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Holiday shopping guide for gamers


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POSTED: Monday, December 21, 2009

If there's one thing to be said as video-game shoppers stare agape at walls and shelves crammed with games for every platform available, it's this: This year could have been far worse in terms of the number of quality options available.

Alas, the game players on their list will have to wait until early next year for such anticipated sizzlers as “;Bayonetta,”; “;Dante's Inferno,”; “;Bioshock 2,”; “;God of War III”; and “;Mass Effect 2.”; Many publishers didn't want to cannibalize sales in light of the 300-ton gorilla in the room: ”;Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2”; (for Sony PlayStation 3, Microsoft Xbox 360 and PC), the latest installment in the popular military first-person tactical shooter series.

Yet, these remain good times for gamers. The PS3 is slimmer in size and price (now about $299.99) but bulked up in its internal hard drive (120 GB and 250 GB models are now available). The Xbox 360 (base models start at $199.99) and Nintendo's Wii ($199.99) are cheaper than they were a year ago.

On the portable gaming front, Nintendo and Sony rolled out revamped versions of their systems. The Nintendo DSi ditched backward compatibility with Game Boy Advance cartridges in favor of a built-in camera and the ability to purchase and download DSiWare, assorted games and digital-only applications. Sony's PSP Go ditched the proprietary media the original models used, in favor of digital purchases.

But what to buy for those systems? There are obvious choices (”;Modern Warfare 2”; being one of them), and then there are the games that are not as well known but still deserve some love this holiday season, as follows.

 

For the family

Looking for a game that will appeal to players of all ages? These games fit that requirement nicely.

» ”;A Boy and His Blob”; (Wii, rated E): A boy feeds his pet blob different-flavored jellybeans to transform it into different shapes to thwart an evil emperor whose aim is to take over the blob's planet. The game has what might be the cutest feature in a game this year: the “;hug”; button that causes the boy to embrace his blob, to the accompaniment of a happy cooing sound. Obstacles cast by the emperor present enough of a challenge to keep gaming veterans entertained, while hints help young'uns along.

» ”;Katamari Forever”; (PS3, rated E): The basic concept hasn't evolved much in five years' worth of “;Katamari”; games: The Prince of All Cosmos is called upon to roll up assorted objects, from the tiniest pushpin to the largest galaxy, into one giant ball of twitching organic life forms and inanimate objects. It may have worn thin for some, but others will still love the game-play, quirky humor and distinctly Japanese soundtrack.

» ”;New Super Mario Bros. Wii”; (Wii, rated E for all ages): Buying a game with Nintendo's Italian plumber mascot has been a sure bet more often than not. Mario's latest 2-D adventure, though, brings fun multiplayer mayhem into the mix. Remember that as your friend casts you into the abyss so he or she can grab an extra-life mushroom for himself or herself.

 

Hard-core adventures

Experienced gamers are always looking for the next challenge, something that really feels like they're getting their money's worth. These games will give them a run for their money and then some.

» ”;Assassin's Creed 2”; (PS3, Xbox 360, PC; rated M for mature audiences 17 and older): Ubisoft listened to criticism of its first game and made this tale of the assassin Ezlo in Renaissance Italy a less repetitive experience, with more missions and chances to explore the game world.

» ”;Demon's Souls”; (PS3, rated M): In this role-playing game, an adventurer enters a kingdom shrouded by fog and populated by demons. And then he dies. A lot. Make no mistake, this game is fiendishly difficult, but with the help of other players online, one can make it through. Maybe. Some of those players could just be in it for themselves, after all.

» “;Halo 3: ODST”; (Xbox 360, rated M): The single-player mode further fleshes out the mythos of the “;Halo”; universe. Dedicated “;Halo 3”; fans will appreciate new multiplayer maps. But where you likely will spend the most time is in “;Firefight,”; where players battle against waves of increasingly difficult enemies.

» ”;Left 4 Dead 2”; (Xbox 360, PC; rated M): Battling zombie hordes never gets old, particularly when you can play online with a group of friends.

 

Gaming to go

You can't be sitting in front of the TV all the time. Get out, grab some sun and take a portable system with one of these games loaded.

» ”;Half-Minute Hero”; (PSP, rated E-10 for ages 10 and up): The perfect game for fans of old-school role-playing games (like the early “;Final Fantasy”; games) and anyone with short attention spans. The object: Save the world and beat the game in 30 seconds. Over and over and over again.

» ”;Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box”; (DS, rated E): I adore the “;Professor Layton”; series for good reason: The stories, featuring puzzle-solving professor Hershel Layton and his inquisitive assistant Luke, are engrossing, the music is quaint and the brain-teasers range from simple (”;Navigate this maze!”;) to deceptively simple (”;Find the differences in these pictures!”;) to tear-your-hair-out difficult (”;With all these shapes in the way, maneuver this ball from point A to point B! This can be finished in as few as 12 moves, but you'll probably take 187! GOOD LUCK!”;). Prepare to be humbled. A lot.

» ”;Scribblenauts”; (DS, rated E): Much of the fun in this game comes from typing in any word you can think of (except for the dirty ones, ya pervs) and having it rendered immediately as an in-game object. These objects can then be used to navigate obstacles. For instance, is there a wall of fire blocking the exit? Type in “;hose”; to conjure up a water hose to put it out or “;blanket”; to smother it or “;lake”; to plunge it into a watery abyss. The only limit is your vocabulary.

For more video game picks, visit “;Otaku Ohana”; at blogs.starbulletin.com/otakuohana.