Friday, December 14, 2012

Holiday Gaming Guide 2012

The holidays are rapidly approaching and that means the window to get gifts is closing soon. You know that gamer in your life? The one who’s always the last to get a present because you have no idea what they like? Or even worse, they get whatever game gets pushed on you by a Best Buy employee and ends up with Call of Juarez: The Cartel? This guide is for the both of you. These are the top games to gift for the holiday season for any of the gamers in your life.

Games for Casual Gamers

This category can be the toughest if you’re a hardcore gamer. It’s an awful feeling to give someone a game you thoroughly enjoy only to have them discard it later. This mistake is a common one in assuming they are as enthusiastic about gaming as you are. Maybe they’re not? Perhaps they just needed a Netflix machine and to have a fun activity for parties. For them, the games aren’t about sitting down alone and playing for an extended period of time, they’re about quick fun that can be enjoyed in groups. These are the best games this year for that:

Just Dance 4, Platform: Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Wii, Wii U
Will this game change your worldview? No. Will it grab your heartstrings and never let go? No. Will it dazzle you with great graphics, characters, and fantastic controls? No. But will you be able to have fun in a group of people and dance Gangnam Style every morning after having your daily bowl of Lucky Charms, still in your undies? Hell yes it will. Just Dance has been a paragon for dance games in the past few years, like Guitar Hero was for guitar rhythm games, and that legacy continues with Just Dance 4. With loads of new songs, dance moves, and the familiar smell of a combo of sweat and fun, Just Dance 4 is a great gift for casual players.

Mario Party 9, Platform: Wii
This game has been tearing friendships asunder for over ten years now. With each subsequent Mario Party, people tend to forget how nerve-wracking, unfair, and enraging this game is and buy it anyway. That being said, Mario Party is one of the best games to play with a large group of people – as long as they aren’t particularly competitive. The minigames are fun, the idea of an overarching board game with games in the middle is engaging, and it’s made fair for players without skill by its higher-than-usual random chances of success. As long as you’re not afraid to hear “OH YEAH, OF COURSE YOU WOULD GET IT, JUST LIKE YOU GET EVERYTHING,” screamed at you by someone you barely know, this game is an excellent pick.

Trials Evolution, Platform: Xbox Live Arcade, PC
You’d think a game about dirt bikes wouldn’t be a great social game, but I can’t think of many more entertaining games to play with friends than Trials. The multitude of crazy deaths, jokes, and “Okay, give me that, let me do it”s that get thrown around produce endless fun. This game would be great even if it was just for one player, but the gaming gods (aka RedLynx) saw fit to bless us with multiplayer. Spend your time trying to cram the most flips into your jump, coming up with the sickest deaths, or time attacking one other. As surprising as it is, you can’t really go wrong with this as a party game.

Games for Families or Kids

I don’t like pigeon-holing kids into their own category, as they’re just tiny people developing their gamer taste and I don’t think inundating them with shovelware will promote good game taste. However, I recognize that there are certain guidelines some parents have for their kid to game safely and with age appropriate content. That doesn’t mean those games have to be awful, though. Here are some great games for kids and families to play.

Nintendo Land, Platform: Wii U
If you have a Wii U, this is the game to get for any category really, but especially for kids. Nintendo Land is like Wii Sports was for the Wii—a showcase of what the Wii U can do with its new hardware with a collection of fun minigames. But unlike Wii Sports, Nintendoland has much better graphics, more games, better games, and it features familiar Nintendo characters. So in ten minutes of time, you could be collecting candy in Animal Crossing, then shooting Ridley in Metroid, and on to running away from Toad in Mario. Though there’s an obvious grab for attention with beloved IPs, the games all stand up on their own without having to be propped up by the familiar characters. No matter if you’re one player, two players, or up to five players, Nintendoland is the best game for Wii U yet.

Professor Layton and The Miracle Mask, Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Nothing teaches you to open your mind and use critical thinking skills more than Professor Layton. It’s a tried and true series comprised of an overarching story connected by a mountain of puzzles. Though some of them can be difficult, Layton is a kind man, and allows you to get hints on the particularly difficult ones. Though there are some puzzles that may still escape kids, that’s when it’s time to bring in their elders for some pinch hitting. I’m a grown man and my parents still hand off Layton to me when they need help on a puzzle. It quickly turns from an engrossing, one-player experience to a group effort to solve the puzzles.

Minecraft, Platform: PC, Xbox Live Arcade
Okay, so Minecraft for PC has been out for some time, but the Xbox Live Arcade version was released earlier this year. Though we think it’s a different experience than original Minecraft, it’s nevertheless an excellent game for kids and parents alike. The Xbox version also takes away the confusion of how to make items, which is a bad thing if you really want the experience of learning Minecraft from nothing, but also eliminates the frustration of your first few hours in the game. The XBLA version also features local multiplayer and allows you to invite your Xbox Live friends into your world. It’s an excellent game for everyone, but especially curious minds aching to be given tools to sculpt their dreams.

Games for Hardcore Gamers

This group can be the most difficult to buy for, even for experienced gamers. Generally, they’ve already played all the games they’re interested in and know exactly what they want. If you’re not privy to that knowledge, it can be a treacherous time trying to buy for them. Luckily, there are a few safe bets you can try to make them happy.

Sound Shapes, Platform: Playstation 3, PS Vita
This game is one of my favorites this year, and it’s not as popular as it deserves to be. Imagine a platformer where your actions control the music. Every new map has a different song that your actions piece together. Both of the major aspects of this game — platforming and music — are excellent. The gameplay mechanics are fun, responsive, and interesting, and the music is done by well-known artists including Beck and Dead Mau5. Though it’s short, it’s cheap and completely worth it.

XenoBlade Chronicles, Platform: Wii
“There’s no such thing as a good, quality RPG on Wii” has been a saying amongst hardcore gamers for years. Well this year, after many trials and tribulations, that precedent has been broken with XenoBlade Chronicles. Though the game has a few issues with controls, it’s more than made up for with the scope of the game and the world it’s set in. You’re a race of people living on one of two giants that fought and killed each other in the middle of an ocean. In fact, when you’re outside, you can often look up and see what the rest of the giant’s body looks like from wherever you are. That’s awesome. It’s also incredibly long, some estimates going from 50 hours minimum all the way up to 200 hours. The dialogue gets a little annoying , but it’s an excellent game whose length is daunting even to the most hardcore of the hardcore. This game separates the men from the boys, and hardcore games do love a challenge.

Gamefly Subscription, Platform: All
Though this is a bit of a cop-out, it’s a smart idea. You don’t even have to pick what game, as they can burn through their heart’s content of games for however many months you want to gift them. Since Gamefly also expanded their library this year to include PC games, it’s an even better value than it was before.

Lighting Round

Here are a few final categories in case the gamer you had in mind wasn’t in any of the others.

Someone who’s too deep for their own good: 

Dear Esther, Platform: PC.  Because if you need a thesaurus to play it, probably a good gift for the person who’s taken up permanent residence in their own head.

Significant other who’s not as in to games as you are: 

Minecraft, Platform: Xbox Live Arcade, PC. Nobody doesn’t like playing with virtual legos. And multiplayer means everyone can enjoy the fun of building elaborate structures for no real reason.

Somebody who is still playing Diablo 2 because they think Diablo 3 sucks:

 Torchlight 2, Platform: PC. It’s everything they expected from Diablo 3, but didn't get and more.

Mom or Dad who stopped playing games at SNES:  

Nintendo Wii U. Not only does it play Netflix, the games are easy to pick up and put down and aren’t intimidatingly complex. If you’ve got the money, drop it on a console for them. If not, buy them a new SNES and remind them how fun Super Metroid is.
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