It says something that most of the best games of this generation have been repackaged, upgraded versions of last-gen titles. Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection is one of the finest examples of this phenomenon, rounding up the PS3 trilogy for an anthology that matches what Microsoft did on Xbox One with its Halo franchise. There’s also a 1970s and 80s-themed Star Wars expansion for Disney Infinity 3.0, and a brainy puzzle game in The Talos Principle. Software aside, we also take fresh looks at a pair of devices to fulfill your gaming needs.
The New Nintendo 3DS XL, with its increased memory and second analog stick, makes handheld gaming more accessible, and Samsung‘s superpowered beast of a smartphone, the Galaxy Note 5, can take on anything Android gaming has to offer.
Disney Infinity 3.0 Star Wars: Rise Against the Empire Playset
(Xbox One, PS4, Wii U, Xbox 360, PS3, $25, Everyone)
Disney continues to go all in on its Star Wars expansion in Disney Infinity 3.0, playing the nostalgia angle with a new add-on. Capturing the flavor of the original trilogy, the Rise Against the Empire playset includes Luke and Leia figures, as well as missions that encompass episodes IV, V and VI. You can use any Star Wars figures in any of the Star Wars content in the game, and the publisher devilishly created some of the best ones — including Darth Vader, Han Solo and Chewbacca — to get you to blow your budget on all of them.
Even without the extra figures, the missions hit their marks, letting you relive great moments from the movies, as well as play out your own childhood fantasies. You can tangle with AT-ATs on Hoth, race through Endor forests on a speeder and bolt through the Death Star trenches with an X-wing. As a typical game add-on goes, Rise Against the Empire isn’t cheap, but considering characters cost $15 on their own, this is a good deal considering all you get in the playset. Cheap for an already expensive game with ballooning expansion costs is what you’ll have to settle for when it comes to Disney Infinity.
New 3DS XL
Nintendo one-ups its previous 3DS hardware with a minor but solid upgrade, adding a long-needed second analog stick, speeding up the processing power and upping the battery life. Several recent games — including The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D, Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate and Super Smash Bros. — take advantage of the new layout, easing camera movement and button mapping. There are even a few titles, such as Xenoblade Chronicles HD, that only work on the new system. Games play much more naturally, ditching the tank-life stiffness that plagued controls on many 3DS games.
Technical upgrades include a larger touchscreen, which grows from 3.02 to 4.18 inches, battery life that stretches to seven rather than 5.5 hours and more RAM for faster game loading. The system is also slightly lighter and boasts a more pocket-friendly form factor. Transferring games from an older system to the new one can take several hours, especially if you’ve maxed out a 32GB memory card, but Nintendo has set up a foolproof system that simply lets you sit back, connect both systems online, and wait until the job is done. In an odd cost-cutting move, the system lacks a charger. While not quite worth dumping a working 3DS XL for, the New 3DS XL is the easy choice if it’s your first Nintendo handheld. Granted, you’ll have to spring for a $10 charger if this is your first go-round.
Samsung Galaxy Note 5
In the neverending arms race with Apple, Samsung continues to pile on useful features to improve its man-sized, stylus-enabled smart phone. This year’s device takes on not only the iPhone 6s Plus, but also the excellent 2015 Samsung entry, the Note 4, and comes out looking like a strong contender. The 5mp front camera (up from 3.6mp on the Note 4) is a nod to selfie-obsessed culture, and the Note 5 is also a hair lighter and smaller than the Note 4. The batter is also smaller, but has a longer running time thanks to more efficient design, particularly with the gorgeous AMOLED screen. The Octa core processor of the 5 is notably faster than the Note 4’s Snapdragon, able to juggle several high-intensity apps running at the same time.
There’s an optional $65 induction charger that will juice up your device within 90 minutes without having to deal with wires, but most people will probably be cool with sticking with the traditional USB setup. In a nod to the economics that the iPhone has always embraced, Samsung did away with the replaceable battery and SD storage, making for a tough adjustment from the freedom of past Notes. As a gaming device, the Note 5 is a champ. High-speed, graphically demanding games such as Madden NFL Mobile, Doom 3: BFG Edition and Need for Speed: No Limits without any chugging, clipping or slowdown. The speakers belt out impressive, full-bodied sound, but can still benefit from an amplifier or Bluetooth connection.
The Talos Principle
(Xbox One, PS4, $40, Everyone 10+)
The brain-bending first-person puzzle game carries deep echoes of the Portal series. An omniscient and pompous artificial intelligence coaxes you through room after room of physics-based, often deadly conundrums, subtly undermining you along the way. You move through outdoor and indoor areas filled with violent traps, which you disarm by picking up and rearranging objects you find. Lasers, refractors and conveyors all come into play as you tinker with the environments.
The console version of the game — which came out on PC last year — comes bundled with the Road to Gehenna expansion, which considerably beefs up a already sizable game. Online walkthroughs are there to help you through the more difficult parts, but if you focus enough time and thought on any given puzzle, you should be able to power through. That’s a testament to the fairness and balance that went into their creation. There are no cheap solutions or obstacles here.
Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection
(PS4. Teen, $60)
After a bizarrely slim remaster of God of War 3, Sony takes greater care and effort with its tentpole Uncharted franchise. All three games are included here, sans the gratuitous, unpopular multiplayer, and each gets a treatment worthy of a lost treasure its globe-hopping title character hunts down. The games get a current-generation graphical overhaul and moves along with speedy grace at 60 frames per second in 1080p resolution.
Setting the stage for next year’s release of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, the series lets you relive the experiences of the affable character, whose adventures take the freewheeling tone of Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider. You’re hard pressed to find better PS3 games, and the transfer over to the new system means they are now some of the finest that the PS4 has to offer. Newcomers are in for a treat, while those familiar with the franchise have good reason to return. There are also new, more obscure and challenging trophies to entice veterans to return to try to unlock. To top all that off, there’s also a punishing difficulty mode, unlockable by making your way through the previously toughest setting. The package could have been even better had it included developer interviews, a making-of documentary or concept art, but what’s included far surpasses the asking price.