Gaming away the holiday

The holidays are upon us, meaning it’s time for Jesus people to cut down pine trees, Hebrews to light eight candles and overzealous suburban mothers to strew lights all across their houses. But more important than all of that is the deep discounting applied to videogames, just waiting to become someone’s gift during the forthcoming yuletide.

The holidays are upon us, meaning it’s time for Jesus people to cut down pine trees, Hebrews to light eight candles and overzealous suburban mothers to strew lights all across their houses. But more important than all of that is the deep discounting applied to videogames, just waiting to become someone’s gift during the forthcoming yuletide.

This year was, for gamers, one hell of a trip around the sun. We ushered in the seventh generation of gaming consoles with Nintendo’s Wii and Sony’s PlayStation 3. Master Chief’s story came to a close, and World of Warcraft broke nine million players, in addition to announcing a movie for 2009. The holiday season is high time for celebrating the gaming trend by buying the best of the best, sitting down with your friends and family and having it out over bouts of electronic glory.


Nintendo pretty much ruled the roost this year in terms of innovation, gaming library and cost. That should translate to you owning one, but if you don’t already have yourself a Wii, hop to it! It’s a great way to stay entertained in a winter wonderland, with such family-oriented titles as Mario Party 8, Super Mario Galaxy and Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games.

Notice a pattern there? It’s true that America’s favorite plumber is once again the flagship franchise for a new Nintendo console, and each of those games is innocent enough for the younger cousins and entertaining enough for your drunken grandparents.

For the mature gamer, Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles offers some intense first-person shooter action, as its story line expands upon Resident Evil titles of yore. The graphics and sound are pristine and engaging, achieving unprecedented levels of realistic gunnery, as the controls place players right in the thick of the monster slaying. There is a serious lack of influence from Resident Evil 2 and Code: Veronica, but this game is in and of itself a splendorous romp through the acme of survival horror.

The most elating game of the season, however, is NiGHTS: Journey of Dreams (!), slated for release on Friday, Dec. 18. Yes, the long-awaited sequel to the Sega Dreamcast title NiGHTS is nearly here, and the free-floating glory of the first game is intact. Players will soar through aerial dreamscapes so gorgeous that words don’t do the visuals justice. The controls with the Wii Remote will set new standards of innovation upon Journey’s release, so prepare yourself.

Xbox 360

This machine is the console of choice for action and first-person shooter titles, and with good reason. The Xbox 360 has the prettiest high-definition visuals of any console, and they are processed at blazing speeds with nary a moment of slowdown. Halo 3 took most of the spotlight regarding shooters on the 360, but other titles such as BioShock, Kane & Lynch: Dead Men and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare were also released on the Microsoft beast, and each is a blast to play. If you’re a member of a family that settles debacles with virtual arsenals and shrieking that the controller is broken each time you lose, the 360 is definitely the console for you.

Beyond shooting and shouting, the 360 sports a few exclusive role-playing games worth picking up. Eternal Sonata enters the deathbed dreams of Frédéric Chopin as players encounter mystical forces influencing his final visions. The story follows the heroics of a young man as he quests to save a tragedy-laden lass, soundtracked by the finest piano work in history as the allegory unfolds. It’s a very outlandish concept, though one that plays butter-smooth as it explores the journey from this life to the next via musical genius.

Also exclusive to the 360 is Mass Effect, an action-themed RPG that sets gamers to the task of blasting rogue aliens hell-bent on exterminating anyone not of their kind the universe over. Artificial intelligence and human spirits collide, and though the concept isn’t entirely new, the game play is exemplary. Early impressions indicate that this game will become tantamount to the Halo series, with a trilogy planned over the next five years. If you crave another prolonged tale spun via stellar game play and intense battle mechanics, Mass Effect will satiate your desire.

PlayStation 3

Sony fucked this idea up in a major way. They overestimated the market force of cutting-edge technology by about a year, and the 2007 gaming year was not kind to this little black box. However, the gaming library is coming up as the price comes down—two occurrences well timed for the holidays. It might be worth waiting a while, given that “the best is yet to come.” (Hooray for Metal Gear Solid jokes!)

However, if you already have one or are expecting delivery as a holiday gift, there are some titles worth their salt. Uncharted: Drakes Fortune, a recent title from Crash Bandicoot creator Naughty Dog Studios, places gamers in the shoes of treasure hunter Nathan Drake. He is seeking clues about his legendary ancestor of a similar profession, Sir Francis Drake, when he comes across ruthless mercenaries who want the legendary explorer’s heirlooms for sake of cold, hard cash. It’s a bit like National Treasure set amid the mystical isle of El Dorado, only with more guns and less Nicholas Cage (thank you, Naughty Dog).

Also of note for the PS3 is Folklore, a story about Ellen, a confused young woman struggling with the recent death of her mother, and Keats, an occult journalist who can’t say no to danger and discovery. They are both summoned to Doolin, Ireland by obscure letters, and before long they are set on an adventure through Netherworld (read: fictitious Gaelic hell) to solve a murder and find the truth about Ellen’s familial past. The soundtrack is some of the most poignant music ever to grace a game, and the graphical engine is lush and gripping. The battle engine is innovative, involving a “yank” system of energy that continues to evolve during game progression.

Beyond the tenebrous tales of the games above, the PS3 has a lighter side in Ratchet and Clank Future: Tools of Destruction. The action follows thrill-seeking bobcat Ratchet and his robo-buddy Clank as they duke it out in space with Emperor Percival Tachyon, a typical badass on a power trip with a head full of intent for smiting the heroic duo. The game play is kept fresh via the PS3 controller’s tilt sensitivity, which is used for character movement and the occasional weapon boost. The graphics and sound are everything you’d expect of a platform adventure, and few games this year are as much lighthearted fun.

Nintendo DS

This little machine is still churning out some great, if addictive, titles that will help any school-deprived soul pass the downtime. This year was a bit slow for the DS, but a few of the titles released in 2007 are worth snagging and enjoying.

Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass is a DS exclusive that picks up where Phantom Hourglass left off, with Link chasing after the elusive Ghost Ship that is terrorizing islands in the Great Sea. The game play is unique, given that there is a battle mode that pits players against each other in a hide-and-seek type game. The graphics and sound are as good as it gets on the DS, and the game play isn’t too challenging, so pick this one up for either a gaming pro or a youngster who thinks Link’s tunic is just a silly costume.

For the more mature DS owner, Contra 4 fits the bill nicely. It’s a return to the side-scrolling glory of Konami past, as Bill and Lance return to Galuga Island of the original Contra to once again blast through hoards of baddies. The original soundtrack can be heard on hard mode, and it’s even possible to play the first installment as a bonus. This is a great game for Contra novices and veterans alike.