Video game fans are always seeking new and improved ways to beat their opponents, making them an easy target for gift givers. In the spirit of the holidays, we looked at some of this season's must-have games and gadgets. But first, the basics.
What game system you choose largely depends on whether you want to play on the go or sit in front of the television.
This was the year that portable games really took off, as evidenced by the popularity of the $130 Nintendo DS by Nintendo Co. and the $299 PlayStation Portable from Sony Corp.
The PSP is a sleek gadget that plays movies and music as well as sharp-looking games. The DS, meanwhile, packs dual screens, touch sensitivity and a microphone for some truly interactive gaming.
If you want to game without looking like the kiddies, consider the Game Boy Micro. At $99, it only plays aging Game Boy Advance games, but the Micro's modern, diminutive design fits in a boardroom as easily as a classroom (or a shirt pocket).
On the console side, the machine du jour is Microsoft Corp.'s new Xbox 360. At $399.99 for the fully loaded version, it's a worthy successor to the old Xbox and a must-have for anyone wondering what the next-generation of video game consoles can do.
Older game systems - the original Xbox, Nintendo's GameCube and Sony's venerable PlayStation 2 - remain relative bargains, all of them costing $150 or less.
In fact, most new titles are still being made for these aging systems, so don't worry about obsolescence anytime soon. At the same time, personal computers have become the system of choice for vast online multiplayer worlds that can take years to conquer.
So you've plunked down the cash for a console - be prepared to spend from $30 to $50 on average for the actual games.
There are hundreds of games to choose from, more than I can fit. But here's a sampling of a few that are sure to please gamers of every persuasion.
- Call of Duty 2 (Rated T, Xbox 360 and PC, $49.99-$59.99)
It's not going to lift holiday spirits, but war buffs will be absolutely transfixed with "Call of Duty 2." It vividly captures the horror and heroism of World War II. A history lesson of sorts, this game immerses players in actual re-enactments spanning North Africa and the frigid Russian front. The graphics here are among the best in any game.
- SOCOM: U.S. Navy SEALs Fireteam Bravo (Rated M, PSP, $39.99)
This military shooter starring U.S. Navy SEALS takes the multiplayer mayhem found in the SOCOM games for the PlayStation 2 and brings it to the PSP's portable realm, with great results. The widescreen PSP gives you a great window as you work with teammates to annihilate your foes. If you have a headset, you can even talk strategy to your teammates and smack at the enemy.
- Peter Jackson's King Kong: The Official Game of the Movie (Rated T, all platforms, $39.99-$59.00)
If you'd rather not wait for the theatrical release in December, this new game based on director Peter Jackson's re-imagining of the film classic should hold you over. You begin as gun-toting script writer Jack Driscoll on monster-infested Skull Island. Things really get going once you start swinging around to battle dinosaurs and hateful humans as the love-stricken Kong.
- Indigo Prophecy (Rated M, PC, Playstation 2, Xbox, $39.99)
The French designers behind "Indigo Prophecy" have single-handedly revived the dying adventure game genre with this excellent, not-to-be-overlooked title. Set in the snowy streets of New York, this crime saga blends occult visions with cinematic interludes, good virtual acting, and a truly unique control system. In a time when many game makers are playing it safe with boring sequels, this one will appeal to any gamer sick of the same old same old.
- Mario Kart DS (Rated E, Nintendo DS, $34.99)
"Mario Kart DS" is the best version yet in Nintendo's series of addictive, child-friendly racers. Thanks to Nintendo's free Wi-Fi multiplayer network, you can vie for the finish line against contestants across the globe. The thrill of knocking out foes with turtle shells and banana peels is made even more fun knowing that these are real people you're defeating (or in my case, losing to).
- City of Villains (Rated T, PC, $49.99, one month free; monthly subscription fee thereafter)
If you're sick of always playing the good guy, "City of Villains" provides a pleasingly evil alternative. This massively multiplayer online game (translation: hundreds of other wannabe evildoers are with you at the same time) lets you design your very own arch villain, then set him or her loose in this fictional comic book universe.