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Tom Standage

A Game, a Gadget and an App

Be a kid – or a squid – with Splatoon. Plus Apple Music, and VR on the cheap 

Tom Standage | September/October 2015

A GAME Splatoon
The name says it all. Splatoon is an amazingly enjoyable online game from Nintendo in which two four-player teams compete to paint as much of the game world as possible in a particular colour. Splatting an enemy player with paint sends them back to their base, but the mood is playful rather than macho, more water pistols than “Call of Duty”. To add to the silliness, you can also turn into a squid and swim at high speed through the parts of the level painted in your team’s colour: “You’re a kid! You’re a squid! You’re a kid! You’re a squid!”, as an ad for the game puts it. The multi-player matchmaking works flawlessly, and even though you’ll mostly be playing with total strangers, Nintendo provides a safe environment for those wary of online gaming. Splatoon is not merely great fun — it’s also a reminder that, outside its venerable franchises, Nintendo can still innovate when it wants to.

Splatoon for Wii U: around £25

 

A GADGET Google Cardboard
When the Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset goes on sale in 2016, it is expected to cost around £1,000. This piece of cardboard turns your smartphone into a VR headset that’s about 75% as good, for 1% of the price, and it’s here today. Modern smartphones already contain the high-resolution screens and motion sensors needed for VR; indeed, it’s the march of the smartphone that has revived interest in VR, after it flopped in the 1990s. Download the free Google Cardboard and VRSE apps, slip your iOS or Android phone into the cardboard frame, and you can sample the emerging universe of VR content, strolling the streets of foreign cities in 3D or watching “Clouds over Sidra”, a moving VR documentary about a young Syrian refugee. It’s a bit like the web was in 1994: primitive, but promising.

Google Cardboard (different versions for different handsets): around £10

AN APP Apple Music
When Apple launched the iTunes Music Store in 2003, it was a pioneer: it was the first download service that actually worked, and it went on to dominate the digital music industry. But when it comes to streaming, Apple is a laggard. Now its new service, Apple Music, hopes to dethrone Spotify, the market leader. It offers 30m tracks in a Spotify-like celestial jukebox with streaming, playlisting, offline caching, the ability to follow artists, and so on. So far, I find it easier to navigate than Spotify. Apple Music also adds two new elements: a live, 24-hour, online radio station called Beats 1, a bold move by Apple to assert itself as a global tastemaker; and Connect, a social service that lets musicians share updates with fans who follow them. It’s all free until the end of September, but after that it will cost $9.99 a month, and unlike Spotify it doesn’t have a free version with ads. So the real test will come in October, when we Spotify subscribers will have to choose between the two. In the meantime, let the music play.

Apple Music for iPhone and iPad: free (for now)

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