Minecraft Earth’s closed beta: This augmented reality needs more augmenting

Minecraft Earth’s closed beta: This augmented reality needs more augmenting

Enlarge (credit: Mojang / Microsoft)

When Microsoft acquired Mojang, the maker of Minecraft, in 2014, we all feared the worst: a zillion cash-in video games. Turns out, Microsoft has been really smart about its Minecraft output in the past five years. Only one Minecraft-related game has launched since then (2015’s solid Minecraft Story Mode), and 2020’s Minecraft Dungeons felt ridiculously good to play at this year’s E3. (Plus, Mojang has been allowed to keep polishing the original game on every console and smartphone in the world, instead of turning into an Xbox-only studio. Whew.)

Thus, it wasn’t necessarily inevitable that Minecraft would get a clone to compete with every major gaming genre (no Super Steve Bros., no Minecraft Kart Racers). That got our hopes up for Minecraft Earth, Microsoft’s first salvo in the “augmented reality on phones” war, which was unveiled in May of

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Wizards Unite is a bloated, slow, Harry Potter-ified Pokémon Go

Wizards Unite is a bloated, slow, Harry Potter-ified Pokémon Go

Three years ago, Nintendo and Niantic released Pokémon Go, and the resulting game became an instant cultural phenomenon on hundreds of millions of mobile phones. In retrospect, the formula seems simple enough: combine a beloved children’s series with a wander-and-collect-with-your-phone gameplay hook, and everyone will fall in love, right?

This week, Niantic returns with an entirely new game, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, and it proves that the above formula isn’t necessarily an instant winner.

Wizards Unite tries to expand the Pokémon Go formula with a few new features and a completely new visual and gameplay theme. But its barrage of timers, currencies, missions, and screens full of text does something interesting: it proves in its failures how much more elegant and focused Pokémon Go really was. Getting this particular AR gaming formula right isn’t as simple

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There’s a new Minecraft game coming, and it’s played entirely in augmented reality

There’s a new Minecraft game coming, and it’s played entirely in augmented reality

Microsoft may believe it has made augmented reality’s killer app: the just-announced Minecraft Earth for iOS and Android.

AR on mobile devices may carry tremendous potential, but it’s easy enough to argue that the mainstream value proposition hasn’t arrived yet. Pokémon Go is probably the most oft-cited “killer app” for AR, but it’s only barely a true AR app. And there are some neat shopping apps and educational tools (from Warby Parker and Ikea, for example) but none of them have made a big dent in the mainstream consciousness.

Minecraft Earth

At first glance, Minecraft Earth seems a bit like Pokémon Go, given that it seems to be location aware in some ways. But there’s a bit more to it than that. Players will be able to construct builds on their living

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