Fortnite on an iPhone or iPad, but all in-game purchases go directly to Epic Games. It appears Nvidia won’t run into any issues with Apple by doing this, either. Apple has already said publicly that while cloud gaming isn’t currently compatible with its App Store policies, developers are free to go the route of the web. Microsoft is currently figuring out a way to bring its cloud streaming service, xCloud, to iOS without relying on the App Store, for instance.

Like ChromeOS, Nvidia is using a WebRTC implementation on Safari. You know how you can launch Zoom and other video conferencing clients through your browser and not use an app? Same concept here. It’s also how Google runs Stadia on its Chrome browser on PC, too. Previously Nvidia found a way to make the whole GeForce Now experience feel seamless on ChromeOS, and it sounds like that’s now the plan for iOS. Unfortunately, a beta wasn’t available ahead of the news so we’ll still have to try it out for ourselves and see how it compares to Stadia or Microsoft’s stand-alone apps on Android.

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But the current iOS experience at least has me optimistic. iOS 14 lets you create shortcuts to Safari pages that effectively function as apps if the webpage is designed just right. The web browser is hidden on the pages launched via shortcut so you genuinely feel like you’re using an app and not a specific instance of a browser.

Users will need the latest version of iOS to run GeForce Now on Safari, but they won’t need to have the latest iPhone or iPad. Just iOS 14. Besides the website shortcut iOS 14 is also necessary because it has Bluetooth controller support (you’ll want to bring your own controller to the party for sure).

That’s not all that’s new with GeForce Now. Support for GOG’s game distribution platform will be added prior to the launch of Cyberpunk 2077 in December 2020. Nvidia also says its cloud gaming platform will be available on Chrome outside of ChromeOS sometime in the first quarter of 2021. Nvidia notes that while this will make using GeForce Now on Android outside of the stand-alone app technically possible, users will have the best experience using the GeForce app on Android. “There may be some limitations with Chrome on Android, mainly because of performance,” a GeForce spokesperson told Gizmodo. “Anything recent should be fine, but there may be some odd exceptions. As we get closer to releasing widely on Chrome, we’ll have more of those details.”

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Universal Chrome and iOS 14 support will definitely put GeForce Now ahead of game streaming services like Stadia, Microsoft’s Game Pass Ultimate, and Amazon’s upcoming Luna. With so many options for how and where to play games on GeForce now, not to mention an extremely robust library of over 650 games, it’ll be interesting to see if this affects either of those companies’ plans to attract or retain users.

The New Star Wars Game for Oculus Quest Lets You Scavenge on Batuu and Use the Force

The main artwork for Star Wars: Tales From Galaxy’s Edge.

The main artwork for Star Wars: Tales From Galaxy’s Edge.
Image: ILMxLAB

io9 ReviewsReviews and critical analyses of fan-favorite movies, TV shows, comics, books, and more.

Anyone who has been to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge leaves wanting more. The Disney theme parks located in Florida and California are a mere 14 acres on what’s supposed to be an entire planet. While it’s fun to fly the Millennium Falcon, build a lightsaber, or drink some blue milk, you leave thinking about what stories are possible behind closed doors, beyond the rocks, and across the planet. Star Wars: Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge allows you to live those possibilities.

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The latest creation from ILMxLab is a virtual reality experience that takes the player—in this case, a droid repair technician whose ship crashes on Batuu—outside of the confines of Black Spire Outpost and into the wildlife beyond. There you must help find your lost cargo, which may or may not have crucial goods vital to a potential Resistance encampment. io9 checked out Tales From the Galaxy’s Edge on an Oculus Quest 2 provided to us by Oculus.

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That’s the main story of Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge, which is roughly broken into three main sections and takes between three to four hours to complete. Along the way, you explore different environments, solve puzzles, acquire goods, and blast a bunch of bad guys. Which, as a pure gaming experience, is fun but rather familiar. You move down a fairly linear path, complete the tasks ahead of you and reach the end.

What makes the experience worthwhile though is just how gorgeous everything in the world is. Every rock, canister, and sound has an attention to detail that makes it feel specifically Star Wars. Whether it’s how you hold a blaster, strap on your storage pouch, or unscrew a screw with your multi-tool, all of the nuance takes a basic game to the next level. Truly, it’s just a delight to take a Remote Training Droid (like the one Luke uses in A New Hope), throw it in the air, and let it be your sidekick, shooting down the Guavian Death Gang surrounding you.

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A good blaster by your side will come in handy.
Image: ILMxLAB

Interestingly enough, the best parts of Tales from the Galaxy’s Edge aren’t in that main story either—they’re the in-between moments, which largely take place in Seezelslak’s Cantina. This is where you can play the jukebox, have a drink, shoot darts, or look down on the Black Spire Outpost outside. Seezelslak (voiced by Resistance alum Bobby Moynihan) tells stories about the galaxy, randomly cracks savage Star Wars jokes, and complains about his life. It feels like an actual bar.

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The way the game is set just around the corner from the park, while still having the feel of the themed land, adds another layer of interactive authenticity. If you’ve been to Galaxy’s Edge before, you’ll know exactly where you’re standing in relation to it within the game. If you haven’t, seeing hints of all the activity and detail might make you want to throw off your headset and leap into the real-world location (which is only half-possible at the moment).

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Seezelslak’s is also where you access ancient tales set in the era of The High Republic, the new section of Star Wars storytelling, told largely in print and set hundreds of years before the movies. While that might seem unrelated to Galaxy’s Edge, High Republic stories happened on Batuu too. So, at a certain point in the game, you complete a task and are magically whisked away into the persona of a High Republic Jedi padawan whose Master uncovered an ancient Sith artifact. The resulting encounter is trippy, intense, and very cool. Though it’s only a small section of the game, more expansions like this are coming, and it’s a great addition to the experience.

Of course, this being virtual reality, not everything is seamless. The game makes you figure out a bunch of things on your own, which can be frustrating if you haven’t played a lot of VR before. For example, the game doesn’t tell you this, but all the blasters eventually stop working. You shoot and shoot and vent and vent but eventually, they all either run out of ammo or break. To combat this, you can hold extra blasters on your belt, which are dropped by most enemies, but I didn’t know that until halfway through the game and kept running around to find new blasters.

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Concept art of High Republic Jedi Padawan Ady Sun’Zee, whom you’ll control.
Image: ILMxLAB

Also, in the High Republic section, the mechanic to use the Force is intuitive and exactly as it is in the last ILMxLab Star Wars game, Vader Immortal. You kind of put your hand up and squeeze like Darth Vader choking someone. So, if you’ve played the Vader game, you might have a small advantage. If you haven’t, it might take you a second to figure it out.

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Those gripes aside, Tales From the Galaxy’s Edge really works, especially if you’re a Star Wars fan. The story has a satisfying and complete arc, even though there are more parts coming. It’s filled with nods and winks to the franchise that enhance the overall experience and make the otherwise straightforward story and gameplay worth completing. If you’re just a VR fan and unfamiliar with Star Wars, you’d probably still enjoy it, but you won’t get the same enjoyment out of it. This is absolutely a game that was made by Star Wars fans, for Star Wars fans. I enjoyed my time with it immensely and will eagerly be awaiting what happens with future expansions. It truly feels like a Star Wars vacation, both to Batuu and to the past.

Tales From the Galaxy’s Edge is available now for Oculus Quest and costs $25.

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World of Warcraft’s Zombie Invasion Hits Different in 2020

The only time you should be less than six feet apart from someone in World of Warcraft is if you’re a melee spec.

The only time you should be less than six feet apart from someone in World of Warcraft is if you’re a melee spec.
Image: Blizzard Entertainment

Warcraft loves itself a plague. Some of the most iconic moments in its history as a piece of online culture are defined by them: the infamous bug that created the Corrupted Blood plague, the nostalgia-driven Wrath of the Lich King pre-patch event that saw players fight to avoid joining the undead scourge. That latter disease returns for the game’s latest event…but something feels off this time.

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After a few weeks’ delay, next week World of Warcraft players will enter Shadowlands, the eighth expansion for the venerable MMORPG. After the current expansion (Battle for Azeroth) saw the world’s Alliance and Horde factions at each other’s throats, this one sees them form another tenuous partnership. This is a result of former Horde leader, Sylvanas Windrunner, going rogue and, err…tearing a hole in the fabric of reality between the world (of Warcraft) and the afterlife (of Warcraft?).

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It’s a lot. She’s not very nice. But, to celebrate the imminent arrival of Shadowlands, the game is currently hosting a special pre-expansion event, “Death’s Rising.” Part of it involves wrapping up some of the threads left from Battle for Azeroth while setting up what’s to come in Shadowlands. 

Sylvanas opened the tear in the world by defeating the Lich King, the controller of the undead legion known as the Scourge (formerly famous Warcraft III star Arthas Menethil, currently Wrath of the Lich King hero Bolvar Fordragon, hoo boy a lot has happened in like, 25 years of RTS-turned-MMO lore). Now, players find themselves on the hunt for her after she’s kidnapped a bunch of faction leaders and whisked them away into the Shadowlands. That starts, mostly, by you flying over to the old haunt of Sylvanas’ second-in-command, noted undead asshole Nathanos Blightcaller, and confronting him for his actions by her side during the events of Battle for Azeroth. Also because, god, he really just is a real piece of shit.

Illustration for article titled iWorld of Warcraft/is Zombie Invasion Hits Different in 2020

Screenshot: Blizzard Entertainment

I killed him for doing a war crime and also being a piece of shit. He gave me a bow. I killed him again just because I felt like it. It was fun.

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But that’s only part of Death’s Rising—this week, the second phase of the event began. With the fabric between Life and Afterlife torn asunder in the Lich King’s defeat, the massive hordes of undead monsters that he was keeping at bay have become a mindless invasion force, assaulting the capital cities of the Alliance and Horde alike. It’s a recreation of a similar beloved event that occurred in the run-up to the release of the Scourge-themed Naxxramas raid in vanilla WoW’s Patch 1.11 in 2006, and then again ahead of the release of Wrath of the Lich King, World of Warcraft’s second expansion, in 2008.

Basically, players have to help defend their capitals and other key locations across the world of Azeroth from mindless zombies. If they’re not careful, they too can contract the plague of undeath; without running to a healer or getting another player with the ability to cure disease debuffs in time, they transform into a zombie themselves that can, in turn, infect other players.

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Illustration for article titled iWorld of Warcraft/is Zombie Invasion Hits Different in 2020

Image: Blizzard Entertainment

It creates all sorts of interesting player scenarios. Do you give in to the horde, and cackle as you turn your fellow players into zombie fodder? Do you fight back, banding with the guards of the besieged cities and the members of the Argent Dawn to stand strong against the scourge, healing the infected and blighting the damned before they have the chance to turn you and your allies?

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Or…do you keep your distance from other players and avoid hotspots of big activity—public spaces like auction houses or faction vendors, or the big hubs activity that are main cities like the Alliance’s Stormwind, and the Horde’s Orgrimmar, in general? There’s a tension that’s part of the charm: keep yourself safe, don’t trust the people around you, be prepared for the undead to strike at any moment.

But there was something always lingering in the back of my mind as I played through this event. I wasn’t really playing a lot of World of Warcraft for the first iterations of it, but have heard the legendary tales of players griefing each other, or fighting back as the zombies got harder and harder to beat, the disease more resistant to spells and healing abilities. There’s something about that kind of online, emergent storytelling that makes World of Warcraft such a compelling, community-driven experience in the first place.

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Bodies of unwitting players littering the halls of the Dwarven capital of Ironforge, in the original infamous Corrupted Blood incident.

Bodies of unwitting players littering the halls of the Dwarven capital of Ironforge, in the original infamous Corrupted Blood incident.
Screenshot: Blizzard Entertainment

Sure, social distancing doesn’t matter in a video game, because you’re a bunch of polygons interacting with other polygons. My Warcraft avatars don’t need to wash their hands, the plague of Undeath is contracted through combat, not coughing on someone or touching an unclean surface—although you can use tokens earned during this version of the event to buy a magic broom that cleans spots of the infection up to avoid them sickening other players. Yet playing my Void Elf Hunter and taking some of the same kind of precautions trying to visit the Stormwind Bank as I would to go out and get groceries in a second-lockdown England is a weirdly real disconnect I don’t need in a game where I’m trying to play as a magical elven twink who shoots arrows real good.

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These sorts of feelings aren’t really alien to Warcraft’s history. The aforementioned Corrupted Blood incident was so similar to how diseases spread in the real world, scientists modeled it as a tool for tracking pandemics. A boss ability in an early vanilla raid, Zul’Gurub, was accidentally transferred into the wider game by a glitch, spreading among the general player base and killing unprepared players with reckless abandon. When the covid-19 outbreak for formally confirmed as a pandemic by WHO earlier this year, scientists once again pondered turning to it for parallels.

Illustration for article titled iWorld of Warcraft/is Zombie Invasion Hits Different in 2020

Screenshot: Blizzard Entertainment

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The Scourge Invasion of 2020 might be more reliant on player combativeness than a typical disease would; in fact, to avoid the griefing of yesteryear, Blizzard has actively made steps for it to be more of a thing you can choose to opt out of, or at least harder for newer players to have it thrust upon them. Yet, as we continue to live through a global pandemic that seems to be getting worse and worse, there’s something oddly jarring about retreating to this fantasy world to find things feeling not as escapist as they should.

At least the masks in World of Warcraft look a bit more fanciful.

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