Christmas, for gamers, is one of the most magical times of the year. Starting with Black Friday and not ending until the last present is opened, the holiday season is rich with opportunities for gamers. From new console releases like this year's Wii U to fall hits like Halo 4 and Black Ops II, video games are at their most profitable once Thanksgiving comes and goes.
But for every child who wakes up on Christmas morning to find the brand new game they've been craving, many others wake up to the bitter taste of disappointment. It's a serious issue plaguing gamers these days, an issue known as Bad Game Gift Buying, and it's one we here at Topless Robot would like to address with you.
Many times it's inadvertent. A parent or grandparent not understanding what their child truly wants. Sometimes it could be financial; why buy the game for $59.99 when there is one "just like it" on the budget shelf for only $5? And sadly, sometimes it's just plain stupidity that drives the purchase from the Island of Misfit Games. But the fact is, many children (and adults alike) woke up on Christmas morning feeling left out by Santa and unloved by their parents (or spouses), thanks to BGGB.
Black Friday, as chaotic as it is, pales in comparison to December 26th. The presents have been opened, the relatives have overstayed their welcome, and the masochists of society venture out, often as early as they did a little over a month ago, to return all of the unwanted, unappreciated, and the crappiest gifts they received. The following is a list of gifts which, if you gave to someone, most likely had them standing in a return line - if they can even return them at all. Don't make these mistakes a second time!
9. Strategy Guides.
There are two schools of thought when it comes to cheating/getting hints in gaming. One camp sees them as a tool; a means to an end when it comes to completing or getting better in a game. The other side sees them as a sacrilege, the nuclear option or a weapon of last resort. But in the modern era of the Interwebz, the need to pay for such information is long past.
Websites like GameFaqs and many others have detailed walkthroughs, cheat codes and hints that rival those found in the expensive strategy guides. Why buy a game for sixty bucks just to follow that up with a strategy guide purchase for another $15-20, whose sole purpose is to take the challenge and perhaps even the fun out of the game? Why spend money when you could just Google it?
Unless your gamer obsesses over his or her game to the point where they like to study thecraft, then expect a request for a gift slip for this one.
8. Any PC Game.
You might be thinking, "What was wrong with buying someone a PC game?" Absolutely nothing; some of the best games on the market are in fact PC exclusives. The problem with giving the gift of a PC game is the headache and sometimes the expenditure that goes into getting that damned game to work.
So you bought your nephew Diablo III for Christmas. Little Timmy cackled in glee as he cracked over the box, popped the DVD into his computer and installed it. Upon launch, though, the game immediately crashed. Apparently he'll need to upgrade his video drivers to get the game to run. After the drivers were installed, he fired it up and it crashed again. Turns out he doesn't have enough memory. A trip to the Best Buy and $80 fixes that. Then he fired the game up again and it was virtually unplayable; it seems that his video card, while supported, will only allow him to play in the lowest detail possible. Now little Timmy wants a new video card at $100-300, and as Timmy's Mom drives to the store yet again video card shopping, she silently curses you for buying the game.
There are just too many factors involved with buying someone a PC game to consider. Between software updates, hardware updates and plain old incompatibility, you could be opening up a can of sandworms the likes of which even God has never seen. Expect Little Timmy's Mom to buy your kid a drum set next year; she'll be plotting the purchase as she stands in line to spend more money.
7. Just About any Movie Based on a Video Game.
Let's do a quick inventory. How many movies can you name that are based on video games and are, shall we say...good?
Aside from the few decent ones like Halo Legends, the animated Dead Space films and perhaps the original Mortal Kombat, the list is short. Just because the film shares the same name as a good video game, there is no guarantee that the film is even watchable. If you want an example, just try to sit through Super Mario Brothers, Double Dragon or any film by Uwe Boll. As hard as it might be to resist, do your loved ones a favor next year and put down that copy of House of the Dead. They'll thank you for it. Meanwhile, don't be surprised if that copy of Wing Commander is being given away on Craigslist right about now.
6. EA Sports Titles Greater than One to Two Years Old.
We've all seen them, the budget bin at the local game store, toy store or retail juggernaut: the bin of older titles at $19.99 or less made all shiny and new with the addition of stickers touting their new "Lower Priced!" or "Super Value". But there is a place terrifying for games, a place that makes the budget bin seem like a veritable wonderland of digital entertainment. A place known as the discount store.
You've seen them all around you: Dollar Store, Ollie's, Big Lots, Five Below and others. You go in thinking you might get lucky and find a diamond in the rough, but usually it's a repository for games that are so mass-produced and old that no one wants them. Case in point: when someone gave me a copy of NHL 08 for my Playstation 3, in 2011, I thanked them graciously for it - having been taught proper manners by my parents - and proceeded to put it in the small pile of gifts that would be returned, as I already had a much newer version of the game. Apparently the gifter bought it at the local Five Below, a store that touts selling products at $5 or less. With the store not allowing returns, I decided to make lemonade out of it by trading it in at the local Gamestop, where they promptly offered me a whopping $.25. Rather than take a quarter in trade-in value, I opted to give the game to the local Goodwill.
The fact is, sports titles in particular are over produced each year and become almost instantly obsolete the moment the next year's version of the game is released. Games like the Madden series have a life of about one year before they turn into 4.5 GB coasters and as terrible as that it, it makes for an even worse gift, one which is going to net your loved one a quarter at Gamestop today.
5. Handheld LCD Games.
As hard as it is to imagine, there was a time when there were no tablets, no DS or VITA's. Even before the time of the Gameboy, there was handheld gaming in the form of LCD games. These games were very basic, and paled in comparison to the arcade titles some of them tried to emulate, and as the years went on most of the manufacturers like Nintendo and Tiger went on to bigger and better things.
In an age when mobile gaming has reached heights unimaginable 20 years ago, it's almost impossible to believe that these are still being manufactured, much less being sold with prices at or sometimes greater than budget or pre-owned games. In actuality, it seems that only one manufacturer is still around, Techno Source, and while the technology seems to have stayed the same since the 80's, they have finally advanced to the wonderful world of color (though my TRON LCD game from childhood was color too). While these might have been an inexpensive way to go for mobile entertainment twenty years ago, now they are about an entertaining as a roll of tin foil, so much so that when an LCD was included in a McDonald's Happy Meal, my kid played with it for a whopping 45 seconds. It's likely that's how long the LCD game you gave will be played with...sorry.
4. Any Wii Accessory that Turns Your Controller into Something Else.
When the Wii came out, a new era in video games had begun. Sure, other systems had tried to integrate player movement into games - just look at the Sega Activator, Dance Dance Revolution or the Playstation Eyetoy camera - but none of them enjoyed the simplicity of the Wii's motion controls. With a pack in title like Wii Sports becoming such an instant hit, it wasn't long before companies were trying to milk the Nintendo cash cow with the reasoning that virtual sports would be much more fun if they were like real sports, and the development of useless Wii accessories had begun.
We've seen a myriad of horrible/useless accessories released for the Wii, from devices that turn your remote into a pitiable replica of the Nintendo Zapper, to lightsaber and baseball bat extensions, to even, dare I say it, twisted sex toy monstrosities. Thankfully, most retailers have banished such useless objects to discount stores, but that hasn't stopped ignorant buyers from gifting the Wii Tennis Racket and the Wii Weighted Bowling Ball.
There is a reason why many video game players play sports titles; generally, it's because they can't play sports in real life to save their lives. The beauty of armchair sports is that it requires no skill, aside from learning how to play the game. Why complicate the simplicity of Wii Sports Tennis, which makes you look like John McEnroe, by adding a miniature plastic tennis racket for you to fling around the room? My four year old can virtual bowl better than The Dude, so let's up the ante and see how well he does with a weighted bowling ball (just $19.99 at Bed, Bath and Beyond...I suppose this is the Beyond part) cover added on to the Wii Remote.
The fact is, these gadgets just add a little more gimmick to a system that many thought was a gimmick to begin with, will be played with for about as long as it takes to open them, and your money would have been better spent elsewhere, anywhere else. And your sister thanks you for the TV repair you inadvertently caused when Bobby's Wii Tennis Racket left his remote like that poor HSN chump.
3. Any Tablet Sold at Ollie's, Big Lots, Kohl's, or Made By a Brand You've Never Heard Of.
When the iPad was released a few years ago, it quickly became a shining example of how far technology had come. When Google, RIM and other companies fired shots at Apple's signature product, the results weren't always that stellar. As the years went on, Android was able to catch up and finally be a worthy competitor for the iPad with tablets like the Samsung Galaxy, the Motorola Zoom and the Nexus 7 and 10. Unfortunately for every tablet that can go toe to toe with the fruity forefathers of tablet technology, there are too many that fall short of the mark, and far too many which are completely abysmal.
You'll know these tablet abominations almost as soon as you see them. With names like Mach Speed, Coby, Pandigital or Maylong, and with price tags of sometimes less than $100, they are easy to pick out. Their boxes might look fancy, they might boast things such as having pretty recent versions of Android installed, but like your Mom used to say, if it sounds too good to be true it probably is. Many are low powered, have limited RAM, may have resistive touch screen, proprietary chargers or cables, or other flaws. Want to download the latest game from the Google Play store? Better hope our tablet can actually access it, as most have their own app store with only selected apps to choose from, or better yet, just hope the budget tablet you bought your loved one came from a store without a restocking fee.
2. Elf Bowling (Nintendo DS).
I imagine the conversation in the boardroom went something like this:
"We need to capitalize on the Christmas season," started Stuffed Shirt One. "We should make a video game with a Christmas theme."
Stuffed Shirt Two sipped his brandy before replying "But video game development is costly and time consuming. Why not license a game someone has already made and just release it on a popular kids system. I hear that new handheld that Nintendo put out is doing good numbers."
Stuffed Shirt One thought for a second and puffed on his illegally imported Cuban cigar and as a smile spread across his lips he said, "Well shit, that's a damn good idea. My kids have been playing the hell out of that free Elf Bowling game. And they just came out with a sequel. We can package up BOTH games on one cartridge and make people think they are getting a good deal." He started to chuckle. "First we'll get butt loads of money, then we'll take over the world."
It takes a certain special kind of money grubbing bastard to take a pair of free web games, package them up, make no improvements to them whatsoever, and then sell them for $19.99. Critically panned as one of the absolute worst video games ever released, this turd burger should never be purchased, strictly on principle. Hopefully the recipients of that plastic dog doo are smart enough to know to return it before they open it.
1.The Zone (or Any Other Wii Knock-Off).
As a kid, I knew (and I'm sure many of you knew as well) a kid who always had to make the best out of a bad situation. Sadly, he would have owned The Zone. To illustrate the horror and disappointment that owning The Zone would be, I'm going to tell a little story.
Little Billy has, for years, asked Santa for a Nintendo Wii and for years he's woken up on Christmas morning disappointed. By now the Wii is a few years old, the new version is on its way, and so the price has dropped dramatically, and Billy's Mom decides this is the year, works a ton of overtime, and sends Billy's Dad to the Wal-Mart to pick up a Wii bundle. On the way, however, he stops for a pack of smokes at the CVS and sees - for half the price! - The Zone. It looks like a Wii, has motion-based controls like a Wii, and even has a ton of games built in. The best part is, his kid won't know the difference, and he gets to spend the rest of his money on his best friend Mr. (Jack) Daniel's. Billy will wake up on Christmas morning, open up his new Zone game system, hiding his disappointment and doing his best to love that system as much as he possibly can. Hopefully Billy's Mom will be smart enough to kick that deadbeat to the curb, return The Zone to CVS and pick up a Wii for little Billy. The poor kid deserves it.