Microsoft Reportedly Releasing Fully Digital Xbox One in 2019

A recent rumor reported by Thurrott suggests that Microsoft may be planning to release a version of the Xbox One without a disc drive.

This console wouldn’t be the next generation Xbox Scarlett, but rather a device similar to the Xbox One S and Xbox One X, just another device in the Xbox One family. The rumored console is expected to release sometime next year, maybe even as early as spring, and should retail for $200 or less. 

Alongside this rumor also comes the news of a revised Xbox One S. While the S will keep its disc drive, cheaper components will be used to cut costs and allow Microsoft to sell the console for cheaper.

Microsoft is also reportedly planning a “disc-to-digital” program, in which owners of physical Xbox One games would be able to take the discs to participating retailers like the Microsoft store and trade them for a digital download.

An all digital Xbox One would be a perfect fit for the Xbox ecosystem. Microsoft has been continually pushing for a connected family of devices with content accessible anywhere. The Play Anywhere program, cross-play, Game Pass, and the upcoming Project xCloud streaming service give a console without a disc drive serious potential to become a strong pillar in the Xbox One family of devices. Microsoft’s recent initiatives have all been about options (Xbox One S vs Xbox One X, Game Pass vs purchasing day one, console vs PC, etc.), and this new Xbox, whatever it may be called, is just the next step in Microsoft’s plan for an interconnected gaming platform.

Are you interested in a completely digital console? Where do you stand on the physical vs digital debate? Be sure to let us know down below, and stay tuned to Circle Square Games for all things Xbox.

Sony is Skipping E3 2019

For the first time in the show’s 24 year history, PlayStation will not have a presence at E3.

The company behind E3, the ESA, shared the first details about next year’s event, and Sony’s name is nowhere to be found. The other usual suspects are all there. Microsoft, Ubisoft, Nintendo, Activision, and the like all have plans to be at the show.

The PlayStation section of the E3 2017 show floor

Sony confirmed its plans to skip E3 2019 to Game Informer. “As the industry evolves, Sony Interactive Entertainment continues to look for inventive opportunities to engage the community,” Sony said. “PlayStation fans mean the world to us and we always want to innovate, think differently and experiment with new ways to delight gamers. As a result, we have decided not to participate in E3 in 2019. We are exploring new and familiar ways to engage our community in 2019 and can’t wait to share our plans with you.”

Game Informer asked if Sony had plans to hold an off-site event similar to EA’s “EA Play” event. “We will not activate or hold a press conference around E3,” replied Sony.

Sony also announced earlier this fall that it would not be holding a PlayStation Experience event this year. Sony Interactive Entertainment chairman Shawn Layden attributed the cancellation of the fan event to simply not having enough to show, which was a common criticism of the company’s showing at E3 2018, in which they primarily focused on only four titles.

Shawn Layden addresses the crowd at Sony’s E3 2018 showcase

This news, along with the surge of popularity of shows like Nintendo Direct and Inside Xbox, reaffirms the belief held by many that E3 just isn’t as is important as is used to be. E3 used to be where everything was announced, but now with the rise of streaming and video content, companies can put out information when they want and how they want. They don’t have to share the spotlight with their competition either. 

Sony has been shifting away from the E3 stage for some time now. This year’s showing was a more intimate showcase rather than an extravagant press conference. Most of their important announcements, like the release dates for God of War, Detroit, and Spider-Man, things people were sure would be PSX or E3 announcements, were dropped on the PlayStation Blog with little fanfare. They even announced the long awaited and highly requested name change feature in a blog post. Sony’s reliance on the PlayStation Blog to break news will likely ramp up in the next year, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the release date for The Last of Us Part II or Ghost of Tsushima just showed up on the PlayStation Blog one morning.

Sony might be planning a more direct, fan-centric means of delivering news and content to its userbase similar to Microsoft’s Inside Xbox or Nintendo’s Directs. The company did say they were “exploring new and familiar ways to engage [their] community”, and Inside Xbox and Nintendo Directs are regularly hyped up by fans, especially the latter, and both always make headlines at relatively uncrowded times of the year. Regardless, Sony’s definitely planning some changes. 

What do you think about Sony skipping out on the biggest event in gaming? Be sure to let us know down below, and stay tuned to Circle Square Games for all things PlayStation.

The Beauty of Hitman 2

Hitman 2 is a game that took over two years to make. It only has 5 levels. I love it.

So many people slept on the original Hitman (the 2016 one, not the first one, thanks confusing reboot titles), but it’s understandable why. While 2012’s Hitman Absolution was a mechanically solid third person shooter, it wasn’t the methodical stealth game fans fell in love with in the first place. To further rub salt in fans’ wounds, Square Enix then announced that the new 2016 Hitman would release in an episodic format which made zero sense for the series. Regardless fans were still hopeful and ended up loving it. The problem is, nobody else gave it a shot.

Hitman Episode 1 released in March of 2016, one week after what would end up being Ubisoft’s biggest new IP launch ever, The Division. Hitman Episode 2 came out later that April, just two weeks after the launch of Dark Souls III and Ratchet and Clank. Hitman Episode 3 came out a week after Overwatch and Uncharted 4, Episode 4 came out right after No Man’s Sky, Episode 5 followed Recore and Forza Horizon 3, and poor old Episode 6 had to compete with Battlefield 1, Titanfall 2, Skyrim Special Edition, Call of Duty, and even Watch Dogs.

This game just could not catch a break. Whether a game was celebrated like Overwatch or criticized like No Man’s Sky, it seemed like whenever Hitman got new content, it was overshadowed by something bigger. Now, a full two and a half years since Hitman’s intro pack was released, IO Interactive has split from Square Enix and the game’s sequel is out. Unfortunately, it faces the same challenge. Red Dead Redemption 2 is still actively being enjoyed by just about everyone, Spyro made his triumphant return, Fallout 76 is a game that exists, and the Nintendo Switch is getting its first Pokemon game tomorrow. Please, I’m begging you all, do not let Hitman 2 fly under your radar.

Hitman 2 is a game about possibilities. When you start a level in Hitman, you’re not just starting a level; You’re starting a complex sequence of scripts and events that you can throw a wrench into at any time, and the situation will react accordingly. Except instead of a just a plain old wrench, Hitman 2 provides you with a socket wrench, allen wrench, combination wrench, and just about any other type of turning tool you could imagine, and more. Hitman 2 may only have 5 levels, but I’ve spent 3 hours in the first one alone, and I still have fresh new ideas that could easily double those my hours to 6. 

The first attempt at an assassination in Hitman is never pretty. It’s usually sloppy, with hasty, reactionary decisions, and more often than not, you won’t see more than a 2/5 star rating if you’re lucky. However, Hitman’s levels are designed to be replayed. Even if you think you’ve done the perfect hit, you probably messed up somewhere along the line, and if you didn’t, the game still pushes you to try other things. When you finish a mission, the game shows you a wall of tiles, each representing a challenge for the level you just completed, and they’re all incredibly varied and force you to use drastically different playstyles and strategies. You might pull off the perfect sniper shot on a racer’s car, successfully killing your target, but then the game will say “Now try pushing her down an elevator shaft” or “Do it in the flamingo suit”.

“I wasn’t even aware there was a flamingo suit,” you might respond.

That’s what makes Hitman 2 special. Each level is a playground that lets you test whatever crazy schemes you can come up with. Pulling off a clean, discrete kill is incredibly satisfying, and calmly walking away from the scene while bystanders are still figuring out what happened never gets old. If you do end up making a mistake, Hitman 2 provides both automatic and manual save states at multiple points throughout missions that you are free to revert back to at any time. Even with practically unlimited checkpoints, plotting and carrying out an “accidental death” still requires a good amount of tact and preparation. The challenge is integral to the Hitman experience, and it makes a successful mission all the more fulfilling.

When I said Hitman 2 only had 5 levels, I was technically lying. For those of you who didn’t play the first game (read: pretty much all of you), the Hitman Legacy Pack makes the entirety of the first entry available to play in Hitman 2 with the new gameplay systems and graphical upgrades. For only $20, it’s a no-brainer for anyone who’s new to the franchise. With the legacy pack, Hitman 2 has a total of 11 missions, each with hours upon hours of creative gameplay waiting to be had. And that’s not all. Hitman 2 is a live game, best played with an internet connection. This is where Hitman 2’s best content happens.

Elusive targets are timed missions set in an already existing Hitman location but with twists like remixed guard and item placements, increased security, and things like that. While Hitman’s other missions are built with replayability in mind, Hitman’s elusive targets only give you one chance. If you mess up, you have to roll with it. After the one attempt, they’re gone. This makes for some of the most tense and memorable moments in franchise history, and the targets are all highlights. The first elusive target appears in Hitman 2 next week, and it’s “The Undying” portrayed by none other than Sean Bean. The first Hitman had a new elusive target every other week, and one of them was a Gary Busey assassination, so it’s safe to say Hitman 2 will deliver the same quality content for the forseeable future.

Hitman 2 is such a unique game. Few games have levels as tightly designed and highly replayable as Hitman, and the sequel works because it doubles down on what the first game did so well. Hitman 2 is just more Hitman 1, and in most cases that wouldn’t be a cause for celebration, but the gameplay is incredibly refined and immensely satisfying. It builds upon an already impeccable foundation, resulting in one of the best games I’ve played all year. Hitman 2 is the premier assassination experience, and it deserves more attention.

Have you been playing Hitman 2? Are you planning on picking it up? Be sure to let us know down below, and stay tuned to Circle Square Games for all things Hitman.

Game Awards 2018 Nominees Announced

After a stacked 2018, nominees for the 2018 Game Awards have finally been revealed. Game of the Year nominees include Red Dead Redemption 2, God of War, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Marvel’s Spider-Man, Monster Hunter World, and Celeste. God of War and Red Dead Redemption 2 are tied for the most nominations, to no one’s surprise. Here’s the full list of nominees across all categories.

Game of the Year

  • Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
  • Celeste
  • God of War
  • Marvel’s Spider-Man
  • Monster Hunter: World
  • Red Dead Redemption 2

Best Action Game

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 4
  • Dead Cells
  • Destiny 2: Forsaken
  • Far Cry 5
  • Mega Man 11

 Best Action/Adventure Game

  • Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey
  • God of War
  • Marvel’s Spider-Man
  • Red Dead Redemption 2
  • Shadow of the Tomb Raider

Best Role Playing Game

  • Dragon Quest XI
  • Monster Hunter: World
  • Ni no Kuni II
  • Octopath Traveler
  • Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire

Best Game Direction

  • A Way Out
  • Detroit: Become Human
  • God of War
  • Marvel’s Spider-Man
  • Red Dead Redemption 2

Best Narrative

  • Detroit: Become Human
  • God of War
  • Life is Strange 2: Episode 1
  • Marvel’s Spider-Man
  • Red Dead Redemption 2

Best Ongoing Game

  • Destiny 2: Forsaken
  • Fortnite
  • No Man’s Sky
  • Overwatch
  • Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege

Best Art Direction

  • Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
  • God of War
  • Octopath Traveler
  • Red Dead Redemption 2
  • Return of the Obra Dinn

Best Score/Music

  • Celeste
  • God of War
  • Marvel’s Spider-Man
  • Ni no Kuni II: Revenant Kingdom
  • Octopath Traveler
  • Red Dead Redemption 2

Best Audio Design

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 4
  • Forza Horizon 4
  • God of War
  • Marvel’s Spider-Man
  • Red Dead Redemption 2

Best Independent Game

  • Celeste
  • Dead Cells
  • Intro the Breach
  • Return of the Obra Dinn
  • The Messenger

Best Performance

  • Bryan Dechart as Connor, Detroit: Become Human
  • Christopher Judge as Kratos, God of War
  • Melissanthi Mahut as Kassandra, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
  • Roger Clark as Arthur Morgan, Red Dead Redemption II
  • Yuri Lowenthal as Peter Parker, Marvel’s Spider-Man

Games for Impact

  • 11-11 Memories Retold
  • Celeste
  • Florence
  • Life is Strange 2
  • The Missing: JJ Macfield and the Island of Memories

Best Mobile Game

  • Donut County
  • Florence
  • Fortnite
  • PUBG MOBILE
  • Reigns: Game of Thrones

Best VR/AR Game

  • ASTRO BOT Rescue Mission
  • Beat Saber
  • Firewall Zero Hour
  • Moss
  • Tetris Effect

Best Fighting Game

  • BlazBlue: Cross Tag Battle
  • Dragon Ball FighterZ
  • Soul Caliber VI
  • Street Fighter V Arcade

Best Family Game

  • Mario Tennis Aces
  • Nintendo Labo
  • Overcooked 2
  • Starlink: Battle for Atlas
  • Super Mario Party

Best Sports/Racing Game

  • FIFA 19
  • Forza Horizon 4
  • Mario Tennis Aces
  • NBA 2K19
  • Pro Evolution Soccer 2019

Best Multiplayer Game

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII
  • Destiny 2: Forsaken
  • Fortnite
  • Monster Hunter: World
  • Sea of Thieves

Best Student Game

  • Combat 2018
  • Dash Quasar
  • JERA
  • LIFF
  • RE: Charge

Best Debut Indie Game

  • Donut County
  • Florence
  • Moss
  • The Messenger
  • Yoku’s Island Express

Best eSports Game

  • CSGO
  • DOTA2
  • Fortnite
  • League of Legends
  • Overwatch

Best eSports Player

  • Dominique “SonicFox” McLean
  • Hajime “Tokido” Taniguchi
  • Jian “Uzi” Zi-Hao
  • Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev
  • Sung-hygeon “JJoNak” Bang

Best eSports Team

  • Astralis
  • Cloud9
  • Fnatic
  • London Spitfire
  • OG

 Best eSports Coach

  • Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu
  • Christian “ppasarel” Banaseanu
  • Danny “zonic” Sorensen
  • Dylan Falco
  • Jakob “YamatoCannon” Mebdi
  • Janko “YNk” Paunovic

Best eSports Event

  • ELAGUE Major: Boston 2018
  • EVO 2018
  • League of Legends World Championship
  • Overwatch League Grand Finals
  • The International 2018

Best eSports Host

  • Alex “Goldenboy” Mendez
  • Alex “Machine” Richardson
  • Anders Blume
  • Eefje “Sjokz” Depoortere
  • Paul “RedEye” Chaloner

Best eSports Moment

  • C9 comeback win in triple OT vs FAZE
  • G2 beating RNG
  • KT vs IG Base Race
  • OG’s massive upset of LGD
  • SonicFox side switch against Go1 in DBZ

Content Creator of the Year

  • Dr. Lupo
  • Myth
  • Ninja
  • Pokimane
  • Willyrex

Favorite Moment of 2017

  • Carol Shaw (Industry Icon)
  • The Game Awards Orchestra (Performance)
  • Hideo Kojima and Guillermo del Toro (Moment)
  • Josef Fares (A Way Out)
  • Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Game of the Year)

No matter which games end up on top, it’ll be a great show. The Game Awards are on their fifth year and each year has proven better than the last. Of course, there are some kinks that need to be worked out, like the awkward advertisements and sponsors, but overall the show is a much needed opportunity for the entire industry to get together and celebrate the things we love. 

The Game Awards will be streamed live on December 6. You can cast your votes here.

What do you think of the nominees? Will Red Dead Redemption 2 sweep the show? Will God of War get the recognition it deserves? Be sure to let us know what you think about The Game Awards down below.

Tetris Effect Review

The Tetris Effect is a phenomenon in which people who had been exposed to Tetris for a prolonged period of time began to see the game everywhere. They’d find themselves thinking about how things in the real world, like boxes on a store shelf, would fit together. They’d see falling tetrominoes when they’d close their eyes. They’d even have dreams about the game.

Tetsuya Mizuguchi is a Japanese game designer known for creating puzzle games with entrancing sounds and mesmerizing visuals. His two most notable titles are the PSP puzzler Lumines and psychedelic rail-shooter Rez. So what do you get when one of the greatest puzzle game designers of our time puts his own unique spin on the most legendary puzzle game ever made? You get the best version of Tetris I’ve ever played.

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Tetris Effect is, at its core, just Tetris. For the three of you who aren’t familiar with Tetris, blocks called tetrominoes fall down, and your job is to create lines of them so they disappear, because it’s game over if they reach the top of the screen.

What separates this version of the game from the hundreds of others are the sights and sounds. Tetris Effect is just as much a game as it is an audiovisual experience. While it may initially just seem like Tetris with a visualizer, you’ll quickly realize that Tetris Effect’s audio, graphics, and vibrations create a hypnotic experience that adds to an already addictive foundation. Bright colors, trippy visuals, catchy music, and a controller that vibrates to the beat really pull you into a truly unique space.

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Tetris Effect has two core components: Journey Mode and Effects Modes. Journey Mode is the game’s campaign, a “voyage of emotion and discovery” as the game calls it. Now, there was definitely some emotion and definitely some discovery in my time with Journey Mode, and I’m still trying to process it all. Each of the campaign’s 7 areas are comprised of 4 or 5 loosely connected Tetris boards with a simliar theme. There’s no plot, but it is quite an experience though. It lasts maybe 2 hours, but that’s not necessarily a big deal here. The gameplay is what matters, and there’s enough replayability here because it’s Tetris (and there’s also a lot more gameplay in the Effects Modes, more on that later). Journey Mode is less of a campaign and more of an interactive album, and a really good one at that. The music gets stuck in your head and makes you want to replay certain boards. The particle effect heavy visuals are stunning, especially in 4K HDR. This is like staring at a Windows visualizer from 2007 but on crack.

Journey Mode also lets you activate the zone, a new mechanic introduced with this entry of the series. By clearing lines and chaining combos, you fill up a zone meter, which can be activated by pressing R2. Upon doing so, time freezes and you can clear as many lines as you want, even more than the four required for a traditional Tetris. With the help of the zone and some smart planning, you can clear 16+ lines, netting you a Decahextris and a huge score bonus. Sadly, zone is only available in Journey Mode.

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The Effects Modes are where the meat of Tetris Effect’s content really is. This is where you’ll spend most of your time with the game, playing with various game modes and modifiers and earning unlocks through the game’s pretty basic progression system. You have your classic modes like marathon, but there are a lot of new fun and different game types to try out like Purify, a mode in which you have to clear lines to combat an infection. The main gimmick of the Effects Modes is that there are game types to match one of four moods: Adventurous, Classic, Relax, and Focus. Each mood offers a drastically different pace with objectives to match. Focus modes are timed and lightning quick, while chill modes go on for a while and let you soak in the atmosphere. There are also weekly events where players around the globe compete in one of the four moods and work together to fill a ridiculously large global point quota. Each mood provides enough variety for even the longest Tetris Effect play sessions to not get stale.

It’s hard to overstate just how impactful Tetris Effect’s visuals really are. They’re absolutely gorgeous and they look even better in motion. While they look fantastic on a 2D screen, they look phenomenal in VR. Yes, Tetris Effect features PSVR functionality. The full game is playable wearing the headset, and it adds so much to the experience. The PSVR headset in this case acts as headphones for your eyes. That, in combination with the actual headphones that you wear on your ears, completely sucks you into the action, and it’s a hallucinogenic trip that should be experienced by everyone.

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There’s just something about Tetris Effect that has gripped me and refuses to let go. It takes what is essentially a perfect game that could already be played for hours on end and somehow makes it even better. It’s a love letter to a game so many of us cherish, and it compromises so little in terms of gameplay and presentation. It marries both of these so effectively, so elegantly that it’s almost impossible to put down once you start playing. It’s a masterpiece of the puzzle genre, and you should definitely not skip it because it’s “just Tetris”. It’s a celebration of Tetris. It’s fun, it’s addicting, and, both visually and mechanically, it’s captivatingly beautiful.

Final Score: 10

 

The Best Detective Game I’ve Ever Played

I love detective games. From LA Noire to the Sherlock Holmes games to Her Story, anytime there’s a digital mystery to be solved, you’d better believe I’ll be the first one to pick up a controller and start looking for clues. Return of the Obra Dinn is the follow up to 2013 indie darling Papers, Please, and it’s captivating, time-bending story and puzzles easily make it the most compelling mystery I’ve ever tried my hand at solving.

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The first thing most people notice about Return of the Obra Dinn is its striking art direction. Solo developer Lucas Pope wanted to employ a 1-bit graphical style similar to old Macintosh computers, and the result is a game that looks unlike anything else on the market right now, favoring a unique visual flair over photorealism and millions of polygons. Although Return of the Obra Dinn has a simple approach to graphical fidelity, it is not a game with lighthearted subject matter in the slightest. People get shot, people get blown up, people get ripped apart. There’s a lot of death and violence in Return of the Obra Dinn, and it’s incredibly detailed for a game that looks like this.

Death plays a key role in this game’s narrative. A ship by the name of Obra Dinn arrives back at port with it’s all 60 of its passengers and crew either dead or missing. You play as an investigator who has been tasked with finding out what happened aboard the Obra Dinn. You bring a log with you, filled with the names, nationalities, and professions of everyone aboard, a map of the ship’s layout, and sketches of the crew. As you step onto the ship you’ll find that there’s not a lot of corpses and a whole lot of “what do I do?” That’s where Return of the Obra Dinn’s central mechanic comes into play: the Memento Mortem.

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Memento Mortem is the fancy name for the stopwatch that you’re given to aid you in uncovering the story of the Obra Dinn. This watch allows you to go up to any body and relive its last moments. You can hear the dialogue and sounds leading up to death, but all you get to see is the actual moment of death. After viewing one person’s final moments, the watch will reveal a new body somewhere else on the ship. This, in combination with the log, will help you ultimately identify all 60 passengers of the Obra Dinn and determine their fates. After a simple tutorial explaining how the watch works, you’re left to your devices. Unlike most other detective games, there is no hand holding. There are no tooltips. You get no help. And this is why Return of the Obra Dinn excels.

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Finding out what happened aboard the Obra Dinn initially seems like gargantuan task. You have the names of 60 people and sketches of the crew, but names aren’t tied to sketches, and nobody’s alive to tell you who’s who. To make things worse, not only do you have to identify each person, but also what and who killed each person, along with all the details. For example, if someone was shot, be prepared to say with what, whether it be a gun, cannon, or some other weapon. To complicate things even further, Return of the Obra Dinn’s story is told out of order, and people rarely address each other by name in the watch flashbacks. Some scenes also feature multiple people having simultaneous conversations, so unless you’ve matched a voice to a face, you’ll have to dig deeper to find out who’s saying what. In essence, Return of the Obra Dinn is one huge logic puzzle, and a highly entertaining one at that.

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While mechanically simple, Return of the Obra Dinn has puzzles than continue to surprise me with their depth. One time I identified someone based off their accent. Another time I had to trace bullet trails to find out which one dealt the killing blow. One flashback put me behind a wall with small windows, obscuring the action and forcing me to get creative with my viewing angles. The less you know about Return of the Obra Dinn going in, the better. You want to take your time with this game and go in as blind as possible.

Return of the Obra Dinn starts out simple, almost deceptively so. Then it hits you with a shocking moment that turns everything you thought you knew about the ship on its head. Then it does it again. And again. Return of the Obra Dinn is fantastic at subverting expectations and throwing a wrench into things when you’re were certain you had it all figured out. It forces you to think, and it’s incredibly satisfying to correctly identify a crew member. It’s a game full of cross referencing and eureka moments, but most importantly of all: it makes me feel like a real detective.

Final Score: 9.5

Return of the Obra Dinn is available now on Steam for Windows and Mac.

 

 

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Will Soon Be Playable at Store Kiosks

A playable demo of the highly anticipated Super Smash Bros. Ultimate will soon be available at Best Buy Nintendo Switch kiosks.

In response to Twitter user @ChaseJ_T, Best Buy confirmed that a Super Smash Bros. Ultimate demo would be rolling out to their store kiosks very soon. Eager fans have already flocked to Best Buy stores to see if the kiosk had been updated with the demo, but very few stores had it installed. It should be available within the week, and although it’s very likely, it’s unknown if it will be available at other stores.

The demo reportedly features the entire roster of fighters, including the newly revealed Ken and Incineroar.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate will be released on December 7, 2018 for exclusively for Nintendo Switch.