For good gifts for gamers, look to these 2013 titles

The New York TimesDecember 5, 2013 

A scene from Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch.


A wise journalist once told me that the companies that make video games foolishly possess a Hasbro mentality instead of a Paramount one: They release everything for the holiday shopping season instead of staking out moments on the calendar during the rest of the year when gamers are eager for something new to play.

Sure enough, two new consoles were released in November, the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One, which both look to be lovely gifts for the game player in your household (and, given the machines' emphasis on entertaining nongamers with television and movies, for everyone else, too). But I haven't spent enough time with them to be able to recommend them.

Fortunately, the first 10 months of the year presented a lot of games worth playing. Maybe those tentpole video game weekends arrived this year at last.


Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch: Hayao Miyazaki, the Japanese writer and director of animated films, announced this year that he would not make movies anymore. If you need a shot of the work of Studio Ghibli to console yourself, you could do worse than this delightful game, which received a Western release this year. It's the closest thing to an interactive Miyazaki film in existence. (Miyazaki was not involved.) Because of some themes involving parental death, very small children should avoid it. Everyone else shouldn't. (Level-5 and Studio Ghibli. $29.99. PlayStation 3. Rated E10+.)

BioShock Infinite: Was it really a good idea to set a game in an alternate-universe 1912; open it as a seeming examination of the dangers of white supremacy, religious nationalism and American exceptionalism; and then convert it into a mind-bending work of science fiction, all while making it fun to shoot and kill people in that world? Yes. (Irrational Games. $39.99. PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC and Mac. Rated M.)

The Last of Us: I didn't swoon for The Last of Us to the same extent as many other critics. (Tom Bissell, writing in Grantland, called it a "masterpiece.") But this zombie drama — a sort of surrogate-father-and-daughter version of The Road — contained several of my favorite moments from a year of playing games, including its extraordinary, morally ambiguous final scene. (Naughty Dog. $59.99. PlayStation 3. Rated M.)

Gone Home: Last year was probably the best ever for downloadable independent games, which are more personal and made by smaller teams than their blockbuster brethren. But 2013 has seen a number of interesting indie releases, and Gone Home might be the best of the bunch. Kaitlin Greenbriar returns home from a college year in Europe to find her parents and sister missing. She explores the house to find out what happened. It's a 1990s period romance posing as a horror story. (Fullbright Co. $19.99 PC, Mac and Linux. Not rated.)

Grand Theft Auto V: With its latest installment, Grand Theft Auto has dropped the tragic overtones of Grand Theft Auto IV in favor of a full embrace of farce. The game's treatment of women — a mixture of indifference and hostility — is disappointing. But Trevor, the third main character, is a brilliant creation, a sociopathic antihero who is a manifestation of pure player id. You'll start out hating him and end up loving him, and perhaps becoming him. Maybe the game is a tragedy, after all. (Rockstar Games. $59.99. PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Rated M.)

Disney Infinity: People are always asking me what to get for their kids. The answer is, I genuinely don't know. My daughters, who are 1 and 3, are too young to play. But Disney Infinity and the Skylanders series seem like the best bets for young children. Just be prepared to fend off requests for more of the toy figures that unlock new areas. These games are terrific, but they are full-priced console games that have learned from the free-to-play model for mobile and tablet games: Always be selling. Note: Not having played the Disney Infinity games that were made for the Nintendo Wii and 3DS, I can't recommend them. They are different from the versions for high-definition consoles, including the Wii U. (Avalanche. $74.99. PlayStation 3, Wii U and Xbox 360. Rated E10+.)

Nintendo 2DS: The 3DS XL is the best way to experience the deep lineup of games for Nintendo's hand-held system, but it costs $200, and Nintendo doesn't recommend that children younger than 7 view the games in 3-D. Enter the 2DS, basically a 3DS on training wheels. It plays all of the games a 3DS can, in two dimensions. Playing Super Mario 3D Land is less thrilling on a 2DS than on a 3DS XL, but you're saving yourself $80 and parental anxieties about eye strain. (Nintendo. $129.99.)

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