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'Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze,' 'Strider,' and 'Thief' reviews: Rating the throwbacks

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Even more than Hollywood, the video game industry is dominated by sequels and reboots. Last year’s top 10 best-selling games list is peppered with 4’s, 5’s, and even a 25 (oh, Madden). The prevailing wisdom seems to be: If something works, do it again and again until you run it into the ground, then wait a few years and do it again. This week sees several reboots and sequels of reboots hitting the shelves, to decidedly mixed results.

Donkey Kong Country was a hugely popular platformer on the Super Nintendo that suffered from too many sequels that offered too few new ideas in too short a time span. Nintendo wisely retired the formula for more than a decade before going back to the jungle with 2010’s Donkey Kong Country Returns on Wii, which was re-released on 3DS last year. Unfortunately, history is repeating itself, as Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze doesn’t do enough to distinguish itself, despite running on new hardware. The Wii U is struggling mightily to make a case for itself, and Tropical Freeze does nothing to take advantage of the Wii U’s unique tablet controller.

At least the game looks good, proving that the console can pump out vibrant HD graphics. The environments are varied and beautifully rendered, and Donkey Kong’s fur has never looked more lush. But the Pixar-esque graphics are at complete odds with the absolutely punishing difficulty level. Tropical Freeze is maddeningly hard, its levels full of so many cheap shots and bottomless pits that it would likely drive its intended kiddie audience to tears — and leave adults wanting to chuck their Wii U controllers in frustration. Tropical Freeze is a solid game, and die-hard platformer fans may find its steep challenge fiendishly addictive, but it’s oddly uninspired, at a time when Nintendo could use a whole lot of inspiration. READ FULL STORY

'The Last of Us: Left Behind' review: Flashbacks make for captivating game

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The Last of Us was a moody masterpiece, a big-budget blockbuster video game that told a surprisingly affecting story of love and loss. Grizzled smuggler Joel and tempestuous teenager Ellie are two of the most fully realized characters in gaming, beautifully brought to life by actors Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson. Its morally ambiguous ending felt unresolved yet somehow perfectly complete. As much as I love the world Naughty Dog has created, I’m conflicted as to whether I want to know what happens next, worried that a sequel could sully the poignant journey I experienced. READ FULL STORY

'Super Mario 3D World' review: The portly plumber's latest is totally pawesome

Super Mario 3D World is not extra-dimensional in the sense that it requires special specs to play it. Nor does it run on some glasses-free, 2D-defying tech like the Nintendo 3DS. No, its name actually comes from the title that spawned it, Super Mario 3D Land, which was, in fact, played on the aforementioned 3D device.

While not technically three-dimensional, though, Mario’s latest Goomba-stomping romp pops off the screen like no entry in the popular franchise before it. Forgoing the series’ oft-used side-scrolling formula in favor of layered level layouts that stretch to foregrounds, backgrounds, and any space in between, 3D World is a platforming fan’s paradise. Toss in stunning HD visuals, complemented by a rainbow-shaming color palette and plenty of clever camera perspectives, and 3D World’s Sprixieland is the most imaginative Mario universe I’ve experienced since planet-hopping in the Galaxy games.

More than just painting a pretty picture, the eye-popping presentation translates to the title’s creative level designs as well. Environments are constantly changing, tossing up new eye-candy-coated challenges at every turn; from piloting giant ice skates and exploring a pirate shipwreck to traversing river rapids atop a dinosaur and avoiding a Bullet Bill barrage while riding a Bowser-themed train, this is not your typical Super Mario run-and-jump collect-a-thon.
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Jane Austen RPG hits Kickstarter goal; what other classics deserve to be videogames?

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A single Jane Austen fan in possession of a computer must be in want of an MMORPG.

In today’s most entertaining bit of brilliant-or-bonkers, a new online role-playing game set in the virtual world of Jane Austen has reached its Kickstarter goal. Creator Judy L. Tyrer’s playable period piece Ever, Jane reached $109,563 of its $100,000 goal yesterday, with the help of 1,600 backers eager to increase their Bow and Curtsy skill or level up in Piano-Forte.
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'The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds' review: Link learns some new tricks

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Despite spawning nearly 20 titles since its 1987 debut, The Legend of Zelda series has seen surprisingly little innovation since fans first fell in love with its princess-saving, Triforce-collecting, Ganondorf-defeating formula. Sure, the graphics have improved and new narrative twists and gameplay mechanics have been introduced over the years, but the core dungeon-crawling recipe has largely remained the same. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds — the sequel to fan-favorite Super NES chapter The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past — finally tweaks the franchise’s tried-and-true template, and the results are as magical as a Fairy Fountain.

This 3DS follow-up to the 1992 classic retains many of its beloved predecessor’s elements — from enemies and environments to its top-down over-world — but doesn’t rely on simple nostalgia to draw players in. Instead, it builds on the appeal and personality of A Link to the Past with some of the series’ most clever and engaging design decisions to date. Toss in a vibrant, high fantasy-flavored presentation that benefits from the portable platform’s oft-criticized extra-dimensional tech, and this absorbing adventure may find some gamers abandoning their new next-gen home consoles for Nintendo’s comparatively underpowered mobile device.

Like most entries in the enduring action-adventure series, A Link Between Worlds introduces a defining feature that affects both story and gameplay. In this case, the Hyrulian hero can transform into a painting capable of navigating otherwise inaccessible areas; this could see him morph into a wall mural to cross a chasm or maybe turn into a 2-D painting to slip through a crack. An inventive mechanic that perfectly complements the franchise’s focus on puzzle-filled dungeons, it also looks damn cool every time Link goes from three-dimensional avatar to flat cave scribbling.
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Xbox One sells 1 million units in first 24 hours

According to Microsoft, their new gaming system, Xbox One, has sold 1 million units worldwide during the first 24 hours of being on the market. The new gaming system has already sold more units on its first day than the Xbox 360 did when it came out in 2005.

Additionally, the new console’s first-day figures are comparable to that of its rival: Sony’s PlayStation 4, which was released in the U.S. and Canada just one week prior, also sold 1 million units in North America within the first 24 hours of being on the market.

The new record-high number of units sold in Xbox One’s first 24 hours has also had a direct effect on the number of people playing the new gaming console’s video games. Microsoft is also reporting that since going on the market, there have been 60 million zombies killed in Dead Rising 3, more than 3.6 million miles driven in Forza Motorsport 5, and more than 8.5 million enemies defeated in Ryse: Son of Rome.
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Xbox One review: One box to rule the living room

Long before Sony’s PlayStation 4 landed on the front lines of the next-gen console war earlier this month, it was decided it would be a gamer-focused platform, while Microsoft’s Xbox One would be an all-in-one entertainment device. Due in no small part to the latter’s early — but later-reversed — unpopular policies regarding used games and an always-online connection, as well as Microsoft’s own marketing, this was, for better or worse, the defining distinction made between the two boxes.

It’s ironic, then, that I’ve had more fun with the Xbox One’s first-party launch lineup than I had with the titles that debuted alongside Sony’s dedicated gaming console. As with the competition, the Xbox One has no Halo-like killer app. Its trio of triple-A entries — Ryse: Son of Rome, Dead Rising 3, and Forza Motorsport 5 — however, make a more convincing case for the power of next-gen gaming than Sony’s pair of big-budget day-one offerings Killzone: Shadow Fall and Knack.
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From 'Killzone' to 'Resogun': We rank the top new PS4 games

The PlayStation 4 launched last week with 23 titles (including downloadable and free-to-play games), and after putting the system through its paces for a week, it’s clear there’s no killer app that you must play right now. Many of the launch titles are upgraded ports of multiplatform games that already released on PS3 and Xbox 360, some more improved than others. But for those who are taking the next-gen plunge, there are definitely some solid titles that are well worth your time. Here are our favorite PS4 games available now that should get you through the holidays.
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Sony tells you how to fix PS4's 'blinking blue light of death'

Sony’s PlayStation 4 hit the market just last week, and while the new console sold exceedingly well, it isn’t without some glitches. Soon after its release, customers started writing in to Sony’s PlayStation support complaining about what is being dubbed the “blinking blue light of death,” an error that occurs when owners of the console try to power it up.

Now, CNN is reporting that Sony reps have responded to the issue by releasing a detailed troubleshooting guide to fix the problem. The guide states that the problem could be related to issues with the console’s power supply, hard drive, or connection to an incompatible television.

The possible fixes listed include updating your TV software and even turning the console off and then back on again. (Did the IT Crowd writers come up with the troubleshooting guide?)

When news of the glitch first spread, Sony told media outlets that they were aware that “a handful of people have reported the issue” but also maintained that the number of systems experiencing the problem was less than 4,000 out of 1 million units shipped.

Glitches aside, the PlayStation 4 has received positive reviews overall from critics. Read EW’s review here.

PlayStation 4 sales top 1 million in first day

If you haven’t gotten your hands on a PlayStation 4 yet, good luck tracking one down now: Sony announced Sunday that more than 1 million of the new gaming systems were sold in the first 24 hours they were on shelves.

At a price point of $399, the PlayStation 4 went on sale at midnight on Thursday.

“PS4 was designed with an unwavering commitment to gamers, and we are thrilled that consumer reaction has been so phenomenal,” Andrew House, Sony Computer Entertainment president and group CEO, said in a statement Sunday. “Sales remain very strong in North America, and we expect continued enthusiasm as we launch the PlayStation 4 in Europe and Latin America on November 29. We are extremely grateful for the passion of PlayStation fans and thank them for their continued support.”

PS4’s first day of sales also attracted some attempted thefts: Yahoo! reports that two people were arrested in Bakersfield, Calif., for trying to steal someone’s console.

Check out EW’s review of PlayStation 4.

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