It’s no secret that Microsoft began this hardware generation on the backfoot. An unpopular and confusing online-only plan and awkward game sharing policy proved to be a crippling initial salvo against the Xbox One, and Sony’s PlayStation 4 took full advantage. By now, the pressure on the company to inject some va va voom into the console race - much of it self-inflicted - is high, so does the new Xbox One X rise to meet that challenge?
From the sleek design of the hardware itself to the power of the silicon within, the X is both a treat to behold and an undeniable powerhouse.
Its CPU, the thing that moves all that information around and does the heavy lifting, has been bumped up too, though not nearly by as much, so it can still prove to be a limiting factor when it comes to maintaining an entirely steady technical performance in games that get extra frantic.
Games are the current stumbling point for Microsoft’s new console; 'Xbox One X Enhanced’ is the go-to phrase in describing titles which have been tweaked by their developer to see some sort of improvement on the X. The first thing to note is that even games which aren’t optimised for the hardware can see improvements, from loading more quickly thanks to a faster internal hard drive, to displaying at higher resolutions and holding steadier frame rates, but the games which make the enhanced list (in theory) offer more than just that.
At the time of writing there's 170 games on that list, including the recently announced Destiny 2, which will also get support on the PS4 Pro. That number sounds good, but as you start to do a bit of digging the disappointing reality becomes clear.
Firstly, only 76 titles are available right now (again, at time of writing) and while that does include excellent new releases like Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, Middle Earth: Shadow of War, Assassin’s Creed Origins and The Evil Within 2, it's also peppered with the random likes of Danger Zone and Transcripted - which may well be great games, but hardly tentpole releases.
Add to that numbers made up by games now a bit long in the tooth, such as Halo 3 and Fallout 3 - both with successors in the 'Coming Soon’ or 'In Development’ categories - and you’re likely to be disappointed on some level. Even first-party exclusives like ReCore, which you'd think would be a no-brainer for launch day, are unfortunately absent at present.
There's plenty more to come, of course, but the fact that the console doesn't really have launch titles to speak of following Crackdown 3’s unfortunate delay - an exception being family-friendly platformer Super Lucky's Tale, which we’re working on reviewing - means that opportunities to see and share the pinnacle of what the Xbox One X can achieve are thin on the ground during the launch window.
One nice showpiece, which probably should have been pre-loaded on the console (though it’s understandable why not, as 4K assets are quick to fill the 1TB of included storage), is an interactive video from The Mill, famed for CGI work on Doctor Who and even the new John Lewis Christmas ad. Called Insects, the video loops some computer-generated footage and lets you tweak the settings on the fly, turning 4K and HDR on and off and changing the time of day and colour scheme to see the effects in action.
Opportunities to see and share the pinnacle of what the Xbox One X can achieve are thin on the ground during the launch window.
In my personal experience, sadly, the video wouldn’t register the HDR capabilities of my TV, so we only managed to play with the 4K aspect, but it certainly puts into perspective just what sort of difference it makes. An important thing to remember is that even on a 1080p screen the console gives you the best graphical fidelity you can expect, often rendering at a higher resolution and then downscaling the image, so the differences between HD and 4K aren’t as night and day as they were in the SD to HD transition.
HDR is in fact the effect that most people will notice, infusing a comparatively dull SDR picture with more vibrant and accurate colour, but it just so happens to also be offered by the now budget price Xbox One S (a console that can also upscale images to 4K, though that doesn’t compare to the X’s native resolutions).
Enhancements vary across the slate; higher resolution, HDR support and faster frame rates and/or improved textures are typically on offer, but only 32 games so far have the full hat-trick of features. This means your experience across specific games will very much vary in terms of how ‘enhanced’ they actually feel.
As you’ve probably gathered by now, the whole thing is far from black and white, and at times is very technical and complex to get your head around. Outlets like Eurogamer’s Digital Foundry in particular go a long way to making the terminology accessible, but to the casual consumer it’s difficult to say how ‘wowed’ they’ll be without putting the original state of the game alongside the enhanced version.
This isn’t something which the Xbox One X does however, and it’s missed a trick by not clearly illustrating the difference you get for your money. There’s no denying the theoretical power, and even the distinct differences in practice, but the reality is most people likely won’t appreciate just how much effort has gone into this little (but very heavy) black box to push the envelope.
The experience as a whole is made even more clumsy by not taking you through an extensive setup to make sure you get the best from your display - particularly if it’s 4K - when the machine is first turned on. We found ourselves tweaking options on both the X and the TV itself for at least a couple of days before we got to what feels like the right place, but even then it’s difficult to be sure when different games have different interpretations of light and dark.
It might sound like we’re really down on the X, but there's actually no disappointment directed towards the console itself, just the missed opportunities which appear to be perfectly within reach. The Xbox games library arguably isn’t as strong as PlayStation’s blow-for-blow or title-by-title, but now we’re starting to see original Xbox games introduced there’s certainly the scope and potential to have something for everyone across all generations of Xbox, so why at launch are we left wanting?
It might sound like we’re really down on the X, but there's no disappointment directed towards the console itself, just the missed opportunities which appear to be within reach.
The strongest examples that the Xbox One X currently has to offer are, really, from third-party games like Wolfenstein, Shadow of War and Assassin’s Creed Origins, and the former doesn’t even score the enhancement hat-trick. The first-party offering is frankly poor, with just Super Lucky’s Tale on the new release front and even older titles’ updates still MIA. Halo 5, Forza 7 and Rise of the Tomb Raider are the only saving graces, delivering on spectacle and performance across the board, but it doesn’t feel like Microsoft are doing enough when they’re asking £450 to get involved.
Xbox One X as a machine ticks all the boxes, but it can’t exist in a vacuum. It might be the right time to release a console, but Microsoft have far from given it the strongest start out of the gate. That said, it is an incredible machine, and a lot of what you can currently play is impressive in all the right ways, so, providing the price tag isn’t something that bothers you and you can accept that the enhancement process is very much ongoing, it’s a piece of kit we can still recommend.
For many people, ensuring that a SNES Mini - or Nintendo Classic Mini: Super Nintendo Entertainment System, to give the pint-sized console its ten-gallon title - ended up in their possession on launch day no doubt involved a considerable amount of time and effort, despite Nintendo’s promise that it would be shipped in far greater numbers than its predecessor, the NES Mini.
The SNES Mini is undeniably a cool piece of kit, perfectly scaling down its source material into a console that fits right in the palm of your hand.
Instead of restarting the console, hitting the reset button on the Mini allows you to save the game you’re currently playing at any point. It’s hardly ground-breaking stuff in this day and age, but incredibly useful when playing older games that lacked this type of feature. There’s even the ability to rewind a few seconds and undo your mistakes, a very welcome addition considering the challenging, life-limited nature of early ‘90s gaming.
We were also pleased to find that the classic design of the gamepad has stood the test of time, and is incredibly comfortable to hold and use; plus, there’s two included in the box, so you’re couch co-op ready from the start. These aren’t plugged into the original ports anymore, with the two new connectors hidden behind a plastic cover, but, much like on the 2DS XL, Nintendo have disappointingly gone with a cheap flexi-plastic instead of a proper hinge.
Around the back there are micro-USB and HDMI ports - in other words, everything you need to connect the console to a modern television. For some reason however, Nintendo only provide a USB power cable, not the actual plug adaptor; if your TV has a spare USB port, or there’s one on a nearby device, you’re all set, but otherwise you might face an additional small expense in getting up and running.
As for the games on offer, the mileage you get out of them really depends on their ability to tickle your nostalgia gland. For us, it’s easy to forgive the rough edges and simple gameplay mechanics of titles like Super Mario Kart and Donkey Kong Country when their menu music alone is enough to bring some of our happiest memories flooding back, but, on the flip-side, games such as Earthbound and Secret of Mana – two titles held in high regard by many – felt extremely underwhelming simply because they played no part in our formative gaming years.
Including everyone’s favourites was always going to be a difficult, if not impossible, task (we’re particularly sad not to see Turtles in Time, Super Bomberman or Super Smash TV included), but there’s undoubtedly enough variety here that you should be able to find something to keep you entertained. If you’re looking for recommendations, the excellent Star Fox (or Star Wing, to us Europeans) and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past are two titles as enjoyable today as they were when they released so many years ago.
There are, of course, other ways to access these retro games. Emulators have been knocking about for years, allowing people to download and play thousands of classic titles across a variety of platforms for free, as opposed to the comparatively paltry 21 found on the paid SNES Mini. While this might sound damning, sheer novelty value, plug-and-play simplicity, the convenient rewind function and original controllers make the Mini a much more appealing way to play. Throw in classically Nintendo presentation, like the colourful home screen and its catchy, retro-styled background music, and the two experiences simply don’t compare.
Even the issue of playing in a 4:3 aspect ratio on modern, larger screens has been handled quite eloquently, with a range of coloured borders provided to brighten up the negative space, some of which merge surprisingly well with gameplay, especially in Star Fox 2 - a game that previously hadn’t seen release, so expect more from us on that front.
While it would have been nice to see more proper two-player games on offer, and not just the ‘take it in turns’ method used in Super Mario World, the SNES Mini is incredibly easy to recommend. Whether you’re a collector, an old-school gamer looking for a nostalgia trip, or a newbie looking to experience a portion of gaming history for the first time, if you can avoid the scalpers and pick one up for its RRP (£79.99), you’re getting a great little machine that lets you play some of Nintendo’s best titles easily and efficiently.
It’s taken a while, but Nintendo have finally found their ideal 3DS family. We’ve lost a few members along the way, but after six iterations of the console in almost as many years, there’s now a settled feel about the range of handhelds on offer thanks to the latest arrival, the 2DS XL.
The first thing you’ll notice about the 2DS XL is its sleek design. Available in either black/turquoise or white/orange, it really is quite a looker, easily one of the best of this generation. The colour picked out on the face buttons and the border around the edge of the console, combined with the ridged, textured pattern on the top and the subtle Nintendo logo in the corner help give the 2DS XL a surprisingly premium feel, despite its £129.99 price tag.
By ditching the face-tracking 3D cameras and relocating the remaining ones onto the main body (one forward facing on the hinge, a pair on the back between the shoulder buttons) Nintendo have managed to shave off a few millimetres from the console’s body while still retaining the larger screens. The 2DS XL is light and easy to hold, and shedding a few grams means it sits easily in a pocket, no more noticeable than some of the larger smartphones on the market.
Funnily enough, a smartphone is exactly what the stripped-back design of the top screen resembles, complete with a shiny black bezel that picks up dust and fingerprints, and, more annoyingly, the imprints from the face buttons when closed. The reflective nature of the screen’s bezel also means playing outside or in any well-lit area can sometimes be tricky due to the glare.
Other slight grievances we came across were the d-pad, which feels and looks cheap compared to the rest of the console, and the new cover that hides the game cartridge and SD card slots. The cover does a good job of helping maintain the minimalist aesthetic and alleviates the chance of accidental cartridge ejections (plus, you also no longer need a screwdriver to access the external memory slot) but the material used feels very flimsy, and can be difficult to open without feeling like it’s going to snap off under the pressure.
The location of the speakers (which now sit on the bottom corners of the console) was also a worry at first due to their proximity to your palms, but this didn’t turn out to be a problem and they performed well in their new position, even when outdoors. The only time it’ll cause any issues is if you’re resting the 2DS XL on top of something, but it’s nothing too major.
The 2DS XL’s lack of 3D gaming isn’t really a problem either; plenty of games now neglect to implement the feature, while many players - myself included - never bothered with it in the first place. If you’re of a similar mindset and don’t already own either of the ‘New’ range of 3DS handhelds with all their added capabilities, then the 2DS XL is easy to recommend, especially given its affordability.
For your money, you’re getting a console that not only looks and feels great, but one that can handle the select games in the 3DS library that require the extra power found exclusively in the ‘New’ models. If you’ve yet to pick up a 3DS, or have been looking to upgrade from the original model or the original XL, then we’d highly recommend considering the 2DS XL. Plus, Nintendo have actually included a charger this time!
Whether you’ve owned a Nintendo console before or you’re new to their hardware, the important thing to know is that you’re always going to get something a bit different. I was late to the party, boarding the train with the N64 late in 1998 (thank you Factor 5 and Rogue Squadron for forcing my hand), and one thing I’ve learned since then is that you can always count on them to do something different. After the Wii - Nintendo’s most successful home console of all time - I moved to Xbox (for online multiplayer), but since then times have changed and the Switch reveal did enough to grab my attention once more.
Check out our Nintendo Switch video review.
The Switch is a product that has the potential to offer an unmatchably diverse gaming experience.
That’s the dream, and largely the Switch already lives up to that in reality. There have been well-documented hardware issues, from screen scratching when docking to controller connectivity problems, and while I haven’t experienced these specific ones myself (though I know Sam has the latter), I have already had one error screen occur when the console was docked and not in use.
Generally though, the Switch itself is an exceptionally well-built product. The 720p HD screen is clear and crisp, particularly when you put it alongside the 3DS XL (which seems like a fair comparison), the jump from handheld to TV is seamless and the Joy-Con controllers are perfectly suited to what the console is trying to achieve. The contents of the box look smaller than you’d expect when you pull them out, and I don’t think the tabletop mode - utilised by making use of the built-in kickstand - will be much good outside a train or plane seat, as the screen is too small to view from any decent distance. The size does feel right when you hold it in your hands, though.
Overall it's clean and attractive, even premium, but I had worried the machine might falter when using either one of the small Joy-Cons individually. As someone who always had to use the wheel accessory when playing Mario Kart on the Wii (the Wiimote-on-its-side arrangement just didn’t work for me), I approached the endearing launch title Snipperclips with trepidation, knowing the use of individual Joy-Cons was the only way to go. Fortunately, after the usual amount of time spent getting used to something new, the Joy-Con actually responded well. Admittedly, I do still much prefer the traditional D-pad of the Pro Controller, which helped to avoid hitting the wrong buttons at key moments by comparison.
The Pro Controller itself is very light - playing into the portability of the system - and less bulky than an Xbox One controller. It has the right buttons and placement, but it doesn’t feel quite as nice as the Joy-Cons themselves, even down to the oddly squared-off buttons compared to the smooth, sleek finish of the Joy-Cons. It feels like it’s the result of Nintendo updating a design they already had in the works, rather than something tailor-made for the Switch.
The Switch's overall design is clean and attractive; even premium.
Miis of the Wii and Wii U era are mostly forgotten, relegated to a secondary screen on the customisation menu, while you’re asked to choose a local username - which can be anything - and then prompted to sign in to your Nintendo Account - which can’t - to access the eShop and online services. It’s here we reach a bit of a brick wall as far as the in-depth analysis goes, as neither of the games I picked up at launch (the aforementioned Snipperclips and, of course, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild) have online multiplayer functionality. It has been reported that Super Bomberman R doesn't fare too well when taken online, however.
One online function everybody has access to is the dedicated screenshot button, which takes instant snaps and stores them in the console's album menu. You can then edit and share these images on social media directly from the Switch, which is neat, I guess?
The games line-up at launch is something of a sticking point for many, with only a dozen games available (which might actually be generous, considering a number of those are old Neo Geo games). For me, two games is enough to keep me going for the time being, especially as Zelda alone is vast - but more of that in the upcoming review. It would have been nice to have the option for some bigger multiplayer-centric titles like Splatoon 2, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe or even Arms to mess around with at this point, but that hasn’t been a deal-breaker.
While buying a console to play two games (or one and a half, sorry Snipperclips) might sound a bit silly, the truth is that the Nintendo Switch serves me (and perhaps serves best) as a second console, offering a refreshing break from the norm now and then, along with the versatility to play when and where I otherwise couldn’t.
Whether it's for you or not largely depends on your circumstances. Perhaps you’re at secondary school, using public transport for 20-30 minutes each way and you have a free period to play in the sixth form common room, or you’re a walking enthusiast looking for something to do while you settle your heart rate before mile 13 of your Sunday ramble. Maybe you just want to keep the kids quiet? The key point is that this is a device for many different sorts of people, but not necessarily the sort of person who is already heavily invested in playing a specific type of “hardcore” game at home.
While the Switch is great for short bursts of gaming, its battery life can necessitate them. Nintendo’s estimate of 2.5 - 6 hours of playtime is fairly accurate based on use so far, and if you’re at home the dock is enough to keep the system charging while you’re hunting Bokoblins in Zelda on the TV, though it would be nice to reliably get over four hours of play in handheld mode. Hopefully that time won’t decline further as the device and its battery age, as can happen with the 3DS and Wii U gamepad (along with many mobile devices).
While the Switch is great for short bursts of gaming, its short battery life can necessitate them.
Is now the time to buy a Switch if you’re interested? Even if you have the cash it’s difficult to insist you need this console today - particularly if you’re already tucking into Zelda on the Wii U in the interim. That’s not to say it isn’t fantastic, in fact the Switch meets my expectations and does everything I expected it to very well.
There’s a few niggles which Nintendo had to throw in as well of course. The online service being paid for later in the year isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the communication about what you get for your money has been shockingly vague. Add to that the re-introduction of fiddly friend codes and you’re going to get some unhappy customers. The biggest sin at this point though is the sheer price of the accessories and, to some extent, games for the system. It’s not as big of a problem if you’re a working adult (and don’t have kids), but if you’re a youngster working hard on a paper round to get a bit of money to spend on yourself, or washing the car for pocket money, it’ll be a while before you can even get another pair of Joy-Cons to play with a few friends at once (or one friend in Arms’ case). Not to mention the pressure it will put on parents to fork out for these add-ons at Christmas and birthdays.
That said, my record of not regretting the purchase of a Nintendo console is safe. The Switch’s premium build quality and accommodating hybrid nature provide a unique and exciting experience that isn’t paralleled elsewhere. Even if the sought-after third-party support drops off, we know it’ll at least produce some future Nintendo classics to enjoy; Zelda puts a very strong foot forward on that front, leaving plenty of reason to be optimistic.
There’s nothing massively wrong with the standard Xbox One controller - yes the bumpers are niggly and if you drop it you might find the shell cracks open at the seams, but on the whole it’s a solid piece of kit. So why would you fork out enough money to pay for three of them to procure a single Xbox One Elite wireless controller? It isn’t an upgrade for everybody, but those willing to splash the cash will get a premium product to match the premium price-tag.
A free app makes customising the software side of things just as simple as the the hardware: you can put your personal stamp on everything imaginable, from stick and trigger sensitivity, rumble intensity in each individual motor and the brightness of the Xbox button, to, of course, button layouts.
Any two configurations can be saved to the controller’s memory at one time, easily and instantly toggled at the flick of a switch; configurations not currently in use are stored in the app and there’s room for more than you would ever conceivably need. It’s all incredibly simple to get to grips with and the two simultaneous setups are of great convenience - you might use them for different elements of the same game (for example one to run and gun and one to stay back and snipe in an FPS), or implement your favourite set-ups for your two favourite games and be set for the foreseeable future without needing to again access the app.
If you aren’t the tinkering type, first party games have developer-made custom presets (that's Gears, Halo 5, Forza 6 and Sunset Overdrive presently) corresponding to variables like campaign, manual gear shifting and multiplayer in their respective games. Naturally they’re expertly put together and we’d recommend using them where possible. Whilst there isn’t any offering at launch, expect to see more third party-developed and published games jumping onboard in the future.
One foible with presets is the language used, they may be intended for ‘pros’, but the terminology isn’t accommodating to those outside of that circle. Gears touts easy slipping and bouncing, whatever that means, and Halo 5 has presets for “Fishstick” and “Hell Jumper”... anyone have a clue?
There are a couple of things to be mindful of when customising the controller, both physically and through the software app. Firstly, some paddle configurations will cause overlap and thus pressing one will trigger both button inputs. Secondly, remapping can be taken to silly extents (you could map RT to depressing the left stick, for example) - go too crazy with your setup for both memory slots and have fun getting things back to normal when you don’t know what buttons do what.
Whilst the above aren’t true negatives and might prove useful to some, there is one true issue and it lies in putting the controller down. It’s just fine on a flat surface, but if you place the pad on the arm of your chair or lap, expect the paddles to activate and unpause the game, un-snap your app, or quit party chat. Naturally, it’s always something catastrophic.
As we recently discovered thanks to Guitar Hero Live's remodelled guitar, adding new buttons and methods of control to those longstanding can be a struggle to grow accustomed to. The Elite controller’s paddles are no exception. You’ll likely find yourself gravitating towards standard control methods out of habit and consciously having to be mindful to use the paddles, but before long it becomes second nature, their services called upon just as often as your friends A, B, X and Y.
The Elite controller features a headphone jack that enables receiving game audio straight from the device, so there’s no further need for extension cables to trail across the floor from the back of your TV - your parents/partner will be happy! A smaller, yet no less technically impressive addition is the ability to update the pad wirelessly, though whatever witchcraft is responsible we can only assume harmful to humans, as you're instructed to leave it close to the console and not move it during the process.
For the uber-serious gamer that doesn’t want to eliminate cables because of the ever-so-slight input advantage they carry over wireless, you’ll be glad to know that for all the wires it gets rid of, the Elite controller comes bundled with a lengthy one of its own. For everybody else it can be used to power the pad if you don’t have any batteries to hand, or to replace your Play & Charge Kit’s shorter offering. As you’ve probably just worked out, the Play & Charge Kit is indeed compatible and know that whatever power method you choose, despite all the fancy extra features, the controller is far from power hungry - in tens of hours of play the home screen’s battery indicator hasn’t yet indicated any level of depletion.
With all that said, does the controller actually help improve your performance in-game? That largely depends on the game in question, but you should be aware that whilst it’ll help improve your game, it won’t carry you from zero to hero.
It actually provides great value for money - it’s cheaper than its closest competitors, much sexier, of a better build quality, and official.
Gears of War Ultimate Edition plays like an absolute dream. Using the custom preset, main weapon switching occupies rear paddle buttons, P3 and P4, whilst A and B occupy P2 and P1 respectively; this setup means your thumbs rarely need leave the analog sticks - equipping a pistol or grenades and picking up weapons or ammo are the only necessary occasions. This means you’re always ready and able to act and react to whatever is thrown your way, combine this layout with active hair-triggers for faster shooting and aiming and a domed stick on your aiming side (you can flip for lefties) - which allows your thumb to roll over and achieve a smoother aiming arc - and you may as well be cheating. I didn’t lose a game thanks to the ability to track opponents during melee attacks and maintain camera control during rolls, cover transitions and roadie-runs, neither of these are viable on a standard controller as they’d require using the right stick and face buttons in tandem.
It’s worth noting we were already pretty good at Gears (and modest too), but the controller was a definite tool at our disposal and did boost performance. The experience did further highlight the fact that the damn inconsistent Gnasher spread needs fixing, however!
Other shooters tested similarly well and really they’re the controller’s bread and butter along with MOBA SMITE, which sees a similarly sizeable improvement. Mapping the face buttons to paddles makes for more accessible and quick to employ abilities that can save you and your team in clutch situations, complete that kill on a fleeing God and help capitalise on that short buff/negative status effect window after a little bit of practice. In a game with a high point of entry, it helps level the playing field.
Fighters see less of a performance boost, however. We opted to remove the paddles as with no use for the right stick, thumbs are free to tangle with the face buttons. The faceted d-pad helps somewhat with MKX and KI combos: it doesn’t roll in a perfectly smooth fashion, instead the eight directional inputs are clearly defined and the feedback lets you know you’ve hit them and with that when to stop, or change direction as appropriate. The difference was disappointingly slight, but it is there and the hair-triggers also help with timings on move modifiers thanks to their faster reaction time. Serious fighters will want to hold onto their fight-sticks.
Switching gears in racing games has never felt more natural, though it’s insignificant by comparison, truth be told. Then games like Divinity: Original Sin and Project Spark didn’t benefit in any way from the controller, though it was still nice just to be holding something more comfortable regardless.
The Xbox One Elite wireless controller is easily the best we’ve ever held, but, that said, it should be, considering it’s the most expensive we’ve ever held. Comparably it actually provides great value for money - it’s cheaper than its closest competitors, much sexier, of a better build quality, and official. It has genuinely changed our gaming experience for the better; after a lifetime with no paddles, hair triggers and other gadgetry, we’re now glad to have them in our lives and will never look back.