When Chris Pratt teased his upcoming role as gaming’s most iconic character, Mario, he called it “unlike anything you’ve heard in the Mario world before.” Charles Martinet, who has voiced both Mario and Luigi since 1992, would evidently not be a source of inspiration.
Fans have puzzled for months over how Pratt—elevated from goofy Parks and Rec roles into superhero status with movies like Guardians of the Galaxy—would tackle the Italian-accented plumber. After Nintendo dropped the first trailer for the movie today, the answer is … as Chris Pratt.
“What is this place?” Pratt Mario—who could be referring to anything from a dinosaur park to the most godforsaken bathroom at a concert with his tone—wonders aloud as he examines a mushroom-filled field. Shortly after, we hear him declare “Mushroom Kingdom, here we come!” in what may be his actual Mario accent—kind of a parody of your local Brooklyninte yelling he’s walking he’e.
Mario’s voice reveal was inarguably the raison d’être to tune into today’s trailer. Nintendo has hyped fans up since news that Pratt, alongside Jack Black as Boswer, Seth Rogen as Donkey Kong, and Anya Taylor-Joy as Princess Peach, would voice a character many people have known since childhood. “I worked really closely with the directors and trying out a few things and landed on something that I’m really proud of and can’t wait for people to see and hear,” Pratt told Variety. Again … it’s just Chris Pratt, regular guy, in a film where everyone else has at least a little bit of whimsy to their voices.
This week fans have already mourned the loss of Mario’s ass, but hear me out: The sheer absurdity, the absolute troll of this reveal, is the
funniest best outcome. Pratt’s Mario yelling “Mamma Mia” in an Italian accent cribbed from the early ’90s may not be as charming after an hour and a half in surround sound.
Good and bad news here: Black’s first lines as Bowser sound appropriately graveled and menacing for the Koopa king. But if Pratt’s any indication of how the Mario Bros. might sound, prepare yourself for the Charlie Day–voiced screamer of Luigi that’s still to come, as we saw at the trailer’s end.
It’s been nearly two years since Netflix began its big push into gaming, and the streaming giant’s presence as a household name isn’t quite translating. According to recent findings from analytics company Apptopia, 99 percent of the service’s users have never touched a single video game on the platform. If you’ve played any of their titles, congratulations: You are the one percent.
Although perhaps not shocking, this news is eyebrow-raising. Netflix lost some 970,000 subscribers last quarter, and it seems the company is unlikely to recoup them by recruiting gamers. The stats obtained by CNBC via Apptopia reveal that games on the platform have an average of 1.7 million daily users—a fraction of Netflix’s subscriber base of 221 million. The total number of downloads for those games is about 23.3 million.
Tech giants dipping into gaming is hardly new. Amazon and Google have tried their hand by hiring all-star talent and working on in-house studios. Yet despite their best efforts, big companies with money have been unable to brute force their way to success. Video games are a yearslong endeavor requiring the hard work and talent of teams that can range from a handful of independent creators to hundreds of developers across the globe. Even when they produce decent games, as Netflix has, it takes more than a few titles to lure people away from their PlayStation, Switch, Steam, or Xbox ecosystems—or even the new season of Bridgerton—to play them. Netflix knows that its biggest competition for attention on your phone comes down to apps like TikTok.
Part of the problem, for Netflix at least, might be about awareness. Despite acquiring outfits like Oxenfree creator Night School Studio and Dungeon Boss developer Boss Fight Entertainment, the company’s investment into games doesn’t show in the way it markets and promotes them. (Just look at sites publishing well-read how-tos for finding Netflix games.) The streamer doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to luring eyes to some of its more original ventures. The largely unknown fan site it launched in December had barely begun to germinate when it cut the majority of staff. It’s canceled dozens of shows after just one season—a list that continues to grow. With games, it seems, Netflix barely let users know they were there at all.
It would be easy to say the streaming giant isn’t gaining gamers because their offerings are bad, but they’re not. Titles like sci-fi strategy game Into the Breach and card game Exploding Kittens are established hits that have done well on other platforms ahead of their mobile releases for Netflix. Originals that expand the company’s streaming universes, like its Stranger Things games, have built-in fanbases. Critics have positive things to say, seemingly in spite of themselves. The games just haven’t been given time to gain traction.
Netflix did not respond to requests for comment about Apptopia’s findings or its handling of current titles, though the giant has been clear about its continued ambition for mobile gaming. The company has plans to offer roughly 50 games by the end of 2022, including new releases such as Telling Lies creator Sam Barlow’s next title, Immortality. Netflix is fond of iteration and its self-described “crawl, walk, run” model. Evidently, gaming is still in that infant stage.
A year ago, when Valve announced the Steam Deck, I was absolutely riveted. I’m not a PC gamer—after eight to 10 hours of work each day, the last thing I want to do is be at a desk—but this new device offered something different: the ability to play PC games on a handheld. Prior to its arrival, anyone who wanted to play such games on-the-go had to hope they were available on Nintendo’s Switch. The Steam Deck offered an appealing alternative, one that lets players port their games from Steam onto a handheld and take them anywhere.
So I ordered one. Or at least, I attempted to. Like so many others, I logged on to Valve’s website when reservations opened in July 2021 and was promptly met by website crashes. Eventually I was able to reserve one, but when I finally got the email inviting me to purchase the device (a year later), I hesitated.
I’d read the reviews. I’d done the research. I knew what the device’s capabilities were and what they weren’t. It’s not just a handheld console—it’s a PC that sometimes requires workarounds and tweaks for things to function properly. It’s also a device without a mouse or keyboard that’s meant to play games that require a mouse and keyboard. It’s got a short battery life. (This last shortcoming was actually a bonus for me. Short battery life can function as a built-in time-limiter.)
Ultimately though, my hesitation wasn’t about the Steam Deck’s functionality. It stemmed from a cost-benefit analysis. There are some people picking up the Deck who have a huge back catalog of Steam games, who will buy this thing and play it all the time. That’s not me. I’m getting less and less video game time as it is, which is why I’m relying increasingly on mobile gaming. Meanwhile, it’s not an inexpensive device. I felt incredibly guilty splurging on something I knew I’d only use occasionally. But then I realized: I don’t have to use something all the time for it to be valuable to me.
Often, the benefit in my cost-benefit analyses is one of time. But that logic doesn’t actually hold up—I bought Horizon Zero Dawn on sale for $15 and I paid full price for Horizon Forbidden West. I love both these games equally. What matters to me is how much enjoyment I get out of something, not necessarily how much it costs—and sometimes you can get as much enjoyment in two hours as you can in 20. Sure, it’s nice to get a good deal, but that’s not what matters in the long run.
Of course I don’t want to pay a lot of money for something I know I’ll never use. But it also doesn’t have to be “must-have.” It’s all right to splurge on a “would be nice” every once in a while, as long as it’s within what I am fortunate enough to be able to afford.
And you know what? I’ve played the Steam Deck every single day since it arrived. Sometimes it’s only for 15 minutes while I eat lunch, but it’s so great to have that option. I didn’t realize how lovely it would be to have Garrus Vakarian with me wherever I went. (Yes, Mass Effect: Legendary Edition works wonderfully for me on the Deck, and you all know how I feel about replaying that game.)
Will the Steam Deck become my go-to platform? No, that will always be a PlayStation. But it doesn’t need to become my one and only. If you’re on the fence about splurging on a Steam Deck for similar reasons, I’m giving you the permission you don’t want to give yourself. It doesn’t have to be necessary to be worth it.
In June, 8BitDo, known for creating third-party controllers and adapters, announced their latest controller for the Nintendo Switch and Android devices. The Lite SE, created through collaborative efforts with father and son team Andreas and Oskar Karlsson, is designed specifically for physically disabled players with limited strength and mobility. The launch of this controller not only marks the culmination of years of hard work by Andreas to search for an affordable and accessible controller for his son, but it also expands the market of accessible gaming tech.
At a young age Oskar was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy type II, a neuromuscular disorder that progressively weakens muscles over time. Despite playing games throughout his life, his father regularly adapted standard controllers to meet his son’s needs. As he grew and his disability progressed, so too did the complexity of adaptive designs.
“The GameCube controller was the first controller we adapted,” Andreas says. “We mounted screws in the joysticks and buttons and added polymorph around the screws. By doing that we could increase the length of the joysticks so it was easier to grip, and the increased length of the joysticks reduced the force required to maneuver it—but at the cost of range of movement. Taller joysticks mean longer movement—but at that point it worked because Mario Kart was kind of easy to control—unlike, let’s say, a fighting game like Street Fighter. The screws and polymorph on the buttons meant increased weight on the buttons, making them easier for him to push down or even hold down.”
As games evolved without proper accessibility features and options, Karlsson struggled to discover tools that would allow his son to properly play. From adapters to eye-tracking devices, each piece of adaptive equipment failed to fully function and cost Karlsson hundreds if not thousands of dollars. Furthermore, the substitutes never matched the designs of standard controllers, amplifying the sense of difference that can accompany gaming as a disabled player, which left a young Oskar not wanting to game at all.
“That was when we geared up a bit and started to modify existing controllers and even built our own,” Karlsson says. “I honestly have no clue how much money I have spent on potential things that could have worked, everything from low-force joysticks meant for power wheelchairs to the Xbox Adaptive Controller. All of them were better than the previous options, so Oskar’s interest in games started to return. Of course the things we modified and built only worked to a certain degree and Oskar still needed help to push certain buttons by his personal assistant. As he grew older we faced a new problem. At a certain time he wanted to use the original controllers despite not being able to use them to their full extent, as well as only being able to play for a very short time because of fatigue. Using a different controller that didn’t look like everyone else’s was a factor we never thought about. But for Oskar it mattered.”
Even the Xbox Adaptive Controller, a device specifically designed for physically disabled players, couldn’t meet Oskar’s needs. As Karlsson notes, the size and spacing of the controller and its varying switches and buttons meant that Oskar needed to exert even more energy to simply move his arms and hands to be able to reach the necessary buttons. But the size wasn’t the only issue. Since adaptive equipment can be a gamble for disabled players, each purchase may result in nothing less than expensive pieces of plastic that cannot assist the needs of the specific individual.
“Like the Xbox Adaptive Controller it’s a wonderful thing, but it has so many flaws,” he says. “First of all, it is very expensive, which is crazy, as many disabled people don’t have that type of income. And it isn’t just the Adaptive Controller: The accessories for it are insanely expensive. As for Oskar, he would need two of the ‘low force joysticks’ from Hori to use it, and they cost over $400 each. So just these three things would cost over $900. And then you need, like, 18 buttons.”
Karlsson could not find meaningful solutions that not only worked for Oskar but also looked like standard gaming controllers. Yet after designing several devices while seeking outside assistance from charities and organizations, Karlsson finally found help through 8BitDo.
Xbox Game Pass is one of the few subscriptions I’ve kept around while other services got the chop. The $15 monthly fee for Xbox Game Pass Ultimate feels worth it because I get to choose from over 100 titles and regularly download new additions. In a year the cost breaks down to about the price of three AAA games.
An Xbox Game Pass Ultimate subscription comes with access to EA Play and Xbox Live Gold. If you’re not interested in online multiplayer games, Microsoft offers a more budget-friendly tier that costs $10 a month. For gamers not on Xbox, PC Game Pass ($10/month) has many of the same titles. (Got a PlayStation or Switch? Check out our guide to the most popular game subscription services.)
To help you choose which ones to download first, WIRED sifted through the Game Pass catalog and rounded up outstanding titles we think you’ll enjoy. From recent releases to satisfying throwbacks, our genre-spanning picks for the best Game Pass games have a little something for all players.
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