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tons of ideas for little builders – TechCrunch

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The holiday season is here again, touting all sorts of kids’ toys that pledge to pack ‘STEM smarts’ in the box, not just the usual battery-based fun.

Educational playthings are nothing new, of course. But, in recent years, long time toymakers and a flurry of new market entrants have piggybacked on the popularity of smartphones and apps, building connected toys for even very young kids that seek to tap into a wider ‘learn to code’ movement which itself feeds off worries about the future employability of those lacking techie skills.

Whether the lofty educational claims being made for some of these STEM gizmos stands the test of time remains to be seen. Much of this sums to clever branding. Though there’s no doubt a lot of care and attention has gone into building this category out, you’ll also find equally eye-catching price-tags.

Whatever STEM toy you buy there’s a high chance it won’t survive the fickle attention spans of kids at rest and play. (Even as your children’s appetite to be schooled while having fun might dash your ‘engineer in training’ expectations.) Tearing impressionable eyeballs away from YouTube or mobile games might be your main parental challenge — and whether kids really need to start ‘learning to code’ aged just 4 or 5 seems questionable.

Buyers with high ‘outcome’ hopes for STEM toys should certainly go in with their eyes, rather than their wallets, wide open. The ‘STEM premium’ can be steep indeed, even as the capabilities and educational potential of the playthings themselves varies considerably.

At the cheaper end of the price spectrum, a ‘developmental toy’ might not really be so very different from a more basic or traditional building block type toy used in concert with a kid’s own imagination, for example.

While, at the premium end, there are a few devices in the market that are essentially fully fledged computers — but with a child-friendly layer applied to hand-hold and gamify STEM learning. An alternative investment in your child’s future might be to commit to advancing their learning opportunities yourself, using whatever computing devices you already have at home. (There are plenty of standalone apps offering guided coding lessons, for example. And tons and tons of open source resources.)

For a little DIY STEM learning inspiration read this wonderful childhood memoir by TechCrunch’s very own John Biggs — a self-confessed STEM toy sceptic.

It’s also worth noting that some startups in this still youthful category have already pivoted more toward selling wares direct to schools — aiming to plug learning gadgets into formal curricula, rather than risking the toys falling out of favor at home. Which does lend weight to the idea that standalone ‘play to learn’ toys don’t necessarily live up to the hype. And are getting tossed under the sofa after a few days’ use.

We certainly don’t suggest there are any shortcuts to turn kids into coders in the gift ideas presented here. It’s through proper guidance — plus the power of their imagination — that the vast majority of children learn. And of course kids are individuals, with their own ideas about what they want to do and become.

The increasingly commercialized rush towards STEM toys, with hundreds of millions of investor dollars being poured into the category, might also be a cause for parental caution. There’s a risk of barriers being thrown up to more freeform learning — if companies start pushing harder to hold onto kids’ attention in a more and more competitive market. Barriers that could end up dampening creative thinking.

At the same time (adult) consumers are becoming concerned about how much time they spend online and on screens. So pushing kids to get plugged in from a very early age might not feel like the right thing to do. Your parental priorities might be more focused on making sure they develop into well rounded human beings — by playing with other kids and/or non-digital toys that help them get to know and understand the world around them, and encourage using more of their own imagination.

But for those fixed on buying into the STEM toy craze this holiday season, we’ve compiled a list of some of the main players, presented in alphabetical order, rounding up a selection of what they’re offering for 2018, hitting a variety of price-points, product types and age ranges, to present a market overview — and with the hope that a well chosen gift might at least spark a few bright ideas…


Adafruit Kits

Product: Metro 328 Starter Pack 
Price: $45
Description: Not a typical STEM toy but a starter kit from maker-focused and electronics hobbyist brand Adafruit. The kit is intended to get the user learning about electronics and Arduino microcontrollers to set them on a path to being a maker. Adafruit says the kit is designed for “everyone, even people with little or no electronics and programming experience”. Though parental supervision is a must unless you’re buying for a teenager or mature older child. Computer access is also required for programming the Arduino.

Be sure to check out Adafruit’s Young Engineers Category for a wider range of hardware hacking gift ideas too, from $10 for a Bare Conductive Paint Pen, to $25 for the Drawdio fun pack, to $35 for this Konstruktor DIY Film Camera Kit or $75 for the Snap Circuits Green kit — where budding makers can learn about renewable energy sources by building a range of solar and kinetic energy powered projects. Adafruit also sells a selection of STEM focused children’s books too, such as Python for Kids ($35)
Age: Teenagers, or younger children with parental supervision


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Anki

Product: Cozmo
Price: $180
Description: The animation loving Anki team added a learn-to-code layer to their cute, desktop-mapping bot last year — called Cozmo Code Lab, which was delivered via free update — so the cartoonesque, programmable truck is not new on the scene for 2018 but has been gaining fresh powers over the years.

This year the company has turned its attention to adults, launching a new but almost identical-looking assistant-style bot, called Vector, that’s not really aimed at kids. That more pricey ($250) robot is slated to be getting access to its code lab in future, so it should have some DIY programming potential too.
Age: 8+


Dash Robotics

Product: Kamigami Jurassic World Robot
Price: ~$60
Description: Hobbyist robotics startup Dash Robotics has been collaborating with toymaker Mattel on the Kamigami line of biologically inspired robots for over a year now. The USB-charged bots arrive at kids’ homes in build-it-yourself form before coming to programmable, biomimetic life via the use of a simple, icon-based coding interface in the companion app.

The latest addition to the range is dinosaur bot series Jurassic World, currently comprised of a pair of pretty similar looking raptor dinosaurs, each with light up eyes and appropriate sound effects. Using the app kids can complete challenges to unlock new abilities and sounds. And if you have more than one dinosaur in the same house they can react to each other to make things even more lively.
Age: 8+


Kano

Product: Harry Potter Coding Kit
Price: $100
Description: British learn-to-code startup Kano has expanded its line this year with a co-branded, build-it-yourself wand linked to the fictional Harry Potter wizard series. The motion-sensitive e-product features a gyroscope, accelerometer, magnetometer and Bluetooth wireless so kids can use it to interact with coding content on-screen. The company offers 70-plus challenges for children to play wizard with, using wand gestures to manipulate digital content. Like many STEM toys it requires a tablet or desktop computer to work its digital magic (iOS and Android tablets are supported, as well as desktop PCs including Kano’s Computer Kit Touch, below)
Age: 6+

Product: Computer Kit Touch
Price: $280
Description: The latest version of Kano’s build-it-yourself Pi-powered kids’ computer. This year’s computer kit includes the familiar bright orange physical keyboard but now paired with a touchscreen. Kano reckons touch is a natural aid to the drag-and-drop, block-based learn-to-code systems it’s putting under kids’ fingertips here. Although its KanoOS Pi skin does support text-based coding too, and can run a wide range of other apps and programs — making this STEM device a fully fledged computer in its own right
Age: 6-13


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Lego

Product: Boost Creative Toolbox
Price: $160
Description: Boost is Lego’s relatively recent foray into offering a simpler robotics and programming system aimed at younger kids vs its more sophisticated and expensive veteran Mindstorms creator platform (for 10+ year olds). The Boost Creative Toolbox is an entry point to Lego + robotics, letting kids build a range of different brick-based bots — all of which can be controlled and programmed via the companion app which offers an icon-based coding system.

Boost components can also be combined with other Lego kits to bring other not-electronic kits to life — such as its Stormbringer Ninjago Dragon kit (sold separately for $40). Ninjago + Boost means = a dragon that can walk and turn its head as if it’s about to breathe fire
Age: 7-12


littleBits

Product: Avengers Hero Inventor Kit
Price: $150
Description: This Disney co-branded wearable in kit form from the hardware hackers over at littleBits lets superhero-inspired kids snap together all sorts of electronic and plastic bits to make their own gauntlet from the Avengers movie franchise. The gizmo features an LED matrix panel, based on Tony Stark’s palm Repulsor Beam, they can control via companion app. There are 18 in-app activities for them to explore, assuming kids don’t just use amuse themselves acting out their Marvel superhero fantasies
Age: 8+

It’s worth noting that littleBits has lots more to offer — so if bringing yet more Disney-branded merch into your home really isn’t your thing, check out its wide range of DIY electronics kits, which cater to various price points, such as this Crawly Creature Kit ($40) or an Electronic Music Inventor Kit ($100), and much more… No major movie franchises necessary


Makeblock

Product: Codey Rocky
Price: $100
Description: Shenzhen-based STEM kit maker Makeblock crowdfunded this emotive, programmable bot geared towards younger kids on Kickstarter. There’s no assembly required, though the bot itself can transform into a wearable or handheld device for game playing, as Codey (the head) detaches from Rocky (the wheeled body).

Despite the young target age, the toy is packed with sophisticated tech — making use of deep learning algorithms, for example. While the company’s visual programming system, mBlock, also supports Python text coding, and allows kids to code bot movements and visual effects on the display, tapping into the 10 programmable modules on this sensor-heavy bot. Makeblock says kids can program Codey to create dot matrix animations, design games and even build AI and IoT applications, thanks to baked in support for voice, image and even face recognition… The bot has also been designed to be compatible with Lego bricks so kids can design and build physical add-ons too
Age: 6+

Product: Airblock
Price: $100
Description: Another programmable gizmo from Makeblock’s range. Airblock is a modular and programmable drone/hovercraft so this is a STEM device that can fly. Magnetic connectors are used for easy assembly of the soft foam pieces. Several different assembly configurations are possible. The companion app’s block-based coding interface is used for programming and controlling your Airblock creations
Age: 8+


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Ozobot

Product: Evo
Price: $100
Description: This programmable robot has a twist as it can be controlled without a child always having to be stuck to a screen. The Evo’s sensing system can detect and respond to marks made by marker pens and stickers in the accompanying Experience Pack — so this is coding via paper plus visual cues.

There is also a digital, block-based coding interface for controlling Evo, called OzoBlockly (based on Google’s Blockly system). This has a five-level coding system to support a range of ages, from pre-readers (using just icon-based blocks), up to a ‘Master mode’ which Ozobot says includes extensive low-level control and advanced programming features
Age: 9+


Pi-top


Product: Modular Laptop
Price: $320 (with a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+), $285 without
Description: This snazzy 14-inch modular laptop, powered by Raspberry Pi, has a special focus on teaching coding and electronics. Slide the laptop’s keyboard forward and it reveals a built in rail for hardware hacking. Guided projects designed for kids include building a music maker and a smart robot. The laptop runs pi-top’s learn-to-code oriented OS — which supports block-based coding programs like Scratch and kid-friendly wares like Minecraft Pi edition, as well as its homebrew CEEDUniverse: A Civilization style game that bakes in visual programming puzzles to teach basic coding concepts. The pi-top also comes with a full software suite of more standard computing apps (including apps from Google and Microsoft). So this is no simple toy. Not a new model for this year — but still a compelling STEM machine
Age: 8+


Robo Wunderkind


Product: Starter Kit
Price: $200 
Description: Programmable robotics blocks for even very young inventors. The blocks snap together and are color-coded based on function so as to minimize instruction for the target age group. Kids can program their creations to do stuff like drive, play music, detect obstacles and more via a drag-and-drop coding interface in the companion Robo Code app. Another app — Robo Live — lets them control what they’ve built in real time. The physical blocks can also support Lego-based add-ons for more imaginative designs
Age: 5+


Root Robotics

Product: Root
Price: $200
Description: A robot that can sense and draw, thanks to a variety of on board sensors, battery-powered kinetic energy and its central feature: A built-in pen holder. Root uses spirographs as the medium for teaching STEM as kids get to code what the bot draws. They can also create musical compositions with a scan and play mode that turns Root into a music maker. The companion app offers three levels of coding interfaces to support different learning abilities and ages. At the top end it supports programming in Swift (with Python and JavaScript slated as coming soon). An optional subscription service offers access to additional learning materials and projects to expand Root’s educational value
Age: 4+


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Sphero


Product: Bolt
Price: $150
Description: The app-enabled robot ball maker’s latest STEM gizmo. It’s still a transparent sphere but now has an 8×8 LED matrix lodged inside to expand the programmable elements. This colorful matrix can be programmed to display words, show data in real-time and offer game design opportunities. Bolt also includes an ambient light sensor, and speed and direction sensors, giving it an additional power up over earlier models. The Sphero Edu companion app supports drawing, Scratch-style block-based and JavaScript text programming options to suit different ages
Age: 8+


Tech Will Save Us

Product: Range of coding, electronics and craft kits
Price: From ~$30 up to $150
Description: A delightful range of electronic toys and coding kits, hitting various age and price-points, and often making use of traditional craft materials (which of course kids love). Examples include a solar powered moisture sensor kit ($40) to alert when a pot plant needs water; electronic dough ($35); a micro:bot add-on kit ($35) that makes use of the BBC micro:bit device (sold separately); and the creative coder kit ($70), which pairs block-based coding with a wearable that lets kids see their code in action (and reacting to their actions)
Age: 4+, 8+, 11+ depending on kit


UBTech Robotics

Product: JIMU Robot BuilderBots Series: Overdrive Kit
Price: $120
Description: More snap-together, codable robot trucks that kids get to build and control. These can be programmed either via posing and recording, or using Ubtech’s drag-and-drop, block-based Blockly coding program. The Shenzhen-based company, which has been in the STEM game for several years, offers a range of other kits in the same Jimu kit series — such as this similarly priced UnicornBot and its classic MeeBot Kit, which can be expanded via the newer Animal Add-on Kit
Age: 8+


Wonder Workshop

Product: Dot Creativity Kit 
Price: $80
Description: San Francisco-based Wonder Workshop offers a kid-friendly blend of controllable robotics and DIY craft-style projects in this entry-level Dot Creativity Kit. Younger kids can play around and personalize the talkative connected device. But the startup sells a trio of chatty robots all aimed at encouraging children to get into coding. Next in line there’s Dash ($150), also for 6+ year olds. Then Cue ($200) for 11+. The startup also has a growing range of accessories to expand the bots’ (programmable) functionality — such as this Sketch Kit ($40) which adds a few arty smarts to Dash or Cue.

With Dot, younger kids play around using a suite of creative apps to control and customize their robot and tap more deeply into its capabilities, with the apps supporting a range of projects and puzzles designed to both entertain them and introduce basic coding concepts
Age: 6+


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Mario Party Superstars is the “Greatest Hits album” the series deserves

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Enlarge / “Yeah, Waliuigi time!”

Since the Mario Party series launched in 1998 on the N64, it has played host to over 1,000 mini-games spread across 15 titles (depending on how you count). The question behind Mario Party Superstars on the Switch is whether you can find 100 of those mini-games that are actually good.

The answer is a resounding yes. By focusing on the best and most enduring mini-game design from over two decades, Superstars is probably the most consistently enjoyable game in the series’ long run. But if you’re not already on board with Mario Party‘s slow pace and heavy reliance on luck, there’s nothing here that will change your mind.

Better to be lucky than to be good

Mario Party Superstars is a game dripping with nostalgia, from the music and sound effects to the menu screen drawn straight from the first game. The structure of the main game is completely unchanged as well. Four human or computer-controlled players take turns rolling a 10-sided die to move around a board, trying to pass spots where they can buy the stars needed to win the game. After everyone has rolled, all four players face off in a mini-game where they can earn coins that can be used to buy stars or items that can help them or hinder others.

The Switch's graphical power means this level looks more scrumptious than ever.
Enlarge / The Switch’s graphical power means this level looks more scrumptious than ever.

Nintendo has made some strong choices for the five available classic boards, which come from the N64 editions of the game. The options offer a full range of complexity, from the basic “walk in a circle” of Yoshi’s Tropical Island to the constantly branching paths of Woody Woods to the complicated day-night cycle of Horror Land. Series fans will get a kick out of seeing these classic boards fully upgraded for the HD era, too—Peach’s birthday cake, in particular, is a mouth-watering visual splendor compared to the unappetizing low-res polygons of the N64 original.

Nintendo has thrown in some small quality-of-life improvements to help the slow pace of moving around these boards, too. You can now fast-forward through cut-scene animations, for instance, and you don’t have to watch as computer players compete in mini-games and item games without any human intervention. “Fast” options for movement speed and text mean you can also blow through a lot of the tedious waiting for your turn to come around, especially when playing against multiple computer opponents (you can also throw some emoji-style Mario-themed stickers on the screen to pass the time in between turns).

But none of these improvements changes the core gameplay of Mario Party, which, for good or ill, is still heavily dependent on luck. Sure, there is some basic strategy involved in navigating the boards skillfully, especially when it comes to deciding when to buy and use items to their best effect. And yes, winning more coins from mini-games still has a decent correlation with doing well in the overall match.

Still, a huge portion of the outcome of a Mario Party Superstars match depends on nothing more than rolls of the dice and the huge swings that can come from landing on certain spaces. No matter how skillfully you play, there’s often nothing you can do to prevent a lucky player from reaching a star before you. You can’t always avoid landing on a coin-sapping Bowser space or encountering a Chance Time space that transfers your hard-earned stars to another player in one fell swoop.

Horror Land is one of the more skill-based boards in the game, but in the end, it still comes down to luck.
Enlarge / Horror Land is one of the more skill-based boards in the game, but in the end, it still comes down to luck.

With the right group of friends (and possibly the right beverages), it’s possible to let go and accept this chaos, laughing and cringing along with your playmates as the whims of chance affect your fates. If you want a game that directly rewards skillful play relative to your opponents, though, Mario Party is still the last place you should look.

Maximum mini-games

In most Mario Party titles, every random mini-game selection meant waiting to see if you would end up with a fun, well-designed option or a tedious time-waster. Mario Party Superstars largely avoids this problem, removing most of the tedium by picking the cream of the crop for a veritable Greatest Hits album of previous games’ mini-game selections.

There are still a small handful of mini-games that are completely dependent on luck, amounting to a coin flip drawn out over a couple of minutes. And there are a few more that measure nothing but how fast you can mash a button or two, a tedious exercise in the best of circumstances.

Jumping up this vine might be simple, but it still rewards skill and focus.
Enlarge / Jumping up this vine might be simple, but it still rewards skill and focus.
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We test GeForce Now’s new “3080” upgrade, discover unmatched cloud-gaming power

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Enlarge / GeForce Now works on all of these devices. But you’ll want to double check whether your ideal combination of hardware, screen, and Ethernet connection will get you up to either 1440p resolution and 120 fps, or 2160p resolution and 60 fps. If so, GeForce Now’s new 3080 subscription tier might be perfect for you.

Nvidia

The prospect of buying a reasonable new GPU in 2021 remains a crapshoot, and that says nothing about your hopes of buying a higher-end option anywhere near MSRP values. In a chip-shortage universe, there’s not a ton we can do to change this unfortunate reality, outside of asking greedy cryptominers to please donate their high-end GPUs to people who want to play games with the things.

For some people, cloud gaming might be a good alternative. This concept lets gamers connect their much weaker hardware (netbooks, set-top boxes) to supercomputer farms. So long as they can maintain a decent broadband connection and endure hits to button-tap latency (and bandwidth overages), they can, on paper, expect higher-end gaming. But so far, we haven’t seen impressive computing power in that marketplace. Stadia in particular launched as a woefully underpowered service, while the biggest PC-centric cloud option, Nvidia GeForce Now, has a mix of power limitations and usability frustrations.

This week, Nvidia moves forward with its most intriguing cloud-gaming service upgrade yet: GeForce Now 3080, named after its powerful RTX 3080 GPUs. Preorders for that service are now officially live, and depending on your willingness to compromise, you might want to look into it.

We’ve tested its pre-release version for the past week, and the results have, quite frankly, been dreamy. This $198/year service tier works on two fronts: it opens up connections to more powerful Nvidia servers, and it unlocks more options on the local end for anyone using the service. The result is a white-hot stunner that rivals the computing power you can muster with a locally owned RTX 3080 Ti.

How GeForce Now fits into the stream-iverse

The catch, of course, is that GeForce Now is still the most unwieldy cloud-gaming option on the market. To its credit, the service is also the most flexible and storefront-agnostic.

Thus, before I get to the best parts of Nvidia’s new “GeForce Now 3080” option—its faster performance, its higher maximum resolution, and its higher maximum frame rate—I should set the stage for how the service works and compares to its contemporaries, so bear with me.

Most cloud-gaming services demand that you rely on their store ecosystems in one way or another. You can only play games on Google Stadia if you buy those games’ Stadia-exclusive versions (or access freebies via the paid Stadia Pro subscription service). If you want to stream games within Xbox Game Streaming, you have to pay for Xbox Game Pass Ultimate, and you can only stream that service’s selection of approximately 200 games—as opposed to additional Xbox games you individually purchase. And Amazon Luna offers a variety of “channels,” each with individual costs and unique content, that you can pick and stack the same way you might do with video-streaming subscription services.

The cost of GeForce Now, conversely, has nothing to do with games you might buy or borrow and everything to do with the Nvidia hardware you’re leasing in the cloud. In some ways, GeForce Now is just a cloud computer that you can use as you see fit. When you use GeForce Now, you log into other storefronts on its server farm, load games you’ve already purchased, and play them using their profiles and save files. Nvidia’s cloud-gaming service doesn’t care where or how you buy games. It just wants to power them.

One big catch, however, is that some game publishers do not allow Nvidia to stream their games. (Remember: when you buy a game via an online storefront, you’re only paying for access to a license. This, among other things, means publishers can yank your access around in exactly this way.) Upon the service’s 2019 launch, Nvidia was forced to remove games that it originally supported after certain publishers cried foul—particularly games from Activision Blizzard’s Battle.net service. In good news, over time, many more games have been added to the service from the following storefronts, now totaling a little over 1,100 games:

  • Steam
  • Epic Games Store
  • Ubisoft Connect
  • EA Origin

Up until this week, GeForce Now only had two tiers: $98/year or free. The latter includes performance downgrades and required waits in server queues, so if too many people are using the service, you have to wait behind paying customers. That free option is a decent way to basically confirm that your ideal streaming device—a smartphone, a set-top box, or a weak netbook—can connect to the service and translate your gamepad taps or keyboard-and-mouse frenzies to cloud-streamed video games. But it’s not great for image quality or computing power.

RTX 3080 tier wins, even at a higher resolution

The paid version, meanwhile, includes rudimentary “Nvidia RTX” support. Its server instances include Nvidia’s proprietary GPU cores that are dedicated to ray tracing and Deep Learning Super-Sampling (DLSS), but only a few per instance, as powered by an RTX-upgraded variant of Nvidia’s Tesla T10 server-grade GPU. The results are generally powerful enough to get average, modern PC games up to a steady 1080p, 60 fps refresh, usually with a number of graphical bells and whistles enabled.

As I’ve previously attested, if you’re within the right geographic range of Nvidia’s servers and have a low-ping wired Ethernet connection, you can expect all-but-unflinching performance while playing with mouse-and-keyboard on a variety of shooters on the service. But 1080p resolution at 60 fps and medium settings is basically what the rest of the streaming fray offers. How much more juice can the same Nvidia app ecosystem muster, especially if Nvidia itself, manufacturer of so many high-end GPUs, applies its own hardware upgrade?

The best way to answer that is to let a few of its compatible games do the talking. These are the exact same PC versions of games that you might install on your own computer, after all, and some come with built-in benchmark sequences. Thus, I ran a few tests on the existing $98/year service, dubbed the “founders” tier, before Nvidia invited me to a pre-release test of the $198/year “3080” tier so I could compare the sheer power of both server options.

The above benchmarks for the computationally brutal Assassin’s Creed Valhalla (no ray tracing) and Watch Dogs Legion (substantial ray tracing) are explained in their captions. To summarize: all tests from the newer 3080 service tier are run at a higher 1440p resolution, yet they still soundly outpace the same tests run at a lower 1080p resolution on the service’s founders tier. Sadly, we couldn’t run these tests with a frame time chart attached, so we’re left with Ubisoft’s vague, squiggly line charts. Still, all of those benchmarks do come with crucial “lowest 1 percent” counts, and when those are higher (which they are, by a large margin, in the 3080 tier), you can expect fewer frame time stutters and refresh rate dips.

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Pixar’s Lightyear turns Buzz into a non-toy astronaut—with new voice—in 2022

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Enlarge / Coming in June 2022 to “theaters.”

While nobody was necessarily asking for an origin story film about Toy Story character Buzz Lightyear, the combined powers of Disney and Pixar sure seem intent on making such a concept look as appealing and epic as possible. Seriously: if you think the concept sounds like a straight-to-VHS cash-in on paper, we strongly encourage that you watch Wednesday’s dramatic reveal of Lightyear, coming “to theaters” (and no mention of Disney+ thus far) on June 17, 2022.

The film’s debut 90-second trailer, embedded below, skips over the important context found in its “read more” crawl on YouTube, which suggests that the toy version of Buzz Lightyear, who was embraced by Toy Story‘s Andy as a toy, an animated series character, a video game star, and more, was based on someone else entirely. As Disney Pixar explains:

The sci-fi action-adventure presents the definitive origin story of Buzz Lightyear—the hero who inspired the toy—introducing the legendary Space Ranger who would win generations of fans.

However, this description doesn’t clarify whether the more realistic-looking version of Lightyear in next year’s film is as real in the Toy Story version of Earth as characters like Andy (and that this version of our planet is patrolled by “Space Ranger” astronauts) or if this is another fictional story inside that world, from which more cartoonish Buzz Lightyear versions eventually followed. While waiting for Al “Chicken Man” McWhiggin to return our emails on the question, we instead found a definitive answer at Entertainment Weekly, whose reporter Nick Romano interviewed film director Angus MacLane on the matter.

“In the Toy Story universe, [Lightyear] would be like a movie that maybe Andy would have seen, that would have made him want a Buzz Lightyear figure,” MacLane explains to EW. In other words: it’s as if the Michael Keaton version of Batman came before the campier Adam West turn. (Also, if supersonic, interstellar space travel exists on Andy’s Earth, it has yet to be chronicled with definitive logic and science by Disney Pixar. We’ll keep waiting for that spinoff.)

Lightyear‘s premiere teaser emphasizes exploration and a variety of interstellar locales, since it’s otherwise mostly devoid of any dialogue—with the massive exception of new character voice actor Chris Evans (Captain America) offering an abbreviated blurt of “and…” at its conclusion. He says this to his apparent crewmate, a new character named Alicia Hawthorne, who begins the sentence with the familiar call-out of “to infinity.” As of press time, Hawthorne’s voice actor is uncredited—though throughout the trailer, we see this new character in both full Space Ranger regalia and in more subdued control-room garb, so she’s likely to figure largely in the final film.

If you’re looking for an epic sci-fi universe worthy of Andy’s childhood adoration, this trailer has it in spades. A swampy, Dagobah-like planet, which Lightyear examines with a rusty, bipedal droid at his side. A NASA-grade preparation, countdown, and launch sequence, punctuated by a mysterious power source being loaded into a spaceship. A hyperspeed blast of a one-man spacecraft toward and past an apparent version of Earth’s Sun. Lightyear’s eerie, lonely stare-down of a colonized, Mars-like planet while dressed in sweats. A harrowing dive through inky-black space, with the only light coming from his own deteriorating spaceship. And a creepy, talking robo-cat that Lightyear apparently befriends at some point but is clearly reluctant about.

The trailer is punctuated by arguably the 18 quadrillionth use of David Bowie’s “Starman” in a film trailer, albeit with its traditional guitars and percussion replaced by a full string section and thunderous drums. Today’s reveal caps off a vague mention that sneaked past a lot of fans in March of this year, when Disney’s massive slate of internal, Marvel, Pixar, Fox, and other studios’ films included a text-only blurb on something called “Lightyear” coming in June 2022. That’s apparently what this film is, though a ton of questions—particularly about connections to other fictional characters in the Buzz Lightyear toy-verse—will likely remain unanswered until the film gets closer to its theatrical launch.

Lightyear premiere trailer.

Listing image by Disney Pixar

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