Gamer’s Holiday Shopping Guide – The Game’s That Are "Tree-Worthy"

by Yo Snyder

What should go under the Christmas tree? Perhaps this year
more than ever, that’s quite the conundrum for gamers. There have been so many
stellar releases this year, with a huge glut of them in just the past few
months, that it’s been hard to keep up. However, to help you shop for the gamer
in your life, here’s the very best of the best from 2011 and our suggestions
for what’s truly “tree-worthy”. For more on each of these games, look for the
full reviews at the games section of The Guide.

Exclusives –

Wii: The Legend of
Zelda: Skyward Sword

The truth of the matter is the Wii is on its way out, and
the software released proves that more than anything. Can you think of any
major releases for the Wii this year? Did you even play anything on the Wii
this year? Sales are declining and Nintendo unveiled the Wii U at this year’s
E3, so don’t expect any major efforts to revive it. Still, it wasn’t all bad
for the Wii this year. It did get one of the greatest games ever before its
demise. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward
is a revelation. It shows the true potential of the Wii’s motion
controls (ironically, it’s a bit too late). The design and story and art are
all top notch. Some have said this game may exceed even Ocarina of Time. Well, we’ll leave that debate up to you. All I
know is if you’re looking for a game for the Wii, this is it. There pretty much
isn’t anything else, but you know what? Skyward
is so good, that doesn’t really matter.

Xbox 360: Gears of War
3 –

Halo may be the title best associated as an Xbox exclusive,
and while there was a Halo game released this year, Halo CE: Anniversary, it was a remake of the original and doesn’t
really count in our minds of a “new” release no matter how well it was done.
The other big exclusive is Gears of War, and that series wrapped up its first
trilogy (come on, you know there’s going to be more) in fine fashion. Taking
all the lessons learned from the first two games, Gears of War 3 was an amazing exclusive for the Xbox 360. A fine
campaign with some genuinely emotional moments, solid multiplayer and an even
better Horde mode for cooperative play made this one of the stand out games and
the best exclusive for the Xbox 360. Yes, it’s a M rated game, but I have to
give props to the developers for at least giving gamers the option to turn off
the offensive language and the excessive gore.

Playstation 3: Uncharted
3: Drake’s Deception

Part Indiana Jones adventure, part Michael Bay action flick,
all fun. Uncharted 3 perfects the
formula from the first two games and creates an immersive, exciting adventure
for players to experience first-hand. Some amazing action set-pieces are
complemented by some enjoyable puzzles and exploration to make a top-rate
adventure game exclusive to the PS3. Toss in some enjoyable multiplayer and you
not only have one of the best games on the PS3, but one of the best games on
any console this year.

By Genre —

Racing: Forza
Motorsport 4

Yeah, I know Gran Turismo has weather effects and nighttime
driving, which is all pretty cool. It also has more cars and tracks, that’s
true. However, Forza excels in some pretty key areas. One: the attention to
detail. Every car has a detailed interior view, and they all look like
premium cars; each rendered with exquisite detail. Two: the look and the sound.
The new lighting model and graphics engine for Forza 4 makes it one gorgeous game, but looks aren’t everything
when it comes to cars; I like to hear those engines roar. When it comes to
sound design there’s no comparison; Forza sings while GT mumbles. Finally,
there’s the incredible online community options. From tuning to paint jobs and
decals to car clubs and customizable online races, Forza 4‘s online community is as robust as it is fun. If you’re
looking for a racer this year; this is the one.

Shooter: Battlefield 3

I know, I know. Many will cry foul at this one, so feel free
to send me your hate mail pointing out that Call
of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
outsold Battlefield
2 to 1. More sales, however, does not mean a better game. Still, I admit
this comes down to preference. CoD: MW3 is fun in a Michael Bayhem type of way,
but I like the deeper substance Battlefield
offers. It’s not just about twitch shooting, it’s about being smart. It’s
not just about you; it’s about playing as a team. It’s not just about being
good with a gun, it’s learning to use vehicles well to your advantage in order
to dominate the battlefield. Plus, I like the destruction of Battlefield 3. When the battle is over,
I like that the level looks like a battle actually took place. Plus, the sound
design for Battlefield 3 far exceeds
MW3, especially when the sound is set to War Tapes. I know that Call of Duty is
the shooter juggernaut, but I just like Battlefield
better. For me, if you’re looking for a shooter, this is the one.

Action/Adventure: Batman:
Arkham City
, honorable mention Elder
Scrolls V: Skyrim

This is kind of cheat, I know. There are so many great
adventure games available this year that I had to find a way to mention them
all. Making Zelda and Uncharted my picks for console exclusives means for the
best in the genre outside of those exclusives can be something else (hey, I’m
making the rules here). Batman: Arkham
is not just a great super-hero game, it’s just a great game. An
amazing story, engaging puzzles, awesome combat, top-notch voice acting, an
immersive world; it has it all. The game functions very much as a Zelda-esque
adventure game with some Metroid and Splinter Cell elements mixed in which all
adds up to awesomeness. Don’t miss it. However, if capes and cowls aren’t your
thing, Skyrim may be more for you. A
huge, detailed, vibrant, living world filled with quests and dragons awaits.
There’s so much choice and freedom in this game it’s almost paralyzing. And
dragons are always cool.

Puzzle: Portal 2

It’s challenging, it’ll make you think, and it’s out and out
funny. Portal 2 is one of the top
games of the year for its challenging puzzles and outrageously funny
characters. I’ve rarely quoted a game like a movie, but I was quoting the best
lines from this game all the time; it’s that funny. However, when it’s not
tickling your funny bone, it’s twisting your mind. There are some tough puzzles
here, but they are so satisfying when you finally solve them. Better yet, solve
them with a friend either split-screen or online. Good stuff. If you haven’t
tried it, you should.

Platformer: Super
Mario 3D Land

Surprisingly enough, this was a good year for platformers.
Both Rayman and Sonic the Hedgehog had strong showings with Rayman Origins and Sonic Generations. Plus there was also the criminally underrated de Blob 2. Still, Mario is king if for
no other fact he’s once again defining a console. The 3DS hasn’t had much if
any original titles, and certainly not very many that showed why 3D changes
gaming as opposed to just being a neat looking gimmick. Super Mario 3D Land shows why playing games in 3D can be better. It
takes the best elements of Super Mario 64
and Super Mario Galaxy and mixes it
all together for a fun romp in glorious 3D. If you need a reason to own a 3DS,
it’s finally here.

Music/Dance: Dance
Central 2

With a few caveats, Dance
Central 2
is one of the best reasons to own a Kinect and one of the best
dancing/rhythm games around. Can you actually learn to dance playing this game?
That’s still debatable, but you’ll get pretty close. The accuracy and precision
of Kinect as it tracks your movements is pretty impressive. The new multiplayer
features make the game even more fun as it truly feels like a party with
players dancing at the same time. Concerns over some of the song selections and
the associated dance moves and how kid friendly they may or may not be should
deter some families from getting on the dance floor; but careful selection to
avoid those few samples makes for a good time.

Sports: Madden NFL 12

This slot should probably go to FIFA 12, but to be honest, I haven’t played it and so Madden 12 is my top sports game for the
year. There aren’t any surprises here. The graphics have improved, franchise
mode has seen an upgrade (which sadly does NOT carry over to the online mode),
online communities is a fun new addition, and better A.I. makes for a tougher
though more realistic game. However, familiar issues still crop up with
repetitive commentary that doesn’t always track with what’s happening on the
field, a fairly shallow Superstar mode, and the aforementioned lack of
improvements to the online franchise. Still, you can’t find a better football
game, unless you like “real” football, and then there’s FIFA 12.

So there’s a look at our top picks this holiday season for
video games, but you’d like a few more choices, here are some other games that
we really enjoyed this past year. Happy shopping and happy gaming everyone, and
thank you for making The Guide your source for a Christian perspective on video
games and more.

3DS games:

Mario Kart 7
Customizable karts, karts that fly and go underwater, online play, StreetPass
functions and more; it’s another fun, solid entry for Mario Kart and a great
reason to own a 3DS.

The Legend of Zelda:
Ocarina of Time 3D
— The classic looks better than ever and is still just
as fun and magical; plus the new exclusive 3DS bundle makes a it a no brainer
for people who haven’t tried it. That Zelda 3DS just looks cool.

Pilotwings Resort
One of the few launch games that showed why 3D gaming can be great. Simple,
easy, fun.

Steel Diver — It’s
the fun, battleship-esque multiplayer that really makes this game worth owning.

Pokemon White
One of the best Pokemon games out there with some fun new features; gotta catch
’em all.

Kinect games:

Kinect Sports Season 2
— Football, golf, tennis, darts, skiing are all a lot of fun with Kinect. Voice
commands are nice touch as well.

Xbox Live Arcade:

From Dust — a unique
game that’s challenging and a lot of fun, it’s also quite gorgeous.


Deus EX: Human
— There’s been some great adventure games this year, but if you’re
looking for an in-depth, complex, futuristic, vaguely Blade Runner-esque type
game that plays like a more action-heavy Arkham Asylum, this is the game for


Lego Pirates of the
— The charm of Jack Sparrow in Lego form; how could you resist?

Lego Star Wars III:
The Clone Wars
— The Clone Wars comes to life in Lego form, with some fun
new game mechanics to help keep things fresh.

deBlob 2 — If it
wasn’t for Mario, this would be my platformer of choice. deBlob is an original,
innovative, gorgeous looking game that you simply must play.


Halo CE: Anniversary
— A HD remake of the game that revolutionized the shooter genre and birthed a
console. Fun features like being able to switch between the original graphics
and HD graphics are pretty neat.