Teen Video Game Gift Guide: Right Age, Right Adventures
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Teenagers want to do, well, everything, but they can't -- 'cause they're still teens. They do, however, have a ton of time on their hands. That's why video games make the perfect gift for the teen on your list, running the gamut from racing and rhythm to treasure-hunting and colossus-slaying to indie iPad adventures and comic-book console capers. While some teens will covet the mature-rated games that will be discussed on our upcoming adult gaming guide, there are more than enough fantastic T-Rated titles to entertain them, teach them problem-solving skills and, yes, even get 'em to work up a sweat.
Dance Central 2
Harmonix Music Systems/ Microsoft Studios
The fine folks behind the original 'Guitar Hero' and 'Rock Band' saw the writing on the plastic peripheral wall and ditched their instrument-shaped controllers for no controllers at all with this next evolution in rhythm gaming. With a higher challenge difficulty than 'Just Dance 3,' this series also aims for a (slightly) more sophisticated setlist ranging from hipper acts like Daft Punk and La Roux to obvious picks like Bieber and Britney to fun throwbacks like Bananarama and Digital Underground. Hopefully, the coming downloadable content will bring in some more interesting genre tunes, but as is, it probably hits most teens' playlists. Though the gameplay basics are the same as the first go-round, this sequel adds in co-op and competitive two-player, making it an even better party game.
ICO & Shadow of the Colossus Collection
Team Ico/Sony Computer Entertainment
Fumito Ueda may only be famous amongst serious game geeks, but his games deserve to be as commercially popular as they are critically acclaimed. Which is why Sony has repacked his pair of PS2 triumphs as a perfect holiday gift, and don’t worry about the last-gen graphics. His art direction was already gorgeous and the new editions jack up the resolution. so they wow on your HD screen. In 'ICO' you play as a horned boy exiled from your village who must escape a sprawling castle while protecting a wispy princess from shadow monsters. In Ueda’s spiritual sequel 'Colossus,' you wandering a vast wasteland on horseback to save your dead love by slaying monsters so giant that they are the level themselves. Both games are so beautiful, heartfelt and philosophically empathetic that they'll make you reevaluate everything you know about gaming.
The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Next year will see the new Wii U model, but in the meantime the House of Mario has bequeathed one last classic unto its outgoing console. 'Skyward Sword' is something like the bazillionth 'Zelda' game over the past quarter-centrury, but somehow it still feels fresh --perhaps because this chronological prequel begins our long and winding story but also because the motion-controlled sword-fighting finally works like a charm. (The previous 'Zelda' game on Wii was actually built for GameCub, and the motion-sensing felt as tacked on as it was.) Though it's got a dreadfully slow start, once you leave the cloud village of Skyloft and descend down to the demon-plagued land of Hyrule below, 'Skyward' expands exponentially outward -- in both landmass and design philosophy -- to become a veritable epic. If you love someone who owns a Wii, even if they haven't played it for some time, you owe it them to give the gift of this triumphant swan song.
Ratchet and Clank: All 4 One
As games delve ever-deeper into hyper-realism, it's easy to forget how great they are at cartoonish chaos. Insomniac Games may be well-known now for their alien war trilogy Resistance, but they also keep returning to their original whimsical well of 'Ratchet and Clank,' a long-eared Lombax (don't ask) mechanic and his snarky robot sidekick. This round focuses on the social game, so rather than single-player campaign it boasts a drop-in, drop-out four-player co-op -- with Dr. Nefarious, Ratchet, Clank, and Captain Qwark -- that can be played online or off. It also takes itself refreshingly un-seriously, and the franchise's self-aware sense of humour is as goofball as ever.
PS3, Xbox 360, PC, Mac
The original 'Portal' was really just a teleportation-based tech-demo attached to a compilation called the 'Orange Box,' a value-added bonus feature intended to show off this fancy-pants new first-person puzzler game idea. But once it became a full-blown cultural phenomenon thanks to its ingenious physics and even more ingenious writing ("the cake is a lie!"), it was only a matter of time before it got blown-up into a full-length sequel. Thankfully, 'Portal 2' transcends the high expectations with even funnier writing, cleverer gameplay and eviler artificial intelligence. But despite the added whistles and bells, 'P2' remains a physics-based puzzle game that will have your teenagers thinking much harder than they realize.
Twisted Pixel Games/Microsoft Studios
Does the Old West still appeal to today's teens? It does if you add in a vengeful zombie marionette that you control with your body, 'Gunstringer' is one of the weirdest Kinect games out there -- heck, one of the weirdest games out there. It's basically a high-tech puppet show, albeit one starring a wooden sheriff betrayed by his posse who has risen from the grave to seek revenge with his trusty six-shooter. The creative-slash-ridiculous characters and level design make this weird western shooter stand out, but it's the expertly implemented motion controls -- which have been an issue for the camera-based Kinect -- that make it dance like a puppet on a string.
You'd think given the crossover audience between comic books and videogames -- not to mention how both artforms love character crossovers -- that there'd be a host of classic comic games. You'd be wrong, or at least you would have been until 2009's ‘Arkham Aslyum.' Well, this Batman sequel gloriously outshines its predecessor. Longtime 'Bat' scribe Paul Dini is once again writing the script and UK studio Rocksteady has again given the game a nice Victorian aesthetic, but this second entry defeats its rogue's gallery by expanding its universe into Gotham itself (a chunk of the city has been turned into a prison run by the inmates themselves) while keeping its focus tight on the dark knight's detective sleuthing and Joker-bashing. Not counting the occasional (awesome) stretch played as Catwoman, of course.
Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery: EP
This Toronto production is not only the coolest iPad/iPhone game ever, it's probably the coolest game of year period. A collaboration between arty game designer Craig Adams and acclaimed indie musician Jim Guthrie, 'Sword and Sworcery' is a gorgeously retro deconstruction of the 80s-era 'Legend of Zelda' role-playing game in both form and function. Replete with self-aware humour, minimalist pixel art and a lush soundtrack, it's a perfect refutation to anyone who's ever said games can't be art. The adventure game's puzzles, exploration and combat expertly use the iPad's touchcreen and tilt functionality and the whole thing is structured like an old-school album. You know that teenager on your list who is always blathering on about supercool indie bands you've never heard of? Buy them this.
Child of Eden
PS3, Xbox 360
'Rez' was a legendary PS2 game amongst the post-millennial raver set in which you fought your way into a computer mainframe like a latter-day Tron, creating a pulsating trance track along the way as each blast adding a new element to their electronic tune. 'Eden,' the long-awaited follow-up, mostly just adds new technology to better realize the original concept -- so now, for instance, you can control your avatar with Xbox Kinect, though that eliminates the force-feedback pulse of the controller which beats along with the music you're making. That music, composed by creator Tetsuya Mizuguchi's band Genki Rockets, is a little more diverse this time out, and the HD visuals are vastly more surreal, but the end result of a rhythm-based shooter that puts you inside of the music is as effective as ever.
Forza Motorsport 4
In the old days, turning 16 meant vehicular freedom. Today's graduated licensing has taken a lot of the fun out of learning to drive, but there's still plenty to be had with Microsoft's 'Forza' series, a racing simulator that hews eerily close to the real thing. (So close, in fact, that I race in a Honda Fit, the same car I own in real-life despite the fancy dream cars on offer.) This is really for hardcore gearheads, with some cars available for incredibly close inspections and the inclusion of content and personalities from the beloved BBC car series 'Top Gear.' Despite enhanced graphics, Kinect compatibility and a few other bells and whistles, it's not a huge improvement over the previous model but since that was widely considered one of the best racers ever, there are worse games for the car-loving teen on your list to take out for a spin.
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
Sony's treasure hunting adventure franchise returns for a third chapter that handily fulfills fan expectations. While the gameplay hasn't evolved much over the years, making it feel a bit dated by today's standards, 'Uncharted' games have always been primarily about narrative and character developments, two techniques ignored by most games. Nathan Drake and his cohorts are as charmingly ruthless as ever, the set-pieces continue to wow and the story involving Nate's ancestor Sir Francis Drake, Lawrence of Arabia and the lost city, Iram of the Pillars in the Rub' al Khali desert, is engrossingly intricate. You know how that recent Indiana Jones movie sadly sucked? And how the 'Tomb Raider' films and games have fizzled? Well, if you someone on your list was bummed by either of those, then they deserve this.