The HyperX Alloy Origins Keyboard Offers a Great Metal Body at a Good Price

The HyperX Alloy Origins keyboard
Michael Crider

The mechanical keyboard market is in a weird place now, with everything from $250 cloud-connected overkill to $30 knock-offs available. The HyperX Alloy Origins isn’t cheap or fancy, but it nails the basics in a great package.

As a gaming-focused board that includes RGB lighting and HyperX’s new, customized linear switches, the Alloy Origins isn’t trying to reinvent the wheel. But thanks to its aluminum body, solid key setup, and excellent value, it gets an easy recommendation even from a picky keyboard nut like me. Grab one if you’re looking for a full-sized board that’s a cut above the competition in its price range.

You Can’t Kill the Metal

The Alloy series of keyboards are made out of…wait for it…metal. Older models were made of steel, which is, in fact, an alloy. This one is made of aluminum, which is not. (HyperX’s marketing calls it “aircraft-grade aluminum,” which is a loose industry term, but probably indicates an alloy with magnesium and other metals.) So, that’s fun.

The Alloy Origins from the side
The body looks like someone stuck a bunch of key switches on a MacBook. Michael Crider

But don’t let the use of a lighter and more brittle material fool you: the Alloy Origins has a damn fine body. With a matte black finish and a single seam along the edges, it feels kind of like a closed Macbook with a bunch of keys sticking out of the top. It’s also surprisingly compact for a full-sized board (that means it has the 10-key area on the right), with only about a quarter-inch of the body sticking out on any one side.

Two shots of the keyboard's two-stage feet
Two different feet options raise the keyboard to 7 or 11 degrees. Michael Crider

Flip the body over, and you’ll see that the bottom is made of plastic. It’s hard to tell at first—it’s a very nice plastic, with a texture and color that’s perfectly matched to the top, but I suspect going full-body would have made this board both too expensive and too heavy. You’ll also see collapsible feet, which can be deployed in two stages: seven-degree and eleven-degree. This is a nice detail that I wouldn’t expect to see on a board in this price range.

a shot of the USB-C cable, removed from the keyboard's C port
The keyboard uses a USB-C cable because it’s 2019, and that’s what you’re supposed to do. Michael Crider

The only other notable feature of the board is the USB cable. It’s braided (yes!), detachable for easy management (yes!), and USB-C (YES YES YES). Do you see a theme here? This is all nice stuff that’s sometimes skipped on gaming-focused keyboards in this range.

Switches and Caps are Just Okay

HyperX is making a big deal about its self-branded mechanical switches, as opposed to the standard Cherry-branded switches on previous models. Our review board comes with HyperX Red switches (linear, no click or bump), which is generally preferred for gaming. Aqua (tactile) and Clicky (blue-ish, but no official color given) switches will be available in 2020.

The keyboard with caps removed and switches exposed.
The keyboard uses HyperX’s self-branded red switches. Michael Crider

These switches are almost certainly coming from a third-party supplier like Kailh or Outemu, and are probably one of the factors keeping the price down on this board. And they’re fine. They feel light and smooth—nothing amazing, but they’re comparable to Red linear switches from other suppliers. They use a standard cross stem with no box and are compatible with any standard keycaps.

The caps supplied on the board are…well, they’re keycaps. ABS plastic is nothing special (compare them to the more premium-feeling PBT plastic on some boards), and they suffer from the stylized and slightly annoying font that’s a pretty standard feature of gaming-branded keyboards. They’re also fine. Not great, not terrible. The RGB lighting shines through them extremely brightly, if you’re into that sort of thing, and they can be replaced with almost any keycap set on the market with a standard layout if you’re not.

A close-up of the illuminated keycaps
Michael Crider

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8BitDo’s SN30 Pro+ Controller Handles PC and Switch Games with Equal Dexterity

The SN30 Pro+ controller, surrounded by other controllers
Michael Crider

8Bitdo has made a (weird) name for itself with retro-inspired controllers that work with a bunch of different hardware. But with the SN30 Pro+ (also a weird name), they’re expanding into more “serious” territory.

The SN30 Pro+’s SNES-inspired looks hide some surprisingly complex guts. In addition to Bluetooth wireless that’s compatible with PCs, mobile devices, and the Nintendo Switch, it offers something all too rare: user-accessible button mapping and analog adjustment settings. This compatibility and customization make it ideal for my gaming setup, with time split between my PC and Switch. The design’s comfort and flexibility make it easy to overlook the one big flaw in the controller—it can’t power on my Switch on its own.

This Looks Familiar

The SN30 Pro+ recycles the button layout and looks of the SN30 Pro, which basically bolts a couple of thumbsticks and two extra shoulder buttons on the bone-shaped Super NES layout to make it compatible with modern 3D games. The extra “+” comes in the form of full-sized handgrips, which brings it in line with typical console controllers in heft and comfort.

The SN30 Pro+ from the front, showing shoulder buttons.
The controller has all the buttons necessary for modern games. Michael Crider

And it works. Despite the retro looks, the controller is heavy and chunky enough to be comfortable for hours-long play sessions. I especially like the slight texture of the plastic on the handles, which makes it just “grippy” enough to stick to your palm while still being easy to adjust. It’s not quite as ergonomically perfect as the Xbox One or Switch Pro controller, and I question why 8BitDo feels the need to stick to the SNES cut out when they’re clearly making a much more capable controller, but it’s more than comfy enough to use as your primary gamepad.

As a controller built for the Switch first, it includes start and select buttons that map to “+” and “-” by default, with recessed buttons for the home and screenshot functions. Four LEDs on the bottom will show which position the controller is in for multiplayer, and a single “pair” button on top is used for making tiny panini sandwiches. I mean, Bluetooth pairing.

The Sn30 Pro+ with a phone grip installed.
The phone grip is an optional add-on for playing mobile games. 8BitDo

Note those recessed bits in the plastic on the top and bottom: Like many of its previous controller designs, 8BitDo will sell you an add-on grip if you want to use this controller with your phone.

Da-Da-Da-Da-Da-Da, Charge!

Surprisingly, the SN30 Pro+ includes both rechargeable and disposable battery options: The internal lithium-ion battery pack can be removed and replaced with standard AAs if you need immediate power and you can’t wait to recharge via the USB port. It’s a smart feature, and perhaps one you wouldn’t expect to see on a $50 controller. Kudos.

The SN30 Pro+ with rechargeable battery pack and AA batteries.
You can charge up the included rechargeable pack via USB-C, or use your own AAs. Michael Crider

And I have to give 8BitDo props for including a USB-C recharging port, fast becoming the standard for consoles since Nintendo set it for all first-party Switch accessories. Again, it would have been easy and perhaps even understandable for 8BitDo to cheap out with a MicroUSB port.

Switch It Up

The highlight feature for the SN30 Pro+ is the ability to customize the button layout and analog settings. This isn’t as easy as you might expect: There’s no way to do it on the Switch, or even on mobile. You’ll need to track down a Windows or Mac machine, install the software from 8BitDo, and connect it with a USB-C cable.

Main screenshot of 8BitDo's software tool.
The tool allows two simultaneous layouts: one just for the Switch and one for everything else.

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Parkasaurus Is the Most Adorable Game About Raising Terrifying Dinosaurs

A triceratops and a zookeeper in Parkasaurus

Some games are stressful. And you’d think that if any game raises your blood pressure, it’s the one wherein you keep squishy humans safe from gigantic dinosaurs. Parkasaurus (PC) defies those expectations with liberal application of googley eyes.

Broadly fitting in the “management” genre, and more specifically in the niche of Jurassic Park-inspired zoo simulators, Parkasaraus manages the impressive feat of making a game where you have tons and tons of stuff to worry about but somehow never feel too worried. Its tools and setup might feel simple to veterans of latter Sim City-style games, but it’s well worth checking out if you’re looking for a relaxing, adorable way to build a prehistoric petting zoo.

Spares (Almost) No Expense

When Parkasaurus plops you down into its undeveloped lot, you’ll do a bit of landscaping before hatching your first dinosaur and attracting a few timid visitors. Not too much effort is expended on the how and why of this: There’s a time machine and some vague paleontology fieldwork and a store that sells dinosaur eggs. The gist is that you get more money, make a bigger park, get more dinosaurs, which attract more visitors to get more money. Rinse and repeat.

The park building overview in Parkasaurus.

Taking care of the dinosaurs digital pet-style is the main focus of the game: Happy dinos means happy visitors. Some surprisingly accurate zoological principles are actually going on here. For the best results, you’ll need to tailor each enclosure to your dinosaur’s environmental and social desires, including adequate shelter and spaces for the dinos to periodically get some alone time away from the gaze of your visitors. This requires strategy: You can’t just stick a dino in a cage for people to gawk at.

And gawking isn’t all that your visitors do, naturally. They need the usual facilities (you WILL build bathrooms), places to eat and learn about dinosaurs, buy souvenirs, get some shade, etc. That’s all part and parcel of the amusement park manager, but Parkasaurus has a third column of basic gameplay: the vaguely-defined “science.”

Managing scientists in Parkasaurus.
Pictured: science.

In addition to standard zoo staff, you’ll need to hire scientists and paleontologists to take care of the dinos you have and find resources to unlock new ones. This involves sending them back in time to dig up fossils—wait, why do they need to go through a time portal to get fossils? Surely the point of fossils is that they exist now? This isn’t made clear, but the result is a surprisingly robust puzzle minigame that requires you to continually recruit and upgrade your science staff to clear grids of land for fossils to unlock new species.

Building’s a Treat

These kinds of games tend to live and die on the ease of use of their building tools; no one would have played the original Sim City if it wasn’t intuitive to actually build your city. I’m happy to report that Parkasaurus’s systems are robust, precise, and surprisingly easy—for the most part. In a few clicks (and with a minimum of wasted funds), you can move around builds or swap up terrain types in a habitat to adapt it to a new dino. The only exception is the topography tool, which can be a bit finicky in raising or lowering the level of the land.

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The SteelSeries Arctis 1 Headset: The Swiss Army Knife of Gaming Audio

The Arctis 1 Wireless Headset sitting next to a Nintendo Switch.
The Arctis 1 Wireless works with anything that uses a USB-C port, including phones and the Switch. Michael Crider

One headset that works with all your gaming devices is a lot to promise. But, for the most part, the new Arctis 1 Wireless delivers. If you don’t need something for your iPhone or Xbox, it covers all the bases.

The build is basic, and I wish SteelSeries had included a Bluetooth wireless option for devices that don’t support its USB-C-based, 2.4 GHz connection. The choice to recharge the wireless headset via MicroUSB is, frankly, baffling. But for $100, the Arctis 1 gives you lossless wireless audio across the PC, Switch, PlayStation 4, Android, and anything else with a USB-C port. At the moment, that selling point is unique. And it’s enough to get a recommendation from us.

Simple Setup, Complex Connection

There’s not too much to say about the Arctis 1 itself. It’s a pretty standard setup for a wireless headset, with materials that are a bit on the cheap side for the $100 price point. The microphone boom is removable, and the cups rotate 90 degrees for flat storage, but they don’t fold in for easy travel. A volume wheel, a microphone mute switch, and a power button are all you get for input. Wireless only extends to the USB-C dongle, but you can use a wired headphone cord for a direct connection to almost any audio source with a headphone jack.

The headset recharges via MicroUSB. That’s right—even though the wireless dongle is a USB-C connection, you have to track down a dusty MicroUSB cable (or use the one in the box) to recharge the headset’s battery. Most high-end headphones have transitioned to USB-C charging, as have the devices this headset proudly supports with its wireless connection.

So, if you’re buying this thing to use with the Switch or a modern Android phone, you can’t recharge it with the same cable. This is a very poor choice, as I’ve made clear before, and it will cost the Arctis 1 a point or two in its final score.

A USB-C dongle and MicroUSB charging cord next to one of the Arctis 1 Wireless headphones.
USB-C dongle, MicroUSB charging. Ugh. Michael Crider

But the dongle works surprisingly well. When you plug it into an Android phone or the charging port on the Nintendo Switch, you get stereo sound without any kind of pairing or setup. While I’m sure some gaming wunderkind could hear a single millisecond delay, I can’t; for multiplayer gaming, it works great. The connection supports input and output as long as you plug in the boom.

The microphone boom, USB-C dongle, MicroUSB charging cord, USB-A-to-female-C adapter, and standard headphone cable.
The package includes the microphone boom, USB-C dongle, MicroUSB charging cord, USB-A-to-female-C adapter, and a standard headphone cable. Michael Crider

If your PC doesn’t have a USB-C port, the package includes a USB-A-to-female-C adapter, so you can plug in the dongle (a USB-A dongle isn’t included). This cable is also mandatory to use the headset with a PlayStation 4 or the Switch, while it’s in docked mode, and no USB-C port is available. Again, the connection is fast and easy—even on PC, it’s plug-and-play.

The USB-C dongle also has a few extra millimeters of space added to its port. This means the dongle works with slimmer cases on your phone or Switch.

Cheap, But Comfy

The Arctis 1 is an all-plastic affair, except for the cushioning on the ear cups and the headband, both of which are synthetic fabric. That sounds cheap, and it is—I expected at least faux leather on a $100 headset. But, to give credit where it’s due, the set is surprisingly light and comfortable at only nine ounces. The generous room in the band allows it to rest lightly on top of my head, which is something other headsets haven’t done. Naturally, comfort will vary—my head’s a bit on the pointy side.

The abstract pattern on the inside of the SteelSeries Arctis 1 Wireless headphones.
The pattern on the inside of the cups is pretty snazzy. Michael Crider

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Five Mobile Racing Games to Play (Instead of Mario Kart Tour)

JDM4iK Games

Mario Kart Tour, released earlier this week for Android and iOS, is…bad. Not only is it a pretty poor representation of the console game, it’s packed full of the worst kind of mobile microtransactions—including a monthly subscription.

To be honest, it’s hard to find a mobile racing game that doesn’t feature this kind of BS. But we’ve found a few diamonds in the rough: solid, fun racers that won’t demand you pay through the nose for the privilege of playing a new level without waiting six hours. Check them out below.

Horizon Chase

This stylish single-player racer is inspired by the simplistic arcade driving games of the 80s. While it’s a basic setup, the execution is incredibly smooth, with sharp graphics and tight controls even in touchscreen-only mode. The game’s cars are recognizable even if they’re not official (I can’t believe it’s not Bugatti!), and dozens of different tracks across various environmental zones keep things fresh.

While Horizon Chase doesn’t support multiplayer (you’ll need the expanded console version for that), it’s a wonderful distillation of the essential elements of the genre. All you need to worry about are your lines, passing, and the most strategic locations to use nitro. If you’re looking for something more technical, Horizon Chase also supports external controls. It’s free to try, and just $3 to upgrade to the full version and unlock all cars and tracks.

Crazy Taxi Classic

The original Crazy Taxi hit the arcades in 1999, becoming an instant classic with its fresh, bite-sized sessions of insane city driving. It’s been often imitated (including SEGA’s ill-advised mobile remakes), but the first release is still the best way to experience the frantic and surprisingly skillful driving game. It’s available as “Crazy Taxi Classic” on both Android and iOS, a free download with a $2 in-app purchase to get rid of the ads.

Newbies will think that Crazy Taxi is limited to vehicular chaos on crowded San Francisco streets, and that’s certainly the initial appeal, perfectly paired with 90s punk music and snarky drivers. But spend a little time on the maps—especially with an external controller or output to a TV—and you’ll find there’s surprising subtlety in weaving through traffic and setting up a run for the best customers. It’s something no true racing fan should skip, if only for their gaming education.

Reckless Racing 2

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