Gamers can be either a breeze or a pain to shop for. For other gamers or close friends, buying video games is no problem - you know their collection and their tastes and can choose accordingly. But for the uninitiated, the electronics section of a department store can seem like an endless labyrinth of choices, with only the guidance of an underpaid employee to help. So what is a confused gift-giver to do?
Gift cards are an obvious solution, albeit impersonal. The problem, of course, is that a gift card detracts from the Christmas morning experience. Only a few stores are open on Christmas Day, meaning that the recipient's console will be turned into a useless paperweight, a sad reminder of the fun-filled Christmas that could have been.
Another option is to buy used from a store like Gamestop. Most of these stores have return policies that allow returns on used games for up to a week, allowing the recipient to get what they really want, while still having something to play on the big day. Just be sure to confirm the policy with the attendant and include a receipt!
But enough pragmatism. Everyone knows about gift cards. What if you want your son, daughter, niece or nephew to emit a squeal of joy when opening their gift on Christmas? Look below for some of my top selections for gaming gifts. With this list in hand, all you'll need to know is the gaming system and personality of your lucky recipient to purchase a truly great gift this holiday season.
This should be the go-to genre for anyone unsure of their recipient's tastes. The action/adventure category contains a variety of games that are great both for hardcore gamers and for those who simply like to pick up and play once in a while.
(T - PS3, Xbox 360, PC)
Not quite as dark and disturbing as Batman's recent film outing but certainly more-so than the cheesy '60's show, "Arkham Asylum" was something of a surprise hit. It places Batman inside the titular insane asylum, which holds nearly all of the hero's gallery of villains, including a Joker, voiced by Mark Hamill, who gives "The Dark Knight" version a run for his money in creepiness. The simple combat system, variety of gadgets and crazy cast of characters make "Arkham" one of the best comic book games ever.
(T - PS3)
"Uncharted 2," the sequel to a popular and successful PS3 game, can be thought of as "Tomb Raider" reinvented for the new generation. You play Nathan Drake, a treasure hunter with a knack for getting into complicated adventures. While the game doesn't tread a whole lot of new ground, the amazing graphics, cinematic gameplay and deep story have put "Uncharted 2" at the top of most critics' Game of the Year lists.
Star Wars: The Clone Wars Republic Heroes (T - All Consoles) or Lightsaber Duels
(T - Wii)
These games allow the player to enter the world of the recent hit "Star Wars" cartoon as both a Jedi and one of the clone warriors they command. "Republic Heroes" is a standard, but enjoyable, adventure game, while "Lightsaber Duels" acts as more of a lightsaber simulator using the Wii Remote - a great choice for the new Wii owner looking for something to provide family entertainment.
This category includes entries for all ages, great for passing around the controller on Christmas Day. Lose the blood but none of the fun!
New Super Mario Bros.
Wii (E - Wii)
It's the Mario of old - jumping, hopping, sliding down pipes - with a new and interesting twist: simultaneous multiplayer. The ability to hop on your friend's head, throw him into a pit of spikes or steal the mushroom out from under him adds a whole new level of depth to the traditional platforming experience. Playing alone is fun, but the experience of making - or missing - that crucial jump because of a piggy-back from your Mom makes "New Super Mario Bros." my game of the year.
(E - DS)
In the night sky of shooters and hack-and-slash clones, "Scribblenauts" shines bright. Part puzzler, part platformer, "Scribblenauts" gives the player access to 20,000-plus items to complete quests. From "aardvark" to "Einstein" to "zucchini," players can summon nearly anything they can think of into the game world. Need to rescue a beached whale? Write "Bulldozer" and push that whale into the sea. Or better yet, summon some "Dynamite" and blast it across the level! The wide variety of options, from simplistic to complex, make "Scribblenauts" appropriate for anyone on your list.
Lego Indiana Jones 2
(E, All Consoles)
The Lego series is known for fun, humorous, pick-up-and-play levels taken from memorable movies. The sequel to the first Lego Indiana Jones game includes all of the content of the original three movies, plus levels based around the recent "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." Moms, dads, brothers and sisters will all have fun whipping their way through Indy's greatest hits.
These games are recommended for the older gamer with a slight bloodlust. As all these games are rated Mature, it would be wise to ask (or ideally be) the parents of the recipient before purchasing.
Call of Duty 4:
Modern Warfare or Modern Warfare 2
(M - PS3, 360, PC)
This spinoff of the "Call of Duty" line has taken the series once famous for World War II recreation into the modern age with an innovative multiplayer system and compelling storyline, including a slice of controversy. The war depicted in both games is less glorious than its World War II predecessors, providing an interesting exploration of how fighting has evolved - and of course, the game itself is as fierce and fun as ever.
Assassin's Creed II (M - PS3, 360, PC) or Assassin's Creed:
(M - PSP)
The original "Assassin's Creed" took a good idea - sneaking behind and ending haughty nobles in medieval cities - and gave it a sloppy, repetitive execution. The sequel and the PSP spinoff continue the theme but fix many of the problems that plagued the first game. This one may make for a squeamish Christmas morning, however.
(M - Wii)
A mature game for the Wii? Yes, they do exist. "MadWorld" was hyped up at the time of release, but higher profile games quickly pushed it off the shelves and into the bargain bin. Rest assured, however, that "MadWorld" is wonderful, in addition to being wonderfully gory. You may have to search a bit for this one, or buy it used, but the fact that "MadWorld" is nearly unique among Wii games makes it worth the effort.
Fans of RPGs (Role Playing Game) may be a bit harder to spot. Are they into "Dungeons and Dragons?" Do they enjoy reading science fiction or fantasy novels? Have they ever described themselves as a "nerd" - in a good way? If so, you may have an RPG fan on your hands.
Dragon Age: Origins
(M - PS3, 360, PC)
For the older RPG fan, "Dragon Age" is hands-down the best choice this year. Created by Bioware, a Western developer with a substantial pedigree in the RPG genre, this game provides a deep, customizable role-playing experience that outclasses anything else this year.
Mario and Luigi:
Bowser's Inside Story
(E - DS)
"Mario and Luigi" is a more casual RPG for the younger player, though there is plenty of quirkiness for older players to enjoy as well. The player switches off controlling the Mario Brothers, who have been ingested by Bowser, and controlling King Koopa himself. The game includes a fair amount of tapping, blowing and tilting minigames that the DS is known for and should keep players entertained for a long while.
Is your gamer's wall plastered with posters of his or her favorite team? Does the console exist only for the times when it's too rainy to go outside? The sports genre may be the way to go.
Madden NFL 10
(E - PS3, 360, Wii, PSP, PS2)
The reigning king of football games, and sports games in general. If your sports fan is at all interested in football, you really can't go wrong with this one.
FIFA Soccer 10
(E - All Consoles)
While this suggestion may seem interesting, given the attitude toward soccer in the United States, you can trust me on this one. Soccer is vastly more enjoyable in a video game than in real life, and the FIFA games are the cream of the crop. "FIFA 10," in particular, improves upon nearly every aspect of the acclaimed series. The recipient may make a weird face when opening the package, but within the hour, they'll be screaming about losing to West Ham United.
Need For Speed: Shift
(E - PS3, 360, PSP, PC) or
Need For Speed: Nitro
(E - Wii, DS)
"Need For Speed" has become the leader of the pack in racing games (other than "Gran Turismo," which is constantly delayed). "Shift," the version of the game for the hi-def consoles, is a solid racing sim, meant for players who enjoy watching and tinkering with cars. "Nitro" was created with the game's arcade roots in mind, providing a more cartoony, stylized version of a racing game, great for a player who just wants to go really, really fast.
E (Everyone) - Appropriate for all ages
T (Teen) - Appropriate for older children. May include moderate violence or language.
M (Mature) - Inappropriate for young children. Often includes heavy violence, language and adult themes.
PS3 - Sony PlayStation 3
360 - Microsoft Xbox 360
Wii - Nintendo Wii
PC - PC Gaming (Usually Windows XP/Vista/7, sometimes includes Mac as well)
DS - Nintendo DS (portable)
PSP - Sony Playstation Portable
PS2 - Sony Playstation 2