Strange thing about video games: Everyone tends to go for the latest and greatest. When the fall comes around, all that matters is: “What’s the latest Call of Duty?” “What new console does everyone else want so I can bludgeon them in the face for it when it comes in stock?” “What just hit the App Store in the last ten minutes so I can download it to my girlfriend’s iPhone before she checks Twitter and hears how cool it is?”
But newer doesn’t always equal better. When you go to the bookstore to buy a gift at Christmas, you don’t look at the new releases rack. You go for the classics, the standard bearers that you know will be a guaranteed hit with loves ones. This approach proves not just fruitful when it comes to video games, it’s the most economical as well. There are plenty of shopping guides out there telling you where to hunt for deals on the newest video games this month, but Digital Trends would like to offer you a map to some of gaming’s hidden treasures, games and consoles that are easy to find and wildly affordable in comparison to the latest but not necessarily greatest.
A year and a half after its release, the Nintendo 3DS is starting to build up a respectable library. Paper Mario: Sticker Star, Adventure Time, New Super Mario Bros. 2; the thing’s got game. Forget the 3DS. The 2006 model Nintendo handheld, the Nintendo DS Lite, still represents the single best portable gaming device around. Most models will run you just $110, and even though you can’t download games directly to it, a huge number of substantial, lengthy games can be had for just a few dollars. Not only that, but the DS Lite can play Game Boy Advance games, a number of which can also be purchased cheap. When you pick up the following games, you still won’t have spent as much as you would on just the Nintendo 3DS.
* Chrono Trigger—Graphically identical, but with far better controls than the iOS version of the game, this RPG is one of the best games ever made with a time travel story full of expertly wrought characters. Square-Enix is selling it for just $10 until 2013.
* Drill Dozer—Game Freak, the company behind Pokémon, has made a handful of games that don’t involve Pikachu, and the awesome platformer Drill Dozer is one of them. Funny and challenging, Drill Dozer is also one of the few Game Boy Advance games with a rumble feature built into the cartridge for a sweet physicality most portable games lack. Amazon sells new copies for just $20, but the Amazon Marketplace has copies for even less.
* Rhythm Heaven—It’s easy to forget that Nintendo doesn’t just do cute (Kirby), action (The Legend of Zelda), and Mario. It also trades in super weird and super funny. Rhythm Heaven is an addictive and hilarious music game that will run you just $10.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 is going to cost you $60 before tax and shipping. That’s the nature of the annual beast. Here’s the thing, though: Just because a new Call of Duty comes out every year, that doesn’t mean people stop playing the old ones. For less than the price of Black Ops 2, you can pick up Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 for Xbox 360 brand new. Want to splurge? Throw on a copy of Call of Duty 2 for $27 or the original Call of Duty: Black Ops for $36. Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 will be crowded with teenagers screaming at each other for the next few months. Spend less and play other games with adults at the same time.
A number of retailers are pushing Sony’s PlayStation 3 out the door for $200, but the console is still fairly expensive standard at $269. There are many brand new games that will cost you $60 a pop, but the best PlayStation 3 has to offer can actually be had in its classic game collections. Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection, God of War Collection, Sly Collection, and the Jak & Daxter Collection can all be had for $20 a piece on Amazon and at GameStop. Spend $80 and play ten of the best games ever made for Sony’s consoles.
Halo 4, like Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, will run you $60. 343 Industries’ game is very good, it’s true, but there is plenty of Halo to go around for a fraction of the cost. The wildly underrated Halo ODST and Halo Reach can be paired with a brand new copy of Halo 3 for just $10 more. The best of Bungie’s science fiction series, or just one new game? Simple math!
If there’s a video game obsessive in your life that already has all these games all, this gear and absolutely must have something new and sexy, the PS Vita is a good option, but not necessarily for brand new games. At $40 or more for Vita games, a purchase can get pricey after getting the console at $250 and a substantial memory card. The 32GB card, a must for active gamers, runs an additional $80 or more. There’s just no money left for games. So don’t buy new games! Go classic with downloadable games on the PlayStation Network. Open that console you’re giving and pack it with these games for the same price as one new Vita game.
*Final Fantasy IX—Square’s famous role-playing series has faded over the years, culminating in 2012’s noisome sequel Final Fantasy XIII-2. For $10 you can play this final entry from the series’ golden age. It may look rough around the edges, but it plays like a dream.
*Killzone: Liberation—Something about the Killzone series on PlayStation 2 and 3 has never clicked with people. It is a third tier shooter series, following behind the likes of Call of Duty and Halo in the broad gaming popularity contest. This PSP entry is different, though, a brilliant and brutally difficult tactical shooter that’s just $15.
It’s all right there in the name. PC gaming in general is a more affordable hobby than console gaming and distribution services like Steam make it even more palatable around the holidays with sales that can see $60 retail games reduced to just $15 within weeks of release. PC gaming has a stories history, though, and Good Old Games is one of the few legitimate digital distribution services to access classics. RPG fan jonsing for a taste of Obsidian’s Project Eternity? Planescape: Torment is $5 on GOG. Mac owner with a thirst for strategy? Syndicate is $3. Even if your game gift budget is $10, Good Old Games can drown you in goodness.
Console sales are dwindling. Even with 1.26 million Xbox 360s sold in November, Microsoft’s console sales were down 26 percent from 2011. Some say this is the end of gaming consoles, and the beginning of living room PCs. Maybe that’s true. If that’s the case, celebrate Christmas with the best home console ever made: The PlayStation 2. A brand new console from Amazon will run you $130, but shopping around at retailers like Walmart and Target can often net you a better price. Brand new games are also easy to purchase online. Take these plum picks.
*SSX 3—The best snowboarding game ever made, with an expanding open world. The 2012 PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 SSX pales in comparison. Brand new for just $25.
*Disgae: Hour of Darkness—Strategy fan. Disgae: Hour of Darkness’ weird humor and deep combat can entertain for years. Just $17 for a game that can be played practically forever and never get old.
*Metal Gear Solid 2—Hideo Kojima’s surrealist stealth game celebrated its eleventh birthday this fall, and the game has aged like a fine wine. What was cloying and sweet when first finished has revealed itself to be complex and rich years later. Brand new copies can be had for $16.