This week Microsoft has announced four new 500GB Xbox One S Bundles. The four bundles provide different gaming options that are included in the box (as download codes). All four bundles are priced at $279.99 MSRP.
An Xbox Live Gold subscription is required to play Xbox games online. Note that the Halo Bundle only comes with a 14-day trial. Xbox Live Gold normally costs between $4.99 and $9.99 per month depending on your subscription. Like PlayStation Plus, being an Xbox Live Gold subscriber also provides monthly free and discounted games.
The Xbox Game Pass is a separate Netflix-like subscription service that provides access to over 100 Xbox 360 and Xbox One games. New titles are added each month, though it typically doesn’t include brand new games. The Xbox Game Pass is normally $9.99/month. You’ll still need an Xbox Live Gold subscription to play any games online.
All eyes are on the Nintendo Switch this year, as well they should be. Nintendo has been in a weird place with home consoles over the last decade. The Wii exploded onto the scene as a gimmicky toy, then quickly collected dust in everyone’s closest. The Wii U failed to capture an audience at all, reaching only 10% of the sales of its predecessor. Launching earlier this year, the Switch is faring much better, including a killer app like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and featuring full portability.
It’s the portability that had me worried about my favorite Nintendo product of this century: the Nintendo 3DS. With the announcement and launch of the Switch, I had concerns over how Nintendo’s handheld-only console would fare when stacked up with a device that could do both.
Turns out my concerns were completely unfounded. The six-year old Nintendo 3DS is having its best year ever in 2017.
From the hardware side, this year saw the release of the New Nintendo 2DS XL. While the New Nintendo 3DS XL has failed to garner much of an audience thanks to a lack of Circle pad-requiring games, the New Nintendo 2DS XL should fare much better.
The New Nintendo 2DS XL is the exact same device as the 3DS XL (circle pad and everything) minus the 3D feature, for a much cheaper price. It’s an even better buy-in for parents and kids where the 3D effect isn’t nearly as desired (or even unwanted for younger kids) as just getting access to the amazing library of kid-friendly Nintendo 3DS games.
Over its prolific life cycle the 3DS has been home to all the biggest Nintendo series, including Zelda, Mario, Super Smash Bros, Pokémon, Fire Emblem, Monster Hunter, and Dragon Quest.
Need another reason why the 3DS is having an amazing year? I’ve got 19.
Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King
A remake of one of the best Japanese RPGs of the PlayStation 2 era, Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King is a must play for anyone who loves and appreciates old-school 90’s-style RPGs. The original game was noteworthy for featuring a fully 3D world to explore, which translates perfectly to the 3DS.
Release: January 20, 2017
Poochy & Yoshi’s Woolly World
With the abysmal sales of the Wii U I’ll forgive you if you missed Poochy’s Woolly World last year. That’s all the more reason to play the 3DS version of this whimsical platformer. With a fun variety of levels, unique yarn art style, and plenty of secrets and unlockables, it’s one of the best 2D platformers I’ve played in years.
Release: February 3, 2017
Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns
Farming sim Stardew Valley was all the rage last year. If you like that style the 3DS has plenty of sim-life and farming sim games to tackle. Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns features the same basic but fun routines of tending to farm life while exploring different towns and people.
Release: February 28, 2017
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia gives Western audiences their first introduction to 1991’s Fire Emblem Gaiden. Thank the Nintendo 3DS for popularizing the Fire Emblem series, from Awakening to Conquest and Birthright. Echoes offers unique gameplay features for the series, including dungeon crawling and dual protagonists. Read our review.
Release: May 19, 2017
The 3DS tends to play it safe with big franchise installments, but Ever Oasis is a completely new title. It combines Zelda-style exploration and combat with Animal Crossing-esque town management, as you build up your burgeoning oasis and recruit allies to run stalls and delve into dungeons. Read our review.
Release: June 23, 2017
Hey! Pikmin is a 2D spin-off that represents a significant departure from the main Pikmin series. This time around Captain Olimar using found Pikmin to solve puzzles. It seems particularly suited to younger children, and is noteworthy for supporting all amiibo figures with various in-game bonuses.
Release: July 28, 2017
Do you love those Streetpass mini-games where a bunch of Miis race cars or fish or battle zombies? Miitopia is a full-scale RPG featuring everyone’s Mii avatars. It’s as goofy and fun as you imagine, utilizing a lot of fun design elements from The Sims with a a classic party-based RPG.
Release: July 28, 2017
Monster Hunter Stories
This new spin-off combines all the best elements of Monster Hunter with Pokémon to create a surprisingly special experience. The Monster Hunter series can be especially daunting, but Monster Hunter Stories represents a successful kid-friendly version that retains much of the depth of the classic action series. Read our review.
Release: September 8, 2017
Minecraft: New Nintendo 3DS Edition
Minecraft is the only title here that requires the New Nintendo 3DS (or recently released 2DS). Minecraft was available on just about every platform in modern existence, and the 3DS wasn’t about to be left out. The 3DS version comes with five addtional skin packs and two texture packs.
Release: September 13, 2017
Metroid: Samus Returns
The first new 2D Metroid title in over a decade is cause for much rejoicing. It’s actually a remake of the 1991 Game Boy title Metroid II: Return of Samus. The entire game has been rebuilt with new modern visuals, dual-screen interface, and much-welcomed gameplay enhancements to combat and movement. More Metroid games please!
Release: September 15, 2017
Pokémon Gold and Silver
Pokémon Gold and Silver isn’t a remake or even an enhancement, it’s just the original games, coming to 3DS. Why is that noteworthy? For one, Gold and Silver (Gen 2) are still considered the best generation of Pokémon games, and favorites of many a long-time fan. Second it makes transferring Pokémon from these games into other 3DS games, such as Sun and Moon, much easier.
Release: September 22, 2017
Yo-Kai Watch 2: Psychic Specters
Yo-Kai Watch may be a shameless modern Pokémon clone, but they’re also legitimately fun games in their own right. Psychic Specters is the definitive third version of last year’s Fleshy Souls and Bony Spirits. Aside from the better name it features new locations, new quests, expanded co-op, and more Yo-Kai to befriend.
Release: September 29, 2017
Culdcept has been around for years but mostly flown under the radar for Western audiences. Culdcept Revolt is the first title to reach the West since 2008’s Culdcept Saga. The series is a unique combination of strategy card and board games featuring over 400 different cards.
Release: October 3, 2017
Layton’s Mystery Journey
The Professor Layton series has been captivating puzzle game fans for years on Nintendo DS and 3DS. Layon’s Mystery Journey stars the Professor’s young daughter, Katrielle, now her own private detective, as she investigates the disappearance of her famous father. It’s the first Professor Layon title since 2013.
Release: October 6, 2017
Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions
Yet another remake of a classic game, Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga updates the visuals of the 2003 Game Boy Advance RPG and combines it with an all-new storyline called Minion Quest. The original Superstar Saga is one of the best GBA games, and the series is beloved by Nintendo handheld fans.
Release: October 6, 2017
Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth
With an old-school RPG flair that tasks you with mapping out dungeons, the Etrian Odyssey series is not for the faint of heart. Etrian Odyssey V: Beyond the Myth is the second deep RPG in the series to grace the Nintendo 3DS. You can download a demo on the Nintendo eShop.
Release: October 17, 2017
Fire Emblem Warriors
We last saw a Dynasty Warriors – Nintendo crossover with Hyrule Warriors in 2014, and it reached the 3DS last year. This year both the Nintendo 3DS and Nintendo Switch will see the launch of Fire Emblem Warriors, featuring the large-scale action battles of Dynasty Warriors with the familiar anime characters of Fire Emblem.
Release: October 20, 2017
Mario Party: The Top 100
Mario Party: The Top 100 was just announced last week during the Nintendo Direct. It’s a compilation of the best 100 mini-games from all 10 Mario Party games. Let’s skip the laughably unbalanced and random board game portion and jump right into what we loved – goofy, quick, and fun mini-games starring our favorite Mario characters.
Release: November 10, 2017
Pokémon Ultra Sun and Ultra Moon
You can’t declare a great Nintendo handheld year without a main Pokémon title to back it up. Unlike 2013’s Pokémon X and Y, last year’s Sun and Moon is getting a definitive third edition this year, featuring new Pokémon, new areas in the Alola region, and a new storyline.
Few games are as beloved as Oregon Trail, one of the oldest and most venerable educational computer games. Now Microsoft, makers of Minecraft: Education Edition, are releasing a version of Oregon Trail for use in classrooms. Read More
Multiplayer survival-crafting games lack a succinct acronym or single genre-defining style, but they’re absolutely taking over the world of modern online gaming. Older MMORPG behemoths like World of Warcraft have begun a steady decline while there doesn’t appear to be any stopping the new juggernauts like ARK: Survival Evolved. These new breeds of shared sandbox worlds evolved from Minecraft and traditional MMORPGs that had dominated the last decade and a half of online gaming.
MMORPGS: The Rise and Fall
The modern video game industry grew up alongside the rise of the internet, from dial-up modems tying up phone lines to being able to stream games online and store your entire life in the cloud. Massively Multiplayer Role-Playing Games began cropping up as early as text adventures and crude pixelated games in the early 90s – most with exorbitant subscription fees that caused many a parent to faint when they saw their phone bill.
In the late 90s gaming began testing the waters of truly massive online servers with thousands of users. Emerging 3D technology helped shape new virtual worlds that players could only dream of a few short years prior. Ultima Online, EverQuest, and Asheron’s Call paved the way for even larger worlds and universes like Dark Age of Camelot, EVE Online, and Star Wars Galaxies.
The year 2004 alone saw three incredibly huge, genre-defining MMORPG releases: City of Heroes, EverQuest II, and World of Warcraft. You don’t need to be a gamer to recognize one of those games as the most popular MMORPG of all time, reaching over 10 million subscribers in 2014.
World of Warcraft wasn’t the first MMORPG but it is the last survivor of the traditional subscription-based model. WoW exploded the MMORPG market in a genre that was already seeing massive growth.
Major publishers began scrambling to concoct their own WoW. In the last decade we had the Matrix Online, Guild Wars 1 and 2, The Lord of the Rings Online, Age of Conan, Champions Online, Neverwinter, and Star Wars: The Old Republic. Even traditionally single-player franchises like Final Fantasy and The Elder Scrolls embraced MMORPG spin-off entries.
The MMORPG bubble began bursting nearly as quickly as it started. While everyone can have a different definition of what constitutes success and failure in the MMORPG world, the goal of all of these games was to produce ongoing gaming experiences that would last for years. Nearly every single monthly subscription model failed in the long run, with the 13-year old World of Warcraft being a notable exception.
Save for the occasional oddity, it’s unheard of for a MMORPG to launch with a subscription model these days. Nearly every MMORPG has had to completely shift their revenue model from subscription into either free-to-play with microtransactions or simply relying on an upfront box cost plus paid DLC. The Elder Scrolls Online represents the rare success story of the latter, shifting to a “buy-to-play” model one year after its release, and releasing its first major paid expansion earlier this year.
Your World, Crafted
But the traditional WoW-style MMORPG has become quaint when faced with the explosive new genre of Survival-Crafting games.
Minecraft changed everything. It birthed an entirely new genre based on gathering resources, shaping the world around you, and sharing it with others. And it didn’t require a monthly subscription.
This new genre of games has steadily risen in popularity over the last several years. Minecraft begat single-player survival adventures like The Long Dark, Stranded Deep, and Subnautica, 2D pixelated adventures like Terraria and Starbound, and online first-person worlds like Rust, Osiris: New Dawn, and ARK: Survival Evolved.
They take full advantage of a generation who’s grown up with high-speed internet, YouTube, and livestreaming. These games provide tense, unpredictable gameplay with heartbreaking losses and hard-fought victories, all in real-time.
This week alone sees the Early Access launch of two more online survival-crafting games – Dark and Light and Citadel: Forged with Fire. Both games could trace their genus back to ARK: Survival Evolved, which debuted on Steam Early Access in 2015 and is launching in a few weeks on August 8. These games effectively blur the line between the Massively Multiplayer Online games that were all the rage a decade ago and the new world order of Minecraft-like shared worlds and private servers.
Theme Park vs Sandbox
Most MMORPGs subsisted on the Theme Park concept. The world was set up like one grand amusement park, with everyone standing around ready to dole out quests to park-goers. It was fun to explore the park and ride the rides, but at some point you could see everything. Your mark upon the world typically ended with customizing your own character with bigger and better stuff. Regular expansions added new theme park zones to explore, but in the end it was your guild or friends that kept you coming back, not the rides or gear.
Many Survival-Crafting games generate a completely random, empty world. Your world. You, along with friends and/or random strangers (depending on the server), help create the world around you. There may be existing cities and NPCs in place, or a meticulously crafted island. But you construct the houses, tame the beasts, and assault player-built fortresses. It’s a sandbox waiting to be built.
Their worlds aren’t quite as massive, instead relying on relatively smaller areas for more densely packed content and crowded neighbors who incite conflict. Servers are more democratized, with the best games offering both hardcore PvP options and more friendly cooperative atmospheres. The downside of free-form servers is they open up to hacking and cheating problems, which feels like an accepted trait that comes with the territory these games provide.
As a parent it can be difficult to navigate the murky world of online gaming. Due to the nature of building and sharing in these survival-crafting games, there’s an even greater risk of frustration, loss, and all manner of negativity, regardless of the game’s rating. Thankfully with so many games to choose from, it’s possible to steer your younger children in a direction you deem more appropriate, such as Dragon Quest Builders instead of Rust.
You can discuss with your children about what games they’re playing and why they’re playing them. Building a world together with friends can be an incredibly nurturing, positive experience at a time when many kids and teens feel they may lack control over their lives, or simply want to hang out with friends.
Only time will tell if this is the 2004 of Survival-Crafting games. We’ve seen some explosive growth in the last few years. According to Steam’s player counts, some of the more popular games in the genre like Rust and ARK: Survival Evolved hit 40-50,000 players every day, and both are still in Early Access. Meanwhile Final Fantasy XIV and The Elder Scrolls Online – hugely recognizable gaming franchises, enjoy a much more humble 10-15,000 players.
Since they don’t rely on monthly subscriptions the market may be much kinder than the MMORPGs of yesteryear. But one thing all these games have in common is they demand a large amount of time and dedication. You start with nothing and have to work hard to do everything, building your own theme park before you can ride any rides. It can be incredibly rewarding, as well as overwhelmingly frustrating.
Either way most gamers can only dedicate their time to one of these games at a time. It’s exciting to have so many new avenues to explore within a still relatively new genre. But history tells us it’s also a bubble preparing to burst, and only the best games will survive.
One sale ends, another begins. As the Xbox Ultimate Game Sale wraps up at the end of today, another sale kicks off. The Hot Summer Savings sale focuses on Xbox One S bundles, which seems like awkward timing after the Xbox game sale.
• Xbox One S 500GB Console
• Xbox Wireless Controller
• Minecraft: Xbox One Edition Favorites Pack
• Minecraft Builder’s Pack
• Minecraft: Windows 10 Edition Beta
• 14-day Xbox Live Gold trial
The Xbox One S Battlefield 1 Bundle is also discounted, though not as much. Until July 15 you can get the Battlefield 1 Bundle for $279. Though not mentioned in the press release, the Forza Horizon 3 Bundle is also $279. Both bundles come with their respective games, the 500 GB Xbox One S console, a Wireless Controller, and 1 month of EA Access.
If you purchase one of the console bundles, you can receive $10 off select Xbox Wireless controllers. You can also get $10 off a 3-month membership to Xbox Live Gold.
A pair of games are also on sale. Gears of War 4 and Halo Wars 2 are 50% off, $29.99. Halo Wars is rated T for Teen, while Gears of War is rated M for Mature.
The Xbox One S was announced last fall as the sleeker, slightly tweaked Xbox One. It offers HDR lighting , 4k up-scaling, and a built-in Ultra HD blue-ray player. It launched at a $299 price point, making this an attractive deal if you’ve been waiting and don’t quite want to shell out $499 for the ultra-powerful Xbox One X announced at E3.