Under the Radar’s Holiday Gift Guide 2019 Part 1: Video Games | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Wednesday, September 23rd, 2020  

Under the Radar’s Holiday Gift Guide 2019 Part 1: Video Games

Finding the Perfect Gifts for the Digital Gamer

Nov 25, 2019 Web Exclusive
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The holiday season is upon us! The air is getting colder, and all the leaves have hit the ground. If you’re one of our American readers, you may be busy making travel plans, or braving the crowded supermarket for this week’s Thankgsiving feast. If you live up North, you may already be seeing snow. (Yikes!) We’ve also hit that time of year when you’re probably starting to think about holiday gift shopping, and picking up something special for the people you hold near and dear in your life. That’s where Under the Radar would like to offer a hand with our 2019 Holiday Gift Guide.

Out annual Gift Guide will be split up across numerous categories, so stay tuned in the coming weeks as we cover technology, toys, collectibles, Blu-rays, board games, booze and other beverages, books, graphic novels, and (naturally) vinyl and music boxed sets, because we’d never leave you high and dry in that area.

Don’t forget, either, how a nice of a gift that a subscription to Under the Radar would make for that special, indie music-lovin’ person in your life – or a donation in their name to a local charity, as those are always especially helpful during this time of year.

Without further ado, let’s dive into Under the Radar’s recommendations of gifts for video gamers:

Big-Ticket Gifts

Omega 2020 Series Gaming Chair (Secretlab)

SRP: $359 and up for custom options

Let’s get this out of the way: this may be the ultimate luxury item for anyone who spends a lot of time in front of a computer, whether that be for gaming, work, or any other reasons. It’s engineered to keep gamers comfortable through long multiplayer gaming sessions, but you might swear you’re slipping into the front seat of a Ferrari any time you plop down for five minutes to check Facebook.

If you’re going to be spending hours at a desk, why not make every minute that passes exponentially more comfortable? The Omega 2020 Series’ base option comes upholstered in a sturdy artificial leather designed to stand up to extended wear, and won’t scrape or discolor when you’re getting in and out of the thing ten times a day. (It’s slick looking, and to the touch feels like the seat of a high-end automobile.) If you prefer, they also offer a breathable SoftWeave fabric or a premium NAPA leather option.

Underneath the leather covering you’ll find a proprietary cold-core foam mix that’s soft without being overly mushy. You can customize your support with the 2020 Series’ metal armrests, which can be raised, lowered, tilted or turned to your specifications; memory foam pillows for your lower back and neck (the latter including a cooling pad); and a fully reclining back rest, which kicks back like a full-blown recliner without give you any balance issues. Again, the Omega 2020 is about maximum comfort. In the few weeks we had to test the unit, one of us actually did the previously-unimaginable and took a nap in it even while there was a perfectly unclaimed couch less than 15 feet away. It’s comfortable enough to do that, and it's almost crazy that we’re able to say that about a computer chair. But, that’s where we’re at.   

Assembly is easy, and even the sleek box – which comes packed with a note welcoming you to your next level of comfort – makes you feel like you’re joining an elite club. For taller gamers, there’s the bigger Titan model with similar features. (Secretlab’s website will help you find the right sizing for your chair.) Special, limited edition variants come emblazoned with logos from some of top video games of this day, or the iconic house sigils from Game of Thrones.

Long story short: if you really want to spoil a gamer, look no further than Secretlab’s luxury gaming seats. (Find out more.)

Fallout 3: 10th Anniversary Ultimate Edition 4LP Vinyl Soundtrack (Spacelab9)

SRP: $125

Anyone who played through Fallout 3 has undoubtedly spent 100+ hours listening to Inon Zur’s classic score while wandering the Capitol wasteland. This music will feel familiar and lived-in to Fallout fans, and sounds absolutely stunning on this remastered vinyl edition. All four records are housed in a sturdy slipcase depicting one of the series’ iconic power armor suits, and the vinyl themselves are available in three different color arrangements.

Here’s the best part, though: for the first time a Fallout soundtrack includes an extra disc of Galaxy News Radio selections. These vintage tunes – mostly pilfered from WWII-era, 78rpm records – were as much a part of the Fallout 3 sound as Zur’s unforgettable score. (These include The Ink Spots’ “I Don’t Wanna Set The World On Fire” and Billie Holiday’s version of “Crazy He Calls Me.”) Also included in this deluxe package are a reproduction “You’re S.P.E.C.I.A.L.” baby book and a sticker sheet. While there’s no shortage of collectibles available to fans of this post-apocalyptic game series, this is one of the best ones out there. But hurry—it looks like it’s selling out quickly. (Find out more - or head over here to check out a splatter variant available from the Bethesda shop.)

Street Fighter II X RepliCade (New Wave Toys)

SRP: $119.99

This tabletop arcade cabinet is exquisitely reproduced at 1:6 scale. Unlike many other doll-sized arcade cabs, the RepliCade looks and feels closer to a high-end model than a toy. The wooden cabinet is decorated with the machine’s original, minimalist artwork, the marquee lights up, and the bright screen is decorated with the same character portraits you remember from the arcade back in the 1990s. Even the coin box is made of metal, with light-up token slots that double as the game’s start button. The joystick is tight and responsive, and the buttons make a satisfying “click” when you mash them. And best of all? The unit is rechargeable via an included USB cable, meaning you can set this game up anywhere – your desk, bar, nightstand – without worrying about having an electrical outlet nearby. It also includes a second fight stick, attachable by a cord, so you can get in that classic two-player action. Both Street Fighter II: Champion Edition and the classic Street Fighter II Turbo come on-board. This thing screams “quality.”

New Wave Toys had far and away the coolest display we saw at last year’s Toy Fair NY: an entire, scale arcade, complete with a realistic (tiny) change machine that doubles as a charging bay for the arcade cabinets. We can’t wait to see which arcade titles New Wave hit with their shrink rays in the future… because that’s how they do it, right? How else could they pull off all those details? (Find out more.)

Books

The CRPG Book (Bitmap Books)

SRP: £29.99 GBP

If you grew up a computer gamer, you’ve no doubt encountered at least a few of the more than 400 roleplaying games covered in this book. You’ve probably built up a level of nostalgia for some of these games – which is only natural, considering you’ve spent dozens of hours (or more) living in their worlds. Essentially an encyclopedia of computer roleplaying games, The CRPG Book takes readers on a  chronological journey through the CRPG’s earliest entries in the dawn of home computing, through two decades of classics and forgotten gems, up to modern-day releases such as Skyrim, Fallout 4, and The Witcher 3. Each title gets a one-to-two page write-up detailing its history and legacy, alongside screen shots and occasionally the recommended mods to play it today. This is clearly a labor of love for its writers and editorial team, and their passion pours into the words. (Reading loving tributes to titles like Betrayal at Krondor, Drakkhen, and Quest for Glory 4 – childhood favorites of my own – was a trip down memory lane.) The CRPG Book is as comprehensive as you could hope for, giving fans a chance to look back at their own playing history, rediscover games they’d maybe only ever read about in magazines, and uncover ones they’d never even heard of. The amount of information contained in this book is dizzying, and the production value is every bit up to Bitmap’s consistently high standards. For a computer RPG geek, we can hardly imagine there’s a classier gift out there.  (Find out more.)

Metal Slug: The Ultimate History (SNK / Bitmap Books)

SRP: £29.99 GBP

SNK’s cult run-and-gun shooter series is the subject of this massive, beautifully-assembled tome worthy of any gamer’s coffee table. We’ve never seen another 2D franchise receive such a lavish, artful look through its past. Not only does this Ultimate History cover all things Metal Slug, but looks at the team's earlier games which led into the series, as well as modern-day titles that were influenced by it.

The folks at SNK have opened up the vaults for the book's editorial team, digging up concept artwork and promotional items to run alongside the extracted sprites, backgrounds, and box art already on display here. With many interviews woven throughout, it’s an incredible look at the love and hard work that go into building such a beloved series. With more than 450 colorful pages housed inside this heavy hardcover, we’d recommend this one not only for Metal Slug fans, but anyone who might love to spend hours poring over gorgeous pixel art. (Find out more.)

Vinyl Soundtracks

Sword and Sworcery: Super Deluxe Edition 2LP (iam8bit)

SRP: $60

Billed as a “Super Deluxe Edition,” the folks at iam8bit weren’t kidding. Housed in a gatefold sleeve with stunning, glow-in-the-dark artwork by Drew Wise, the two transparent vinyl records contain the game’s full score by Jim Guthrie (formerly of Islands and Human Highway) along with a host of remixes by Doseone, Jessica Mak, and others. As if that weren’t enough, the package also includes an exclusive poster by Scott Benson and a turntable slipmat depicting the phases of the moon.

Arriving almost a decade after the award-winning game’s initial release on the iPad, the soundtrack remains one of the dreamiest ever heard in a video game: a collection that ranges from atmospheric, instrumental pop to synth-soaked lullabies, as if Dead Can Dance collaborated with Tangerine Dream to craft a 16 bit fantasy soundcape. Regardless of whether or not you’ve ever played the game, Sword and Sworcery’s score is a beautifully dreamy piece of music. (Find out more.)

Silent Hill 2 Vinyl Soundtrack (Mondo / Konami)

SRP: $35.00

The long-missed Silent Hill franchise remains one of video gaming’s most unnerving series, lingering in player’s minds (and freaking them out during foggy morning drives) over the seven years since its last installment. Who knows if we’ll ever get another Silent Hill game, but this vinyl soundtrack to Silent Hill 2 – pressed on colored vinyl and presented in a handsome gatefold sleeve by Mondo – does everything it can to transport players back into the game’s haunting, unforgettable world. Listening to the score separate from the game, it’s an eclectic mix of mostly ‘90s rock styles – it’s more than capable of invoking the classic horror game’s setting. (Find out more.)

Donut County 2LP Vinyl Soundtrack (iam8bit)

SRP: $49.99

Released on consoles earlier this year, Donut County captured much of the same, magical weirdness that people loved about Katamari Damacy around the turn of the millennium. It chronicles the adventures of a young girl whose talking raccoon best friend accidentally (and then repeatedly) rips holes in the fabric of space and time while working for a donut delivery service. As most of the town is sucked beneath the Earth’s surface, players gradually uncover an animal conspiracy to take over the world.

Donut County’s soundtrack is chill through and through, peppered with the quirks expected from such an endearingly oddball game. The sleeve folds out into a gigantic, four-panel image of Donut County citizens plummeting into the underground, with art by Lily Nishita. The vinyls are a sugary-sweet pink and green inspired by the game’s donut frosting. (Find out more.)

Gone Home: 5th Anniversary Vinyl Soundtrack (iam8bit)

SRP: $30

It’s unbelievably to think that Gone Home was released more than half a decade ago… that is, until you pause to think about the many, many games it influenced that were released in its wake. One of the pioneering releases in the genre unfairly dubbed “walking simulators,” Gone Home was a narrative feat that changed the entire way players considered storytelling in gaming. After Gone Home landed to critical acclaim, it became okay for a video game to weave an emotional tale that grappled with real-world topics without relying on ages-old gameplay tropes to keep gamers’ attention. Whether you consider it a "game" or not, Gone Home was an unforgettable experience.

Gone Home’s melancholy score was perfect for setting its tone, and listening to it on iam8bit’s gorgeous, colored vinyl release takes you right back to wandering the empty hallways of Katie Greenbriar’s family home. (Find out more.)

The Music of Red Dead Redemption 2: Original Soundtrack 2LP Vinyl (Lakeshore Records)

SRP: $29.98

The soundtrack to the biggest game of 2018 lands on vinyl courtesy of Lakeshore Records. Red Dead Redemption 2’s soundtrack was curated entirely by Canadian super-producer Daniel Lanois, a seven-time Grammy winner who was behind records by Bob Dylan, Peter Gabriel, and Neil Young, and a longtime collaborator with Brian Eno, having co-produced the classic albums Achtung Baby and The Joshua Tree from U2. 

This translucent red, double-vinyl LP includes thirteen original tracks from Rockstar’s epic, sandbox Western, and features vocal performances by an eclectic cast of singers that include D’Angelo, Rhiannon Giddens, Willie Nelson, Nas, and Josh Homme. Both LPs come pressed at 45rpm for top-notch sound quality. (Find out more.)

Gaming Accessories

MARS Starter Pack and Add-ons (PDP)

SRP: Starter Packs at $99.99, additional lightguns $29.99

Remember the good, old days of Duck Hunt, Lethal Enforcers, and House of the Dead? Light gun shooters used to be a reliable genre within the video gaming arena, but seem to have all but disappeared since the Wii era. New from PDP, the MARS system is modern-tech version of light gun gaming, using a camera hooked to your console that calibrates to your TV screen and gives you an accurate, live crosshairs to aim at. It’s an experience that feels much closer to the arcade than the wildly inaccurate lightguns we’ve played with on older consoles.

MARS Starter Packs come in three different flavors, each one packed with one of the peripheral’s three currently-supported titles. Qubit’s Quest is the line’s most family-friendly offering, as players clear a path for a robot dog as it marches across landscapes overrun with mayhem-causing robots. (Other options for play include a variety of fun minigames.) In Voyage of the Dead, players are tasked with shooting their way out of a cruise ship that’s been taken over by zombies. Big Buck Hunter: Arcade drops players into the remote wilderness for a chance at taking down big game. All three games are also available as separate downloads; additional light guns price at $29.99 each. The MARS system is available for both Xbox One and the PlayStation 4. (Find out more.)

LucidSound Xbox Headsets

SRP: $179.99 for LS35X, $59.99 LS10X

As video game graphics get better and better, so do their sound. The audio engineers at LucidSound have kept at the edge of gaming audio innovations and have recently brought their acoustic expertise to the Xbox One. Two of their latest, Xbox-compatible models are the LS35X and the LS10X, which both bring top-quality surround sound and clear chat audio to the game. 

One of their higher-end models, the LS35X is totally wireless, offering around 15 hours of gameplay on a single USB charge. One of its coolest features is one-button sync, which connects it to your Xbox in the same way as a controller; not only does it link up your audio, but it auto-configures the system to maximize your headset sound quality. This includes turning on Windows Sonic Surround Sound, which delivers some of the best directional audio you'll hear in a pair of headphones. (It's helpful for hearing the direction your enemies are coming from in first-person shooters, and for knowing when a zombie is nearby in Resident Evil 2, highlighted later in this gift guide.) Memory foam earcups conceal 50mm drivers, which sound great and deliver some weight behind every rumble and explosion. You're given the option of using a hidden, built-in mic, or a detachable microphone that can be bent in front of you mouth for even clearer chat audio. Volume controls are easily accessed by a concealed, rolling knob over the ear, and the whole headset and accessories can be carried in an included bag. Make no mistake: the LS35X is a truly deluxe gaming headet.   

Another recommendable option would be the LS10X, which is a wired headset from LucidSound that still offers many great features but at a lower price point. While you give up the wireless connection and one-touch configuration, you never have to charge the LS10X. In addition, the headphone cans fold inwards and outwards to countour to your head; this, combined with its lightweight design makes it perhaps the better option for younger gamers. You still get the easy-access control knob over your ear, Windows Sonic Surround Sound compatablity, and dual microphones in a headset that's light and comfortable enough that you may even forget you're wearing them. If the LS35X is a Mercedes Benz, then the LS10X is still a Lexus - and any gamer will be thrilled to receive either as a gift. 

(Find out more.)

Player One Coffee

SRP: Starter Pack for $20, or 12oz Bags Starting at $15

Are you a gamer in need of liquid fuel for your next late-night raid? Well, you don’t have to resort to the old, stereotypical two-liter of Mountain Dew or another sickeningly sweet energy drink. Coffee isn’t just for mornings, and thankfully Player One Coffee – a roasting company started by gamers, for gamers – deliver a product that’s lightyears tastier than your plastic tub of stale supermarket coffee. Player One source their beans directly from the farmers, and roast them fresh just before they’re shipped to your door. The results will be a cup – or, let’s face it, probably the whole pot – that will not only keep you extra-alert during a lengthy multiplayer session, but taste really freakin’ good.

We were big fans of their Leeroy Jenkins brew, and not just because it’s named after the classic WoW meme: it’s actually double-caffeinated, packing twice as much wallop into every cup. We recommend you take a spin with one of their Starter Packs, which allow you to try four of their most popular flavors and pick your own favorite. Full 12oz bags start at $15 and are also available in a rotating menu of limited edition flavors. (Find out more.)

HyperX ChargePlay Duo (HyperX)

SRP: $29.99

There are few things worse than interrupting your gaming groove to replace the batteries in your controller. HyperX’s first officially licensed Xbox charging station docks two controllers and is capable of charging them both to full power in just three hours—meaning, you can leave a controller there between sessions and never worry about running out of juice at an inopportune time. (Or, fuel an evening’s worth of two-player gaming on a single charge.) In the past, the rechargeable batteries we tested weren’t much better than your run-of-the-mill AA’s. HyperX’s charging station, however, has lived up to our performance expectations, and finally enabled us to say goodbye to the Duracells that were our go-to option in the past.  (Find out more.)

Gaming-themed Holiday Sweaters (Numskull)

SRP: $34.99

Nothing says it’s the holiday season more than wearing your most garish, colorful sweater into the office or to your family gatherings. Numskull has added many new designs to their 2019 assortment of video gaming-themed sweaters, including an Xbox “achievement” sweater, several new Mario designs, a Fallout shelter-themed get-up, and another featuring gaming’s favorite (and most adorable) dragon, Spyro. These come in addition to all of their existing patterns – with some of our favorites including Pac-Man and Space Invaders-themed retro art. The results are ugly Christmas sweaters that are – dare we say? – actually quite stylish, not to mention extremely comfortable.

What if gaming isn’t someone’s jam? Well, I don’t know why you’re still reading a video gaming gift guide, but no worries: Numskull also has a large assortment of movie and pop culture-themed sweaters, featuring everything from Ghostbusters to Gremlins to Doctor Who. We’d recommend looking through their whole line. (Find out more.)

Defender Arcade Cabinet Holiday Keepsake Ornament (Hallmark)

SRP: $22.99

You can express your love for retrogaming all throughout the holiday season with Hallmark’s latest arcade cabinet Keepsake Ornament. This licensed Defender cab – which includes so many teensy details, from the marquee art to the coin box – will light up and play real sound effects from the classic Atari arcade game. (Find out more.)

Board Games

Crusader Kings – The Board Game (Free League Publishing)

SRP: $75

Based on the hit computer game, Crusader Kings pits players against each other as the rulers of neighboring kingdoms. You’ll be looking to expand your territories in all of the old, tried-and-true methods of medieval monarchy: conquering by force, making alliances, or forcing your children into arranged marriages with your rivals’ kids. The game plays over three eras, and the ever-shifting borders, armies, and family trees really do make it seems like many years are passing between turns. (The game has that really cool sense of epic scale that you get from the famously lengthy sessions of the PC game – or if you haven’t played it, say, the Game of Thrones opening credits.) Free League has done an amazing job with the production of their tabletop version, with a ton of cool miniatures, a good-looking map and piles of cards. If you love grand strategy but would like to enjoy that style of game face-to-face with your gaming buddies, Crusader Kings is a great way to log off Steam and get a group around a table. (Find out more.)

Cities: Skylines – The Board Game (Thames & Kosmos)

SRP: $49.95

On the other end of the complexity scale, Cities: Skylines – based on the addictive city-building video game on PC and consoles – is a tabletop game that most anyone should pick up easily, even if they’re not seasoned board gamers. The rules and goals are intuitive, and best of all: this game is cooperative. Rather than trying to crush each other’s hopes and dreams, you and your friends will be working together to build a cohesive, functional city. While there’s luck to be factored in, it’s mostly  teamwork that will determine whether you’re building up the next thriving megalopolis, or are left with a poorly-planned, urban disaster. Perhaps one of the most fun parts of Cities: Skylines is actually placing the buildings, which are shaped somewhat like Tetris pieces and take some thinking to fit together seamlessly. If you know someone who already plays video games on the level of Cities: Skylines, they’ll be able to learn the tabletop version’s rules quickly. That makes this one a great game for a family of gamers looking for ways to unplug together. (Find out more.)

Games (of course)

Children of Morta (11 bit studios)

SRP: $21.99

This gorgeous pixel art game combines roguelike dungeon exploration with RPG character customization, creating an addictive adventure that will hook any roleplayer who likes their combat tense and fast-paced. Where so many roguelikes can start to feel repetitive after some time, Children of Morta breaks things up by inserting a compelling story that unfolds in between dungeon dives. (A narrator soothingly updates players on the latest developments in the characters’ lives each time you return to the home screen, giving the game an unusual but very warm storybook feeling.) By the time you’ve unlocked a few of the game’s many playable characters, you’ll find yourself invested in the family of adventurers at the heart of Children of Morta. (Find out more.)

Age of Wonders: Planetfall (Paradox Interactive)

SRP: $49.99

For its fifth installment, the Age of Wonders series has moved away from its normal fantasy setting for a far-future, science fiction theme. After the fall of civilization, six divergent factions duke it out for the rights to pick up the pieces and rule over what remains of humanity. These groups have spread out across the cosmos, picking up different technologies from far-off planets and implementing them into their own, unique brands of warfare. All six of the factions offer a different-feeling style of play, which factors into Age of Wonders: Planetfall’s immense replayability.

Age of Wonders: Planetfall is a game in the classic 4X mold, blending the base-building and technology trees of a game like Civilization or Heroes of Might and Magic with the tactical, turn-based combat of X-Com. With story-based campaigns for each faction and a virtually limitless number of randomly-generated landscapes to play on, Age of Wonders: Planetfall is the year’s biggest and deepest strategy game.

The game’s first DLC, Revelations, dropped just this month. You can pick up the add-on as part of the season pass for $39.99, which will grant access to three full expansions and some additional bonus content. Age of Wonders: Planetfall is a game that will keep evolving throughout the coming year. (Find out more.)

Resident Evil 2 (Capcom)

SRP: $59.99

It’s hard to imagine how one can improve upon a masterpiece, and then something comes along – like the recent stereo remixes of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road – that opens up your mind to the thought that a seemingly perfect product might possibly be improved upon. Video game remakes rarely give much more than a visual facelift to the tried-and-true classics they attempt to tackle, but Capcom has done the unthinkable and massively overhauled the fathomably-untouchable Resident Evil 2 – the pinnacle of the survival horror genre – and came away with a game that not only honors the legacy of the original, but feels thoroughly modern and can hold its own among 2019’s best console releases. Resident Evil 2 has been rebuilt from the ground-up, not only doing away with the elements of the original game that hadn’t aged well—you can now save at any typewriter, and the stiff tank-like controls are a thing of the past—but upping the fear factor with more realistic graphics, grosser zombies, and creepy lighting effects. Whether it’s their first sojourn into Raccoon City – or their first in 20 years – this version of the game is worth gifting to the horror fan in your life. (Find out more.)

Control (505 Games)

SRP: $59.99

This game’s story is centered on the Federal Bureau of Control, an X-Files-esque organization that investigates strange happenings around the world. Searching for a lost loved one, your heroine wanders into their headquarters — which is deceptively vast and labyrinthine inside – only to immediately and surprisingly be named its Director. As you explore its halls, you begin to manifest telekinetic powers, and Control only gets stranger from there on out.

Destined to become a cult, sleeper hit, Control could have gotten by as a fun, paranormal action game – there’s nothing more satisfying than telekinetically hurling two-ton blocks of cement at bad guys – but its sensational world building takes it to another level.  With all of the game’s innumerable and superbly-written, in-game texts and logs, Control establishes its weird, weird world in such compelling detail we haven’t seen since the BioShock games – or, we’ll go back even further, and say since that series’ predecessor, System Shock. Part Brazil, part David Lynch, part X-Files, and part X-Men, the game is a unique blend that we highly recommend. (Find out more.)

The Dark Pictures Anthology: Man of Medan (Supermassive Games/Bandai Namco)

SRP: $29.99

Essentially an interactive, sea-bound horror movie, Man of Medan makes for a very cool group experience. Players are assigned individual characters, and as the creepy story moves along they’ll be tasked with making consequential choices for the role they’ve stepped into. The choices they make will change the outcomes of the scenes, sending players down diverging story paths as their actions ripple outward to impact the other player’s decisions. Played with a group of friends in the same room, it’s similar to colloquially watching a horror movie, as players can’t help but weigh in on others’ choices and whether they think they’re right or wrong. There’s also an online play mode for two players, which adds an interesting twist: the stories run in tandem, meaning their characters can be in different places at different times. If you’ve got someone(s) to enjoy this mature, four-to-six hour tale alongside you, it’s a captivating gaming experience. (Find out more.)

FrostPunk: Console Edition (11 bit studios)

SRP: $29.99

One of the most engrossing strategy game worlds we’ve encountered, FrostPunk puts you in charge of a group of humanity’s last survivors who’ve trekked out into the cold to establish a new settlement after a global disaster left most of the Earth covered in ice. (The game is set in an alternative history of the late 19th Century – the title’s a play on the term “steampunk.”) Rather than building your economy or war machine as in many other civ building titles, the goal of FrostPunk is simply to keep your people alive, gather resources, and hopefully find other survivors. It’s a stark, depressing, and incredibly difficult game, but one that will be captivating and addictive to any strategy fan willing to try and help these digital people carry on with their lives. I can’t tell you how many hundreds I’ve been unable to prevent from freezing to death across my multiple (failed) attempts at the game – but every time I’ve wanted to come back to see if I can tweak my strategy and get a little further. FrostPunk is unique. (Find out more.)

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night (505 Games)

SRP: $39.99

Almost a quarter-century after its release, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is still revered by many as being among the best games of all time. That game’s developer, Koji Igarashi, is now back with Bloodstained, a spiritual successor that hits all of the notes that gamers loved about the hallowed Symphony. While there are major graphics upgrades and a few quality-of-life updates that have brought this new release into the modern gaming era, Bloodstained’s core gameplay is classic Castlevania: explore a sprawling map, upgrade your weapons and equipment, and unlock new areas you couldn’t access before. It’s an understandably well-done Metroidvania-style game from one of the genre’s key figures. It’s highly recommended for any fan of Castlevania, especially considering how long the official series seems to have been left on ice. (Find out more.)

Team Sonic Racing (Sega)

SRP: $39.99

Leave it to the plumber’s oldschool rival, Sonic the Hedgehog, to be the one to finally star in a kart racing game that can truly compete with the long-running Mario Kart series. Team Sonic Racing channels the sense of blazing speeds that have long been the character’s trademark. Combine that with some of the best track designs we’ve encountered in a current-gen kart racer and a wide variety of modes and we’ve got a game that can give Mario a run for his money. And our favorite part? A team-oriented system that rewards players for working together, adding a level of cooperation and strategy that is entirely new to this genre of game. If you’ve got a family a few controllers, you should absolutely consider giving Team Sonic Racing a spin. (Find out more.)

Farm Together (Milkstone Studios)

SRP: $19.99

Farm Together is the video game equivalent of a zen garden: relaxing and utterly de-stressing. You start the game with a small plot of land, and over time you’ll expand into a gigantic, farming empire. Crops grow in real time, whether you’re playing the game or not, but they don’t rot or anything like that, so there’s no stress in having to get back to the game to harvest at any particular time. Farm Together can be played in small bursts or hours-long sessions, and half the fun will come in decorating your barnyard or in-game home. It’s also a wonderful game for families: multiple people can log in to work different areas of the same fields. (Hence, the “Together” part of the title.) You can also hop online and help a friend tend to the critters and fruit trees, if you so desire. (Find out more.)



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