LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens
Developer: TT Fusion
Platforms: Basically Everything
Recommended by Claire Thorne
Every year in this Gift Guide, I recommend the latest LEGO video game. I don’t foresee this trend dying out any time soon. This year’s release of the LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens is certainly no exception to the long list of LEGO games with which I have fallen in love.
The Force Awakens is on par with many of the LEGO titles in my list of favorite games, including Marvel Super Heroes and Lord of the Rings. This is due to the seemingly never-ending selection of locations to play in (In just one example, you can wander around playing side missions in Jakku for hours and hours.), getting to kick butt as Maz Kanata or BB-8, and some great improvements and additions to the game play, including blaster battles and some epically amazing aerial dogfights.
I have binge-played this game through twice and still haven’t made my way through every crook and cranny. It’s a must-own for all Star Wars-loving gamers everywhere.
Nintendo Classic / RetroN 5
Developer: Nintendo / Hyperkin
Recommended by Michele Brittany
Collecting the older classic video games isn’t new; however, its pervasiveness in mainstream has been growing in the past few years. This summer, I bought the RetroN 5 as a birthday gift in part because it could emulate a handful of the original consoles such as the Nintendo, the Super Nintendo, Genesis, and a number of the Game Boys. Original cartridge games have worked fine, but home brew games will not. There are two negatives: (1) The controller seems pretty light weight (I’m used to the Xbox One controller.) and (2) this console really is suited for individuals that collect the original games.
However, I’m very excited about the new Nintendo Classic Edition, which is currently sold out. (Why did I not pre-order?!) It takes me back to the NES I had playing Super Mario Bros, Castlevania, and my personal favorite, Tetris. This console is a smaller version of the 1985 system and comes pre-loaded with 30 games. I would love to revisit some of the games I haven’t played in decades, as well as get to play some of the classics for the very first time. Not a bad price either: $60. I hope I find this gem under the Christmas tree this year!
Developer: Blizzard Entertainment
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox One
Recommended by Colin Eldred-Cohen
This critical darling’s been blowing up the Internet and the gaming world, and it belongs in your queue! Travel 60 years into our future and take control of one of 23 (at the time of writing) unique heroes and battle it out over a huge assortment of locations and game types. Do you fight up close and personal? Are you a precision shooter or more of a spray-and-pray type? How do you keep your teammates alive: by healing them or by soaking up the damage meant for them? All are welcome in the ranks of Overwatch.
In addition to being a fun experience, Overwatch also has an engaging plot hidden away in details that you have to piece together. Each location and line of dialogue paints a picture of what’s really going on, not to mention the numerous animated shorts and online comics that add even more details. But the characters are what really make the world of Overwatch, each one having their own personality and style of play that will grab someone out there in the gaming world. But reading about it is one thing; it’s a different experience to sit down and take control of Tracer, Winston, Zenyatta, D.Va, Junkrat, McCree, and so many more. It’s like Tracer says: “The world could always use more heroes.”
Pokémon Sun and Moon
Developer: Game Freak
Platforms: Nintendo 3DS
Recommended by Erik Cheski
As a younger gamer I would scoff at Pokémon games, thinking their simplistic gameplay beneath my highly refined RPG sensibilities. To that self I say: “God, man. Tone it down and learn to have fun, would ya? Oh, and don’t trade your copy of Pearl. Pokébank is coming!” I’ve played through the free demo, and I am impressed with the updated graphics and gameplay. This feels like a whole new iteration more than an expected sequel. Game Freak is changing up some series staples in fun ways: The terrain is much more enveloping and unique, not just the series of repeated Excitebike pieces mixed and matched with elemental effects laid over them that we’ve been used to. The system of showing super effective and not very effective movesets while you’re in battle is helpful to players like me who may want a memory jog when coming across a rarer species. The nice aspect is that this mechanic won’t trigger until you’ve logged a species into the Pokédex, so the thrill of encountering a new species is not spoiled, and it’s out of the way enough that it won’t bother you when you don’t need it. I’m excited for the scaled-up RPG elements and will likely be gushing about it after I get my hands on it.
Rise of the Tomb Raider
Developer: Crystal Dynamics
Platforms: PC, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Recommended by Joshua Desjardins
Now, I know some of you may have played this video game sequel on Xbox last year, but now that Rise of the Tomb Raider became available on Playstation 4 back in October, this is sure to be a game on every gamer’s list this holiday season. As a gamer myself, this game took me over a month to beat, with multiple side quests I still haven’t completed. But the storyline is captivating, and the side missions of Blood Ties and Baba Yaga are equally as entertaining. I played Blood Ties while home alone for three hours, and I was creeped out. I can only imagine what it must look like on Playstation VR…
So, if you have a gamer in the family, don’t let them miss out on Lara Croft’s latest adventure in Rise of the Tomb Raider!
Developer: Firaxis Games
Platforms: OS X, PC, PS4, Xbox One
Recommended by Russ Pirozek
Back in 2012, 2K Games and Firaxis launched re-launched the XCOM franchise, and it was glorious. XCOM: Enemy Unknown was a fantastic game, bringing the world of turn-based strategy games to the future and a fight with an invading alien menace. In 2015, they launched a sequel, which takes place twenty years in the future. The bad news: Humanity lost, and the alien invaders have now taken over the planet and made it their own. Now, it’s up to you, the commander from the last game now rescued, to take back Earth and wrestle it from the hands of the new overlords. Back again is the turn-based brilliance, this time turned up even higher. It's got new species, new weapons, and a new goal: take to the offensive and wipe out the new leaders of the planet and bring it back for humanity. While XCOM: Enemy Unknown was one of the best games of its kind when it launched, this iteration of the franchise outdoes the first in almost every way. Any gamer who loves a good challenge should be playing this game. It's still priced at a $60 retail, but it's worth every cent.