Video games to give or receive

December 4, 2009

This holiday season, why not give the gift that, if properly selected, will hijack your loved one’s life for several months, devouring all discretionary time?

The trick, of course, is selecting the right game – especially for children and younger gamers. You’ll lose a lot of cool points if you get your niece Cooking Mama 3 when what she really wanted was Command & Conquer 3.

Below is a list of some of the best recent games for gift-giving, arranged by ESRB Rating. Most of these titles have something to offer children and adults, with a bonus pick for grown-up gamers who might be interested in blowing up space zombies.

Little Big Planet: Game of the Year edition (PS3; Rated E)

Little Big Planet, which won dozens of awards last year, is a category unto itself. An alternate-dimension platforming game, LBP lets players of any age traverse themed worlds which – in terms of the game’s story – represent nothing less than the creative impulse of the cosmos. Trippy, huh?

The real adventure is that players can create levels and entire worlds, then share them with other players over the PlayStation Network. Adults will appreciate the sophisticated game design philosophy underneath it all; kids will simply love the idea of a cosmic sandbox. This Game of the Year edition adds bonus levels and downloadable content packs. Highly recommended. (Bonus for hand-held gamers: LBP is out for the PlayStation Portable as well.)

MySims Agents (Wii; Rated E)

Sims auxiliary games have a crazy charm, with their blocky animation and focus on social interaction. MySims Agents goes in a different direction, though, offering a much more linear, quest-and-puzzle-based adventure. A player starts as a neighborhood digital sleuth (Wikipedia Brown?) and wind up commanding a team of international spies. It’s good for gamers who are into this kind of item-fetching, dialogue-tree gaming, and there’s nothing here for parents to fret about.

Space Invaders Extreme 2 (DS;

Rated E)

The original arcade classic gets another makeover with the sequel to last year’s inspired shoot-’em-up for the Nintendo DS. Those old enough to remember the original will enjoy how Extreme expands the concept in just about every direction. Color-coded invaders, new weapons, varied attack patterns and frantic boss fights make the original game seem glacial. Kids will dig the simplicity and instant-gratification of it all. Excellent for airports and long car rides.

Ratchet and Clank (PS3, Rated E10)

Rivaling Little Big Planet for the most wildly creative game on the PS3, Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time continues the franchise’s deft combination of cartoon action and puzzle-solving. This latest iteration ups the ante with some delightfully clever time-manipulation puzzles for Clank. Meanwhile, Ratchet flies across the universe to shoot it out with intergalactic baddies. R&C hits the sweet spot – friendly enough for kids, smart enough for adults.

Tornado Outbreak (PS3/Wii/X360; Rated E10)

While somewhat less exciting than the pre-release hype promised, Tornado Outbreak is still a unique gaming experience for players of all ages. The basic gist: Players get to see what it’s like to be a tornado – can’t argue with that. In stylized animation form, Zephyr the tornado tears up farmhouses and silos to grown bigger and stronger. Some clever game mechanics mix up the action by having Zephyr fight rival elementals – fire beasties, for instance.

Nerf N-Strike Elite (Wii; Rated E10)

Here’s a generous package for that young gamer in your life who likes his Nerf guns and video games and would like to play with both at once. Not to gender-stereotype, but it seems young boys of a certain age are hard-wired for this stuff. The gimmick here: You insert the Wiimote into the included Nerf gun and aim at the screen, shooting gallery style. Swap out the Wiimote, and you’ve got a functional suction-cup Nerf shooter for those backyard turf wars. Nerf makes it as gentle as possible. On screen, the bullets are foam darts; the enemies are robots and no blood is spilled.

Dead Space Extraction (Wii; Rated M)

Fans of the original Dead Space will appreciate this variation on the franchise’s horror-in-space theme. Extraction is a rail-shooter like you’ve never seen – with an engaging story, strategic elements, astounding visuals and maximized spookiness. The game’s famous strategic dismemberment system remains, and using the Wiimote to blast space zombies is exactly as much fun as it sounds. That’s a hard “M” rating, by the way. Extraction is seriously scary and decidedly not for kids.

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