Super Mario 3D All-Stars is a collection that contains three of the best 3D platformers ever. You’d think that that would be enough. And for the most part, it is!
When 3D All-Stars comes out for the Switch on September 18 (for whatever reason, it will only be available until March 31), this compilation puts Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy on Nintendo’s newest console, which also means that you can play these classics on your TV or on-the-go.
It’s hard to be upset about that. But while I hate to sound greedy, Nintendo could have done more.
Let’s go over these three one-by-one.
Super Mario 64 is a masterpiece and one of the most important games ever made. Originally released for the Nintendo 64 in 1996, the game set the standard for 3D platformers and, honestly, 3D gaming in general. And it’s still a blast to play. Mario is an acrobatic master, and each level gives you an open-ended playground to explore with his wide arsenal of jumping maneuvers.
Super Mario Sunshine debuted on the GameCube in 2002. It is not as good as Super Mario 64. The level design is less focused, its experiment with voice-acted cutscenes now feels bizarre to see in a Mario game, and it can rely too much on repeated elements, like duplicate boss fights that begin to feel like padding. Having said that, few games compare to Super Mario 64, and Sunshine is still a fun and charming platformer. I also love its tropical theme. Just playing this makes me feel like I’m on vacation.
Then you have Super Mario Galaxy, which first came out for the Wii in 2007. Out of all the games in the package, this one has aged the best. The Switch’s higher resolution is the only thing Galaxy needed to look like a modern game. Nintendo also did a great job of adapting the original’s motion controls for Switch. You can either use the gyro controls on the Joy-Cons or Switch Pro controller to move a cursor around the screen to collect and fire star bits. If you’re playing the Switch as a portable, you can just use the touchscreen to control the cursor. Galaxy plays around with gravity, having Mario adventure through a series of small celestial bodies, each with their own gravity fields. It makes for some of the most clever Mario levels in history.
Come as you are
So, yes, these games are great. Two of them are all-time classics. What do these Switch versions add to the experience? Not much.
For Super Mario 64, you get a higher resolution. Otherwise, it’s still the same blocky character models and blurry textures. Now, I don’t hate this. I love old games, and I still enjoy this low-poly look. And the higher resolution does make a difference. Colors and edges are sharper, and it’s a lot easier to read the in-game text.
Super Mario Sunshine now offers a widescreen option, which is nice. But it still runs at 30fps. So does Super Mario 64, but 30fps doesn’t bother me in Super Mario 64. In Sunshine, I found myself wishing for that extra smoothness.
Maybe that’s because Sunshine looks closer to Galaxy, which easily looks the best of the three at 60fps. After playing through Galaxy and then going back to Sunshine, the latter felt sluggish.
Aside from those minor differences and the new control options for Galaxy, these are the games you remember. While Crash Bandicoot and Spyro have had beautiful remakes in the recent past, these Mario games are closer to ports. Part of me appreciates this. These games are classics, so why not preserve them as close to their original forms as you can?
Another part of me wishes to see what Super Mario 64 could look like with modern graphics.
The not-so-whole package
Even as a collection of well-done ports, 3D All-Stars feels lacking. For one thing, there’s the bizarre absence of Super Mario Galaxy 2. This direct sequel may somehow be even better than the first Super Mario Galaxy. It’s disappointing to not have it in this compilation.
If you’re looking for extras, you won’t find much. It comes with each game’s soundtrack, which is nice. But that’s it. It has no built-in achievements system, any kind of developer commentary, or any other fun, supplemental content.
That’s what makes scoring this package so hard. On their own, each of these three games could earn 5 stars (maybe four for Sunshine). But this isn’t just about them. This is a review of a collection. And as a package, 3D All-Stars feels a little sparse. It’s not the end-all celebration of 3D Mario games that it could be. At the very least, it should include Super Mario Galaxy 2.
Now, is that really going to bother you when you’re in the middle of kicking Bowser around a small planet in Super Mario Galaxy? Are you going to be wearing anything but a smile when you jump through your first painting in Super Mario 64? Are you going to be worrying about Sunshine’s 30fps when you’re dancing along to its tropical beats?
Super Mario 3D All-Stars comes out for Nintendo Switch on September 18. Nintendo sent us a code for the purposes of this review.
Alabama city removes Confederate monument following vote
ANNISTON, Ala. (AP) — An Alabama city has removed a 115-year-old Confederate monument following a vote by city leaders that was prompted by the national reckoning over racial injustice and the legacy of the Civil War.
Workers with the city of Anniston began removing the stone obelisk from the grassy median of a busy avenue late Sunday, city spokesman Jackson Hodges said Monday, and the work only took about 20 minutes.
The City Council voted 4-1 earlier this month to take down the monument to Confederate artillery officer John Pelham, who was from nearby Alexandria and died in battle in 1863.
The memorial, which was erected in 1905 while Southern heritage groups were promoting a version of Civil War history that cast the Southern cause as noble, will be taken to a Confederate history park. An inscription on the base referred to Pelham as “gallant” and beloved.
City spokesman Jackson Hodges said the obelisk was taken down late at night to prevent traffic problems on the main road through the city.
“It wasn’t to pull a fast one on the community,” he said.
Located about 65 miles (104 kilometers) east of Birmingham, the city of roughly 22,000 people is about 52% Black.
The removal came during a national reckoning of Confederate symbols that followed the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in May. Mayor Jack Draper said he put the removal on the council’s agenda in June after hearing from multiple residents on both sides.
“And I think, given where we are right now, with a heightened focus on racial and social injustice, now is the time to actually debate this issue,” Draper told WBRC-TV in June.
The Birmingham suburb of Pelham is named for Pelham, who also was the namesake of an artillery range at the Army’s Fort McClellan in Anniston.
4 reasons why October could stink for the stock market, too
3 Stocks Flashing Signs of Strong Insider Buying
If you really want to know which stocks the experts – and those in the know – are buying, pay attention to what they’re doing. Stock reports, company reviews, and press statements are helpful, but you’ll get significant information from watching what the insiders are up to.The insiders – the corporate officers and board members – have to disclose when they snap up shares to prevent any unfair advantages. Tracking their stock purchases can be a useful strategy because if an insider spends their own money on a stock, it could signal that they believe big gains are in store.So, investors looking for stocks that may be flying ‘under the radar,’ but with potential to climb fast, watching for insider purchases identify some sweet market plays. To make that search easier, the TipRanks Insiders’ Hot Stocks tool gets the footwork started – identifying stocks that have seen informative moves by insiders, highlighting several common strategies used by the insiders, and collecting the data all in one place.Fresh from that database, here are the details on three stocks showing ‘informative buys’ in recent days.TravelCenters of America (TA)We’ll start with a company that you probably don’t think about often, but that does provide an essential service. TravelCenters of America is the largest publicly traded owner, operator, and franchisor of full-service highway rest stops in the US. TA started out operating truck stops for rest, repair, and maintenance, and has since expanded to full-service fueling stations offering both gasoline and diesel, fast-food restaurants, convenience stores, and other rest stop amenities. Their network of rest stops is part of the infrastructure that makes long-distance motor transport, both private and commercial, possible in the USA.As can be imagined, the social lockdowns and travel restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic were not good for TA. The good news is, the worst of the pandemic hit during Q1, and the first quarter is normally TA’s slowest of the year. This year, the first quarter showed a net loss of $1.81 per share. In the second quarter, when warmer weather normally leads to increased driving, the pandemic restrictions were also – at least partially – lifted, and TA reported a sudden turnaround, with a 59 cent EPS profit. Even so, that missed the forecast by almost a dime. The outlook for Q3, normally TA’s strongest of the year, is for EPS of 73 cents.Turning to the insider trades, Adam Portnoy of the Board of Directors has the most recent informative buys. Earlier this month, he purchased over 323,000 shares, laying out more than $5.32 million for the stock. Analyst James Sullivan, of BTIG makes two observations about TravelCenters. First, he points out, “The long-haul trucking industry has an approximate 71% share of total primary tonnage in the U.S. freight industry, making it the primary mode of freight transportation.” Sullivan then adds that this opens up opportunity for TA going forward: “The increasing demands of the nation’s large trucking fleets for consolidated service providers that can provide fuel and truck service on a national basis appear likely to drive additional consolidation in the industry.”Sullivan rates TA shares a Buy, and his $34 price target suggests the stock has an impressive 82% upside potential for the coming year. (To watch Sullivan’s track record, click here)Overall, shares in TA are rated a Strong Buy from the analyst consensus, based on 5 recent reviews including 4 Buys and 1 Hold. The shares are selling for $19.24, and the $22.70 average price target implies room for 18% upside growth. (See TA stock analysis on TipRanks)Highwoods Properties (HIW)The next stock is a real estate investment trust. Highwood operates mostly in the Southeast US, but also in Pittsburgh, where it acquires, develops, leases, and manages a portfolio of suburban office and light industrial properties.Where most companies reported heavy losses during the corona crisis, HIW saw revenues in 1H20 remain stable. EPS has grown sequentially into Q1 and remained flat in Q2 at 93 cents. Both quarter beat EPS expectations.Despite the solid financial results, HIW shares have still not recovered from the market collapse of midwinter. The stock is down 27% year-to-date.Through all of this, Highwoods has maintained its dividend, as is common among REITs. The company has a 17-year history of dividend growth and reliability, and the current payment of 48 cents per common share has been stable for the past 7 quarters. At this level, it annualizes to $1.92 and gives a yield of 5.8%.Highwoods’ insider trading has come from Board member Carlos Evans, who purchased 10,000 shares for $337,000 dollars last week. His move was the first informative buy on HIW in the last 6 months.Truist analyst Michael Lewis is impressed by the quality of HIW’s portfolio. He writes, “We continue to believe that HIW’s portfolio is one of the best-positioned among traditional office REITs in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rent collections have been excellent and there are no large near-term lease expirations. More broadly, the portfolio should benefit from being focused in drivable, close-in Sunbelt suburbs.”In line with these comments, Lewis rates the stock a Buy. His price target, $45, indicates a 31% potential upside from current levels. (To watch Lewis’ track record, click here)Overall, HIW has a cautiously optimistic Moderate Buy consensus rating from the Street. This breaks down into 2 Buy ratings and 1 Hold. We can also see from TipRanks that the average analyst price target is $43, which implies a ~25% upside from the current share price. (See HIW stock analysis on TipRanks)VEREIT (VER)The last stock on our insider trading list is another REIT. VEREIT is major owner and manager of retail, restaurant, and commercial real estate, with a portfolio that includes over 3,800 properties worth a collective $14.7 billion. The company’s assets are 45% retail and 20% restaurants; the rest is mainly office and light industrial sites. The total leasable square footage is 88.9 million square feet.So VEREIT is a giant in the REIT sector – but size didn’t protect it from the general downturn this year. Share performance has been lackluster, and revenues have been falling off gradually since Q4 of last year. The second quarter results showed $279 million on the top line, the lowest in a year – but the quarter also saw earnings turn back upwards, reaching 17 cents per share.VER cut back on its dividend earlier this year, reducing the payment to 8 cents per share to keep it in line with earnings. That dividend has been maintained, and the next payment is set for mid-October. The current dividend yield is 4.5%, well over double the average found among S&P stocks.The big insider trade on VER comes from Board member and CEO Glenn Rufrano. He spent over $252K on a block of 40,000 shares, pushing the insider sentiment on this stock into positive territory.Covering the stock for JPMorgan, 5-star analyst Anthony Paolone sees an important strength in VER, noting that the company has been successful in collecting rents during the crisis period. “[Its] collections showed good improvement going into July, with 85% collections in 2Q and 91% in July; when considering all the abatements and deferrals, it appears that at this point about 94% of pre-COVID contractual rental revenue has been addressed, and it seems to us that a normalized run rate for this vast majority of the portfolio should take hold in early 2021; the company is making progress in working through the remaining 5-6% of non-collections,” Paolone noted.Paolone gives VER an Overweight (i.e. Buy) rating, and his $8 price target implies a 22% upside for the next 12 months. (To watch Paolone’s track record, click here)All in all, VER has drawn optimism mixed with caution when it comes to consensus opinion among sell-side analysts. Out of 5 analysts polled in the last 3 months, 3 are bullish on the stock, while 2 remain sidelined. With an 11% upside potential, the stock’s consensus target price stands at $7.25. (See VEREIT’s stock analysis at TipRanks)To find good ideas for stocks trading at attractive valuations, visit TipRanks’ Best Stocks to Buy, a newly launched tool that unites all of TipRanks’ equity insights.Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the featured analysts. The content is intended to be used for informational purposes only. It is very important to do your own analysis before making any investment.
Study indicates neither algorithmic differences nor diverse data sets solve facial recognition bias
Facial recognition models fail to recognize Black, Middle Eastern, and Latino people more often than those with lighter skin. That’s according to a study by researchers at Wichita State University, who benchmarked popular algorithms trained on datasets containing tens of thousands of facial images.
While the study has limitations in that it investigated models that haven’t been fine-tuned for facial recognition, it adds to a growing body of evidence that facial recognition is susceptible to bias. A paper last fall by University of Colorado, Boulder researchers demonstrated that AI from Amazon, Clarifai, Microsoft, and others maintained accuracy rates above 95% for cisgender men and women but misidentified trans men as women 38% of the time. Independent benchmarks of major vendors’ systems by the Gender Shades project and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have demonstrated that facial recognition technology exhibits racial and gender bias and have suggested that current facial recognition programs can be wildly inaccurate, misclassifying people upwards of 96% of the time.
The researchers focused on three models — VGG, ResNet, and InceptionNet — that were pretrained on 1.2 million images from the open source ImageNet dataset. They tailored each for gender classification using images from UTKFace and FairFace, two large facial recognition datasets. UTKFace contains over 20,000 images of white, Black, Indian, and Asian faces scraped from public databases around the web, while FairFace comprises 108,501 photos of white, Black, Indian, East Asian, Southeast Asian, Middle East, and Latino faces sourced from Flickr and balanced for representativeness.
In the first of several experiments, the researchers sought to evaluate and compare the fairness of the different models in the context of gender classification. They found that accuracy hovered around 91% for all three, with ResNet attaining higher rates than VGG and InceptionNet on the whole. But they also report that ResNet classified men more reliably compared with the other models; by contrast, VGG obtained higher accuracy rates for women.
As alluded to, the model performance also varied depending on the race of the person. VGG obtained higher accuracy rates for identifying women excepting Black women and higher rates for men excepting Latino men. Middle Eastern men had the highest accuracy values across the averaged models, followed by Indian and Latino men, but Southeast Asian men had high false negative rates, meaning they were more likely to be classified as women rather than men. And black women were often misclassified as male.
All of these biases were exacerbated when the researchers trained the models on UTKFace alone, which isn’t balanced to mitigate skew. (UTKFace doesn’t contain images of people of Middle Eastern, Latino, and Asian descent.) After training only on UTKFace, Middle Eastern men obtained the highest accuracy rates followed by Indian, Latino, and white men, while Latino women were identified more accurately than all other women (followed by East Asian and Middle Eastern women). Meanwhile, the accuracy for Black and Southeast Asian women was reduced even further.
“Overall, [the models] models with architectural differences varied in performance with consistency towards specific gender-race groups … Therefore, the bias of the gender classification system is not due to a particular algorithm,” the researchers wrote. “These results suggest that a skewed training dataset can further escalate the difference in the accuracy values across gender-race groups.”
In future work, the coauthors plan to study the impact of variables like pose, illumination, and makeup on classification accuracy. Previous research has found that photographic technology and techniques can favor lighter skin, including everything from sepia-tinged film to low-contrast digital cameras.
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