Where do you start if you have a video gamer on your gift list this holiday season and are overwhelmed with choices? Here are 10 ideas:
1. New choices: The two main consoles, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, have been around long enough that souped-up versions are now available. The PS4 Pro ($399) and Xbox One S ($299 and up) add ultra-HD muscle for more vivid and detailed graphics on TVs with 4K capability, whether playing a game or watching a show. The PS4 Slim, a trimmed-down model of the standard PS4, also is out for $299.
2. Right on target: Most war games go for a modern or high-tech feel, but “Battlefield 1” ($60 for PS4 or Xbox One) travels back more than a century, to World War I, to deliver visceral thrills. Dirigibles and biplanes soar overhead as enemies charge with bayonets and lob deadly gas canisters. With mind-blowing visuals and terrifying realism, the game will dazzle your eyes as it frazzles your nerves. There’s no better combat experience now on consoles.
3. Latest craze: Virtual reality is all the rage this year. By donning a boxy headset, users can totally immerse themselves in a 360-degree virtual environment. At the top end, the Oculus Rift ($599) and HTC VIVE ($799) use a PC to drive them. The midrange PlayStation VR ($400) connects to the PS4, while the Samsung Gear VR ($100) uses your recent-model Samsung phone as the engine for a more casual experience. Games cost extra, of course. For an intro to this new world — and a great stocking stuffer — try Google Cardboard ($15), a no-frills way to turn any smartphone into a VR portal.
4. Better than before: Favorite games from the previous generation of consoles (PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360) have been remastered with improved graphics and new game play for the PS4 and Xbox One. Recent standouts include “Batman: Return to Arkham” (which combines “Arkham Asylum” and “Arkham City”; $50), “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered” (which comes as a bonus with the new “Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare: Legacy Edition”; $80) and the essential “BioShock: The Collection” ($60).
5. Old school: Nintendo’s NES Classic Edition revives the system’s ’80s heyday with revamped connections for modern TVs. The console fits in the palm of your hand, but it uses regular-sized classic controllers. Great games like “Super Mario Bros.,” “The Legend of Zelda,” “Castlevania” and 27 other classics come preloaded, plus one controller, for a paltry $60. If that seems too good to be true, it’s because it is. Opportunists quickly snatched up the initial batch and are reselling them on eBay for more than $200. But good for you if you can snag one.
6. Really retro: If you want to confuse a millennial, break out video games that are pushing 40. “Atari Flashback Classics,” Vols. 1 and 2 ($20 each for the PS4 and Xbox One via disc or download), each boast 50 games for the vintage Atari 2600 system, along with a few arcade classics such as the addictive “Lunar Lander” and “Millipede.” Despite the primitive graphics, there’s nothing like having a multigenerational battle over late-’70s/early-’80s home-gaming gems like “Combat,” “Asteroids” and “Breakout.” Sure, there are plenty of duds among the games. But at less than 40 cents a title, these collections are worth the virtual quarters.
7. Gather around: For the best modern take on offline multiplayer gaming — you know, playing with people who are actually sitting next to you, not across the world — nothing beats “Rocket League.” The wild cross between rocket-powered miniature cars and soccer is guaranteed to please all ages at holiday gatherings. Available previously as an exclusive PS4 title, the game now also is available for the Xbox One ($20 via download or on disc).
8. Fun to go: Unimpressed by news of Nintendo’s planned spring launch of Switch, which will combine console and portable systems? Well, its handheld standby, the Nintendo 3DS, is now available for only $100. Its latest hits include “Mario Party Star Rush,” “Pokémon Sun” and “Pokémon Moon.”
9. Fancy dressing: If a console doesn’t really fit in with a home’s decor, dress it up with real wood covers from Toast ($59). The stick-on panels for the PS4 or Xbox One come in finishes of walnut, bamboo, ebony or ash. Classy.
10. Virtual present: A gift card might seem like a cop-out but not in our digital age, when many gamers simply download what they want from their system’s network. Gift cards for the PlayStation, Xbox and Nintendo online stores can be bought at local retailers or ordered online. Figure $60 for a new or popular game, but great titles are available for much less.