Much like how David said it’s hard to ask for RPG-related gifts this Christmas, I find myself saying the same thing for video game-related gifts…albeit for different reasons. The main two I can think of are that the most notable triple-A games we look forward to keep getting delayed until the following year (lookin’ at you, Evolve), and it feels like we keep getting a smaller quantity of truly notable triple-A games each year. And it probably doesn’t help that I’ve reached an age where I can pretty much just afford to purchase my own retail games instead of having to ask for them as gifts.
It probably doesn’t help that there also seem to be way too many Scrooges in the gaming world these days, and by “Scrooges”, I pretty much mean “Internet commenters”. Everyone just seems so damn cynical when it comes to gaming these days, and not just because of recent events that shall go unnamed. No, everyone just seems more critical of modern gaming than ever, seeing the gaming world as being full of nothing but DLC, microtransactions, jerkhole players, overhyped titles, and a new gaming generation creating a new round of arguments from fanboys of all sides.
Poor, misguided folks. They miss the whole point.
Lots of unhappiness? Maybe so. But doesn’t a really good and enjoyable game take a little bit of that unhappiness away? A constant stream of cynicism tends to overshadow some of the best parts of gaming out there today. And as I tend to remain an optimist when it comes to the gaming world, allow me to suggest some of the best gaming has had to offer in the past year, and hopefully you might discover something great to ask for this holiday season, or better yet, even give as a gift to a friend or loved one. Now, what types of gamers to buy for…
1. For the Horror Fan…
What To Get: As true horror games get more scarce these days – at least when it comes to mainstream titles – it’s good to know there’s at least one blockbuster title out there that can still truly scare the feces out of you. So why not get your friends the gift of soiled pants this Christmas with Alien: Isolation, one of the most nerve-wracking games I’ve played in recent memory where it’s just you versus a seven-foot monstrosity (okay, and the occasional paranoid survivor or lethal android) constantly pursuing you with the sole goal of goring your guts out. But if your friends prefer more earthbound horror, a double pack of Telltale’s The Walking Dead and the recent Season 2 of it (both now available in retail form) may prove to be more up their alley. The original is still one of best adventure games in recent memory, and one of the gold standards for story in current video games. Season 2 is still quite good as well…albeit more of a bronze standard in the story department…at best. Let’s just say the idiot ball will get thrown around quite a bit during everything (without spoiling, this is UNBELIEVABLY TRUE during the ending), but it’s still a good game worth checking out.
Budget Gifts: Speaking of double packs, Five Nights at Freddy’s 2 wasted absolutely no time hitting the market and thus ensuring the constant stream of fan art still flows. Regardless of how you may feel about the fanbase, though, it’s tough to deny that the games themselves aren’t simple yet effective titles that turn staring at security cameras into one of the year’s most frightening experiences, so grab the sequel or the original for your loved ones who enjoy being traumatized by animatronics. Oh, and you can also give your friends the happy present of pure defenseless and having to hide from crazed killers with Outlast. Or if you’re feeling extra generous, top it off with the Whistleblower DLC to prolong those screams of joy even further! Being chased by naked knife-wielding lunatics never felt so joyful!
Extras: Yes, I know someone is going to point out that I didn’t include The Evil Within anywhere above, an act I performed if only because word has it the game’s status as an effective horror game is a bit questionable. Nonetheless, its creature designs alone are pretty twisted and cool to look at, so The Art of The Evil Within might be a worthwhile investment for those buddies of yours who want to get a good look at some gaming horror without…well, having to play the actual game. For those who want a more classic monster to look at, though (in more ways than one), you can’t go wrong with getting them NECA’s NES-style Predator action figure. I still say we need a figure of Dutch in a hot pink outfit to make everything complete, but this’ll do for now. The NES-style Freddy and Jason figures are incredible gift ideas as well, needless to say.
2. For the Retro Game Fan…
What To Get: Well, I’m going to be honest and point out that the purest retro gaming experiences this year are filed under the budget gifts here. Nonetheless, there are two major remakes released this season designed to tickle the old nostalgia bone a bit…nostalgia for the 2000s, mind you, but nostalgia nonetheless. First up is Halo: The Master Chief Collection, a compilation of Master Chief’s greatest hits (so no ODST or Reach, sorry) that boasts remastered versions of all four previous Halo games and over a hundred multiplayer maps for your buddies to go wild in. Second is Pok?mon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, enhanced remakes of what was once called the worst Pok?mon game so far (albeit still very good), but is now incredibly anticipated by everyone, more than likely because the new X & Y makeover adds quite a bit of neat new content now. Bonus points for Luchador Pikachu as well, but minus points for not allowing me to not dress up other Pok?mon as luchadors.
Budget Gifts: Hey, are you and your friends depressed over Capcom’s constant neglect of Mega Man and the fact that Sega ended up sticking Sonic the Hedgehog in a game this year that many are calling the equivalent of Sonic the Hedgehog 2006? Well, thankfully this year just happened to spawn a superb pair of substitutes/spiritual successors to both! For the Mega Man fans in your life, pick them up a copy of Shovel Knight, which I still say is the greatest game 1991 never made and one of the best action-platformers out there right now, dripping with only the finest NES nostalgia. But for the 16-bit Sonic fan, they probably need a good dose of Freedom Planet, which started life as a Sonic fan game before essentially transforming into its own thing, yet still remaining as the exact type of fast-paced platformer with huge levels full of insane tricks and secrets the classic Sega series was known for. Also, I’m guessing some of you might like actual old-school games as presents, so I suggest hinting that your friends hit up GOG.com, especially now that they’ve added LucasArts titles to their store, including the first ever digital release of Sam and Max Hit the Road, one of the best adventure games ever conceived by man. Haven’t played it yet? Then I feel sorry for you.
Extras: For those of you still fixated on 16-bit consoles, Read-Only Memory’s Sega Mega Drive/Genesis: Collected Works book is an official retrospective on the classic console with both illustrated and written histories of the Genesis and some of the most legendary games of that era, complete with rare and never-before-seen material. Or if your friends are truly geeky old-school Sega fans, pick up a print of the original production drawing of the console from Read-Only memory as well. Maybe top it off with a T-shirt of a classic game from their youth as well, and while the Internet has made certain that there is no shortage of video game t-shirts any time soon, it just feels a tad appropriate to go check out the selection of gaming shirts and accessories over at 80sTees. Simple yet awesome stuff indeed when it comes to rekindling that nostalgic feeling in someone.
3. For the Sandbox/Exploration Fan…
What To Get: So you have friends who love to play around in giant worlds with lots to explore and collect? Well, then the main answer that comes to mind is Sunset Overdrive, if only because I’ve made it no secret that it’s my GOTY this year, and I won’t waste your time repeating myself. I have heard a lot of people try and claim that Sunset Overdrive is a rip-off of inFamous, though. Frankly, I don’t believe it and I don’t care, largely because I’ve played inFamous: Second Son this year as well and found it to be an excellent superhero adventure too. You can’t go wrong with Far Cry 4 either, which I’m still playing at the moment but has so far proven to be an amazing and absolutely gorgeous romp through the Himalayas that just happens to involve numerous amounts of gunplay and killing enough honey badgers to craft an ammo pouch out of their innards. And despite what you might say about the hype, Watch_Dogs is still a solid game worth picking up for your pals…all in all, a lot of quality sandbox games to hand out as gifts, ensuring that you can keep your friends distracted long enough to loot their houses.
Budget Gifts: Granted, getting your friends the gift of gigantic worlds on a less-than-gigantic budget is a bit of a daunting task (not counting discounted prices on older games), so any presents you get your friends in this area might end up coming with the additional gift of survival. And while I typically wouldn’t suggest any game still in Steam’s Early Access program (since it just feels iffy to fully recommend a game that still technically isn’t finished yet), enough people have been raving about Starbound that it still demands at least some notice, and its vast selection of procedurally generated alien worlds to explore should easily satisfy your friends (or at least tide them over until No Man’s Sky comes along). Rust also quenches the thirst for exploration as well, albeit swapping out 2D survival for 3D survival and space exploration with a wilderness filled with sadistic naked men. Nothing weird about that.
Extras: This is where I realize that I may have written myself into a corner here when it comes to a format like this. What type of non-game do you get a fan of sandbox games and the like? A Lego Minecraft set…no, too obvious. Maybe a K’Nex Mario set to provide a little more variety? Better, but not…wait, wait, I’ve got it! Why not get them some gear for actual exploring and travelling!! Like say, a Game Boy-inspired TravelBoy backpack from ThinkGeek for those lengthy hunts for collectibles in harsh areas of adventure such as San Diego? And then top it off with a matching Beach Boy towel, because naturally it’s the most important item someone like them can carry.
4. For the Multiplayer Fan…
What To Get: Look, I’m going to be honest here, about 80% of why this section exists is solely to have an area I can mention Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, and thus avoid having rabid Nintendo fanboys smash my kneecaps in. But that being said, it is quite notable that the Wii U has two of year’s biggest multiplayer games, namely the aforementioned Smash Bros. and Mario Kart 8. And a big hunk of why they’re two of the biggest multiplayer games quite easily has to do with both being local multiplayer games in addition to online, allowing for your buddies and you to actually play together in person as opposed to sometimes-awkward online matches, not helped by recent tales of poor servers in online games this year. Oh, and the fact that the two are legitimately fun games probably helps quite a bit as well. Just make sure to be on standby so you can break up blue shell-related fistfights and the like.
Budget Gifts: But what if you want local multiplayer games but don’t own a Wii U? Well, you can always gather the friends for a classy game of fencing with Nidhogg, with the classy parts kicking in whenever the winner gets the honor of being devoured by a mythological Norse serpent. There’s also TowerFall Ascension, which brings in a classy game of archery instead…that also just happens to involve large medieval fantasy battle arenas and fights to the death, of course. Both of them are old-school 2D blasts, but if you want to skip the sporting events and just get back to something where you and your friends can beat the crap out of each other…well, too bad, because even our fighting games have sports in them this year. Namely Lethal League, which adds a touch of baseball to the fighting game formula in that the goal is to bat an anti-gravity ball straight into your opponent’s face. It also allows for up to four players at once, because the more people getting smashed in the face with a ball, the merrier.
Extras: Now, what if your friend hosts particularly big parties and they only have one TV, so you and some others have to pass time in between your turns? Well, then you can you still get your fill of video games without having to resort to yet another themed version of Monopoly. The Capcom Street Fighter Deck-Building Game is one option, making sure you and your friends can get in a lovely game of cards while still keeping the opportunity to beat each other senseless around. Or if you prefer more tabletop gaming, the Kickstarter-funded Krash Karts is now available to purchase, allowing you to get in some sans-electricity kart racing as well. And you can even build the track while you’re racing it, giving you the opportunity to craft your own Rainbow Road of sorts while you’re at it. To provide some snacks for the party…well, a gift or gift subscription from Japan Crate may not exactly serve everyone at a particularly large party, but an assortment of Japanese snacks at least provides a good conversation piece!
5. For the Fan Who Loves Challenge…
What To Get: Well, the discussion basically begins and ends here with Dark Souls II, a punishing sequel to an equally punishing game that’s a blast to play largely because of how punishing it is, which I realize may seem strange to some, but trust us, the game is still quite a blast to play and is indeed a worthy sequel. And seemingly only one other major game this year has been described as being as being as enjoyably hair-pulling, delightfully frustrating, and as Nintendo Hard as the terror that is Dark Souls II, and that is…Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. Huh. Go figure, a Nintendo game that’s Nintendo Hard. Yes, Tropical Freeze has been described as almost ruthlessly hard, with some people even questioning that it may even be too difficult, but now that honestly makes me kind of want to play it even more. And hell, try gifting your friend both of these games and see which game and which genre they end up crying over. They may have been able to conquer the Smelter Demon and his hellfire-infused sword that tortured them with massive death-dealing blows, but can they conquer the horror that is…the cartoon puffer fish of Shoal Atoll???
Budget Gifts: Oh, trust me, lower-priced indie titles are not lacking in the challenge department. I’ve already expressed my own love towards Road Not Taken, the deceptively cheerful, roguish puzzler about a midlife crisis where you rescue lost children that captured my heart…largely by ripping it out of my chest and devouring it right in front of me. Then there’s Fenix Rage, a platformer which the developer describes as a cross between Super Meat Boy and Flappy Bird, which should pretty much be all you need to know right there. There’s also Super Time Force, an old-school Gunstar Heroes-style action-platformer with time-bending mechanics in it which also doubles in the area of scratching any retro itches your friends may have. It has Zackasaurus in it, and I fail to see how a gift of Zackasaurus is not the gift that keeps on giving.
Extras: Well, there’s only one gift that a fan of extremely difficult games probably needs a whole lot to make their lives better…liquor!! Unfortunately, we can’t supply your friends with liquor, but we can give them nifty ways to store their poison of choice, largely thanks to Ink Whiskey’s Concealable Entertainment Flasks, flasks designed to look like old-school NES cartridges. A bit corny, but still fun nonetheless. I suggest the Ninja Dry-Gin flask to appropriately match the difficulty levels of the games they’ll be playing. Or if your friends just need to sleep off the anger or get a little therapy in by hugging something unbelievably cute, perhaps a Pok?mon Snorlax cushion is what they need to calm themselves down. Okay, there’s also a chance they may rip it up to get the anger out of their system, but come on, who could seriously ever be angry at that lovable fat bastard?
6. For the Portable Gaming Fan…
What To Get: Again, I am pretty much required to mention Super Smash Bros., this time for the 3DS, because again, I’d like to keep my kneecaps intact. Aside from that, Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth is easily a potential must-have for any 3DS owner. Word has it it’s an addictive and fun dungeon crawler that also serves as a crossover between Persona 3 and Persona 4, so grab it for any of your Shin Megami Tensei or JRPG-loving friends as well. On the flip side, the Vita owners in your life will easily appreciate Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and its sequel, Goodbye Despair, a pair of visual novels that serve to deliver some of the most unique murder mysteries you’ll ever see. Or maybe check out Freedom Wars as a gift instead, an action RPG where to have to battle monsters in order to work off a one million-year prison sentence given to you for the crime of being born (think Judge Death meets Monster Hunter).
Budget Gifts: Hey, can’t forget the mobile gamer as well. For your buddies with a cell phone or iPad, Threes! is a particularly good place to start, a number-matching game that starts off simple and then eventually winds up being the video game equivalent of crack in terms of addictiveness. For those who want a puzzler with a little more story and atmosphere, can’t go wrong with giving them Monument Valley, though. It’s a jaw-dropping Escher-inspired puzzle game with a subtle yet moving story that’s honestly a GOTY contender in my book, so it comes highly recommended here. Those in need of cheap 3DS gifts should take notice of Shantae and The Pirate’s Curse as well, the third game in the cult platformer series that acts as another sweet tale of the half-genie who deserves to be a full-on major player in the world of iconographic video game characters. And those who need a similarly cheap game for the Vita had best take a peek at TxK, the trippy spiritual successor to Tempest 2000, AKA the best Jaguar game ever made…which I realize doesn’t sound like much at first, but it actually turned out to be a legendary shooter with some terrific gameplay, and it thankfully looks like TxK follows suit.
Extras: I realize that by this point I’m probably stretching things to connect the miscellaneous gifts into whatever theme I ended up picking, and I’m probably not going to stop doing that anytime soon. So with that in mind, if you’re looking for something small that you can carry around and play with (I probably should have worded that better), some small collectible figures wouldn’t hurt. Tomy’s various Pok?mon figures are probably the most appropriate option in this case, or any of Level Up’s Blind Box packs of video game character figures. I recommend the Psychonauts figures myself, if only because I shall take the opportunity to mention Psychonauts at every chance imaginable. For those of your friends who want your video games on the go protected by even more video games, though, Redbubble has a healthy variety of game-themed cases for your iPad, iPhone, and/or Samsung Galaxy. And yes, they even have Touhou-flavored cases for those certain special Roboteers.
7. For Everyone Else…
What To Get: In case you couldn’t tell, it’s tough to cram certain video games into specific kinds of categories such as the ones I cooked up for some reason, so what other notable miscellaneous games do we have? Well, Bayonetta 2 immediately leaps out, and not just because of the main character’s attractiveness and ability to kick ass. No, what we have here is the year’s best-reviewed action game, an insane, joyous romp that involves kicking multitudes of angels in their derriere. Despite having criticized it heavily for its bungled story campaign, I still say Titanfall has several moments of sheer mech-and-jetpack-induced shooter joy, so I could still recommend it nicely. And Fantasia: Music Evolved clearly can’t be missed, being one of the year’s best rhythm games (though there wasn’t a whole lot of notable competition) and an amazingly good simulation of conducting your own music and remixes.
Budget Gifts: Oh gosh, where to begin? Transistor, the creative and striking RPG from the folks behind Bastion? Valiant Hearts: The Great War, the WWI adventure that stands out as one of the most unique and moving games about war out there right now? Velocity 2X, a hybrid of old-school shoot-’em-ups and Metroidvania games that works out to create one divine experience? Strider, a killer modern version of the classic Capcom arcade game? 80 Days, the immersive and incredible gamebook that puts a new spin on Jules Verne’s classic? Divinity: Original Sin, one of the best RPGs or games in general PCs will see this year? There’s just so much to work with here when it comes to great games for gifts, so maybe it’s just best to fall back on the old standards such as…
Extras: Gift cards. Not as personal as individual titles, but still one of the best options to go to when you’re confronted with too many choices. Or if you want a good substitute for gift cards, a PlayStation Plus or an Xbox Live Gold subscription is certainly a terrific option, especially since both offer a good chunk of free games on a monthly basis, like a sort of Game of The Month Club. Or if you really have money to spend on your loved ones and are feeling generous, an entirely new console or a gaming PC would definitely be quite the holiday surprise. Heck, a simple PlayStation TV will only set you back a hundred dollars, although the reviews for it have been rather mixed.
…I haven’t even gone into a good majority of some of the most notable games out there at the moment to check out this year/holiday season. Really, only one person like me honestly can’t do it justice. Aside from everything I’ve just written, the best I can advise you to do is just pay attention to the gaming world around you, maybe dig a little deeper outside your comfort zone to discover those unique and interesting hidden gems of games that more people need to know about. And talk to your friends about gaming more, see what they like, pay attention and maybe even recommend or introduce them to new stuff they might be interested in checking out. Just put some thought into the gifts you give your gaming pals, and it will turn out to be a very merry holiday season indeed.
Oh, and one final recommendation: If you’re buying presents for any freelance gaming journalists who happen to live in Prince Edward Island, a bronze Sly Cooper statue from Gaming Heads is probably the best way to go. Just sayin’.
(Oh, and word has it the Steam Fall Sale starts Wednesday, so if you see any notable deals from that, feel free to mention them here. And of course, suggest any other games to check out in general as well in the comments for everyone to else to ask for/get as gifts, of course.)
Previously by Kyle LeClair:
The 25 Best Games of E3 2014
28 Things To Do and See at Comic-Con That Aren’t Movie, TV or Comics Panels
TR’s 10 Best Indie Games of 2013
The Ten Best Games From PAX 2013