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Whether it’s a new console or one of the hottest games of the season, the latest in gaming is always a great gift idea for the holidays. And fortunately there are plenty of options this year, both for kids as well as the hardcore gamer in your life.
Den of Geek is here to fill you in on the very best gaming gifts this holiday season. Below, you’ll find our favorite games of the year as well as the next-gen consoles you absolutely need to pick up if you’re looking for an upgrade.
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Nintendo Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda
Most companies would celebrate the 35th anniversary of a landmark game with a remake or compilation of the series’ best titles, but Nintendo has never been the typical gaming company. Instead, the famed Japanese publisher is celebrating the milestone with a whole new portable console.
Based on Nintendo’s classic handhelds from the ‘80s, Game & Watch: The Legend of Zelda features pixel perfect ports of both Legend of Zelda NES games, the Game Boy classic Link’s Awakening, a remake of Vermin featuring Link, plus a Zelda-themed clock and timer.
This is a perfect choice for long time fans of the series, retro gamers, or just anyone who enjoys portable gaming but who doesn’t want to go all-in on a smartphone or Nintendo Switch.
Xbox Series X
Microsoft’s top-of-the line console delivers stunning 4K graphics targeting 60 FPS on most titles, with select games also including ray tracing and 120 FPS (if you have the TV or monitor to handle it). Absent a high-powered gaming PC, this is the best way to experience Forza Horizon 5 and Halo Infinite this holiday season.
The Xbox Series X is also a boon for those who enjoy classic games. It’s fully compatible with the entire Xbox One library, plus most of the better titles released on the Xbox 360 and original Xbox. Many of these games also feature better frame rate, higher resolution, or auto HDR thanks to the impressive power of the Series X.
Xbox Series S
If the Xbox Series X is a little too much for your wallet, the Series S is an excellent option for next-gen gaming on a budget. It renders most games at a slightly lower resolution the Series X, but can still hit 120 FPS on quite a few titles. Best of all, you still get access to all the great perks of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate as well as the full library of backward compatible titles.
The cons are that this console lacks a disc drive, meaning you’ll only be able to play digital games on it, and it also has half the internal storage capacity of the Series X. Still, if the gamer in your life favors digital downloads and is pickier about FPS over resolution, the Series S is a great, affordable console.
$499.99 with disc drive, $399.99 without disc drive
The PlayStation 5 has been almost impossible to find since launch, and unfortunately, that’s not going to change this holiday. Unlike the new Xbox line, both PS5 models offer the same performance. The only difference is the inclusion of a disc drive, so keep that in mind if you’re buying for a gamer who prefers physical media.
The PS5 is currently the only way to play the latest in the Ratchet & Clank game, rogue-lite Returnal, and the time-bending shooter Deathloop, which is quite the impressive first year library. But probably its biggest advantage over the Xbox is the fantastic controller featuring haptic feedback and adaptive triggers so that each action in every PS5 game truly feels immersive.
Nintendo Switch OLED
Nintendo’s update of the massively popular Switch isn’t the 4K upgrade that many were expecting, but it’s still a huge improvement for those who prefer to play this console-portable hybrid on the go. The OLED screen is much brighter and more detailed than the original release, and it really makes new games like Metroid Dread and the The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD pop. The 64 GB of internal storage — twice what was in previous versions of the Switch — is a nice touch too.
Unfortunately, like Xbox and PlayStation consoles, the Switch OLED is difficult to find this holiday season, but it’s still a must have for hardcore Switch users or those finally looking to pick up Nintendo’s latest console for the first time. You might just have to wait a while to get your hands on one.
Alan Wake Remastered
Alan Wake’s original release was one of the most underrated games of the last decade, an innovative psychological horror masterpiece that will keep you guessing until the very end. This remaster doesn’t mess with much from the cult classic, but of course, the graphics are greatly improved, especially if you’re playing on the PS5 or Series X. It also marks the first time it’s ever been available on a Sony console, making it a great gift for PlayStation owners who missed out on it the first time around.
Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy surprised almost everyone at launch. Despite Square Enix’s less than stellar track record with Marvel games (looking at you, Marvel’s Avengers), the latest from Eidos Montreal seriously delivers. You only play as Star Lord, but Gamorah, Drax, Rocket, and Groot join him as he travels to several fantastic planets as part of an all new adventure, with a few deep cuts from the comics. The combat is surprisingly strong throughout, and the writing and classic rock soundtrack perfectly match the tone of the beloved MCU movies. This is great pick up for a Marvel fan.
Oculus Quest 2
$299.99 for 128 GB model and $399.99 for 256 GB model
While next-gen consoles remain elusive, VR headsets are readily available this holiday season. Facebook’s Oculus Quest 2 is the best headset available for the price, giving you access to some superb exclusives like Resident Evil 4 and Half-Life Alyx. It should also provide a leg up for anyone interested in Facebook’s ambitious metaverse plans.
Xbox Game Pass Ultimate Subscription
$14.99 for one month, $44.99 for three months
A Game Pass Ultimate subscription is a must-have for any Xbox owner. Not only does it give you unlimited access to Xbox Live, which is required to play games online, but Microsoft now offers a rotating catalog of over 200 games that can be downloaded and played in full each month. Many games are also now playable on PC or smartphones thanks to the excellent cloud support. It’s also the most affordable way to experience some of the Xbox’s biggest holiday exclusives, like Halo Infinite and Forza Horizon 5.
$9.99 for one month, $24.99 for three months, or $59.99 for 12 months
Not to be outdone by Microsoft, Sony offers its own subscription service similar to Game Pass. PlayStation Now offers an extensive library of more than 700 games ranging from PS3 classics like Uncharted 2 and Red Dead Redemption to blockbuster PS4 games like God of War and The Last of Us Part II. There are even a handful of PS2 gems available as well. Plus, all games can be streamed through a PS4, PS5, or PC.
Metroid games are few and far between compared to Nintendo’s other big franchises, but the company has always hit it out of the park with its sci-fi series. Metroid Dread features the classic 2D platforming gameplay that spawned the entire Metroidvania subgenre, with some added twists. The big new feature in Dread is E.M.M.I. zones — areas where invincible robots relentlessly hunt down Samus. Figuring out how to get past, and eventually defeat these tough enemies, almost makes Metroid Dread more of a horror puzzle game than previous titles in the series.
Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury
Super Mario 3D World is one of the best Mario games to date, but sadly it was largely ignored when it originally released in 2013 due to being stuck on the Wii U. The Switch port finally introduces its stellar four-player platforming to a wider audience, and full portability is a major bonus as well.
Even if you’re shopping for a gamer who played it on the Wii U, it’s worth double dipping for the brand new Bowser’s Fury mode, a series of timed challenges in an open world featuring a Godzilla-like Bowser. It’s a really innovative preview of where Nintendo might take the Super Mario series in the future.
Pokemon Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl
The original Pokemon Diamond and Pearl are still considered among the very best in the long-running franchise by many Pokemon fans, and these remakes bring some badly needed modern updates, including 3D graphics, greater customization, and new opportunities to catch legendary Pokemon. The Underground from the original titles has also been revamped into the Grand Underground with even more chances to battle and catch extremely strong Pokemon.
Forza Horizon 5
Over the last decade, Playground Games has perfected the formula for open-world racing games. Forza Horizon 5 isn’t a huge step forward for this series, but the controls and graphics have been tweaked just enough to make this entry worth picking up. Plus, the massive map of Mexico, from the shallow creek beds to the snowy mountaintops, is absolutely breathtaking. Forza Horizon 5 is fully playable on the Xbox One, but it’s also a great showcase for the power of the Series X, whether you play it in quality or performance mode.
Mass Effect Legendary Edition
Whether you’re looking to get a game for someone who’s never played Mass Effect before or someone who’s run through the original trilogy a dozen times, the Legendary Edition is absolutely worth a purchase. The upgrades to the original Mass Effect alone make it worth another playthrough, but the graphical improvements to all three games (especially on next-gen) make them feel like brand new releases. Mass Effect is arguably the best trilogy in all of gaming, and this is hands down the best way to experience it now.
Xbox and PC gamers have had an early taste of Halo Infinite’s multiplayer for a couple weeks now, and if it’s anything to go by, the single player campaign should be fantastic when it releases on Dec. 8. Developer 343 Industries has promised that it’s learned from past criticisms of the last two games and developed a story that focuses more on Master Chief. The open world-lite structure of missions should also inject a modern spin into the venerable series, and so far the graphics look like they have received a substantial upgrade for the Series X.
If you’re looking to get something completely different for the gamer who’s played it all, Deathloop is the way to go. Essentially, it’s a first-person shooter, and there are some basic similarities to Arkane’s Dishonored series, but Deathloop incorporates a time loop that resets every day and makes things MUCH more interesting.
As assassin Colt, you have to assassinate all eight targets during that time before the loop resets. Add in a swinging ‘60s vibe and a surprisingly hilarious sense of humor, and you have one of the best and most unique games to come around in years.
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart
Ratchet & Clank may have been around for almost two decades now, but developer Insomniac manages to keep things fresh with the introduction of a new playable female Lombax named Rivet and the addition of instantaneous travel through interdimensional portals. Quickly moving between worlds in stunning 4K is an impressive showcase of the power of the PS5. Rift Apart is arguably the best exclusive on the PS5 for anyone who has managed to track down one of the consoles.
Resident Evil Village
Resident Evil fans are a notoriously picky bunch, but Village has managed to win over almost all of them. The great thing about Resident Evil Village is that it’s married some of the best features of the earlier games. It’s got the first-person scares of Resident Evil 7, plus the more action-packed gameplay of the beloved Resident Evil 4. Then it adds in its own twists, like creatures based on vampires and werewolves. It’s a fantastic gift for either horror or action gamers.
Pretty much everyone has played Skyrim at this point, but the Anniversary Edition makes it worth picking up this fantasy RPG up yet again. There are the obligatory next-gen enhancements for PS5 and Xbox Series X owners, but the real reason to purchase yet another version of Skyrim are the dozens of pieces of Creation Club content. The community creations range from new abilities and weapons to brand new quests, bringing dozens of hours of fresh gameplay to a title that already includes hundreds of hours of content.
Far Cry 6
Far Cry 6 doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it’s another excellent entry in the long-running open world shooter series. The big draws in this sequel are some new prototype weapons, including a nail gun and disc launcher, and of course the graphical enhancements for next-gen consoles and high-end PCs. But maybe the best new addition is the main villain, El Presidente, played by Giancarlo Esposito, quite possibly the best “bad guy” actor alive.
Back 4 Blood
We’ll probably never get Left 4 Dead 3, but Back 4 Blood is the next best thing. It’s even made by Turtle Rock, the developers of the legendary zombie shooter series. Just like in those games, Back 4 Blood features intense, four-player co-op missions, as you and your teammates battle your way through undead hordes, and even more deadly special infected. And love it or hate it, the card system, with its perks and debuffs, does add quite a bit of strategy to the typical shooter gameplay. Back 4 Blood may not be for everyone, but it’s an ideal gift for those who love to play online with others.
Tales of Arise
Unfortunately, 2021 hasn’t been the best year for RPGs, with new releases from major series like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest nowhere to be found on the calendar, but that just means it’s time for the underrated Tales series to shine. Arise greatly improves on the action RPG combat of previous entries in the series with a revamped combat system, and it looks better than any of its predecessors thanks to the move to the Unreal Engine 4. It also has a surprisingly dark story for a series that’s historically been known for being more lighthearted. Even if you buy this for an RPG fan who’s never heard of it, they’ll thank you once they start playing.
Call of Duty Vanguard
$59.99 on PS4 or Xbox One, $69.99 on PS5 or Xbox Series X/S
As sure as the sun will rise in the east and set in the west, Activision will release another Call of Duty every fall. So, what’s different this year? Vanguard returns to the World War II setting that made the series famous with a new campaign that takes place across every front of the war. The ever-popular zombies mode returns as well, but the biggest reason to pick this up is a whopping 20 multiplayer maps at launch, which should give Vanguard even more staying power than the typical Call of Duty.
Psychonauts 2 is an ideal gift for anyone who enjoyed the original, but even if they’re not familiar with that classic, the game stands out as a fantastic platformer that consistently surprises with exciting new locations and fresh gameplay concepts until the very end. While it’s enjoyable for all of ages, the themes of redemption and mental health improvement should ring especially true for a lot of older gamers.