With the holidays once again upon us, I’ve put together a list highlighting a few ideas for holiday gift giving. All of the prices listed are suggested retail prices, and do not take into account special retail sale prices. There are many, many great Canadian-developed game titles published every year, what I have listed here is but a small sampling. To search out more Canadian titles, I invite you to browse through the many titles I’ve talked about throughout the year. You can find them by hovering over the Games button to the left, and then choosing to browse either by Genre or Rating.
The easy gift solutions for that hard-to-buy-for gamer include the always timeless gift cards – whether for the Wii, Xbox 360 or PlayStation Network, these gift cards are always a safe bet, especially when you’re worried about duplicate games or “the wrong game” resulting in a less than enthusiastic reception. When giving the gift of game, please check the ESRB game rating to be sure that the title is age-appropriate, and if you are giving a game to a young person who is not living in your own household, check with the parents to see if they approve of the title. The ESRB has recently released a handy (and free) iPhone App so that you can search full game ratings anywhere, anytime.
PlayStation Network Cards have two versions: $20.00 or $50.00 and are good for both the PS3 and PSP. You can also buy game cards, which will allow for the downloading of games directly to the PSP. Check with local game retailers to see what game cards are available. Zombie Tycoon, developed for the PSP and available exclusively on the PlayStation Network, was developed by Frima Studio.
Xbox Live also has two versions: 1400 points ($19.99) or 2800 points ($39.99)
Xbox Live Gold 12 month subscription: $59.99
Nintendo offers a 2000 Points card which is good for either the Wii or the DSi WiiWare Store ($19.99). There are some great Canadian titles available in the WiiWare store such as Copter Crisis (Wii) and Sudoku Challenge (DSi), both developed by Digital Leisure.
For those with iPhone or iPod users on their list, there are always the iTunes gift cards – just remember that Canadian iTunes cards CANNOT be used to purchase items in the App store on a Canadian iTunes store account; it is only good in the iTunes store itself. If you want your gift recipient to be able to shop in the App Store, I highly recommend the Vanilla Master Card. I’ve used them many times and have never yet had a problem with them – something I can’t say for cards such as the MyTreat gift credit cards. Naturally, there are also the store-brand gift cards for EB Games, Best Buy and Future Shop to name but three – check with your gamer’s favourite retailers to see if they offer gift cards. There are also a few subscription games which have cards available for game subscriptions and in-game items.
There are some great Canadian iPhone/iTouch developers with products in the App Store, including Genius Factor Games, IUGO Mobile Entertainment, Big Blue Bubble, PowerUp Studios, No Robots Interactive, Glass House Games, Howling Moon Games, LotusLand Studios, A.C.R.O.N.Y.M. Games, Fuel Games, Cerebral Vortex Games and Tickle Tap Apps for youngsters – to name but a few.
For tech toddlers, I fully endorse Canadian-developed ClickToy The Meadow. This game is wonderful in its simplicity and encourages quiet story time at the PC with a parent. ClickToy has the ability to lock a PC keyboard so that the child cannot exit the game and wreak havoc in your files. Filled with colourful scenery and soothing music, this game is sure to please even those in the throes of terrible two-ness. Parents can order ClickToy online for both the PC and Mac, or pick it up at Apple Stores across Canada as well as in nine Vancouver-area Zeller’s stores (Lansdowne, Oakridge, Brentwood, Coquitlam, Scottsdale Centre, White Rock, Langley, Abbotsford and Chilliwack). At only $19.99, it’s a great interactive entertainment value.
My family title top pick is Ubisoft Vancouver’s debut game for the Wii, Academy of Champions Soccer featuring soccer greats Pele and Mia Hamm. Built for one or two players, Academy of Champions is easy to learn and fun to play. Both Story Mode and Quick Play offer hours of endless action, with mini games along the way, as well as skill and equipment upgrades to unlock. Academy of Champions encourages fair play and good sportsmanship initiatives along with a well-designed and beautifully animated game environment. At only $29.99, Academy of Champions is a great buy, and at last check was in stock at Best Buy, Future Shop and EB Games.
Another great game for kids and family is Monsters vs Aliens, developed by Quebec City’s Beenox Studios for the Wii, PlayStation 2 and 3, Xbox 360 and PC. The Monsters vs. Aliens video game calls players into action to battle against Gallaxhar and his alien robot army. Taking on the roles of The Missing Link, the macho half-ape, half-fish; the gelatinous, indestructible and always hungry B.O.B.; and Ginormica, the 49-foot-11-inch tall woman, gamers team up with the helpful genius Dr. Cockroach, Ph.D. and Insectosaurus, the 350-foot tall grub to defeat the alien invaders. Players master the unique and diverse abilities of each character as they ooze, brawl, skate, puzzle solve, climb, crawl, jump and race through more than 20 levels on Earth and through outer space.
The musically inclined family will enjoy Guitar Hero Smash Hits, also from Beenox Studios. Guitar Hero® Greatest Hits is a compilation of 48 top hits from previous versions of the Guitar Hero® franchise, all updated for full band play on Guitar Hero® World Tour. The Greatest Hits releases have been produced from Guitar Hero® master recordings and feature several play modes – career mode, rockstar creator, Guitar Hero® music studio and an eight player online battle of the bands. The playlist is expandable through downloadable content, and has a suggested retail price of $59.99 for the 360 and PS3, $49.99 for the Wii and $39.99 for the PS2.
For more family play, I also recommend the latest Scene It? title, Bright Lights! Big Screen! One word of caution though, this game is rated “T” for Teen (Drug Reference, Mild Blood, Mild Language, Mild Violence, Sexual Themes). Developed by Montreal’s Artificial Mind & Movement, Scene It? Bright Lights! Big Screen! has enhanced single and multi-player gameplay. Single-player mode tests player speed and knowledge, while multi-player mode allows for a spirited social gameplay experience, perfect for parties and family gatherings. Up to four teams can test their silver screen knowledge with more than 20 different puzzles and minigames across four play modes, providing new and unique ways for Scene It? competitors to engage. Scene It? Bright Lights! Big Screen! is available for the Wii, PS3 and Xbox 360. This title is available at stores for only $39.99.
Next Level Games‘ remake of the E10 rated Punch Out! is another great family title that will get everyone into the virtual ring. Gamers can use either the Wiimote system or the classic controller to battle their way through the ranks, Players will find familiar names like Glass Joe, King Hippo and trainer Doc Louis. Next Level Games has brought the Punch Out characters back to life again with cell-shaded 3-D visuals, complete with hilarious fighting animations and back stories that capture all the fun and flair of the original Punch-Out!! games.
Waldo has gotten lost in game land, and game creators Ludia invite players to immerse themselves in “Where’s Waldo? The Fantastic Journey” – the ultimate search-and-find adventure for the entire family. Players can explore the unique and wondrous lands in search of Waldo, his friends and other hidden objects.The game is now available for the Wii™ system from Nintendo, the Nintendo DS™ system, Windows-based PC and Mac at North American retailers. Ludia has also developed such titles as Hell’s Kitchen, The Price Is Right, Press Your Luck and Family Feud.
Sports fans have a whole field of Canadian-made sport titles from EA Sports, including such worldwide hits as FIFA 2010, NHL 2010, Fight Night Round 4. All of the EA titles are available on a variety of platforms – check each game’s link to see if it’s available for your platform.
FIFA Soccer 10 delivers a new standard for authenticity with gameplay refinements and innovations that make it the most complete and intelligent simulation of soccer. With such game additions as FIFA Earth, the number of FIFA 10 games being played online to the number of wins, losses and draws of individual clubs or countries, FIFA Earth enables gamers to keep a finger on the pulse of everything happening within the EA Sports FIFA community. The newly announced FIFA 10 Ultimate Team adds even more options and players that enable gamers to emulate the way real-world coaches and managers build the truly great football teams. FIFA 10 is rated E.
NHL®10 delivers a new, physical brand of hockey to match the physical and emotional intensity real-world players endure in pursuit of the Stanley Cup®. New game play innovations include first-person fighting, all-new board play, Battle for the Cup and Be A Tough Guy modes, and spectacular new ways to score. NHL 10 features more than 200 game play refinements that replicate the skill and finesse of hockey and deliver the most responsive and authentic action ever for the series. NHL 10 is rated E10+.
Fight Night Round 4 is the latest entry from the critically acclaimed Fight Night franchise, and is the first title ever that will allow players to pit “Iron” Mike Tyson against “The Greatest” Muhammad Ali. With realistic physics, height and reach become major factors in how each boxer approaches a fight. Shorter fighters, like Tyson, will look to weave inside and deliver punishing hooks to the head and body, while taller fighters, like Ali, will use their reach advantage to pump their jab while staying out of range of their opponent’s punches. Fight Night Round 4 is rated “T” by the ESRB.
Also from EA Sports is EA Sports Active customizable fitness program for the Wii. Dancing, inline skating, tennis and volleyball are just a few of the more than 25 exercises and activities that combine fitness and fun in an EA SPORTS Active workout. You’ll be breaking a sweat in no time with exercises that target your upper body, lower body and cardio.
NFS: Nitro, developed specifically for the Wii™ and Nintendo DS™, Need for Speed NITRO brings an unrivaled sense of speed to the streets as players evade cops and take down competitors to become the world’s top racer. Features include a very diverse and impressive list of the world’s hottest muscle cars, exotics, and tuners including the Tesla Roadster, Pagani Zonda, Audi R8 and the Nissan Skyline.
NFS: Shift brings a true driver’s experience to some of the world’s most iconic racing tracks, including the storied Brand’s Hatch in the UK. The game also features the largest roster of high-performance cars in Need for Speed history including race cars such as the Pagani Zonda F, Porsche 911 GT2 and Lotus Elise.
Another sim game you might want to pick up for the gamer on your list is the newly released Copter Crisis from Digital Leisure. Available exclusively for the Wii, Copter Crisis
If the gamer on your list is 17 or older, you’re in luck because this has been a blockbuster year for Canadian-developed M-Rated games. Working from coast to coast, here are our top picks for the “mature” gamer:
From Relic Entertainment and for PC fans of real-time strategy games is Dawn of War 2 – Chaos Rising. Dawn of War 2 offers new single-player and co-op campaigns and continues the epic journey of the Blood Ravens as they battle a new foe, the traitorous Chaos Space Marines. Set in the grim, war-ravaged world of Games Workshop’s vast Warhammer 40 000 science fiction universe, Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War II – Chaos Rising transports players into the midst of an intergalactic war between ancient enemies with new gear and higher level caps. Dawn of War 2 is a standalone title, and does not require previous Dawn of War releases to play. Dawn of War 2 can be found at Future Shop for $39.99. There are also dozens of novels about the Warhammer 40 000 universe available at bookstores such as Chapter’s, Blackbond and Amazon.
Another Vancouver studio blockbuster is Radical Entertainment’s high action single player title PROTOTYPE. Introducing new character Alex Mercer, PROTOTYPE takes place in New York City, where there is a raging battle taking place between the government, military and thousands of virally-infected citizens. Alex Mercer plays an important part in the conspiracy-based storyline, and it’s the player’s job to unravel the mystery while battling both infected mutants and a corrupt military force. This game is very fast-paced with plenty of violence, activities and destruction to be had. PROTOTYPE is available for the Xbox 360, PS3 ($59.99) and PC ($49.99).
Dragon Age: Origins from Bioware was probably one of the most anticipated new titles for the year. Introducing an entirely new world in this hugely popular role-playing game, Dragon Age: Origins offers multitudes of hours of engagement in this single player title. While Dragon Age: Origins does not contain the blood and gore content seen in PROTOTYPE, it does deal with mature subject matter, so parents beware. There are also two full length novels available at bookstores everywhere. Written by Bioware Lead Writer David Gaider, The Stolen Throne and The Calling delve readers into the world of Dragon Age as it was previous to the events which take place in the game. Dragon Age: Origins is available for the PC ($54.99), the Xbox 360 and PS3 ($69.99). For a limited time, there are also Collector’s Editions available for the PS3 and Xbox 360 for $ 79.99.
Another highly anticipated and top-rated game from our Canadian studios this year is the newly released Assassin’s Creed 2 from Ubisoft Montreal. Continuing the story of Altair, Assassin’s Creed 2 introduces one of his descendents, Ezio Auditore and updates players on the progress of Desmond as he learns about his assassin ancestors with the help of returning lab rat Lucy Stillman. Assassin’s Creed 2 introduces new characters, new weapons and a beautifully rendered Renaissance Italy. Assassin’s Creed 2 also offers educational tidbits to the player and many hours of single player adventure. Assassin’s Creed Renaissance, an Assassin’s Creed novel has been announced by Ubisoft and Penguin Books, and while it appears to have been released in the UK, it is not yet available in Canadian bookstores. The earliest release date I could find was for February 2010.
Artificial Mind & Movement also introduced us to Rubi Malone in their new action title WET, a highly stylized third-person shooter that seamlessly blends acrobatics, gun play, and sword kills. With dual pistols and a samurai sword, you can engage in combat while sliding on floors, running on walls, jumping, flipping, and performing amazing acrobatic moves – leaving a massive body count in Rubi’s wake. Playing as Rubi, gamers embark on a story full of double crosses and paybacks, visiting locations around the world. Featuring a mix of humor and violence, a unique retro film visual treatment, and an original 70’s-inspired music, WET is a third-person shooter which is also rated M.
There are also many developed-in-Canada titles for those gamers on the go. New for the Nintendo DS this year are such game fare as:
Might & Magic: Clash of Heroes from Capybara Games (published by Ubisoft) features a mythical world populated by knights, elves, wizards, necromancers and demons, where gamers can manage their own hero, customize their army and lead campaigns in either single or two-player peer-versus-peer mode.
Battle of Giants™: Dragons was developed by Ubisoft’s Quebec City studio for younger players (rated E10+) who can feel the adrenaline rush of creating, controlling, customizing and battling with their very own fierce creature. Combat of Giants: Dragons offers a full immersion into the fantastic and mysterious universe of magic Dragons.
For the gift that keeps on giving, you may want to consider a gift subscription to Fit Brains, a site which is packed with games designed to keep the mind sharp. While Fit Brains does offer a limited number of its titles and features for free, a subscription offers many great features such as Brain Tools, Scaled Difficulty, 12 Training Circuits, Trophies, Achievements, Leaderboards and more. Fit Brain games are rated E for everyone, and subscriptions are available for 3 months at $19.99usd or the full year at $79.99usd. Fit Brains HQ is located in Vancouver.
At only $3 999.00 usd, the GPH-120 gaming chair from D-Box Technology is for the very serious gamer who wants to feel the games he or she plays. This stylish seat has fully adjustable and reclining seating that delivers pitch, roll and virtual heave with real-time response. The GPH-120 takes advantage of D-Box’s hybrid gaming and home theatre motion system, and can even lets the player experience up to 2Gs of acceleration, all from playing (the currently limited number of) games which incorporate the D-Box MFX technology.
From Splitfish we have the Dual SFX Frag Pro mouse for the PlayStation 3, which combines all the best of the dominating FragFXv2 mouse gaming design into a Dual Wireless Combo. The new controller showcases a 2000dpi customized gaming mouse and Frevo “Fragchuck” and functions as a full featured wireless PS3 and PC gaming controller with programmable button configurations and adjustable mouse aiming that provides unprecedented levels of accuracy. It improves upon the tremendously popular FragFX, adding a dual wireless rechargeable system to the intuitive controller and a new “Frag Control Centre” utility to adjust button configurations and sensitivity and save individual game configurations. The Frag Pro is available from retailers such as NCIX for $99.99.
The incredible Psyko Gamer Headphones from Psyko Audio, a Calgary high tech startup would have made our list if they weren’t currently completely sold out. Psyko Audio is currently taking pre-orders for the next shipment, but no arrival date has been announced. They usually sell online for $299.99 usd.