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The Joystiq Holiday Gift Guide: for gamers

Kevin Kelly

If you're used to waiting until the last minute to do your holiday shopping because you're way too busy gathering every tag in Gears of War, then this is for you. Hit the pause button, drop the controller, take this gamer gift guide with you, fight the massing crowds, snatch up some of these recommendations, fight the massing crowds (again) and beat the level boss: a line long enough to stretch from the register to eternity. Just when you think you've beaten everything and are on your way back home the Final boss strikes. Gift wrapping.

Consoling those without consoles
The next-gen console wars are raging! Your gamer definitely wants one of these, trust us. But decisions, decisions, which one will you get?

Nintendo Wii -- for the gamer who wants something new, or the old gamer who wants to get back into the game.
  • Pros: You'll get a workout while you game with the innovative Wii-mote, Virtual Console lets you download old school games, only system that comes with a game disc, Wii Sports.
  • Cons: Graphically inferior to the other consoles out there, you might poke your eye out
Sony PlayStation 3 -- for the "must have the latest thing" -- high-definition early adopter gearhead.
  • Pros: Plays Blu-ray discs, enough graphic power to fly the Space Shuttle to the moon, very shiny, can grill a nice piece of meat
  • Cons: You can't turn around and sell it on eBay for a big profit, costs more than dental surgery, where are all the games?
Microsoft Xbox 360 -- for the gamer who hasn't jumped onboard yet
  • Pros: Great online gaming system, high-defs it with the best of 'em, you might have heard something about Gears of War
  • Cons: Peripherals and the Xbox Live Marketplace point system will nickel and dime you to death, Bill Gates in your living room
Holding hands with the handheld crowd

Sure, most people can game on their cellphones, but you won't be taken seriously unless you whip out a real handheld gaming console. Just make sure it's not an N-Gage or a Gizmodo. You'll get laughed back to the Pong age.

Nintendo DS Lite -- for people who like cute things, fun games, and fairy magic
  • Pros: Small, sleek, touch-screen goodness, WiFi gaming, a lot of available titles, perfectly sized for stockings
  • Cons: Graphics aren't as sharp as the PSP, can't play movies or music files without a homebrew solution, stylus easy to lose in couch cushions
Sony PlayStation Portable -- for Sony fanboys, people who like to look tough, and hackers
  • Pros: Plays movies, music, the only place you'll see Loco Roco, doubles as a theft deterrent device
  • Cons: Lackluster games, expensive movie format, uses Sony's boneheaded Memory Stick format
Game on -- must-haves for your gamer

With all of these news systems, you're gonna need some games. Consider yourself lucky, because publishers have been doing double duty printing them. Here are some highlights for you to clamor for while listening to "Jingle Bells" on the store's sound system for the 140th time. Be sure and read up on our game-buying tips before you dive into the bargain bin.

Nintendo Wii -- Wii-mote swinging, arm flailing, retro gaming fun

  • Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess -- Link is back, bigtime. Plus, he's got some werewolf issues. Wii-mote + lycanthropy = awesome
  • Wii Sports -- this disc COMES with the Wii, but we can't help mentioning it. There is some serious fun packed on this disc. Thank us later
  • Gunstar Heroes -- even though it's 13 years old, you can pick it up for eight bucks in the Wii's Virtual Console and relive the glory days

Microsoft Xbox 360 -- next gen gore galore, and some wackiness with The King
  • Dead Rising -- zombies, a shopping mall, lawn mowers. What else do you need?
  • Gears of War -- chainsaws. We really can't top that one. Seriously. Once you chainsaw an opponent from behind, you've got the itch
  • Burger King's trio of 360 games -- Sneak King, Big Bumpin', PocketBike Racer. At $3.99 a pop, you've got a gift, and if you're lucky, you picked up some food with it. Who's complaining?

Sony PlayStation 3 -- movies to mull over, the games aren't quite there yet
  • Like most launch systems, including the 360 and the PS2 ... the launch games have been extremely lackluster. If you're lucky enough to score a PS3 for someone without getting shot, your best bet right now is buying them some Blu-ray movies to go with it. The first 400k systems sold come with a copy of Talladega Nights, so pick up anything else and you'll be set. You'll have to give this behemoth some time to get things rolling but if your gamer loves high-def movies, then they'll be jazzed to open this up.

Nintendo DS Lite -- double dose of Mario and some litigation
  • New Super Mario Bros. -- Mario's back, and tinier than ever on the DS Lite. You've got Mega Mario, Micro Mario, great graphics, the music you've grown to love, and two screens. What more do you want? Seven months later and we're still obsessed with this game.
  • Mario Kart -- This one came out late last year, but it's still the best multiplayer game on the DS. Challenge people that you've never met before to race and then let 'em have it.
  • Phoenix Wright -- Did you ever think you'd be playing a lawyer in a video game? No? Well, it's time you reconsidered. Never before has the courtroom seemed so charged and volatile, and yes we're including A Few Good Men. Nicholson couldn't handle the DS.

Sony PlayStation Portable -- strange singing things, Mega Man, and Snake make us merry
  • Loco Roco -- it's weird, it's wacky, it's ... Loco Roco. Think PaRappa the Rapper meets Pikmin meets platform gaming and you'll come slightly close to what this is all about. Plus, it has really catchy music. It's cute enough for a DS, but made for a PSP.
  • Mega Man Powered Up -- it's Mega Man, he's back, and it even includes a stage editor. He's still going strong in 2006, and you'll enjoy him on your PSP.
  • Metal Gear Solid: Portable Ops -- bringing MGS to the PSP was a smart move, and you'll stick this in and leave it there for days. Plus, they made it work with the GPS attachment for the PSP to get additional content into the game. Solid Snake for the holidays, he's a cheery dude.

Sony PlayStation 2 -- down but definitely not out
  • Guitar Hero 2 -- don't count out the last generation just yet. RedOctane's Guitar Hero 2 has helped to sell a lot of PS2s, and that's pretty impressive considering that it requires a special guitar controller and costs $79.99 when bundled with the game. However, this game really rocks, pun intended. We've seen tons of people who don't normally game pick this up and have fun.
  • Final Fantasy XII -- the series that never ends keeps on chugging, and actually produces a game that is meeting and exceeding expectations. It's hard to believe how far this game has gone, but it proves that if you provide a great story and fun gameplay, it'll get noticed.
  • Okami -- this game that is rich in Japanese culture and storytelling snuck under the radar, but managed to impress us. It has a haunting storyline presented in a sort of etching/woodcutting art style that is truly gorgeous.
Peripheral vision -- add-ons for your enjoyment
With every new gaming console comes a slew of add-ons to spruce up your system with. Some are pure fluff, others actually come in useful. Walk down the gaming aisle at Best Buy and you'll see more extras than you could ever imagine: backpacks, skins, designer cables, cooling systems, stands, tons of third-party controllers, and much more. The console makers themselves have also gone overboard doing the same thing -- just check out Microsoft's Wireless Headset, Xbox Live Vision Camera, and the Wireless Racing Wheel.

The Good -- these are the ones gamers will totally love you for
  • Guitar Hero Guitars -- this is a rare example of a peripheral that makes the game. Like the Dance Dance Revolution mat before it, you absolutely need this controller to play the game. It's not complicated or difficult to use, but it makes you feel like a rockstar. Which ... er, was the point. There are several different styles out there, but this wireless model is the bomb. You can leap, twist, turn, head to the bathroom, and more without losing the rock.
  • Rechargeable AA batteries -- if you aren't already using some of these, then it's high time you did. The Wii-Mote eats them up like candy, and the Xbox 360 wireless controllers love 'em too. Plus, at only $2.99 for a four-pack at Amazon, you can't go wrong. Grab a sack full of 'em for yourself and someone else.
  • Dragon Cyclone Charger Stand -- this little thing for the DS is so simple that it's almost stupid. You plug your DS charger into the back of it, and it holds your DS upright while it charges. Plus the thing lights up in a bright red glow when it's charging. Simple, convenient, and totally unnecessary ... everything a good peripheral should be. Maybe we've been hypnotized by the shiny red light

The Bad -- for those people on your list that you love to hate
  • Nyko Intercooler -- there have been a ton of cooling systems released for the Xbox 360, helping to give rise to the myth of "Oh my god! The Xbox 360 can burst into flames! It is teh hot!" Since this appeared, there's been a slew of others coolers. Some that light up, some that hold your games, and probably one that makes fries. The ones that blow from the bottom seem to make a difference, but the Nyko doesn't do much on the back of your system. You'll do more good by blowing on it with your mouth.
  • Sony PSP Logic 3 Sound System -- there's nothing like buying an accessory for a handheld that is bigger than the unit itself. Since you can't reach the controls with this thing on, why not just buy a portable DVD player? That way you can play all the discs you already own, and boot the UMD format. Plus you have to disconnect this thing anytime you want to game, sux0rz.
  • Sony PlayStation 3 Memory Card Adapter -- you buy it, you use it once, and it instantly becomes trash, just like that! But it's the only way to get the old saved games off of your PS2 memory card. The best bet is to get this for your Sony fanboy, knowing it will be the first gift they return (right after they use it, of course)!

The Bizarre -- for the gamer who has everything ... except these things
  • Intec Controller Cradles -- these are made to hold your controllers upright on a shelf. That's it. You can't be content to simply lay them down, right? Why on earth would you subject your precious plastic controller to such harsh treatment? Now you need to show them off like a product on QVC. The package itself calls them "a spa for your controllers!" The mind just reels.
  • Optimus Mini 3 OLED keyboard -- this is an extremely small three button keyboard that has tiny screens embedded on the keys. You configure what the keys display and do through the software, but it's hard to imagine it being $150 worth of useful. Maybe "drink a red potion, like NOW!" button for some World of Warcrafting? Well, you'd do that with your normal keyboard just as quickly. Now if those keys could display moving images, then maybe we'd be into it.
  • Home Pro Racing Video Game Simulation System -- clocking in at just under $5,000, it's a really huge peripheral that will dwarf anything in your living room, except maybe the Xbox 360 power brick. Plus, it doesn't come with a gaming system, you'll have to add that on. But, if you're buying $5k racing wheels, then you probably aren't sweating the small stuff.
Suit up and bling out -- gaming wear to spruce up your favorite gamers wardrobe
If there's been an explosion in any gaming related sideline item this year, it's been clothing. Tides have changed and patterns have shifted, and it is now considered "kewl" to wear things emblazoned with video games. That Sonic the Hedgehog t-shirt that might have gotten you hazed in junior high is now all the rage. The more retro, the kewler you are. Here's a few items that caught our eyes and might be under some trees this year.

T-shirts -- a clothing mainstay for the younger generation since the 1950s
  • "Guns don't kill people, magic missiles do" -- this t-shirt from Jinx features retro 8-bit graphics, a Dungeons and Dragons reference, and some stylish hunter green. Jinx has a boatload of gamer related apparel and schwag. Chances are you'll find something for everyone there, even the non-gamers on your list.
  • Xmas Roller -- a huge Katamari snowman head being rolled up by the Prince. You get holiday cheer, Japanese influence, and some PS2 lovin' all in one shirt. Way of the Rodent has a lot of other holiday game shirts that look cool as well.
  • Mario Mustache Rides -- only five coins! He must make the cash up in volume. Sure it's slightly naughty, but maybe one of your gamers has been too. Check out Poweruptees for more gamer t-shirts with a slight edge.

The rest of the body -- because you can't just focus on chests
  • Retro video game scarves -- sure, they're slightly pricy ... but hey, that's 100% Italian wool! Knitted in Germany! Smuggled to America by mules! The retro gaming action on these makes it worth it, especially when someone you love has Space Invaders wrapped around their neck.
  • Gamer thong -- with the advent of CafePress, you can print just about anything on anything, but this gamer thong takes the cake. For the female gamer in your life, or for some adventurous males.
  • World of Warcraft quest hat -- wear this and people will either think that you play WoW a lot, are making a Metal Gear Solid reference, or else you're just perpetually perplexed

Bling for the bod -- showing off the goods
  • Joystick necklace -- this is serious gamer bling. No one will doubt your sincerity or your mad skillz with this hanging around your neck. Either that, or you'll get laughed out of the next LAN party with your ethernet cable trailing between your legs.
  • Ms. Pac-Man & ghost rings -- if you need to take a swing at someone when they insult your DDR skillz, then you'll want two or three of these on a finger. Your favorite gamer will love you for these, and what's a greater proposal tool from a gamer to a gamer?
  • Mario & Luigi stamps -- fill these suckers up with washable ink, and you've got yourself an instant retro gamer tattoo set. Your gamer giftee will put these all over the place, so just make sure you're okay with that before you buy. We say, bring on the Link stamp!
And that's all we wrote! There are a billion (literally) other game gifts out there, some cool, same lame, expensive, inexpensive, and everything inbetween. Some of the best online places we found to get the goods are Amazon, J!nx, Think Geek, Fred Flare, and Art. Lebedev Studio. You'll find more than enough stuff to keep the voracious gamers at bay.

Good luck shopping, happy holidays, and don't sue us if your Mario ink tattoo ends up being permanent. Now get out there and do it.

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