It’s a common problem faced by shoppers every holiday season: What to get the videogame enthusiast in your family? Worries are especially poignant this year, with concerns over violence and graphic content recently putting the industry in both parents’ and journalists’ crosshairs. Considering that average game player is now 33 years old according to the Entertainment Software Association, you’re probably on the hunt for one or two titles yourself to boot.
Thankfully, we’re pleased to report that picking the perfect geek-friendly gift needn’t prove a problem come that one special day or eight crazy nights. Courtesy of a booming $14 USD billion videogame industry, manufacturers are quickly capitalizing on concepts like casual gaming (user-friendly titles based on familiar everyday themes) and licensed film/TV tie-ins, pumping out top-quality content at record rates. In short, no matter your budget or system of choice, there are plenty of great options for every age group and interest type.
But first, a few key points to bear in mind before you happily start ticking off slots on the entire clan’s wish list:
1. Always check age ratings for software appropriateness, listed with detailed content descriptors on the front of every game box. More info can be had from the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB)’s website, www.esrb.org, or via non-profits like Common Sense Media (www.commonsensemedia.org).
2. They may be perennial crowd-pleasers, but you needn’t spring for next-generation systems like the PlayStation 3, Wii or Xbox 360 to enjoy the pleasures of interactive entertainment. Cost-conscious plug-and-play devices, such as Jakks Pacific’s TV Games lineup – self-contained, travel-friendly units with multiple diversions built-in – offer instant thrills, being compatible with any television set sporting RCA inputs… no added purchase necessary.
3. No sense breaking the bank when hunting for software: Plenty of great new titles are still shipping for older or more value-minded consoles, e.g. living room mainstay PlayStation 2 and handheld favorite the Nintendo DS. Used games, tested to ensure that they’re in working condition before being repackaged, can also be had at a large discount from outlets like Game Crazy or GameStop. Free online-only titles like Nexon’s KartRider rock for obvious reasons too, but offer cool wallet-friendly stocking stuffers in the form of optional, bite-sized transactions that let you deck out your racer or vehicle as well.
4. Mac/PC owners can skip big box stores entirely, with sites like Games.Yahoo.com, BigFishGames.com and iWin.com offering award-winning smashes (all of which you can try before buying) for under $20 USD.
5. Get to know titles before purchasing them to determine suitability and value for would-be recipients. Online resources such as GameSpot, GameSpy and IGN.com offer in-depth previews, reviews and overviews of titles, often weeks before they hit store shelves.
Read on to find our best gaming picks for this holiday.
Ready to celebrate the spirit of giving? Here are our top picks for electronic entertainment buffs young and old:
Super Mario Galaxy (Nintendo, Wii) – Travel the cosmos with a wave of the Wii’s motion-sensing controller, collecting stars, bapping baddies and running upside-down along candy-colored planets’ surfaces.
LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga (LucasArts, PS3/360/Wii/DS) – Controlling block-headed heroes ranging from Obi-Wan Kenobi to Darth Maul, solve puzzles and swing lightsabers while reliving the hottest scenes from all six episodes.
The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (Nintendo, DS) – Sail the seas as a cartoon swordsman, rubbing your stylus against the touch-screen to slay monsters and explore trap-laden labyrinths.
Cars: Mater-National (THQ, PS2/PS3/360/Wii/DS) – Pixar’s beloved film shifts into high gear with this open-world racing excursion featuring your favorite hot rods in slick rubber-burning challenges.
Bee Movie (Activision, PC/PS2/360/Wii/DS) – Jerry Seinfeld’s quirky animated caper gets top billing here, as hero Barry B. Benson buzzes off in search of thrills… and honey.
A screenshot from Super Mario Galaxy
Contra 4 (Konami, DS) – There’s no finer way to unwind on cross-country flights than with this gloriously hyperactive ode to old-school, button-mashing mayhem.
Guitar Hero III (RedOctane, PS2/PS3/360/Wii) – Jam to 70+ songs from “Sabotage” to “Cherub Rock” on a wireless guitar controller, with celebrity showdowns and Internet co-op/head-to-head play guaranteed party-starting additions.
Rock Band (MTV Games, PS2/PS3/360) – Connect with friends online and fulfill your rock star fantasies by singing/playing along to chart-topping hits using guitar/bass, drum and USB microphone peripherals.
World of Warcraft (Blizzard Ent., PC) – With nine million subscribers and counting, this online-only medieval universe, which lets thousands simultaneously adventure and compare notes, just keeps getting better.
Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions (Square-Enix, PSP) – A must-see director’s cut of the world’s most acclaimed strategic sword-n-sorcery simulation, featuring new characters, jobs, movies and multiplayer functionality.
A sreenshot from Guitar Hero 3
Halo 3 (Microsoft, Xbox 360) – Helmet-headed hero Master Chief strikes back in this jaw-dropping, home theater-friendly sci-fi shooter that shines for brilliant online multiplayer antics.
Mass Effect (Microsoft, Xbox 360) – A futuristic role-playing saga that’s as notable for its epic script and ethically-challenging scenarios as engaging battles and bar-raising ambition…
Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune (Sony, PlayStation 3) – Follow in Sir Francis Drake’s footsteps as a modern-day fortune hunter, dueling mercenaries and dodging pitfalls while hunting for El Dorado’s long-lost treasures.
Crysis (Electronic Arts, PC) – The pyrotechnics have to be seen to be believed (and demand serious hardware to run) in this epic alien-stomping first-person rampage.
Call of Duty 4 (Activision, PC/PS3/360) – The best-selling World War II series gracefully transitions into present-dayengagements, letting American or British SAS forces lock and load convincingly.
A screenshot from Halo 3