Microsoft Xbox 360
Oh, Xbox 360 -- we know your red rings well. However, that doesn't mean we love you any less. We just get frustrated that much like an aneurysm bursting, your death can come at any moment, without warning. If you're looking to get your first 360 this Holidaze, we've compiled a guide to sift through the SKU madness and help you select the model that works best for you.
HOT: Mass Effect. Why? Beneath the hoopla surrounding the the interstellar cross-species mating lies a deep, engaging RPG-Shooter from Bioware. You play as Commander Shepherd, and are on a quest to -- shock and awe -- save the galaxy from unspeakable evil visited upon you by a now rogue agent. It's an immersive experience that's sure to delight any of those people you know who love Star Wars, Firefly, or Battlestar Galatica.
HOT: Rock Band. Why? Come on, who hasn't dreamed of being the star of the show, having an audience scream your name as you strum on the guitar, belt out your singles, and beat on the drums -- ha, sorry, we couldn't keep it up there. We know no one really cheers for the drummer. Regardless, you'd be hard pressed to find a better multiplayer experience this holiday season. Don't be surprised if everyone in the family, from your great aunt Ruth to your dog, wants to try.
HOT: The Orange Box. Why? Valve Value, baby! For the price of a single game, you get one of the best single player experiences this year, Portal, a fantastic multiplayer game in Team Fortress 2, and Half-Life 2, Half-Life 2: Episode One, and Half-Life 2: Episode Two. All of these games are classified as first person shooters, so be sure the person you pick this up for likes that genre, otherwise... you'll have gotten them a five game box, but it'll be five games they won't enjoy.
NOT: Fusion Frenzy 2. Why? Because we know what you're thinking -- "Hey, it's a mini-game game, that means fun for everyone!" If we could reach out from the screen and slap you for thinking that, we would. However, that technology hasn't been invented ... yet. So instead, all we can do is advise you to stay far, far away from this game, unless you like crappy games.
NOT: Two Worlds. Why? Sure, it reads as if this game follows in the footsteps of Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, but that's not the case. If, for example, Oblivion contained an ounce of bad, and the rest was good, it would be easy to say Two Worlds took that ounce, and in a defiance of the laws of nature that render it impossible to create matter from where there is none, made it into several kilograms of bad. Stay away, please.
Who is the console best for? People who want a huge game library to choose from, those who value online play.
Still selling as if its going out of style, those disbelievers have been proven wrong ten times over with the success of Nintendo's dual screen system. Not only does the device offer some unique experiences, but the library features enough quality titles to enjoy all the way until 20XX.
HOT: Puzzle Quest. Why? Combining Bejeweled with a RPG produced one of the year's best gaming experiences, which unfortunately flew under the radar of many casual gamers. Even if they don't like the idea of wizards, trolls, zombies, and dwarfs, the core gameplay provides a challenging, and addictive time for all.
HOT: Phoenix Wright: Trials and Tribulations. Why? Providing one of the most consistently good experiences in gaming the past few years, it would be a challenge to find DS owners who haven't taken a stab at being a legal eagle. Sure, it's approaching the point of Mega Man level series milking, but we're not quite there yet. Enjoy the good times -- and this game -- while they last.
NOT (sort of): Contra 4. Why? Wait, stay with us for a moment. We like Contra IV. We think its a great game, but the issue is that you shouldn't expect to pick this up for a little kid, and see them stay with it for more than a few tries. Contra IV would definitely be "HOT" for adults, but as a whole, this game should be purchased only for the people that boast about previous experience with the Contra franchise.
Who is this handheld best for? Anyone. Seriously. The defense rests.
It'll be one of, if not the hardest "toy" to find this Holidaze, so if you haven't started searching for one yet, you're already miles behind your competition. If your kids are screaming about Wii this year, it wasn't about going number one, but about Nintendo's console.
HOT: Super Mario Galaxy. Why? It's a him, Mario! The most iconic figure in all video games finally has a new platformer on the console. If you haven't picked up this one already, or if you just acquired a Wii, this needs to be the number one game on your list.
HOT: Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure. Why? Behind its cutesy exterior lies a plenty of puzzles to be solved, and a quality that, for Wii games, you usually only find in first party titles. Plus, aren't pirates really popular currently, or did parts two and three of Pirates of the Caribbean kill that rise they had going?
NOT: Most everything else. Odds are that if you're picking up the system, you'll be getting at the most two games with it. Please, please make those Super Mario Galaxy and Zak & Wiki.
Who is this console best for? Kids love it, grandparents love it, parents love it, but a certain subset of gamers turn their nose upwards around Nintendo's cream colored console. Maybe it's because being a hater is "cool." We wouldn't know.
Yes, those boxes sitting on your desk aren't just for connecting to the Internet and changing your profile picture on MySpace -- they can play games as well! Surprising, right? Despite the fact the majority of gaming takes place on a console (sans casual gaming), there are still titles on the PC worth picking up for those gamers in your life.
HOT: Crysis. Why? Aliens and guns are a pretty standard combination, but when the game manages to combine those with jaw dropping graphics, you have to take notice. You'll just want to make sure what type of graphics card their computer has, because this game requires a lot of power under the hood.
HOT: The Orange Box. Why? Same reasons we suggested it for Xbox 360 owners -- five games, and a mix of narrative experiences, quick multiplayer, and the best ending song for a game ever. And if you've already paid for Half-Life 2 and Half-Life 2: Episode One you can re-gift it to another individual! Score!
NOT: Windows Vista. Why? Because a buggy operation system only hinders a gamer's experience. Stick with XP for now.
Who is the PC best for? Um, hmm -- hey, look, over there!
Sony PlayStation 2
Yes, it's the console that keeps on giving. It's cheap, the games are still great, and did we mention the price?
HOT: God of War II. Why? It might seem God of War II came out last year, but it really was this year. But that was so long ago! Everyone must have played it, right? Right? If they haven't, do them a solid and get this game at a ridiculously reduced price. They'll love your, and your wallet won't be nearly as light.
HOT: Persona 3. Why? If you know someone who loves RPGs, with a mix of dungeon crawling and dating sims, Persona 3 is a perfect choice. However, you have been warned that you can miss seeing that individual for a period of 40-80 hours depending on how quickly they play a game. But maybe you wanted some alone time anyway.
NOT: Manhunt 2. Why? Controversy aside, the banning did nothing more than delay an average product from hitting shelves when it should have, forcing us to write about it for additional months.
Who is this console best for? Those who want a massive library of games to choose from. Even if their favorite genre is something obscure like "anime dating sim first person shooter adventures," there is most likely a game on the PS2 for them.
Sony PlayStation 3
The dark horse this holiday season, the PlayStation 3 looks to please gamers this Christmas with a lower price point, while still continuing to offer multiple versions on the market -- to clear up that confusion, check out our handy dandy SKU review.
HOT: Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. Why? Have you seen the reviews? This game could possibly be one of the best games of the year, and it's a PS3 exclusive. If you had told us that would have been the case at the start of the year, we would have scoffed at you. Scoffed! But now, we're eating crow, but it's a delicious one.
HOT: Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction. Why? While there are complaints that this series is starting to stagnate, we still think finding a better platforming experience on the PlayStation 3 would be a bit of a challenge. Plus, all the violence in this one is of the animated variety, which makes it better for kids than Uncharted.
HOT: Blu-ray movies. Why? Ratatouille in hi-def is a sight to behold. Plus, they're cheaper than most next-gen games.
NOT: Lair. Why? Because if we really wanted to use motion controls, we would play Wii games. Sure, driving a dragon around sounds like a great idea, but believe us when we say receiving this as a give would be seen as more of a punishment by gamers than a present.
Who is this console best for? People who absolutely must have every gadget; people who want a gaming system and hi-def video player in the same device.
If you're looking for deals on any of these systems or games, be sure to check out our "Black Friday" Holidaze guide as well.
Hopefully this guide allows you, or someone you know, make a more informed purchase this holiday season. Game on.