Microsoft has finally revealed a $499 “estimated retail price” for its top-end Xbox Series X. That system will launch alongside the $299 Xbox Series S on November 10, the company confirmed this morning.
Microsoft is also expanding its existing “All Access” subscription program to give customers access to its next-gen hardware with no upfront cost. Qualifying players who commit to a $25/month subscription for the Series S (or $35/month for the Series X) for two years get the console as well as access to all the games available on Xbox Game Pass Ultimate (and its attendant xCloud streaming options).
That Game Pass subscription now also includes access to EA Play (previously known as EA Access/Origin Access), adding downloadable versions of 60 legacy titles from the publisher to the package.
A smaller, cheaper option
Following yesterday’s leak and Microsoft’s subsequent confirmation of the lower-end, next-gen Xbox Series S, today Microsoft is detailing the differences between its two next-gen boxes.
The primary difference between the two, Microsoft says, is resolution. While Series X games will be aiming at a “performance target” of 4K resolution at 60fps, the Series S will instead aim for 1440p games at the same frame rate (though some developers may opt for fewer frames). Microsoft says the Series S “delivers approximately 3x the GPU performance of Xbox One,” compared to an 8x relative boost for the Series X. Those ratios would translate to about 4.5 teraflops of GPU power on the Series S, for those keeping count of such things.
The CPUs on the Series S and X are “similar,” Microsoft says, while the I/O system behind the heavily touted “Velocity Architecture” is identical on both consoles, Microsoft says. But the Series S has only 512GB of fast-access storage built-in, compared to a full 1TB on the Series X (adding more fast storage is possible but could be quite expensive).
The Series S and Series X will both play the same games, including thousands of titles designed for older Xbox systems, Microsoft says. Games that can take particular advantage of the Series S/X hardware will be labeled as “optimized” for the new generation of consoles.
While Microsoft hasn’t detailed the physical dimensions of the Series S box yet, it is selling the disc-drive-free unit as “the smallest Xbox ever created” and “nearly 60% smaller” than the Series X. That could be a particularly savvy marketing move, considering the PlayStation 5 is shaping up to be among the largest home consoles ever created.
Preorders for the Xbox Series X will begin on September 22.
Traditionally, when Disney films skip theaters and go straight to video, it’s not a good sign. That’s changed somewhat now that the Disney+ content beast needs to be fed, yet the company still differentiates between “triple-A television” like The Mandalorian and “cheap, kid-friendly movies” like the Air Bud series.
Hence, today’s Disney+ premiere of Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers—a PG-rated reboot with little in the way of advance press screenings—had us assuming the worst, despite of its comedy pedigree. The Lonely Island (“Lazy Sunday,” “Mother Lover”) is all over the film’s credits, but how much of the group’s boundary-pushing Saturday Night Live work could survive the family-friendly demands of a straight-to-Disney+ launch?
I’m here with surprisingly good news. Chip ‘N Dale is a self-aware comedy romp that families will appreciate. What’s more, it knows exactly when and how to toy with ’80s and ’90s gaming, cartoon, and pop-culture references without losing character development and physical comedy.
Time-to-male-strippers: only a few minutes (but PG-rated, we swear)
The film is Disney’s best-ever hybrid of live action, CGI, and hand-drawn animation, with lead characters Chip (voiced by John Mulaney) and Dale (voiced by Andy Samberg) each offering different spins on modern animation. Chip combines 3D rendering with a cel-shaded filter, hand-drawn touches, and intentionally narrowed animation speeds in order to look like a living 2D cartoon, complete with tasteful touches of ambient occlusion and light-bounce rendering.
Dale, as part of a running gag in the film, has gotten “CGI surgery” and emerges as a fully 3D-rendered chipmunk. The film begins by zooming in on his disproportionate eyes and other uncanny-valley weirdness for comedic effect, but this quickly softens, and as the film barrels toward emotional, kid-friendly connections between the chipmunks, Dale eventually looks quite good, with his animated, glossy eyes standing out.
Mild spoilers ahead, but we’re being mindful of how easily spoiled some of the gags in this film are.
Samberg’s opening narration suggests that the phrase “Chip ‘N Dale” is likely to remind viewers of a few things—and it then flashes a PG-rated image of male strippers. The film’s script and visual gags do a masterful job of making similar above-kids’-heads references or blink-and-you’ll-miss-them jabs at the gaming and cartoon worlds.
The film’s most howl-worthy stuff skewers beloved Disney properties and Disney rivals alike. So much so, in fact, that I watched the entirety of the credits to see exactly who got thanked for allowing their biggest franchises to be either passive-aggressively mocked or outright, er, melted in this film. Though a few gags reach back to the earliest days of Disney’s film catalog, a majority will land for any parents in the room who grew up in the Gen-X or elder millennial camps. That’s probably not surprising for a film whose lead characters hail from the “Disney Afternoon Collection” of late ’80s characters. If you can imagine a cartoon that emerged or competed with Disney around that time, it’s likely to appear here in either obvious or subtle ways.
Mulaney and Samberg each double down on the archetypes of their two characters: Chip is brainy and assertive as a leader but also a stick-in-the-mud about pushing boundaries, while Dale favors impulsive and goofy solutions to serious problems, albeit while stomaching some raging insecurities. We get to see each lead character move on from early ’90s fame to their “adult” lives for the next 25 years or so before they’re forced to reunite. Their old castmate Monterrey Jack has crossed the wrong loan shark, and Chip and Dale decide to bury their decades-old feud to do some rescuing and rangering. (One of the plot threads has Mulaney’s Chip opining about Monterrey’s issues, and if you’re familiar with Mulaney’s real-life trials and tribulations, you may darkly chuckle the same way I did during these moments.)
Reaching comedic heights that Never Stop Never Stopping couldn’t
The film’s biggest gaming-related gags are already lighting up social media, which I’m bummed to see as I write this review, but even if you merely glance at one of the jokes in question, you can still look forward to how far the joke goes—and how hilariously the film zooms in on the gag in question. The same goes for the method by which the film’s villains rope in other pop-culture references, enabled by a clever mechanism that lets the film’s art team go nuts with surprise cameos.
But I’m the kind of cartoon watcher who thinks stuff like the Shrek series erred by too harshly skewering its cartoon contemporaries instead of establishing its own humor, jokes, and pacing. If you identify with that unease about meta-obsessive films, you’ll appreciate how well Chip ‘N Dale focuses its story on the relatable, uneven friendship between the lead chipmunks, with each sappy moment buoyed by adorable, scaled-for-critters environments and goofy humans-and-cartoons interplay. This film’s world is essentially a Roger Rabbit mix of humans and cartoons, only this time expanded to puppets, CGI creations, and more. Any time Chip ‘N Dale‘s momentum appears to stutter, the film offers up a dose of humor and whimsy.
The supporting cast is rounded out by an earnest human detective (KiKi Layne, If Beale Street Could Talk), a Gumby-like police chief (JK Simmons), and a few surprise antagonists (each hilariously voiced by the likes of Tim Robinson, Seth Rogen, Keegan-Michael Key, and more). It’s arguably here that The Lonely Island succeeds as filmmakers compared to their cult-classic comedies like Hot Rod and Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping. I’m a Lonely Island apologist, but even I’ll admit that those films focus too squarely on their central cast instead of spreading the humor out and developing more funny characters along the way.
By splitting the difference between formulaic Disney journeys and sardonic Lonely Island satires, and getting more comedic voices in on the gags, Chip ‘N Dale delivers something for everyone. Parents will arguably have more access points for laughs than their kids. Yet the film still has enough modern gags and timeless humor to keep kids from getting too stir-crazy as it builds towards a riotous conclusion—and if your kids have enjoyed live-action gaming films like Sonic The Hedgehog or Pokemon: Detective Pikachu, they should give this one a shot for sure.
Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers is now streaming exclusively on Disney+.
Last month, Hearthstone broke a long-standing precedent by selling a single cosmetic card upgrade for a whopping $25 (or a similar amount of in-game currency). Now that the expensive card’s power level is being scaled back, Blizzard is offering a generous refund to players who made that purchase—and it’s letting them keep the ultra-rare card, to boot.
Drek’Thar has been an extremely popular Hearthstone card since its release in December alongside the Fractured in Alterac Valley set. Thanks to the card’s ability to draw and summon two minions from your deck whenever cast (if your deck is constructed correctly), Drek’Thar was showing up in upward of 20 percent of all competitive decks this month, according to HSReplay.net statistics, and decks with the card were winning more than 60 percent of the time.
A diamond is forever
For months, Hearthstone players could find a Legendary Drek’Thar in regular packs, craft a copy by using in-game dust gained from excess cards, or earn a “free” Golden copy by completing various in-game quests. Starting April 5, though, Blizzard added a way to obtain a new version of Drek’Thar: pay $25 (or 3,000 in-game gold) to purchase an ultra-rare “Diamond” upgrade.
Diamond cards were first introduced in a late-March Hearthstone update as a purely cosmetic modification to existing cards. The ultra-rare Diamond versions, which come complete with custom animations, are targeted at hardcore collectors who want to show off the rarest and prettiest versions of their cards.
For the most part, players could obtain Diamond cards by completing quests on the game’s Tavern Pass Reward Track or by collecting full sets of other Legendary rarity cards. Drek’Thar was the exception, though; the only way to get the Diamond version of that card was to buy it with in-game gold or cold, hard cash during his April sales window.
Many players weren’t happy about that sales tactic, as exemplified by a popular Reddit thread full of complaints about perceived greed on Blizzard’s part. “It’d be one thing if you’d get multiple diamond cards, but for a single card, it is not even close enough to be worth 25 USD,” user prplehuskie13 wrote in a representative comment.
Sorry for the nerf—have some gold
Fast forward to Thursday, when Blizzard’s Hearthstone update 23.2.2 scaled back Drek’Thar’s in-game power level. Now, instead of summoning two additional minions, the card only summons one when cast. The change has led to an immediate reduction in Drek’Thar’s usage and win rates, according to HSReplay.
These kinds of nerfs are pretty common when a card becomes too dominant in the Hearthstone metagame. And when they happen, Blizzard offers affected players refunds in the form of in-game dust that can be used to craft other cards (while also letting players keep the newly nerfed cards in their collection).
For players who spent money on Diamond Drek’Thar, though, Blizzard is going the extra mile with its refund. “Any players who own Diamond Drek’Thar at the time that the patch goes live will automatically receive 3,000 Gold when they log in as a refund,” the company wrote.
That’s enough gold to buy 30 packs of cards, which would usually cost $35 to $40 if purchased in various bundles. And that refund is on top of the nerfed Diamond Drek’Thar itself, which players will get to keep as evidence of their conspicuous digital consumption.
While Blizzard stopped short of giving actual money back to players who spent $25 for a Diamond Drek’Thar, the in-game gold is a pretty generous bonus for those who made the investment. And who knows—maybe it will make those Hearthstone whales even more willing to throw money down on a single cosmetic card upgrade in the future.
The Hargreeves siblings return to 2019 only to find themselves caught in an alternate timeline where they were never adopted by their wealthy father in the official trailer for The Umbrella Academy S3. Instead, they must confront their alt-timeline counterparts, the Sparrow Academy, and ward off yet another apocalypse as they try, once again, to return home.
(Spoilers for first two seasons below.)
For those unfamiliar with the premise, in S1, billionaire industrialist Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore) adopted seven children out of 43 mysteriously born in 1989 to random women who had not been pregnant the day before. The children were raised at Hargreeves’ Umbrella Academy, with the help of a robot “mother” named Grace (Jordan Claire Robbins) and became a family of superheroes with special powers. But it was a dysfunctional arrangement, marred by the tragic death of one of the children, and the family members ultimately disbanded, only reuniting as adults when Hargreeves died. They soon learned that they had to team up to prevent a global apocalypse.
As I’ve written previously, S1 ended on a cliffhanger, after Vanya (Elliot Page) rediscovered his powers and destroyed the Moon with the acoustic energy he accumulated playing the violin in a concert at the Icarus Theater. As the Moon’s fragments rained down on Earth, marking the start of the apocalypse, Five (Aidan Gallagher) offered to bring his siblings back with him in time so they could once again try to avert the destruction of the world. The S1 finale ended with the group’s time jump.
But that jump didn’t go smoothly. The siblings landed in the early 1960s, but they all arrived at different times between 1960 and October 1963 in Dallas. Five landed on November 25, 1963, just in time to witness nuclear annihilation linked to the fact that history had been altered when the assassination of President John F. Kennedy did not occur. Five managed to travel back to 10 days before the nuclear apocalypse and track down the separated siblings, all of whom had built new lives for themselves.
The Umbrella Academy had to figure out how to avert the apocalypse while negotiating a deal with the Handler (Kate Walsh), head of the Commission, so they could return to their original timeline. They were also being pursued by a trio of Swedish assassins determined to wipe them out. And we learned that their adoptive father, Reginald Hargreeves, was actually an interdimensional being with some pretty devastating super powers of his own.
The siblings ultimately managed to travel back to 2019, only to find that the timeline had been altered. Hargreeves was still alive in this timeline and had adopted five different “gifted” children who made up the Sparrow Academy—one of whom was their deceased sibling Ben (Justin H. Min), who appeared in the first two seasons as a ghost who could only communicate through Klaus (Robert Sheehan). In the new timeline, Ben is very much alive and remembers nothing about the Umbrella Academy or his original siblings.
That’s quite a setup for S3. Per the official premise:
After putting a stop to 1963’s doomsday, the Umbrella Academy return home to the present, convinced they prevented the initial apocalypse and fixed this godforsaken timeline once and for all. But after a brief moment of celebration, they realize things aren’t exactly (okay, not at all) how they left them. Enter the Sparrow Academy. Smart, stylish, and about as warm as a sea of icebergs, the Sparrows immediately clash with the Umbrellas in a violent face-off that turns out to be the least of everyone’s concerns. Navigating challenges, losses, and surprises of their own—and dealing with an unidentified destructive entity wreaking havoc in the Universe (something they may have caused)—now all they need to do is convince Dad’s new and possibly better family to help them put right what their arrival made wrong. Will they find a way back to their pre-apocalyptic lives? Or is this new world about to reveal more than just a hiccup in the timeline?
We know that Vanya will come out as a transgender man, Viktor, in S3, mirroring Elliott Page’s own real-life transition. And it looks like Ritu Arya will be reprising her role as Lila, the late Handler’s adopted daughter (and Diego’s love interest) from 1963, who can mirror the powers of other gifted people. Ben’s fellow Sparrows in the new timeline are Marcus (Justin Cornwell), Fei (Britne Oldford), Alphonso (Jake Epstein), Sloane (Genesis Rodriguez), and Jayme (Cazzie David).
The trailer picks up where S2 left off, as the Umbrellas confront Reginald, who insists they don’t belong there, leading to the reveal of the Sparrows and Ben. “When we jumped here we created a time paradox,” Five explains. “Our little paradox brought forth the freaking Kugelblitz.” In physics, a kugelblitz is a black hole formed from radiation rather than matter. In the series, the Kugelblitz is a glowing cube that seems to be some kind of powerful weapon. It might just be turning into a black hole (if it isn’t one already), since it seems the paradox is swallowing everything up. That’s right, we’ve got another looming apocalypse on our hands, and only four or five days to save the world.
It’s good to see that the wry humor that raised S2 above its rather more dour freshman outing is intact. There’s the inevitable battle between Umbrellas and Sparrows, but perhaps they’ll decide to combine their gifts and work together, because apocalypse. There’s a great scene where Viktor tells Marcus that he’s not better than him. “I ended the world twice,” Viktor says. “And you? You’re just meat and spandex.” Burn!
We might meet the alternate versions of the Umbrellas in this new timeline, since even though they weren’t adopted by Hargreeves, they should still exist. And what should our originals do when they meet those other selves? Diego wants to kill that self, and Klaus wants to sleep with his counterpart. (“Oh, come on, as if you wouldn’t climb Luther Mountain,” he says when Luther objects.) Avoidance is the wisest course of action, which probably means nobody will take it.
And is that the Hotel Oblivion making an unexpected appearance, renamed the Hotel Obsidian? In the comics, the hotel is a tower on another planet, built by Hargreeves, that serves as a prison for all the criminals captured by the Umbrella Academy. It’s briefly mentioned in The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite and plays a major role in 2019’s The Umbrella Academy:Hotel Oblivion, in which a supervillain named Perseus X breaks out all the prisoners in 1980. We’ll have to see how much, if any, of this storyline will find its way into the series—it doesn’t look like the hotel is on another planet, and the name has been changed—but its presence here in an alternate timeline is intriguing.
The third season of The Umbrella Academy drops on Netflix on June 22, 2022.