author_name|Nathan Ingraham

Wednesday’s Nintendo Direct will focus on upcoming third-party releases

The next Nintendo Direct is scheduled for this Wednesday, the company just announced. It's being billed as a "partner showcase," with Nintendo saying it'll show off Switch games coming in the first half of this year from "our publishing and development partners." It'll kick off on February 21, bright and early at 9AM ET. 

While Nintendo holds these showcases on a regular basis, this one is potentially more significant than usual. Last week, Microsoft made an expected but still surprising announcement that it would begin bringing some of its titles to "other consoles," a phrase that's hard not to interpret as games coming to the Switch (and Sony's PlayStation 5 as well). 

Nintendo says it'll be a 25-minute presentation, so there's a chance we'll hear about some games from other developers, as well. But we're all expecting to see some news about what games Microsoft is going to bring over to the Switch. Microsoft only said that it would be bringing four games to other platforms but didn't name them; the latest rumors cite Hi-Fi Rush, Sea of Thieves, Halo and Gears of War as likely options to make the move.

This comes at a time when Nintendo doesn't have a lot of its own first-party games scheduled for the platform (that we know of, anyway). There's also the looming specter of a Switch 2 console; reports just said that the hardware is getting pushed back to 2025 after an expected launch at some point this year.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/wednesdays-nintendo-direct-will-focus-on-upcoming-third-party-releases-221910223.html?src=rss

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Mario vs. Donkey Kong is an odd, eye-catching ode to simpler times

I never played the original Mario vs. Donkey Kong, which came out in 2004 for the Game Boy Advance.  So I brought no nostalgia or past experience to the new version coming out this week, which feels thoroughly modern in all ways except the gameplay. Mario is limited — he can’t run quickly, he doesn’t jump very high, you lose a life with a single mistake. Coming from the brand-new Super Mario Bros. Wonder can give you serious whiplash, as there’s no Elephant power or Wonder Stars to be found here. But if you don’t compare Mario vs. Donkey Kong to the plumber’s more modern adventures, it has some charm all of its own to enjoy.

Mario vs. Donkey Kong has a lot more in common with the original Donkey Kong arcade games than your typical Mario platformer. Each level has two parts, but they aren’t expansive side-scrolling adventures. Instead, it’s a puzzle that requires specific steps and clever usage of the enemies and tools littered throughout. First, you need to get a key, and then you need to rescue a cute little Mario toy that Donkey Kong stole and placed in the level. Sometimes, you’ll need to throw a Shy Guy onto a pit of spikes and ride him across the hazard; other times you’re activating switches in a specific order to get platforms to appear where you need them to advance. As with a lot of the best Mario games, nearly every level introduces a new mechanic, enemy or tool that impedes or helps you finish. These levels stretch both horizontally and vertically, but they’re small, self-contained little worlds.

Mario vs. Donkey Kong
Nintendo

As usual, Nintendo’s polish is on display here. There are plenty of bouncy orchestral music selections; Mario, DK and all the baddies who pop up throughout are lovingly rendered and controls are tight and precise. That is, once you get used to Mario’s limitations. I didn’t have an issue with Mario being a bit less capable, as it’s a totally different style of game, but I definitely forgot that Mario didn’t have the hops to make it across some chasms.

There’s a surprising amount of content in this game, too. There are eight worlds, two of which are brand-new for the 2024 reissue. Each has six stages, plus a bonus stage and a boss battle. And once you beat the main campaign, there’s a remixed “Plus” version of all those levels available that use the same items and overall characteristics as the original but with a new, more challenging goal — you need to lead a vulnerable mini Mario toy to the exit, and those toys are even less capable than big Mario. It’s a good way to mix up the formula that had gotten extremely familiar by the time I completed the first 64 stages.

Mario vs. Donkey Kong
Nintendo

Finishing the main game also unlocks 16 new expert stages that absolutely live up to that title. They’re quite challenging, and since the game doesn’t continuously feed you 1-Up mushrooms, they’ll take some skill to complete (I have only just started getting into this new challenge). Figuring out the puzzle and executing the solution without making a mistake before is a tall order on some of these later levels, both in the expert stages and the Plus levels.

That’s good, because beating the first eight worlds was so easy I was worried this game wouldn’t have any real value to it. I breezed through the first four worlds, and only hit significant challenges in the last two. The Plus worlds, so far, haven’t been too tough either, though I wager that’ll change. As it is, I got the “perfect” mark on all of world two-plus in 30 minutes (six stages, plus a bonus stage to harvest some 1-Up mushrooms and the final world boss level). It would have been 20 minutes had I not run into a challenge on 2-6 that took some time to work out. I wish there were more levels like that — as it is, the game felt either extremely easy or surprisingly difficult, without as much of a difficulty ramp as I’d like to see. All that said, I am looking forward to seeing how the Plus worlds continue to advance in difficulty.

Mario vs. Donkey Kong
Nintendo

Given the simplicity of this game, it’s fair to say that its target audience might be younger or less experienced than I am. Nintendo included some features to make the game even more accessible, too. There’s a “casual” mode where you can take six hits before you lose a life in a stage, instead of just one. That also removes the time limit, which didn’t stress me out in earlier levels but definitely posed a challenge as the game went on. If you do like trying to beat the clock, there’s a “time attack” mode where you try and beat a target time in the level. And regardless of which play style you choose, you can always just hit “retry” to start a stage over without losing a life. Finally, Nintendo also included local co-op multiplayer, something experienced and novice players may enjoy.

At first, I felt like Mario vs. Donkey Kong was going to be too slight of a game to recommend people spend $50 on. It started off cute and clever, but very simple and with seemingly little depth. But Nintendo surprised me — while it’s definitely a throwback sort of game, there’s a solid mix of challenge and depth here. And as with many Nintendo games, this one should be fun for players of any age. Just don’t expect Mario to have the moves and tricks he does in Super Mario Wonder.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/mario-vs-donkey-kong-is-an-odd-eye-catching-ode-to-simpler-times-171516524.html?src=rss

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The Arc Browser is getting new AI-powered features that try to browse the web for you

Earlier this week, the team behind the Arc browser for Mac (and recently Windows) released a brand-new iPhone app called Arc Search. As you might expect, it's infused with AI to power an experience where the app "browses for you"—pulling together a variety of sources of info across the internet to make a custom webpage to answer whatever questions you throw at it. That's just one part of what The Browser Company is calling Act 2 of Arc, and the company gave details on three other major new features its bringing to the browser over the coming weeks and months. 

The connective tissue of all these updates is that Arc is trying to blur the lines between a browser, search engine and website — the company wants to combine them all to make the internet a bit more useful to end users. In a promo video released today, various people from The Browser Company excitedly discuss a browser that can browse for you (an admittedly handy idea). 

The Arc Search app showed off one implementation of that idea, and the next is a feature that arrives today called Instant Links. When you search for something, pressing shift and enter will tell Arc to search and automatically open the top result. This won't have a 100 percent success rate, but there are definitely times when it comes in handy. One example Arc showed off was searching for "True Detective season 4 trailer" — pressing shift + enter automatically opened the trailer from YouTube in a new tab and started playing it. 

You can easily get multiple results with this tool, too. I told it to "show me a folder of five different soup recipes" and Arc created a folder with five different tabs in for me to review. I also asked for the forecasts in Rome, Paris and Athens and got three pages with the details for each city. It's handy, but I'm looking forward to Arc infusing it with more smarts than just simply pulling the "top" search result. (Side note: after testing this feature, my browser sidebar is awash with all kinds of nonsense. I'm glad Arc auto-closes things every day so I don't have to sort it out.)

In a similar vein, the upcoming Live Folders feature will collect updates from sites you want to follow, like a sort of RSS feed. The idea is anticipating what sites someone is going to browse to and bring updated results into that folder. One example involved getting tagged in things on GitHub — each time that happened, a tab would be added to the folder with the new item. The demo on this feature was brief, but it should be available in beta on February 15th for further testing.

I got the sense from the video that developers would need to enable their sites to be updated via Live Folders, so it doesn't seem like you can just add anything you want and expect it to work. In that way, it reminds me of some other Arc features like the one that lets you hover over a Gmail or Google Calendar tab to get a preview of your most recent messages or next appointment. Hopefully it'll have the smarts to do things like drop new posts from your favorite site into the folder or open a new video from a YouTube channel you subscribe to, but we'll have to wait to find out. (I also reached out to Arc for more details on how this might work and will update this story if I hear back.)

Finally, the last new feature here is also the most ambitious, and the one that most embodies that "browser that browses for you" vibe. Arc Explore, which the company says should be ready for testing in the next couple of months, uses LLMs to try and collapse the browser, search engine and site into a singular experience. In practice, this feels similar to what Arc is already doing with its new browser, but more advanced. One example the company gave involved making a restaurant reservation — starting with a query of wanting to make a reservation at one of a couple different restaurants, the Arc Explore interface brought back a bunch of details on each location alongside direct links to the Resy pages to book a table for two at exactly the time specified. 

Arc Browser

Another demo showed off how using Arc Explore can be better than just searching and clicking on results. It centered around soup, as all good demos do. Having Arc Explore bring up details on a certain kind of soup immediately provided details like ingredient lists, direct recipe steps and of course related videos. Compared to the pain of browsing a lot of sites that get loaded down with autoplaying ads, videos, unrelated text and more distractions, the Arc Explore experience does feel pretty serene. Of course, that's only when it brings back the results relevant to you. But using a LLM, you can converse with Arc to get closer to what you're looking for. 

After using Arc Search on my iPhone, I can appreciate what The Browser Company is going for here — at the same time, though, breaking my old habits on how I browse the internet is no small thing. That means these tools are going to need to work pretty well when they launch if they're going to supplant the years I've spent putting things into a Google box and finding the results I want. But that sums up the whole philosophy and the point behind Arc: to shake up these habits in an effort to make a better browsing experience. Not all these experiments will stick, and others will probably mutate a lot from these initial ideas, but I'm definitely interested in seeing how things evolve from here.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/the-arc-browser-is-getting-new-ai-powered-features-that-try-to-browse-the-web-for-you-211739679.html?src=rss

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‘Death Stranding 2: On the Beach’ looks even more baffling than the original game

As expected, the PlayStation State of Play today featured an in-depth look at the latest from famed developer Hideo Kojima, in the form of an exceedingly creepy and cinematic preview of Death Stranding 2: On the Beach. Sam, played by Norman Reedus, is back in a trailer that makes very little sense if you haven't played the first game — and even if you did, the contents of this preview might not make a ton of sense. Rest assured, you'll still be running around wildly impressive landscapes with your giant yellow backpack. 

But it sounds like you won't actually have to run around delivering things, because bots are able to do that in this world. The real surprise is when Sam gets captured and runs across his brother, played by the ubiquitous Troy Baker... who pulls out a guitar/gun and starts shredding to take on some enemies? Sure. It'll still be a bit before we see what this all amounts to, as it doesn't arrive until sometime in 2025.

At the end of the stream, though, Kojima teased an all-new project in the works, though it won't be entering full production until after Death Stranding 2 is complete.

Correction, 1/31/24, 6PM ET: This post originally stated this was our first look at Death Stranding 2. We've updated it to say this is our first in-depth look, as the game was first announced in December of 2022.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/death-stranding-2-on-the-beach-looks-even-more-baffling-than-the-original-game-224806034.html?src=rss

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Arc browser comes to the iPhone as a stripped-down, AI-powered search tool

Arc, a browser initially built just for the Mac, has been expanding lately. The Browser Company announced a beta of its Windows version last month, and today they're bringing the Arc experience to the iPhone with Arc Search. As the name implies, the new app is focused on searching — when you open the app, you're met with a keyboard and search field, not your usual collection of tabs. And rather than just serving up simple search results from Google or your engine of choice, Arc scans the internet for various sources and creates a "page for me" that pulls together a bunch of info on your desired query.

For example, I just searched for "What happened in the Detroit Lions game?" and was met with details about a controversial two-point conversion that was overturned and how it ultimately affected the game's outcome, which was a three-point Lions loss. It follows with some top search results, team reactions, more details about the referees involved in the confusing call, fan sentiments and more links to dive into. 

It's not dissimilar to the sort of summaries you get in Google's generative AI search results, but so far I find results to be very hit or miss. For example, in the above-mentioned Lions query, the actual final score of the game was nowhere on the page that Arc generated. That's pretty basic info that you'd expect to see up top. Other queries I tried brought back a decent overview but not a whole lot of deep detail, and sometimes there weren't other links to click on to continue researching. That felt odd, because the results I received were far from comprehensive. 

If you aren't interested in these sorts of summary pages, however, you can still just type in a query and hit the "go" button on the keyboard to search Google; you only get the Arc-created summary pages if you tap the "browse for me" button. You can also just put a URL right into the search field and go straight to a site if you're so inclined. Like the desktop Arc browser, the Arc Search app archives your tabs after 24 hours so you don't rack up a never-ending log of sites you're not going to go back to (you can also choose to have tabs stick around as long as 30 days, if you need more time with what you've pulled up). And there's a nice "reader" mode like you'll find in Safari that strips away the mess found on many modern websites to make it easier to read an article. It also blocks trackers, ads and banners by default, which is pretty handy.

From what I can tell, there's no way to sync Arc Search with the desktop browser — there's no way to see opened tabs from another machine, and I don't even think there's a way to sign into Arc Search with the account you make for your desktop browser. The only thing you can do with your open tabs is star one so it doesn't get closed, but there's otherwise no bookmarking or "read later" features. 

As the name suggests, it's a way to search and find info you need on your phone without offering the expected tools you'd get in a full-featured web browser. This makes it a bit of a tough sell to me — I love Arc on my Mac, and this so far feels like a significantly less useful experience than the full version of Arc, not to mention Safari or Chrome on iOS. While there's something to be said for the simplicity, I don't think the AI-generated summaries are worth making this my default mobile web browser.

That said, the Browser Company likes to get things into the wild so its users can test them and prod them and figure out what isn't working, so I'm sure iteration and improvements will come quickly. The company already says its working on sync with desktop, and they also plan to merge the app with features found in the "Arc Mobile Companion" app that launched last spring. That app, which has now been removed from the App Store, only shows you what tabs you have open on other devices and bounces them to Safari (or other apps) for viewing. So it's safe to say that the new Arc app will be more capable soon. And even though it's not something I want to use as my default browser yet, Arc's quirky view on how a browser works is enough for me to keep an eye on it and see how it grows.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/arc-browser-comes-to-the-iphone-as-a-stripped-down-ai-powered-search-tool-150227704.html?src=rss

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Amazon abandons $1.4 billion iRobot acquisition after EU veto threat

Amazon and iRobot, maker of the Roomba vacuum line, just announced that they would be dropping their proposed merger. The potential acquisition was announced back in August of 2022 and was immediately the target of antitrust watchdogs, particularly in the EU. The European Commission (the EU's executive branch) officially announced it was looking into the $1.4 billion dollar deal last July and it raised formal concerns over the potential impact on competition in November. 

iRobot also just announced a large round of layoffs now that the deal isn't going through. The company says it is laying off about 350 employees, which represents 31 percent of iRobot's workforce. Colin Angle, founder, chairman of the iRobot board of directors and CEO is also stepping down as chairman and CEO, effective today.

While the companies didn't mention the pressure from the EU specifically, Bloomberg notes that a veto looked likely. And while that might not have immediately killed the deal, Amazon and iRobot appear to have decided to shut things down completely rather than work through any proposed changes to make the deal more palatable to regulators. The deal was also said to be under scrutiny from the FTC here in the US, but it never quite reached the level of attention it was receiving from the EU. 

Unsurprisingly, Amazon's statement on the matter blasts regulators for the "innovation" that would come with Amazon scooping up yet another company. "This outcome will deny consumers faster innovation and more competitive prices, which we're confident would have made their lives easier and more enjoyable," said Amazon SVP and General Counsel David Zapolsky in a statement. "Mergers and acquisitions like this help companies like iRobot better compete in the global marketplace, particularly against companies, and from countries, that aren't subject to the same regulatory requirements in fast-moving technology segments like robotics."

iRobot's statement was more muted. "The termination of the agreement with Amazon is disappointing, but iRobot now turns toward the future with a focus and commitment to continue building thoughtful robots and intelligent home innovations that make life better, and that our customers around the world love," said former CEO Colin Angle.

Earlier in January, the European Commission was said to have warned Amazon that the deal was on thin ice. However, according to Reuters, the company declined to offer any potential remedies to soothe the bloc's concerns over the acquisition. As outlined in the original agreement, Amazon is paying iRobot a $94 million termination fee now that the deal is dead.

This isn't exactly the first time Amazon and the EU have butted heads. They previously squared off over the company's handling of third-party seller information. In 2022, the two sides reached an agreement over Amazon's treatment of third-party sellers.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/amazon-abandons-14-billion-irobot-acquisition-after-eu-veto-threat-140155112.html?src=rss

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