This week, I shared with Shane Hewitt my picks for the holiday gift guide, consumer tech and gaming editions.
From Ecobee’s smart thermostat and doorbell to Kensington’s office solutions to devices for when you’re out and about. I also share my picks for some essential games.
Shane and I also talked about the delay of the Final Shape expansion for Destiny 2, we watch the trailer for Grand Theft Auto VI, and I review Super Mario RPG, Cocoon, the Talos Principle II, and Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora.
Subscriptions are the best last-minute gaming gift suggestions
Apple Arcade: For $9 a month, Apple provides a library of more than 200 games that can be downloaded and played offline, and which are free from any in-app purchases. Some of the best include Cypher 007, Shovel Knight Dig, NGA 2K24 Arcade, Angry Birds Reloaded, and Sonic Racing.
PlayStation: Sony’s three plans ($12 a month for Essential, $18 a month for Extra, $22 a month for Premium) provide a range of benefits. Essential is required to play online, Extra adds games from the Playstation and Ubisoft libraries, and Premium adds PlayStation classic games and the ability to stream PS5 games from the cloud.
Xbox Game Pass: All games being developed for the Xbox Series X/S consoles are included with a Game Pass subscription ($12 per month for a PC or console, $19 a month for both and EA Play).
Nintendo: Nintendo Switch Online (annually $25 individual or $45 family), gives access to classic games from the NES, Super NES, and Game Boy. Get it with an Expansion Pack (annually $64 individual or $100 family) for access to N64 and Game Boy Advance games, Sega Genesis games, as well as extra content for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Animal Crossing: New Horizons. N64 classics Harvest Moon 64, 1080-degree Snowboarding, and Jet Force Gemini have just been added to the library.
Netflix: While most people think of a Netflix subscription being about movies and television, the company’s library of games you can play on Android and iOS devices continues to grow. Hades and an anniversary edition of Braid are among titles coming soon, as are games based on Chicken Run and Shadow and Bone. Between $6 and $21 a month.
This is the beginning of the end for Fortnite, Chapter Four. The Eminem performance is an opportunity for players to gather in a virtual concert space in the same way they gathered for Ariana Grande, Marshmello, and Travis Scott, who had 12 million players watching his performance.
Three skins of Marshall Mathers, who’s known as Eminem, are available in the game’s shop for people who want to look like the rapper during the event.
“The Final Shape,” the next expansion for Destiny 2, which will close out the Light and Darkness storyline the game has been tracking for more than ten years, has been postponed to June 4. 2024.
Originally scheduled for February, the delay gives developers at Bungie additional time to, “deliver an even bigger and bolder vision.”
Despite the delay, Bungie will be updating the game in February and again in April, when “Into the Light” will get players ready for what the game has in store for them in June.
Super Mario RPG retains charm of the original, adds colour and fidelity
When it was first released in 1996, for the Super NES game system from Nintendo, Super Mario RPG was a real departure. The graphics were in 3D, for one, but more importantly it was a departure from what Nintendo was used to doing with the Mario universe.
It was developed by Square, the developer of the Final Fantasy role-playing games, and it brought things like turn-based combat and skill trees to what had mostly been a platforming game. The Final Fantasy DNA merged wonderfully with quirky depictions of Mario and his friends from the Mushroom Kingdom.
The remake for Nintendo Switch, released earlier this month, accurately captures what made that first game so effective, and adds a few modern touches.
“Breezy Mode”, for example, which makes the game easier for players who might know Mario and friends but are new to RPGs, is a smart addition.
And for those familiar with the original game, you can enjoy the updated graphics but steep them in the original soundtrack from the SNES release.
Super Mario RPG is available now for Nintendo Switch. Rated everyone.
Mesmerizing Cocoon has us exploring fascinating worlds within worlds
Cocoon is a unique puzzle game that requires players to truly think laterally about how to navigate the spaces of the world.
Developed by Geometric Interactive, there’s some real pedigree here. Game designer Jeppe Carlsen led the gameplay design on both Limbo and Inside.
Like those games, Cocoon throws players into the world without instruction or direction. Somehow, though, you’ll learn the rules. You can carry an object on your back. You can use those seeds to open paths and even doorways to other worlds.
It becomes mind-bending when you have to move back and forth between worlds within worlds in an effort to figure out where you’re supposed to go.
With both Limbo and Inside I was never really sure what was going on and that’s true here, too. But, as with those other games, I love the exploration and the revelation that comes with it.
Cocoon is available now for Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Windows, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S. Rated everyone.
The Talos Principle II bends a puzzle around puzzles
The best puzzle games are themselves puzzles. That’s one of the things that makes the Talos Principle series so fascinating. You’re solving puzzles, yes, but you’re also trying to understand the world in which you find those puzzles.
The Talos Principle II is set in Earth’s far future, when robots are the only populace, and they are doing their very best to live human lives.
These robots are sentient, of course, filled with intelligence and emotion, and each of the robots that inhabit the city of New Jerusalem are distinct individuals (and wonderfully embodied by the contemporary humans who have given them voices).
But the robots, there are exactly 1,000 of them, are confronted by a series of puzzles that, if solved, promise to give them more of the story of what happened to the humans who preceded.
The puzzles require manipulation of objects in the physical environment to unlock paths and doors and collect objects and tokens that are needed by the robots – and the players – to progress. To do this, you’ll have to direct light beams to trigger switches, figure out angles and sequence actions in the right order, and deconstruct increasingly complicated setups.
What the developers at Croteam have given us is much more than a series of puzzles, though. The Talos Principle II delves into philosophy and ethics, and ultimately asks players to consider questions that are at the heart of existence.
The Talos Principle II was developed by Croteam and published by Devolver Digital. It’s available now for PS5, Windows, and Xbox Series X/S.
Sennheiser still has, to my mind, the best sound of any earbud in the Momentum True Wireless 3 ($170) design. With adaptive noise cancellation that changes based on your environment, they deliver the best sound no matter where you are.
Canadian company Ecobee has home automation devices that are top notch. The Smart Thermostat Premium ($290) is fully programable and with the addition of a few sensors you’re able to monitor areas of your home that may be hotter or colder, and adjust temperatures accordingly. The premium model includes sensors that can monitor particulate matter so you can be notified when the air quality in your home drops. Pair it with the Smart Doorbell Camera ($200) and you can see who’s at your door from the thermostat screen.
If your office is at home, you want Kensington’s Thunderbolt 4 dual 4K docking station ($390), so you can connect your computer – whether it’s a desktop or a laptop – to as many screens and peripherals as you want.
If you work at the coffee shop, you want one of Kensington’s privacy screens (starting at $80) which attach to your laptop chassis with magnets and prevents people from snooping at your screen. As a bonus, the screens also reduce glare and blue light emissions.
If you work in an office building, you want Kensington’s portable mobile dock with Qi charging ($140), which plugs into any USB-C port, your laptop or the company’s hardware, and gives you ports for your devices as well as a wireless charging pad for your smartphone.
On the go
Depending on how it’ll be used, there are two models of iPad that are worth considering: the latest iPad Pro (starting at $1,499) and the latest iPad Air (starting at $799). The Pro is for people who are using the iPad for professional-level creative work. It can be used as a portable recording studio, it can be configured with up to 2 TB of storage, and it’s got the M2 chip. The Air is for the more modest creatives. It has a similar display and supports the second generation Apple Pencil, but is lighter and less expensive. The Apple Pencil is worth every penny of its $169. The pressure sensitivity alone makes drawing and sketching a dream.
Apple’s AirTags ($39 for one, $129 for four) enable you to keep track of things like your keys and your luggage. If you order them directly from Apple you can get them engraved for free.
This week on The Shift, Shane Hewitt and I talked about all the things that have been discounted for Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. Consoles and gaming accessories, games, computers, wearables, TVs, speakers, and tablets. Those and lots more this week. Plus, a buy-one-give-one promotion from Telus.