This Christmas, Santa and his helpers will surely be deluged with requests for such popular video games as Grand Theft Auto V, LEGO Marvel Super Heroes and Madden 25, along with the two shiny new consoles on the block: the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One.
But the world of interactive entertainment is much larger than the hottest, most popular titles and systems. Why not surprise the gamer(s) in your life with something a little different, maybe a special-edition release, an alternative console or a book about video games?
Here are 10 suggestions for gaming items that are slightly off the beaten path. Some are mainstream, some are relatively obscure, but each would be a welcome (and probably surprising) sight under the Christmas tree.
Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag Limited Edition
Called a vast improvement over Assassin’s Creed 3 and “arguably the best game in the franchise” by www.gamesradar.com, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is a high-seas pirate adventure, casting players in the role of deep sea diver and master swordsman Edward Kenway, who is equally adept with a flintlock pistol.
This limited-edition version contains the critically acclaimed game, of course, but it adds a variety of killer swag, including: a highly detailed 18-inch statue, an embroidered 28-by-48 inch flag, an 80-page art book, a Steelbook game case and a CD soundtrack.
Details: Available for the PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One. $129.99, amazon.com, GameStop.
Atari Flashback 4 Classic Game Console
There are two kinds of gamers: those of us who remember the good ol’ days of the Atari 2600 (circa the late ’70s and early ’80s) and younger folks who keep hearing about it. To share the experience with a loved one without the hassle of searching for a vintage console and cartridges, you can get an Atari Flashback 4 Classic Game Console, which has 75 games built into the unit, including such favorites as Adventure, Asteroids, Centipede, Jungle Hunt, Missile Command and Warlords (Sorry, no Pitfall!).
Details: The joysticks are wireless, but the console does have ports if you want to plug in original Atari joysticks or paddle controllers. $40, www.dollargeneral.com.
BioShock Infinite: The Siege of Columbia
Plaid Hat Games
Based on BioShock Infinite, the wildly popular first-person shooter, The Siege of Columbia is a board game in which players explore “the atmosphere, the characters, the city of Columbia itself, and even contours of the game’s plot — from a tantalizing new perspective as the leaders of the Founders and Vox Populi factions.”
On a quest to take control of Columbia, each player users his or her deck of cards to build and command an army (made up of detailed miniatures), navigate the city on a skyline, battle Booker DeWitt (the protagonist in the video game), influence world events and much more.
Details: $64.95, www.plaidhatgames.com.
Guinness World Records 2014 Gamer’s Edition
Guinness World Records
If you’re familiar with Robert Wadlow, the tallest man in history, and Billy and Benny McCrary, the world’s largest twins, you probably grew up reading The Guinness Book of World Records, an annual reference volume that began in 1955 and is now published as Guinness World Records.
The Gamer’s Edition, which started in 2008, tracks such achievements as high scores, bestselling games, largest tournament and longest winning streak. Special features in the 2014 release include an article on voice acting, instructions on how to make money as a gamer, the results of a “greatest game” readers poll and full-color spreads on Angry Birds, Grand Theft Auto, Minecraft, Portal and Professor Layton.
Details: $14.99, Barnes & Noble, www.amazon.com.
Jenga Space Invaders
Remember Jenga, the old block-stacking game? Maybe you still play it with your kids. For a stylized variation on the concept, check out Jenga Space Invaders, which features blocks decorated with iconic aliens from the 1978 arcade game. You can play Jenga Space Invaders the traditional way or, as you remove blocks from the stack, try to be the first to get your invader all the way down to the bottom of the tower. Jenga Donkey Kong and Jenga Tetris are also available. (If you are interested in an actual Jenga video game, there’s Jenga: World Tour for the Nintendo DS and Wii.)
Details: $29.99, Barnes & Noble, amazon.com.
Nintendo 3DS XL — Gold and Black with The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Is the gamer in your life a die-hard Nintendo fan, the kind who wears Mario pajamas, has a Donkey Kong lunch box and dreams of exploring the magical kingdom of Hyrule? If so, you might consider this limited-edition 3DS XL, which has a black base and a gold flip top decorated with etched Triforce art. The unit also comes with a download code for The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, the latest game in the famous action/RPG franchise. Like the standard 3DS XL, Gold and Black has larger screens and a longer battery life than the original 3DS.
Details: $219, GameStop.
If you thought the PS4 and Xbox One were the only new video game systems in town, you’d be wrong. The budget-friendly, Kickstarter-funded Ouya is an Android-based “microconsole” about the size of a Rubik’s Cube, letting users play downloadable, mobile-type games on the living room television set.
All titles can be sampled for free prior to purchase, and emulators for such retro consoles as the Nintendo NES, Sega Genesis and even the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation work well on the little console that could. As an added bonus, players can program their own games.
Details: $99.99, GameStop, Target.
While the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 garner most of the current-gen glory, the Nintendo Wii U soldiers on, backed by a number of quality first-party titles, including such favorites as New Super Luigi U and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD.
But don’t forget about Pikmin 3, a cute and quirky strategy title. The action takes place on a strange alien world where players guide a trio of explorers who battle predators, solve puzzles and gather food to save their home planet. Helping out are plantlike Pikmin creatures of differing abilities, including two new species: Rock Pikmin and Winged Pikmin.
Details: $59.99, Best Buy, GameStop, Toys R Us.
Retro Gamer Magazine Subscription
Other than a smattering of small-press publications and such store-owned offerings as Best Buy’s @GAMER and GameStop’s Game Informer, print video game magazines in the U.S. are all but dead, thanks to countless online sites featuring free news and reviews.
Luckily, our friends the Brits still produce a number of traditional video game mags, including Games, Play and X-One. One of the best is Retro Gamer Magazine, a full-color, slickly produced tribute to gaming’s glorious past. Subscribing is easy, and the British video game scene heavily mirrors the American industry, meaning those who grew up with the Atari 2600, ColecoVision, Nintendo NES and the like will absolutely adore it.
Details: 13 issues for $140.69, www.amazon.com.
The Video Games Guide: 1,000+ Arcade, Console and Computer Games, 1962-2012 (second edition)
by Matt Fox
Billed as “the world’s most comprehensive reference book on computer and video games,” The Video Games Guide is clearly a labor of love for author Matt Fox, who has spent more time engaged in virtual fistfights, space shootouts and adventure quests than any sane man should.
His obsession is the reader’s (and gift giver’s) gain, though, as this is a fun and educational romp through the titles that have defined the hobby, from Steve Russell’s groundbreaking Spacewar to Shigeru Miyamoto’s game-changing (so to speak) Super Mario Bros. to the brutal, but beautiful God of War III. If you want the gamer in your life to read more, this is an excellent start.
Details: $49.50, www.amazon.com.