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Music-and-rhythm games are always a safe bet, because they have wide appeal. The latest entries, available for all three systems, offer plenty to sing about. "The Beatles: Rock Band" ($60) lets players rock out to the original tunes of the Fab Four, accompanied by dynamic visuals. If gift recipients already have a "Rock Band" or "Guitar Hero" setup, they should be good to go with just the game. If not, a basic bundle that adds instrument controllers is available for $160, or a limited-edition bundle with controllers that mimic the Beatles' actual guitars and drums costs $250.
"Lego Rock Band" ($50) and "Band Hero" ($60), also compatible with "Rock Band" and "Guitar Hero" setups, offer songs with family-friendly lyrics -- with the latter featuring the music of Taylor Swift. Finally, the Teen-rated "DJ Hero" ($120) lets players be real mix-masters with a unique turntable accessory that's included.
Several hard-core games for older players -- all $60 each -- are available for the 360 and PS3. The sensational Batman saga "Arkham Asylum" is appropriate for teens. But the other hot titles are rated Mature (17 and older) -- the video-game equivalent of an R-rated movie. They include the ultra-realistic combat of "Modern Warfare 2," which looks destined to be the year's biggest seller, as well as the deadly thriller "Assassin's Creed II," the role-playing fantasy "Dragon Age: Origins," the heavy-metal farce "Brütal Legend" and the post-nuclear adventure "Borderlands."
For football fans, the top-selling "Madden NFL 10" ($50-$60), for all systems, is a sure winner. For hockey enthusiasts, "NHL 10" takes the ice on 360 and PS3, but "NHL 2K10" is the choice on Wii. Other top picks among sports titles available for all consoles include "FIFA Soccer 2010," "WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2010" and "NBA 2K10" ($50-$60 each).
There also are several excellent options among titles available exclusively for one system.
On the Wii, "New Super Mario Bros. Wii" ($50) gives a modern take on an old favorite, with the option for up to four players to join in at once. "Wii Fit Plus," an updated version of the workout blockbuster, is only $20 for those who already have the required Balance Board accessory, $100 if not. "Wii Sports Resort" ($50) is the best party game going this season. For grown-up players who want serious fare, best bets include "Metroid Prime Trilogy," "Dead Space Extraction," "Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles" and "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare -- Reflex" ($50 each).
On the Xbox 360, my must-have exclusive is the Mature-rated zombie-hunting sequel "Left 4 Dead 2" ($60). And the auto-racing extravaganza "Forza Motorsport 3" ($60) is one of the best-reviewed games available just on that system.
For PS3 fans, the interactive movie "Uncharted 2: Among Thieves" ($60) is an essential addition to any game library. "God of War: Collection" ($40), a high-def redressing of two PlayStation 2 classics, will prime players for one of the most anticipated PS3 games of 2010, "God of War 3." For family audiences, top picks include the delightful romp "Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time" ($60) and the trivia treat "Buzz Quiz World" ($40-$60).
On the portable front, stick with the Nintendo DS ($130) over the pricier DSi ($170). Smart DS game choices ($30-$35) include "Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story," the puzzling "Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box," the innovative "Scribblenauts" and the fashion-forward "Style Savvy." On the PlayStation Portable (PSP), check out the highly creative "LittleBigPlanet," the fast-paced "MotorStorm: Arctic Edge," the music-creating "Beatarator" and, for older players, the Mature-rated "Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars" ($40 each).
Finally, gift cards for each console's online network -- Wii Shop Channel, Xbox Live PlayStation Network -- are legitimate options. There are a host of new exclusive games (such as "Grand Theft Auto: The Ballad of Gay Tony" on Xbox Live), add-ons (such as hundreds of "Rock Band" songs), classic games and even movies to be downloaded. And the best part is that the gift recipient gets to choose, so you don't have to.
Randy A. Salas • 612-673-4542