The holidays literally fell upon us here in the north east. While the gaming scene last year focused primarily on systems such as the release of the Playstation 2 and the Nintendo Wii, this is the year for games. It usually takes a year before console games really start to match the power of the hardware and this year was no exception. Nearly every week since the beginning of October, excellent games have been released for all of the top gaming platforms.
Today we will take a look at some of the better gaming gifts this year.
Top Choice: Nintendo DS
The Gameboy sold 118 million units in its fifteen year lifespan and now the Nintendo DS looks to leap over it. The Nintendo DS could very likely be the most popular game system ever made. It accomplished this feat in the following ways: it is priced well at $130, it has a large library of very good games, and it is easy to play. It isn't uncommon to see many non-gamers playing games like Brain Age and Pokemon every spare minute. If Xbox Live Arcade and the Nintendo Virtual Console show the popularity of casual gaming, the Nintendo DS manifests it completely.
The Nintendo DS is the best of all game systems on the market. Unlike the Wii's Wiimote, Nintendo and other third parties clearly understand how to use the touch screen of the DS. While not all of the top games on the DS use the touch screen, others, like Zelda Phantom Hourglass and Brain Age, use it completely.
The Nintendo DS will make an excellent gift.
Top Console: Xbox 360
Of all the current home consoles, the Xbox 360 is the best one. The controller is simple and elegant, a single device with enough buttons and controls to control some complicated games but ergonomic enough to make it easy to play some of the simpler Xbox Live Arcade games. Unlike the Wii's required classic controller and nunchuck, the 360's single controller is all that is needed for any of the 360 games save Guitar Hero or Rock Band for obvious reasons.
Technically the 360 is very strong. It includes in-game Dolby Digital sound and high definition graphics up to 1080p. If you want your new HDTV to look great, try out one of the better looking 360 games.
Xbox Live is an excellent online system and probably the biggest strength of the 360. One can buy the Xbox 360 basic system for $350 and immediately download ten game demos and maybe a hundred Xbox Live Arcade demos. Unlike the Wii's online store, a 360 owner can try out any of these game demos for free without any additional cost. Xbox Live also includes one of the best persistent player reputation systems. If you pay the 360 tax of $50 every six months, you can play games online with your friends as well. This multi-player tax is one of the drawbacks of Xbox Live, but it's a small one when you consider what you get for free.
Of all of the top systems right now, including the Wii and the Playstation 3, the 360 has the strongest line up of good games, the best characteristics, the best online mode, and at a decent cost. Save your money from the PS3 and save your time from the Wii; get the 360.
The empire of World of Warcraft continues to grow with nearly ten million subscribers and generating over five hundred million in profit every year. For a game that requires staying power, WoW has it.
WoW continues to be one of the best, if not the best, massive multiplayer online game available. With beautiful graphics, a huge world, excellent solo, group, and raid play; the game has something for just about everyone. WoW can point its success to playing well on lower end systems, extremely accessible gameplay, and tons of polish. WoW itself can be purchased for $20 while Burning Crusade runs another $20. For forty bucks and $15 a month, it builds one of the largest and most beautiful virtual worlds ever to exist.
World of Warcraft isn't for everyone. While it appeals to the masses, others seek the worlds off of the superhighways of gaming. Everquest continues strong into its eighth year with the release of Secrets of Faydwer, a single package that contains the core game and all fourteen expansions. While not as newbie friendly or clearly accessible as World of Warcraft, Everquest contains years worth of content. Not bad for $25 on Amazon.
It's probably not worth mentioning considering the popularity but Halo 3 is the game to own on the 360. A strong single player campaign, excellent co-op play, and a deep reward system for the wide range of multi-player competition modes all combine into a game that will likely remain active for years to come. Halo 3 is the strongest 360 game available.
Half Life 2 on its own is an excellent game. The two expansion packs are each strong, although short, diversions back into the world of Black Mesa. Combine this with Team Fortress, a class based first person shooter, and then throw a 3d platform game in the mix and you have a lot to do in a single box. If you have only one game to buy, this might be the one.
Guitar Hero 2 changed how I understood video games. I have never had as much fun playing a game as I did nailing "Freebird" on Hard. I hosted "Dress Like A Rock Star" Guitar Hero 2 parties and played until my fingers went numb. Guitar Hero reminds us that the core of gaming is fun. The closer to fun the game keeps you, the better game it is. Rock Band appears to take Guitar Hero to the next level with new songs, additional instruments, and new modes of play. I've got a fever and the only prescription is more cowbell!
Though I have not yet played it, Assassin's Creed appears quite strong. Some reviews point to repetitive gameplay as a failing but made up for with visual beauty and a very strong protagonist. This one appears to be a good one.
Though the top Xbox 360 seem to focus on first person shooters, Mass Effect may break the mold. A powerful story and character driven dialog seem to be the strengths of this game with a solid RPG engine within. I'm looking forward to this one.
The wild shot: The Ott-Lite TrueColor Floor Lamp
For the big reader in your life, nothing beats a good strong natural light. The OTT-LITE floor lamp brings out the pure color of a good graphic novel and makes sitting and reading a book over hours a true pleasure. It may look expensive but Michael's usually has them on sale for 50% off. I love mine.
Everyone either has a Wii or wants a Wii. Though it's been out for over a year, Wiis are still nearly impossible to get. I've had a Wii nearly since its release. I waited in line at four in the morning to get one. I've played through Zelda and Metroid. It is with this experience that I can say the following:
Though Zelda, Mario, and Metroid are all strong titles, they are at the top of a small narrow hill. There aren't a lot of games for the Wii and very few have used the Wiimote in any strong or positive way. Though sold as a system for non-gamers, the Wii is surprisingly complex with two main controllers, a classic controller, and a game cube controller all required to play across all the games the system can play. I can't see how non-gamers will ever be able to figure out the complex controls of Zelda or Metroid. Even as an experienced gamer with 10 hours of time into Metroid, I still pressed the wrong buttons. Though far more classical, I found the Xbox 360 controller to be a lot simpler and a lot more intuitive for the games that use it properly.
The Wii also lacks Dolby Digital sound and high definition resolution. While some may point out that few people have HDTVs, they are a lot cheaper now than they used to be and all the HD consoles will still play on normal TVs. The time for low resolution gaming is over. With every Wii game I play, part of me always wishes that I could play the game in HD.
Nintendo's Virtual Console game download system also trails behind Xbox Live for one clear reason: no free trial version. While I can try out every 360 game before I buy it, it will cost me ten bucks to remember how much I hated Contra 3. People shouldn't have to pay just to try out the first level of a game they paid for 10 years ago.
When all is said and done, the Xbox 360 is the strongest console out there. The Wii, while very popular, has clear shortcomings and, until it has a stronger library, can be easily missed.
So there we have this year's Mobhunter Buyers Guide. This is a great year for gaming on nearly all fronts. With the initial battles of the console wars behind us, now the publishers focus on delivering the best games we've ever played. Now is the time to enjoy them.
7 December 2007