Die-hard video-game fans already know what the hottest games are this holiday season. It's the innocent bystanders who need the help. But that doesn't mean those wide-eyed gift-givers can't think outside the box.
For the record, this holiday season's talkers are:
- The superhero tour-de-force "Batman: Arkham City" ($50-$60 for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC).
- The dueling first-person shooters "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3" ($60 for Xbox, PS3) and "Battlefield 3" ($60 for Xbox, PS3, PC).
- The fantasy epic "The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim" ($60 for Xbox, PS3, PC).
- The swashbuckling adventure "Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception" ($60 for PS3).
- The enchanting quest "The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword" ($50 for Wii).
- The 3-D revamps "Super Mario 3D Land" and "Mario Kart 7" ($40 each for Nintendo 3DS), the latter available next Sunday.
- The parkour-inspired "Assassin's Creed: Revelations" ($50-$60 for Xbox, PS3, PC).
- The sci-fi shooter "Gears of War 3" ($60 for Xbox).
The first four titles on that list sold more than 15 million in their first weeks, so the gamer on your gift list may already have them. In that case, be creative by buying:
T-shirts featuring bold graphics from "Modern Warfare 3," "Battlefield 3" and "Arkham City" ($20-$25) can be found at Hot Topic and through online sellers such as Amazon. But the sweetest gift for Batman fans are the new Converse All Star Batman high-top sneakers ($55, www.converse.com).
These days, the game doesn't end with what's on the disc you buy in stores. Downloadable content, or DLC, can extend the experience -- for a price, typically $5 to $15 -- with new levels and maps, additional characters, better weapons and more. Even Nintendo might be getting in on the act with "Skyward Sword." A gift card to Xbox Live, PlayStation Network or Wii Shop, available wherever games are sold, will be much appreciated.
Every game mentioned so far is the latest in a continuing series. Why not track down those earlier entries for your gamer to relive when the new game starts wearing thin? For example, a used copy of "Uncharted 2: Among Thieves," which was a Game of the Year when it came out in 2009, can be found for as little as $12 on sites such as Amazon, eBay and Half.com and stores such as Gamestop. Yes, your gamer has already played them, but dusting off and playing an old title can consume many a winter weekend.
Slick, colorful guides are available for $20 or less from most video-game retailers to walk your player through challenging levels and offer tips on racking up the highest scores. Or give a gift subscription to Minneapolis-based Game Informer magazine ($15 for a 12-issue subscription through GameStop stores) to keep the tips (and reviews and commentary) coming throughout the year. If you want to go super-cheap in an "it's the thought that counts" way, print out the appropriate walk-through from Game FAQs (www.gamefaqs.com) and wrap it with the game.
Not everything is for hard-core players, of course. There are fun family-friendly titles for casual gamers, all motion-controlled for Xbox Kinect, PlayStation Move and Wii. They include "Just Dance 3" ($40 for Xbox, PS3, Wii), "Kinect Sports: Season 2" ($40 for Xbox) and four new titles for the PlayStation Move -- "EyePet and Friends," "Little Big Planet," "Carnival Island" and "Medieval Moves" ($40 each for PS3).
Finally, there's NeuroSky's MindWave ($100 from www.neurosky.com). It uses a headset that reads your brainwaves to control a variety of apps -- 10 of which come with it, everything from improving kids' math skills to choosing scenes in movies, with more to download. That's right: mind control. It could be the future of video gaming. Think about it.