The Games That Keep on Giving

Five new titles for the gamers on your gift list.

The pandemic, unfortunately, is still on. State and national health officials are recommending we all practice social distancing throughout the holidays. However, while staying at home and away from friends and family is always a bummer, it’s a little easier when the weather dreary, the days are short, and you have a great video game to play.

The following five titles will help you and all the other gamers on your shopping list stay entertained while keeping up with the quarantine.

13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim (PS4)

13 Sentinels Aegis Rim is equally interested in paying homage to ’70s Japanese shows, like Ultraman and Gundam, as it is classic sci-fi stories from the American canon, such as E.T. and War of the Worlds. An ensemble cast of 13 characters allows the writers to work within established archetypes from these older narratives and bounce them off each other to slowly tease out the overarching mystery as you read each of their stories. The visual novel style storytelling pairs well with surprisingly deep mech battle sequences where the 13 protagonists fight different kaiju monsters attacking their city. This side of the game plays like a top-down strategy game with RPG elements. Once the player works their way through enough of the strategy encounters, roadblocks in the story are gradually unlocked. Likewise, playing through the story side nets you items that can buy new abilities for your mechs and upgrade old ones on the kaiju fighting side. These two gameplay styles are both interesting in their own right, which makes the game’s juggling act between the two that much more impressive.

Spelunky 2 (PS4 & PC)

Derek Yu created Spelunky in 2008 after graduating from UC Berkeley. For years, that first game has been a beloved side scrolling rogue-like with an intricate system of ruthless enemies and obstacles that play off each other to keep things interesting for players. The original has maintained a following for almost a decade now, and Yu’s follow up, Spelunky 2, feels like a love letter to those folks who stuck with the first. Many of the Mario-esque “worlds” are reminiscent of areas found in the first game, with little twists thrown in. Many of these areas feel like satisfying updates, but what really shines through and makes the game worth the price of entry for returning players are the handful of entirely new biomes that mess with your understanding of the game. People have been uncovering secrets since Spelunky 2’s release in September, but if its predecessor is any indicator, the community still has a lot more to sink its teeth into.

Yakuza: Like a Dragon (PS4, PS5, XBox One, XBox Series X, PC)

The Yakuza games are a long running series of Japanese crime dramas baked into an open world framework reminiscent of Grand Theft Auto. However, just one side-by-side comparison is all it takes to see the difference in design ethos. While their crime drama stories often echo well-known Yakuza movies and even feature prominent actors from the genre like Takeshi Kitano, games in this series tend to tell compassionate stories, where most of the violence committed by the protagonists is in self defense. Series creator Toshihiro Nagoshi has gone so far as to balk at the GTA comparison, explaining that he can’t bring himself to promote the emotion that committing crimes and killing is fun. In lieu of wanton murder, games in the series feature robust mini-games tucked around the game’s bustling world that end up being worthy time sinks in their own right. Like a Dragon is also the first entry to break away from the series’ established beat-em-up gameplay for that of a turn based RPG like Dragon Quest.

Genshin Impact (Mobile, PS4, PC)

For those hoping to hop into a new adventure for cheap without needing a console, there’s the surprisingly deep Genshin Impact. It’s the latest in a long line of Japanese free-to-play “gacha” games where players get new characters from dice rolls that are frequently given out for free with the option to pay for more. Being discouraged by this monetization system is understandable, but for those able to look past the warts, Genshin Impact is an open world RPG with production values you just don’t see in free games like this. The game isn’t shy about its inspiration either, going so far as to copy The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild from its greater world design down to the cooking system. The thing is, Breath of the Wild was one of the best games of the past decade, so anything aiming to be its equal is bound to have some bright spots.

Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales (PS5, PS4)

Anyone lucky enough to find a PS5 this holiday season can tell you: games are scant so far. Luckily one of the “next gen” titles on offer is an impressive addition to a game a lot of people loved back in 2018: Spiderman. This entry moves Miles Morales into the spotlight for his own outing built on its predecessor’s open world and combat system. The game’s story is 10 hours shorter than the older one, but this ends up helping them tighten up the narrative and avoid throwing random side activities into the campaign that don’t move the story forward. There’s even an option to make Miles move at a reduced frame rate to recreate the visual style of Spider Man: Into the Spiderverse. And for those still on the hunt for a new console at the moment, the game’s also available for PS4, so fret not.

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