Under the Radar’s 2023 Holiday Gift Guide, Part 4: Video Games | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Under the Radar’s 2023 Holiday Gift Guide, Part 4: Video Games

Video Game Gift Ideas for a Wide Range of Platforms

Dec 12, 2023 By Austin Trunick and Mark Redfern
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Welcome back to another installment of Under the Radar’s 2023 Holiday Gift Guide. Today we’ll be looking at several of the year’s most exciting new game releases and helping you find the right gift for the right person—no matter their age, tastes, or preferred console. From family-friendly couch co-op to realistic-looking zombie mayhem, we’ve got you covered!

Under the Radar’s 2023 Holiday Gift Guide will continue its rollout in the coming days as we look at new toys, collectibles, and vinyl records. Have you missed our previous entries? Here are our rundowns of new movies on home video, classic film and television reissues, and tabletop games.

And why stop at stuffing stockings when you could stuff a loved one’s mailbox with future issues of Under the Radar? Subscriptions make a great gift for any indie music lover you know, and go a long way to help keep our coverage coming your way.

And now, off to the games! But first, a book…

From Ants to Zombies: Six Decades of Video Game Horror (Bitmap Books)

RRP: $42.00

Bitmap Books have spent the last nine years publishing some of the slickest, most lavish video game art and history books on the planet. This latest addition to their catalog explores the long legacy of horror in video games: from early “spooky” games like Haunted House on the Atari 2600, all the way through modern-day classics like Limbo and What Remains of Edith Finch.

Weighing in at over 600 pages (all in color), this doesn’t cover the subject in a dry, encyclopedia-style manner, but is carefully curated; rather than try to cover everything and inevitably let a bunch of deserving titles go overlooked amid repetitive write-ups of one Resident Evil or Castlevania release after another, From Ants to Zombies breaks up the games by shared themes or ideas, and then looks at them chronologically within these categories. This was a great choice, as it turns out it’s far more interesting to read about how designers from different eras tackled similar concepts within the limitations of the hardware they were working with.

Every write-up includes multiple screenshots from the game. These are well-chosen, and serve as a good reminder of how creepy some of these games were when we played them back in the day—even in the cases where the graphics are now dated. Horror game fans are sure to find several of their old favorites in here—I was thrilled to find an interview with Ken Levine about the development of System Shock 2, and a full entry on Monster Party, which was easily the weirdest NES game I ever played—and will walk away with a bunch of new additions to their “must play” lists. From Ants to Zombies is devilishly good at making the reader want to hunt down and try out many of the obscure gems covered within. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

Bear and Breakfast (Gummy Cat/Armor Games/iam8bit – Switch/PlayStation/Steam)

RRP: $19.99 (digital) or $44.99 (iam8bit Switch exclusive physical edition)

Bear and Breakfast is a quirky delight where you play as Hank, a bear in the woods tasked with refurbishing a run down bed and breakfast. Your goal is to make it more habitable for humans, building and decorating, as well as catering to the needs of your ever-demanding guests. It’s a charming and relaxed game that’s rated E10 (Everyone 10+).

My 10-year-old daughter Rose had this to say about the game: “Bear and Breakfast is a unique game. I think the bear is cute because he wears a hat. I also like the scary bird because it is cool.” By Mark Redfern (Buy your digital copy here and here.) (Buy iam8bit’s Switch exclusive physical edition with motel keychain and game soundtrack here.)

Dredge (Black Salt Games/Team17 – Microsoft Windows, Switch/PlayStation/Xbox)

RRP: $24.99

In these trying times, sometimes it’s just nice to come home after a long day at work (unless you work from home) and settle in for a bit of fishing from the comfort of your own couch. Well, that is, until things turn creepy. Such is the experience of playing Dredge. The player captains a small fishing boat. You maneuver from the dock at the seaside town of Greater Marrow in search of fish. At first it’s a peaceful experience. But once it gets dark and the fog rolls in, dangers await. Rocks appear out of nowhere. Sea monsters abound, and strange messages in bottles surface. All is not what it seems.

There’s never quite been a game like Dredge, which is at once peaceful and menacing. It was a surprise hit, selling over 100,000 copies in the first 24 hours of release back at the end of March, a sales figure Black Salt Games originally predicted would take a year or more to achieve. The creepy hit has now sold over a million copies and seems ripe for a film or TV adaptation.

My 10-year-old daughter Rose had this to say about the game: “Dredge is a wonderful game. I love how you can fish. Also, there are not many games where you play as a boat. I love that unique concept to the game.” By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Hi-Fi Rush (Bethesda - Xbox/Steam/Epic)

RRP: $29.99

Music-obsessed Chai dreams of becoming a rock star and ripping off sweet guitar solos in front of cheering crowds, but he lacks a working right arm. So, he does what any dreamy-eyed teen in a cyberpunk future would do and applies for an experimental procedure from a shady corporation that might give him the chance to shred. The surgery goes awry, however, and Chai wakes up with more than just a bionic arm. He finds his iPod embedded in his chest, sorta like Tony Stark if the Iron Man cores were run through mid-‘00s MP3 players. This gives Chai a bunch of wild powers connected to the world’s built-in rhythms—but unfortunately, it also makes him a target for the company who want to eliminate this defective product and reclaim their escaped technology.

Hi-Fi Rush is rhythm-driven energy rush: a colorful combat platformer where everything from your combos to your enemy’s attacks sync up with the beat of the music. (Better rhythm = better damage.) It’s a game where boss fights open up like music videos, and the art style is a quirky blend of 2D animation and cel-shaded character models. Under the Radar readers will appreciate the soundtrack, too, which incorporates tracks from big names like The Black Keys, Nine Inch Nails, and The Prodigy. Hi-Fi Rush is perfect for the music-loving gamers out there—anything that dares to be as far out as this is worth checking out. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom (Nintendo – Nintendo Switch)

RRP: $69.99

The first Legend of Zelda game came out way back in 1986, debuting on a cartridge for the Nintendo Entertainment System the following year. Nearly four decades later the franchise is still going strong, with kids still obsessed with the games and dressing up as Link for Halloween. My fifth grader daughter adores the last two games in the series, as do many of her friends, but then her middle aged PE teacher is also a Zelda fanatic and has already played and beat the latest game, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, more than once.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is the sequel to 2017’s beloved The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and has been equally acclaimed by critics, with a 96/100 on Metacritic and mainly 10/10 reviews. The game takes place in the expansive open world of Hyrule, where you play as Link as he once again searches for Princess Zelda and must stop the evil plans of Ganondorf, now returned to his humanoid form. This time around, gameplay includes the exploration of islands in the sky.

The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom was another massive hit for the franchise. Almost 20 million copies have been sold worldwide so far. A Legend of Zelda live action film was recently announced by Sony Pictures, with Wes Ball (The Maze Runner trilogy and next year’s Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes) directing, which will only further increase excitement in the brand.

My 10-year-old daughter Rose had this to say about the game: “The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom is one of my favorite games. I love the freedom in the game. I also like all the cool monsters. The Battle Talus is my favorite one out of all of them. I think the new shrine design in the game is cooler than Breath of the Wild because it looks like just a rock but then it is bigger on the inside like the TARDIS from Doctor Who. I also enjoy how it brings over all of your saved horses from the previous game, because I would miss all of my old horses if they didn’t do that. The sky islands are an awesome part of the game because you never really thought of what is above Hyrule. I think King Rauru’s Right Arm is cooler than the Sheikah Slate because it is from ancient civilization.” By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

LEGO 2K Drive (2K – Switch/PlayStation/Xbox/Epic/Steam)

RRP: $44.99

Imagine Mario Kart, but in LEGO form and you’ll have some sense of what LEGO 2K Drive is all about. Although there’s more to it than that. For one thing, you can construct your own cars out of digital LEGO (one thousand unique pieces are available). Players can also go fully off track and drive around a larger open world. When you go off road your vehicle converts to a four-wheel drive car and when you drive into the water your car automatically transformers into a boat. In story mode you are trained by Clutch Racington and compete against opponents with amusing names such as Vincent Van Go. This is a racing game that doesn’t take itself too seriously and is thus all the more fun. There are also cooperative and competitive multiplayer modes, two-player split-screen, and six-player online play.

While most LEGO games have been developed by TT Games, this time the Danish toy company partnered with 2K due to their experience with other racing games, resulting in a game that will appeal to kids, LEGO fans, and racing game devotees.

My 10-year-old daughter Rose had this to say about the game: “LEGO 2k Drive is a great game! I love how you can drive all around a whole map instead of just racing. I love the creativity you can put into your cars.” By Mark Redfern (Buy it here and here.)

Maquette (Annapurna Interactive - PlayStation/Xbox/Steam)

RRP: $19.99

This touching little puzzler tells the story of Michael and Kenzie, a young couple who meet and bond over their love of drawing—and the slow disintegration of their relationship. It’s a well-written story, well-acted (by Seth Gabel and Bryce Dallas Howard) in voiceovers that give tiny glimpses into their lives over the course of an unspecified number of years. And the soundtrack—with songs by Jay Som, Cannons and Clouds, and Meredith Edgar—is outstanding, to boot.

The gameplay itself is quite unique: most levels are built around maquettes (small-scale models used by an artist to prep a larger work) of varying sizes, containing items that can be moved around the environment. These models reflect the level itself, allowing you to shape the world around you—moving entire buildings, in some cases—and place objects within them. So, let’s say if you drop a normal-sized key into a miniature-sized version of the map, that key will appear in the normal-sized world, but to scale: meaning, you’ll find a giant-sized key in the same spot, which can then be interacted with. You really have to think outside the box to solve the puzzle-filled maps, which require you to grow and shrink items (and sometimes yourself) multiple times to get through them. It’s a great brain-burner, and there are no puzzles that are too esoteric: play around with the maquettes long enough and you’ll eventually reach an “a-ha!” moment that helps you to the next section. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

Mortal Kombat 1 (WB Games - PlayStation/Xbox/Switch/Steam/Epic)

RRP: $69.99

Mortal Kombat is back in its latest installment, and as you might have gleaned from the “1” in its title, the series has taken new angles with its plot and tweaked its fighting system. While it *technically* follows the storyline from previous games, you don’t have to have played through any of MK9, 10, or 11 to jump in here: the story starts fresh, and many characters are back to square one (but with some cool twists to their backstories to surprise longtime fans of the series.) This makes Mortal Kombat 1 an excellent entry point for both lapsed MK players and those new to the series. The cinematic story mode—in which the newly-minted god of fire, Liu Kang, gathers up a crew of misfits to represent Earthrealm in an interdimensional kumite—is a fantastic reintroduction to the world and the roster, with some genuinely funny writing and a steady drip of collectibles to keep you hooked from one fight to the next.

Fighting-wise, the newest addition to Mortal Kombat 1 is its Kameo system: essentially, you select an ally before you go into the fight, whom you can call on during the match to give you a hand. This is limited by a cooldown meter and needs to be timed right to work, but it’s an awesome way to complement your primary fighters in areas where they might be lacking. It’s also very cool to watch when your Kameo buddy lends a hand with some of the more gruesome finishers.

This is far and away the best a Mortal Kombat game has ever looked, with detailed character models and stunning arenas. The look of everyone on the roster—a healthy mix of old-school MK regulars and more recent additions to the series—can be customized with new outfits and accessories, which you’ll collect through regular gameplay and by earning coins as you dip your toes into all of MK1’s different modes. Aside from the (again: great) story mode, you’ve got the expected Versus matches, the classic battle towers that’ve been part of the series since its arcade debut, as well as a new mode that plays like a board game between matches—and updates seasonally. Mortal Kombat 1 has already had a healthy number of content drops in its young life, so you can expect this edition to keep evolving and growing for a long time to come. Omni-Man from the comic/show Invincible has already been added as a playable character as part of the game’s first Kombat Pass, with fellow comic & TV characters Homelander and Peacemaker soon to join the roster.

Did we mention that gamers who spring for the premium edition of the game get a Jonny Cage skin that allows them to play as Jean-Claude Van Damme (!?!!) in his Bloodsport fighting shorts? Mortal Kombat 1 is the series at the wildest—yet most accessible—it has been in years, and should please fighting game fans of all varieties. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

Moving Out 2 (Team17 - PlayStation/Xbox/Switch/Steam)

RRP: $29.99

With its irreverent sense of humor and chaos-inviting gameplay, Moving Out has been a staple in the realm of couch co-op gaming since it was released during the summer of 2020. If you found yourself locked down in a household with fellow gamers, chances are good that Moving Out helped you through some hours during that surreal time.

Moving Out 2 is its equally madcap sequel. Once again you’ll be playing as a team of movers working an increasingly-dangerous series of jobs. You’ll need to work together to fill your moving truck within your time limits, teaming up with friends and family members to lift heavy objects or, say, toss a couch through a window or over water. (Lots, and we mean lots, of stuff will be broken along the way.) Moving Out 2 is just as fun, frantic, and funny as its predecessor, and has some new additions to the formula that’ll further test your ability to work with the people next to you. Co-op doesn’t get much more madcap than this. If you’re a parent, the Moving Out games are two of our favorites to play through with kids thanks to its highly tweakable difficult options. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

Pokémon Scarlet and Violet (Game Freak/The Pokémon Company/Nintendo – Nintendo Switch)

RRP: $59.99 each

If the concept of Pokémon was transferred to the real world, it would be quite strange. Can you imagine walking around with your cat and then encouraging your feline to fight stray cats? Once the other cat is wounded enough, you put it in a tiny ball, where there’s no food or water and no place for it to go to the bathroom. And most of people encouraging their pets to fight other animals are kids. It would be a bit daft in everyday life, but replace standard pets with cute magical creatures and somehow it works across various animated series, movies, and video games, not to mention the trading card game.

Two of the latest Pokémon games are Pokémon Scarlet and Pokémon Violet. Game play is essentially the same in each game, but each features different exclusive Pokémon creatures and Scarlet is centered on the past whereas Violet focuses on the future. We were sent Pokémon Violet. At the start of the game, you design your character and then you start your first day of school at Uva Academy, which resembles Hogwarts from outside. Along the way you travel around an open world, set in the Paldea region, battling, catching, and training Pokémon, and befriend the legendary Pokémon Miraidon, who aids you.

The two games were an instant success, selling 10 million copies worldwide within three days, a record for any game released on any Nintendo platform and has sold over 23 million copies so far.

My 10-year-old daughter Rose had this to say about the game: “Pokémon Violet is an amazing game! I love how much freedom you can get in the game just in the beginning. I love how it gives you three choices of adventures you could embark on. I also love Miraidon, the legendary Pokémon, because you are able to ride on it and sometimes battle with it.” By Mark Redfern (Buy it here and here.)

Resident Evil 4 (Capcom - PlayStation/Xbox/Steam)

RRP: $59.99

Are you a bad enough dude to save the president’s daughter? Originally released on the GameCube all the way back in 2005 (!), Resident Evil 4 was one of the defining games of its generation. Putting a more action-oriented spin on the series’ survival horror formula, RE4 had you play as returning hero Leon Kennedy, sent on a mission to rescue the First Daughter, Ashley Graham, from a fanatical cult deep in the Spanish boonies. Gone were the standard, slow-moving zombies we expected from installments past, replaced with quick, intelligent villagers infected with mind-controlling parasites—these evil S.O.B.s could pick up weapons, take cover, climb ladders, and wreck barricades on their way to murder you and recapture their prized captive. Where previous titles were often built around preserving precious ammunition and outrunning the living dead, Resident Evil 4 had an entire arsenal of weapons—something to suit every gaming style, from those who preferred stealthy knife kills and sniper shots to those who like to blast their way through mobs with a shotgun. This gave the game a ton of variety, as you could change your loadout with each subsequent play. It also had an addictive system for upgrading your armory, as weapon boosts would carry over across playthroughs: Leon would become deadlier with each run. The original Resident Evil 4 had one of the most replayable single-player campaigns of all time.

This 2023 remake of Resident Evil 4 overhauls the game for modern audiences, while staying true enough to that 18-year-old classic that longtime fans will be thrilled. RE4 Remake hits all the same beats as its predecessor, but with lots of new surprises. (It’s also one of the best-looking games we’ve ever played, if you’re lucky enough to play it on 4K/HDR-capable set-up.) Simply put, it’s a masterful reimagining of an all-time gaming masterpiece—and thus, a masterpiece in its own right. Whether your giftee is an RE4 vet or a newcomer, the 2023 incarnation of Resident Evil 4 is a modern action classic they won’t be able to get enough of. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

RollerCoaster Tycoon Adventures Deluxe (Atari - Xbox/PlayStation/Switch)

RRP: $39.99

When you see the name “Atari,” which games are the first ones that come to mind? We’re going to guess it was something like Asteroids, Space Invaders, Adventure, or maybe even Pong. While they were behind so many of the most influential video games of all time, not all of the legendary company’s stone-cold classics came out of the arcade era. They are also the longtime publishers of the RollerCoaster Tycoon series, largely regarded to be among the best simulation games ever made.

If you’ve done any serious amount of PC gaming since the turn of the millennium, you’ve probably logged some hours into one or more of the RollerCoaster Tycoon games. Some of us were more interested in growing a theme park, tending to our visitors’ needs, and building a coaster park that would put Cedar Point to shame. Others were absorbed with designing customized roller coasters that tested the limits of physics—or were terrifying death traps for any poor, tiny soul who climbed aboard. There are so many different ways to play a RollerCoaster Tycoon game, none of them wrong, which is one of the numerous reasons it’s appealed to so many simulation fans for so long.

RollerCoaster Tycoon Adventures Deluxe brings the series to modern gaming consoles, with tons of coaster-building options and hundreds of readymade attractions with which to fill up your dream park. The “Adventure” mode offers story-driven missions that give you goals to work toward, and present players with (often humorous) decisions to be made that will grant temporary advantages or add new challenges to their game. Best of all, the experience has been carefully ported over for console play—something many other PC-borne games have trouble with—and the revised controls are intuitive and easy-to-learn. RollerCoaster Tycoon Adventures Deluxe is another great entry in the series, and one that will please old and new fans alike. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

Sea of Stars (Sabotage Studio – Steam/Switch/PlayStation/Xbox)

RRP: $34.99

Sea of Stars is set in the same universe as the 2018 game The Messenger, but takes places thousands of years earlier, making it a prequel of sorts. The role-playing has a retro vibe, looking like something that could’ve been played decades ago on the Super Nintendo system. You play as Valere and Zale, who are Solstice Warriors that have control over Eclipse Magic. They are aided by their childhood friend, a warrior-cook named Garl, who hasn’t seen them during the years that Valere and Zale were training to use their magic. The game involves puzzle solving and turn-based combat, where you can play as up to six different characters. Sea of Stars was well-received by critics, with the Switch version (which is what we were sent) garnering a 91/100 on Metacritic.

My 10-year-old daughter Rose had this to say about the game: “Sea of Stars is a fun game. I love how it has interesting monsters that are not just your usual monsters. They are all unique. I also love the main characters. I think they are really cool.” By Mark Redfern (Buy it here and here.)

Starfield (Bethesda - Xbox/Windows/Steam)

RRP: $69.99

Starfield is one of *the* big daddy releases of 2023—and how could it not be? It’s the latest, many-years-in-development roleplaying game from Bethesda, the folks responsible for such all-time epics as Skyrim and Fallout 4. Gamers have been eagerly anticipating its release for a long, long time.

Fortunately for RPG fans, Starfield lives up to the hype. Set roughly 300 years in the future, your personally-customized character will be recruited as part of a special mission by a renowned team of space explorers. As Fallout and Elder Scrolls fans know, though, just how closely you follow the main storyline within a Bethesda game is generally up to you. Starfield presents more than just an open world, but an open universe, full of planets to explore, NPCs to befriend or betray, and sidequests upon sidequests upon sidequests. Those never-ending distractions are why so many of us love the Bethesda roleplaying experience, so feel free to follow whatever paths grabs your attention—whether that’s exploring alien worlds, building bases, customizing your spacecraft or, you know, actually playing through the main storyline. (Me? I’ll get back there… eventually…)

Nobody does epic scale like these guys, and Starfield is their biggest title yet. When it comes to the number of gameplay hours provided by a single player campaign, there’s probably no better value out there than this. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

Star Wars Jedi: Survivor (Electronic Arts - PlayStation/Xbox/Steam/Epic/EA App)

RRP: $69.99

The heavily-anticipated sequel to Respawn’s acclaimed Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order is finally here, continuing the saga of up-and-coming Jedi Cal Kestis, still being hunted by the Empire and working to master his growing Force powers. Jedi: Survivor builds on its predecessor—which was already considered one of the best Star Wars games ever made—in almost every imaginable way, with larger worlds to explore, challenging enemies, and new skills to equip and utilize. Even more so than before, it makes players feel like they’re a true Jedi, tapping into their Force abilities to do things like blow stormtroopers over ledges, move heavy objects from afar, and even control enemies’ minds. When you’re doing these things while blocking blaster rounds with your dual-wield lightsabers? It doesn’t get much cooler than that. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)



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