A nip in the air, a song on the breeze, and your car slid into a snow filled ditch. Yup, it’s the holiday season, a time when everyone is out rushing around for those last minute gifts. If you are stumped for what to get the gamers in your life here is a quick and handy guide of some games. I have played all of these and a few of these I have done reviews, which I have linked.
Children and Education
As the marketing buzz-word “Edutainment” slowly tries to make its way into our vocabulary, it perfectly describe these games.
Kinect Sesame Street TV and Kinect Nat Geo TV are two titles that not only expand on the education and entertainment their respective shows provide, but they do so by encouraging kids to actively participate with the show. Kinect Sesame Street TV brings the classic muppet charaters into your living room letting your child learn to count with Grover, play catch with Elmo, listen alphabet songs, and more.
Kinect Nat Geo TV teaches and excites children about the wonders of nature. Children can participate in mini-games inspired by activities that animals do in the wild. They can also learn extra facts by activating “Sidetracks” in the shows that are like DVD extras, but more interactive and fun.
For the racers in your life there are three titles I would highly recommend: LittleBIGPlanet Karting, Forza Horizon and Need for Speed Most Wanted.
LittleBIGPlanet Karting is a mash-up of two great PlayStation titles, LittleBIGPlanet and ModNation Racers. LittleBIGPlanet Karting brings the fun whimsical playfulness of LittleBIGPlanet and marries it with great kart racing action of ModNation Racers, while maintaining the user creativity of both games.
Forza Horizon drops you into an open world race festival in Colorado. The core of simulation racing, with personalization car customizing that the Forza series is known for, is injected with a large amount of arcade attitude with races against not only other cars, but airplanes, and hot air balloons. Your friends can even become your rivals as their race times and “ghosts” of their races become available for you and other players to compete against.
Criterion Games, a developer well known for their Burnout racing series, brings a lot of what they are known for to Need For Speed Most Wanted. Big crashes, big stunts, and lots of hidden surprises are the order of the day in a game that takes Criterion’s hit Burnout Paradise template and injects real world cars with police waiting around every corner to chase you down. An interesting touch here is that every car is available to the player in Need For Speed Most Wanted, you just have to find them hidden in parking lots around the city.
First Person Shooter Fans
A trio of titles to recommend here for those on your list that love action and adventure; Halo 4, Borderlands 2, and Dishonored.
Halo 4 puts the player back in action as Master Chief. The first Halo title developed without original developer Bungie. 343 Industries' new story picks up where Halo 3 left off; revealing a new enemy, the Didact, a Forerunner military commander. In Halo 4 you learn that the normal lifespan of a computer AI construct is six to seven years, Cortana is eight years old and malfunctioning by showing signs of “rampancy,” a mental state where AIs think themselves to death. Master Chief promises to get Cortana back to earth to save her and stop the Didact along the way. In addition to the main story is a second storyline presented in Spartan Ops that tells the tale of Crimson Squad on the Forerunner planet, Requiem, where a mysterious artifact has been found. Both stories in Halo 4 are playable solo or cooperatively, while the multiplayer introduces some great new elements, and continues to impress.
Borderlands 2 introduces four new Vault Hunters on the planet Pandora, where events of the first game have triggered not only a massive re-terraforming of the planet, but revealed that there is more than one ancient vault. Handsome Jack, the CEO of the Hyperion Corporation has also come to Pandora to exploit the new vault for his own nefarious ends. Borderlands 2 expands on the world of Pandora with new environments, introduces new characters and spins old friends. The draw of crazy randomly generated weapons, four player co-op, and developer Gearbox Software’s knack for an off-beat story make this a must have game.
Dishonored, from developer Arkane Studios, tells a dark tale of revenge. Corvo Attano, a royal body guard, is framed for the murder of the Empress and kidnapping of her daughter. A mysterious man gives Corvo strange magical powers in prison. Corvo uses the powers and his skills as a guard to find the people responsible. Dishonored takes the open world gameplay to a whole new level of “play as you want.” You can be a killing machine or never take a life in your quest to find the conspirators in Dishonored.
PC Indie Gamers
On the PC there are a lot of fun games from small independent developer studios. Games like Edna & Harvey: Harvey’s New Eyes, Ace of Spades, Farming Simulator 2013, and A Game of Dwarves.
Edna & Harvey: Harvey’s New Eyes by developer Daedalic Entertainment is a point and click adventure with a very off kilter humorous story that will appeal to people that love a morbid, but family friendly, sense of humor. Quiet schoolgirl Lilli has to find her best friend Edna when she disappears. Can you help Lilli do the multitude of chores given to her by the nuns and avoid the other children that tease and bully her? Also, why can’t the other children see the strange friendly Gnomes that paint over anything that might upset Lilli?
Jagex’s Ace of Spades takes classic squad based gameplay and swirls in a retro look and voxel-based gaming to give the player an interesting amount of freedom of movement. Don’t want to go around a wall? Dig through it. Want to surprise the enemy? Quickly dig tunnels underground. Want a wall in the middle of the map? Build it. You are only limited by your imagination and whether or not the enemy has you in their sights.
Farming Simulator 2013 has the distinct advantage of seeming to be two games in one. Giant Software’s series blends a serious simulation of farming with all the work and resource management that comes with owning a farm. They've added the open world freedom of doing whatever you want in a sandbox style game that just happens to have tractors, golf carts, and cows.
Paradox’s A Game of Dwarves humorously updates the “Dwarf Fortress” style. The King of the Dwarves wants to restore his Kingdom to its former glory after losing a war evil mages, so he sends his lay-about son, the Prince, to prove his worth by taking back the former dwarven lands. You do so by making your fellow dwarves mine the land and fight the minions of the evil mages. Presented in a fun cartoony style that further lends itself to humor found throughout the game.
If you have some people on your list that just want a touch of magic in their lives there is Wonderbook: Book of Spells and Skylanders: Giants.
Wonderbook: Book of Spells brings J.K. Rowling’s magical world of Harry Potter to life. Using a real specially marked book, the PlayStation Eye camera and PlayStation Move, players can become a virtual wizard at Hogwarts. The pages of the Wonderbook come to life while players use the PlayStation Move like a wand to cast spells.
Skylanders: Giants continues the adventure started in last year’s Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure. Again players assume the role of Portal Master brining specially made toys to life via your portal to defeat the evil Khaos. You can use your favorites from the first game or use the new giants the explore all new sections of the Skylands.
If you have a sports gamer I suggest NBA2K13. This year the game is executively produced by Jay-Z. Yes that Jay-Z, the rapper. They can play their favorite team online against their friends or try their hand at playing a rookie though a whole career that includes not only playing games, but negotiating contracts for endorsements, and getting signed to teams.
Not all games this holiday season are new, some are excellent HD remasters of classics. Four remastered classic titles that I have enjoyed are Zone of the Enders HD Collection, Jet Set Radio, Sonic Adventure 2, and NiGHTS into Dreams. All four titles retain the elements that made them the classics that they are with updated HD graphics. NiGHTS into Dreams has the added bonus of including the original SEGA Saturn graphics for those that want to have the full “old school” experience.
Hopefully this guide helps you with your shopping this year. As with any game you buy please look for the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) rating to make sure the game you are buying is age appropriate for your child, teen, or grown-up child at heart.
All of these games are available now and more information can be founs at their respective web sites linked below.
Kinect Sesame Street TV (rated EC for Early Childhood)
Kinect Nat Geo TV (rated E10+ for Everyone 10 and older for Mild Blood and Mild Violence)
LittleBIGPlanet Karting (rated E for Everyone for Cartoon Violence and Comic Mischief)
Forza Horizon (rated T for Teen for Drug Reference, Language, and Suggestive Themes)
Need for Speed Most Wanted (rated E10+ for Everyone 10 and older for Alcohol Reference, Comic Mischief, and Violence)
Halo 4 (rated M for Mature for Blood and Violence)
Borderlands 2 (rated M for Mature for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Language, Sexual Themes, and Use of Alcohol)
Dishonored (rated M for Mature for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, and Strong Language)
Edna & Harvey: Harvey’s New Eyes (is not rated by the ESRB)
Ace of Spades (is not rated by the ESRB)
Farming Simulator 2013 (is is rated E for Everyone)
A Game of Dwarves (is not rated by the ESRB)
Wonderbook: Book of Spells (rated E10+ for Alcohol Reference, Crude Humor, and Fantasy Violence)
Skylanders: Giants (rated E10+ for Cartoon Violence)
NBA2K13 (rated E for Everyone)
Zone of the Enders HD Collection (rated M for Mature for Blood and gore, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity)
Jet Set Radio (rated T for Tenn for Lyrics and Mild Violence)
Sonic Adventure 2 (rated E for Everyone for Violence)
NiGHTS into Dreams (rated E for Everyone for Comic Mischief)