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December 2017

January 2018

Nintendo Labo Harkens Back To Company's Toymaker Roots

Nintendo LaboNintendo has a new product that uses its popular Switch console as something of an accessory instead of the main attraction: Nintendo Labo, a series of cardboard sheets that assemble into toys and gizmos.  Think of them like Lego bricks for the engineering fan in all of us (but mainly kids).  Due out in April 2018 starting at a MSRP of $70, the Labo kits (dubbed Toy-Cons which is a delightful bit of wordplay on the Switch's Joy-Con controllers) fold and bend into real life working interactive toys such as a piano, a fishing rod, and a robot.  Slip the Joy-Cons into the assembled contraption, attach the Switch screen, and the fun begins.  Powered by Switch and the included game card, the Labo kits look to be the next big thing from Nintendo and a sign that we're moving into the second phase of the company's plan for Switch world domination.  Keza MacDonald at The Guardian breaks it all down.

Inside the Nintendo Labo box are 25 sheets of thick, brown, branded cardboard, and a little cartridge that pops into a Nintendo Switch console. Following Lego-like instructions on the Switch screen, you punch out the cardboard pieces and assemble them into contraptions of varying complexity. The first project, which takes maybe 15 minutes, is a simple little bug-like radio-controlled car; slot the Joy-Con controllers into its cardboard sides, pull up the controls on the Switch’s screen, and the vibrations send it juddering across a flat surface with surprising speed.

The more complex constructions are a telescopic fishing rod with a working reel, attached to a base with elastic bands and string for realistic tension; a cardboard model of a piano with springy keys; an abstract motorbike, with handles and a pedal; a little house. Each contraption is made out of cardboard and string, and transforms into a digitally augmented toy when you slot Joy-Con controllers and the Switch screen into it. The piano, especially, is quite amazing, and takes about two hours to build. The infrared camera on the Joy-Con controller can see reflective strips of tape on the back of the keys, which come into view when a key is pressed, telling the game software to play the right note. Cardboard dials and switches modify the tone and add effects to the sound.

Nintendo LaboThere's a lot to unpack here, but Labo is going to be big.  The idea reaches back to those third-party plastic Wii remote shells from the Wii Sports craze of 2006-2008 or so when people believed that snapping a tennis racket or a bowling ball toy on to a Wii remote would somehow make the game easier to play.  Instead of cheap overpriced plastic that adds nothing to the experience and was destined to collect dust on a shelf, Nintendo opted for cheap cardboard that can be easily mended when damaged and recycled at the end of its life.  Nintendo will also offer replacement cardboard if Labo parts are mutilated beyond repair, so there's no need to rebuy entire kits.  And yes, while on the surface the Labo kits look like a $70 box of cardboard, remember that the package includes the Switch game needed to make it all work (which itself includes interactive instructions to guide users on assembling the toys).  Given the proper promotion, Labo is going to be huge for the holidays with parents who want to give their kids a Nintendo product that educates (everything from basic principles of mechanics to the "some assembly required" experience of putting it all together) as well as entertains (be a robot!). 

 


Power Button - Episode 257: 2017's Biggest News Revisited

Power ButtonWe always take a look back at the previous year and close the books on it each January, so this week's Power Button podcast episode sees Blake Grundman and I joined by Ross Polly, our Special E3 Correspondent live from the Los Angeles Convention Center loading dock (we really should let him come home one of these days).  The three of us spend a supersized show talking about the big gaming news from 2017 including the rise of the Nintendo Switch, the end of the Nintendo Wii U, Microsoft Xbox One trying to change its image with more 4K & less Kinect, the continued rise of eSports in surprising places, loot box controversies, and much more.   Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, find us on Stitcher, subscribe via iTunes and Google Play, toss this RSS feed into your podcast aggregation software of choice, and be sure to catch up on past episodes if you're joining us late. Remember that you can reach us via , you can leave a message on the Power Button hotline by calling (720) 722-2781, and you can even follow us on Twitter at @PressTheButtons and @GrundyTheMan, or for just podcast updates, @ThePowerButton. We also have a tip jar if you'd like to kick a dollar or two of support our way. Next Week: We wrap up 2017 with our annual Game Of The Year episode.


What Is The Origin Of Blue Mario?

Nintendo PowerThe inaugural issue of Nintendo Power magazine features an iconic cover of a clay Mario pursued by a clay Wart, but modern Mario fans can spot the error right away: Mario's colors are all wrong for 1988, particularly his blue hat.  Even in a time when Mario's color scheme was in flux (red and brown in Super Mario Bros., red and blue in Super Mario Bros. 2, etc.), how on earth did the cover's artist mix up Mario's hat color and swap famous red for unusual blue?  As part of a year-long series focused on the thirtieth anniversary of Super Mario Bros. 2, David Oxford at Poison Mushroom has seemingly figured it out.

Moving on, something people take notice of right away (aside from the use of cool clay models) is that Mario’s colors are very mixed up. At this point in time, he was typically presented with red overalls, a blue shirt, a red hat, white emblem with a red “M” on said hat, yellow buttons, and brown shoes. Meanwhile, his hair seemed to vary from picture to picture, being either black like his mustache, or brown. These days, they seem to be going with a dark brown for both, at least in 3D modeled assets.

Mario’s overalls and shirt would settle on blue and red respectively over time, but the rest was still off. One might guess that with Mario seemingly adopting a new color scheme with each new appearance that Nintendo hadn’t settled on anything firmly yet, but I don’t think anything has been firmly said on the matter to this day — merely speculated upon.

Mario Bros SpriteThat said, it turns out that the colors aren’t exactly wrong for Mario, they just more closely reflect an earlier game: The arcade version of Mario Bros., as seen at right. Though not a perfect match, it seems a more likely link that makes it easier to get an idea of where the cover artist might have been coming from.

Or someone just screwed up royally. We may never know, but some of the images used inside the issue itself would at least seem to imply it wasn’t solely the cover artist’s doing.

Mario has worn many costumes over the years and Super Mario Odyssey celebrates his most memorable.  Maybe a special "Blue Mario" Nintendo Power cover costume would be appropriate in a future update.


Power Button - Episode 256: Failure To Relaunch (Part 1)

Power ButtonI was overjoyed when Accolade returned from the grave in 2017 and announced a revival of everyone's favorite chatty bobcat, Bubsy.  Starring in the sequel/reboot Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back for the Sony PlayStation 4 and PC, Bubsy's big revival stumbled out of the gate which brought to mind other moribund franchises that came back and then left again just as quickly.  On this week's Power Button episode, Blake Grundman and I discuss the new Bubsy which leads us into some of our favorite and reviled video game reboots. Also, it's last call as our annual News of the Year and Game of the Year episodes are coming up and we want you to get in on the fun!   Download this week's episode directly from PTB, listen with the player below, find us on Stitcher, subscribe via iTunes and Google Play, toss this RSS feed into your podcast aggregation software of choice, and be sure to catch up on past episodes if you're joining us late. Remember that you can reach us via , you can leave a message on the Power Button hotline by calling (720) 722-2781, and you can even follow us on Twitter at @PressTheButtons and @GrundyTheMan, or for just podcast updates, @ThePowerButton. We also have a tip jar if you'd like to kick a dollar or two of support our way.


Microsoft Seemingly Retires Kinect

KinectWatching Microsoft do its best to integrate the Kinect motion sensor camera for the Xbox One has been interesting to watch as the device started out as an absolute necessity for the latest generation of Xbox that could never, ever be unbundled from the console and has become not just an afterthought, but now an unsupported afterthought.  The Xbox One S and Xbox One X hardware revisions did away with the built-in Kinect port and instead required a proprietary USB adapter to use the add-on, and now that adapter has been discontinued entirely.  This essentially scuttles the Kinect for good.  Samit Sarkar at Polygon reports.

“After careful consideration, we decided to stop manufacturing the Xbox Kinect Adapter to focus attention on launching new, higher fan-requested gaming accessories across Xbox One and Windows 10,” a Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement to Polygon. As for any plans to bring back the item in the future, the representative declined to discuss Microsoft’s product roadmap, but said the adapter “will no longer be available.”

We've come a long way from the motion control madness kicked off by the Nintendo Wii which led to both Sony and Microsoft playing catch-up with ways to wave your arms around in front of a television while a perfectly good traditional controller sat nearby.  More than a decade after Wii, Sony and Nintendo have backed down to building motion control technology into those traditional controllers to find a happy compromise between moving and not, while Microsoft ran headlong into Kinect territory only to find that the market really just wanted a happy compromise.