Under the Radar Holiday Gift Guide 2021, Part 4: Video Games | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Under the Radar Holiday Gift Guide 2021, Part 4: Video Games

Gift giving, plugged in.

Dec 09, 2021 Bookmark and Share

Our 2021 holiday gift guide just keeps on rollin’ here at Under the Radar. We’ve already presented our top picks for Blu-rays, board games, and booze. If you stick around, you’ll soon encounter our gift suggestions for everything from vinyl and box sets, to toys, collectibles, tech, and more.

Similar to the situation we outlined in our home video gifts round-up, spending most of our time at home for the last two years has changed the way many of us entertain ourselves. We’re spending more time in front of our TVs than ever before–and, you know, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s been far easier to socialize with our friends in our homebuilt Minecraft worlds than, you know, the real one. Nothing has helped me battle the blues in times of COVID than jumping into an online arena to blast my closest friends and family with virtual laser guns.

This year our video games gift guide is divided into three sections: one for hardware, books, and collectibles, one for games geared towards adults and older gamers, and a section for games meant for the whole family.

If you have the same problem we do – where there’s more gamers in the house than there are consoles and TVs, back issues of Under the Radar are a great way to pass the time while you wait for your turn with the controller. Order them here, or consider giving an annual subscription as a gift this holiday season.

Gaming Hardware, Books, and Collectibles

Replicade x 1942 (New Wave Toys)

RRP: $149.99

The classic arcade game, 1942, can finally be yours in a cool smaller form. Originally released in 1984, in the vertical shooting game you are a World War II flying ace fighting in the Battle of Midway. Your aim is to reach Tokyo to destroy the Japanese fleet. While it’s a bit odd that a Japanese company would design a game taking place in the Pacific Theater of World War II, where the Americans are the heroes and the Japanese are the bad guys, 1942 was a hit in Japanese arcades in the ’80s.

New Wave Toys’ Replicade version features the original arcade game in a smaller size and you also have the option of playing its sequel, 1943. The game cabinet lights up and the sound is impressive for its size. What’s more, it comes with an external joystick and an HDMI port, which allows you to play the game on your big flat-screen TV.

My eight-year-old daughter Rose says: “I like 1942 because it’s cool how you are in the air, but it’s not just planes you fight but also boats with cannons. I also like how there are power-ups.” By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

A Guide to Japanese Role-Playing Games (Bitmap Books)

RRP: £34.99

Top-down overworlds, turn-based combat, character progression, anime sprites, and downright epic quests revolving around your heroes saving their world . . . Japanese RPGs have been part of the video gaming experiences for as long as many of us can remember. (My first? Huddling around my cousin’s TV at a family Christmas party and hacking through slimes in Dragon Warrior on the NES.) Bitmap Books, the publishers of the most handsome, informative, and heavyweight tomes on gaming history out there, have turned their focus on Japan’s unbelievably vast contributions to the roleplaying genre with their new 2021 release, A Guide to Japanese Role-Playing Games.

Over more than 600 (!) pages, an ace crew of gaming critics provides detailed write-ups for hundreds of different games from the last forty years. These include all the installments of the genre’s big daddy franchises such as Final Fantasy, the Tales of games, and the aforementioned Dragon Quest, but also the lesser-known series and countless near-forgotten obscurities. With screenshots, box art, and chapters that explain the genre’s history and growth—not just in Japan, but with Western gamers—this is a wonderful volume for JRPG fans to take a walk down memory lane and remember their favorites, as well as discover many releases they undoubtedly missed out on. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

WD_BLACK D30 Game Drive SSD (Western Digital)

RRP: $89.99 for 500GB, $149.99 for 1TB, $269.99 for 2TB

There’s no fighting it: games are getting bigger. As bigger worlds, better graphics, and frequent updates continue to become part of our video game experiences, we just can’t get enough hard drive space on our game consoles. It doesn’t help matters that broadband speeds have barely kept up, and that we’re living in a world where the majority of our purchases are now digital. It’s either find ways to expand, our get used to deleting old games from your system to make room for your next download that will take an entire evening.

Western Digital’s latest gaming hard drives go a long way in resolving the issues of having too little space, and spending too many valuable hours watching a slow-moving download bar. These SSD hard drives plug into the back of your Xbox or PlayStation, and they’re blazing fast—you can play games directly from the drives themselves, or move massive installs over to them in a short amount of time. They’re also small, meaning you can tuck them to the side of your system, or even behind them, so that they’re out of the way, but they’re pretty sleek-looking, so you don’t necessarily need to do that. The best part? They’re transportable between consoles—meaning, they offer the quickest way for you to move all of your old games from, say, your Xbox One, to the new Series S or X console you may have been lucky enough to score this holiday season. We’ll put it this way: if you read this and thought you might want one, you definitely do. The quality of life upgrade that having the extra gigs these drives provides you with can’t be understated. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

Spy Hunter Arcade Classics (Basic Fun)

RRP: $44.99

We were watching an episode of Teen Titans Go! the other day, one of my eight-year-old daughter Rose’s favorite cartoons but also a show with another retro references that it will amuse parents. The episode, fittingly titled “Video Game References,” was making fun of 1980s video games and soon enough there was a spoof of Spy Hunter, in which Cyborg is pursued on a computerized road by a villain named Pie Hunter. Rose’s face excitedly lit up as she got the reference, for we had been playing Spy Hunter for weeks via Basic Fun’s Arcade Classics line of retro mini arcade games.

The game originally hit arcades in 1983. It was inspired by James Bond and initially was going to be tied into 007 and feature the James Bond theme, but licensing issues prevented that. And perhaps all the better, for Spy Hunter is forever tied to Henry Mancini’s theme for the 1950s TV show Peter Gunn instead. Gameplay is fairly simple. You’re in a spy car loaded with machine guns and you have to take out your enemies without being forced off the road. The miniature version is just as fun as the full-size arcade one and in our family we’ve been trying to beat each other’s high scores. Rose is #1, I’m #2, and my wife Wendy comes in at #3.

Rose says: “I like Spy Hunter because I still have the high score and it’s also fun when you don’t and you’re trying to get the high score. I like how it’s old school and I like when you drive around and then at one point you go into the water or get to an icy road. And how when you get knocked off the road a truck brings you back and when you get knocked off into the water a boat picks you up.” By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Cocalero Clasico X Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness (Cocalero)

RRP: $29.99

Now, here’s a cool gift for the Resident Evil fan who has everything. We raved about this South American herbal liqueur—its bright green tint can be seen as joyously festive or playfully spooky, depending on the season when you’re pouring it—in a past edition of our Drinker’s Gift Guide, praising its fruity, floral flavor that manages a tasty sweetness without the cloying, candy-like artificial flavor you get from other bright and colorful liqueurs. It’s named for the coca leaf, which is part of their heritage to many people of the Andes region, but is prohibited in many countries because of its use in drug manufacturing. In any case, it’s a gorgeous-looking beverage that’s good enough to drink over ice, or mixed into one of the numerous cocktails detailed on their website.

Limited to 1,000 bottles, this special edition Cocalero was released to celebrate the debut of Netflix’s Resident Evil: Infinite Darkness series, which most video game fans reading this article are probably no doubt aware premiered on the streaming service last month. The limited edition bottle ships free with a special, funky-looking glass which the drink is meant to be served in – and we guarantee they won’t already have in their drinkware cabinet. (Buy it here.)

Console Games for Older Audiences

Sam & Max Save the World and Sam & Max Beyond Time and Space Remastered (Skunkape – Xbox/ Switch/PC)

RRP: $19.99 each

Everyone’s favorite canine-and-lagomorph crimefighters-for-hire made their long-awaited return to point and click adventuredom in 2006, more than a decade after the release of their beloved PC classic, Sam & Max Hit the Road. The six episode series was an early effort from Telltale Games, and was initially released in serial form before being collected under the title Save the World. A true spiritual successor to their ‘90s point-and-click caper, Save the World features the same goofy, often surreal style of humor—mostly derived from the endearingly witty repartee between the hard-boiled detective dog and his borderline psychopathic rabbit partner—and puzzle-solving that required players to think far, far outside the box in order to crack the case at hand. Anyone worried that the new game wouldn’t be able to capture the half-crazed tone of Sam & Max could put their fears to rest: the team at Telltale nailed it.

After Telltale sadly dissolved a few years back, the fine folks at Skunkape acquired their early Sam and Max releases and set about doing floor-to-ceiling makeovers, overhauling everything from the graphics to the audio, recording additional soundtrack, hiding new Easter eggs, and enhancing the quality of the experience in countless small ways. These were hilarious, well-written adventure games, but after 15 years were looking their age. Thankfully, new fans will have the opportunity to play them with modern comforts—and old fans can revisit the stories and enjoy the massive facelifts they’ve received.

Save the World is broken into six parts, chronicling a villainous plot to mind control the world over six stand-alone chapters. It’s classic, point-and-click style gameplay, but with some great variety in its settings. Over this first season, Sam and Max stop a bunch of washed-up child actors from taking over their neighborhood, become sitcom stars and game show contestants en route to freeing an audience being held captive by an Oprah-like talk show host, run against a sixty-foot-tall Abraham Lincoln statue for Presidency of the United States, infiltrate a Teddy bear-headed mafia, dismantle a cyberpunk dystopia, and head to the moon—in a final episode that calls back to both a classic comic issue and an episode of their ‘90s Fox Kids cartoon. I’ll repeat: this all happens in one season!

The second season, Beyond Time and Space, kicks off another epic, five-part adventure—and opens with a Christmas-themed episode, making it perfect for the holiday season. Having released just this week, it’s the most brand-spanking-new title on our list!

Fans of the other Sam & Max games (or comics, or cartoon) should jump at the chance to play these ones in their remastered forms, whether they missed the original releases or are looking for a reason to jump into more Sam & Max. If you manage to burn all eleven of these approximately two hour episodes too quickly, worry not – it looks like a remastered version of season three, The Devil’s Playhouse, is on the horizon. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

Back 4 Blood (WB Games/Turtle Rock – Xbox/Playstation/PC)

RRP: $59.99

Some of my favorite multiplayer gaming memories were formed in 2008-2009, when Valve released their classic four-versus-horde zombie games, Left 4 Dead and Left 4 Dead 2 on the Xbox 360. In a limited number of levels, the developers created a game that rewarded a group for playing it again… and again… and again… in the hope that getting lucky, getting in that perfect shot, and working together as a well-oiled team might help your crew get over the steep hump that was a devilish difficulty curve.

Back 4 Blood is essentially a new Left 4 Dead, a decade later and under a different name. The gameplay has been tweaked to reflect ten-plus years’ worth of multiplayer developments, including a cool deck-building element customizable to your play style, but it’s still the same, addictive “one more run before bed . . .” type of gameplay that made us fall in love with it in the late ‘00s. If you played Left 4 Dead back in the day, then it’s time to get the gang back together. If not, well, round up your three best pals and get ready for one of the most fun team shooters you’ll dive into. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

Gleylancer (Ratalaika Games – Xbox/Playstation/Switch)

RRP $6.99

After languishing for many years as an expensive, hard-to-find collectible in its original Mega Drive cartridge form, the cult shmup Gleylancer has finally gotten an official re-release on consoles. Now, a wider range of shoot-em-up fans can enjoy this more-than-solid entry in the genre, with a great soundtrack, 16-bit anime cut scenes, and horizontal scrolling gameplay. (One of the biggest challenges? The enemies don’t just come from the right side of the screen, but behind you—you’ll have to rely on a variety of companion ships to take ‘em out.) Publisher Ratalaika has added some modern, quality-of-life upgrades such as save states to ensure that even fans who played the original release can see the ending, if they choose to use them. Plus, at seven bucks, you can’t argue with the price. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

The Good Life (White Owls/Playism– Xbox/Playstation/Switch/PC)

RRP: $39.99

Any fan of weird and unusual video games is likely to recognize the name SWERY, the enigmatic director behind modern-era cult classics and oddball titles as Deadly Premonition, D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die, and The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories. His latest is The Good Life, a hybrid point-and-click adventure/RPG/farming game/photography simulator that defies even that extremely broad attempt at classification. You play as Naomi Hayward, an American photojournalist buried in debt, who finds herself shipped to the quiet English village of Rainy Woods, billed to be the happiest place on Earth. Obviously being a SWERY game, there are a handful of weird things going on in this mostly normal-looking town: chief among them being that the locals keep transforming to cats. The Good Life provides and oddly charming—emphasis on “odd”—mystery for players to solve. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

Golf Club: Wasteland (Untold Tales – Xbox/PlayStation/Switch/PC)

RRP: $9.99

This isn’t your grandfather’s golf video game. Heck, you don’t even have to love golf to get into Golf Club: Wasteland, one of the most melancholy yet soothing games we’ve played all of this year. Not long after the Earth has become inhospitable to human life, the wealthy elite living off-planet have turned it into a golf course. As you work your way through the increasingly challenging holes, you can listen to “Radio Nostalgia from Mars,” which alternates between a genuinely awesome soundtrack and stories from survivors sharing their memories of what life on Earth was like before things fell apart. This is how Golf Club: Wasteland’s chilling story of global apocalypse fills itself out: as our first post-apocalyptic, epistolary golfing video game. The game itself provides a rewarding challenge, but there’s also an easier mode for people who’d rather relax and just experience the game’s excellent story and writing. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

Hades (Supergiant Games – Xbox/PlayStation/Switch/PC)

RRP: $24.99

In Hades, you play as Zagreus, the rebellious son of the lord of the underworld, who wants more than to escape his father’s kingdom and reach his relatives on Mount Olympus. He’s immortal . . . mostly. On his mission to claw his way up from the depths of hell, he’ll die and gain—each time resurrecting back in his father’s palace. Eventually, he learns that there’s more to his background than was let on by his parents, and his distant family members in the worlds above become more and more eager to help him make his way to see them.

The roguelike genre was growing stale, but Hades has come along to save it—and become one of the most addictive games to come along in years. The hack-and-slash gameplay is very fun, and incentives to switch up weapons and loadouts keeps the randomized dungeons feeling fresh run after run. Most notably, though, is the game’s writing and voice acting—Hades is genuinely funny, with colorful characters and a narrator with whom the hero constantly bickers. The relationships you build with them as the story opens up gives Hades a nice feeling of progression that goes beyond just stats and improved powers. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

Hitman 3 (IO Interactive – Xbox/PlayStation/Switch/PC)

RRP: $59.99

Agent 47 returns for this third installment of the World of Assassination series. Since their reboot five years ago, the Hitman games have been famous for their massive, meticulously detailed level design, but this edition takes it even further. While there’s a larger story continued from the prior games, it’s not necessary for a new player to dive in, as each level could stand on its own, independent from what comes before or after. The overall premise for each is basically the same—get in, assassinate your target, get out—but the environments and their inhabitants are unique to the mission. The scale of Hitman 3’s levels is hard to grasp on first play-through: these places are big, and they’re usually packed with hostiles. What’s most interesting in any given level is how many different approaches to succeeding in your goals are possible.

Maybe more than any other action-oriented game we’ve played, Hitman 3 rewards creativity, and encourages replaying the same missions over and over. Even the basic training level has numerous approaches. Your goal is to board a yacht and eliminate an infamous art thief—you can do this by disguising yourself as a crew member, waiting until he’s alone, and then killing him with your silence pistol, or piano wire, or explosives, or your bare hands. Or, you can drown him, or poison him. You can release a lifeboat over his head and make it look like an accident. You can do this while dressed up as a security guard, chef, maintenance personnel, or party guest. Or, you can locate the fellow criminal he’s to meet with, take them out, steal their clothing, and meet with him yourself to take him out face-to-face. Not to mention there are multiple ways to get on the boat, and just as many to escape undetected. The game rewards you for discovering new ways to complete a mission, and encourages players to learn where characters will be at certain times, how they’ll react to different disguises, and to unlock different plot details by catching conversations in areas you haven’t visited in past runs.

What we’re getting at is that every single level of Hitman 3 has as more variability than some entire campaigns of other games. It’s no wonder this one has found its way onto so many Best-of-the-Year lists—for any mature gamer with a taste for stealth action, this is the best gaming experience you could give them in 2021. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

It Takes Two (EA/Hazelight – Xbox/PlayStation/PC)

RRP: $39.99

If you have a handy couch co-op partner—spouse, partner, roommate, or even an older child—or know someone who does, It Takes Two is one of the best split-screen games to come along in years. The premise is certainly novel: Cody and May are a married couple whose marriage has reached the end of its rope. They decide it’s time to split, but their daughter’s tears magically transfer their consciousness into a pair of her homemade dolls, which understandably throws a wrench in those plans. In order to become human again, the couple must travel through numerous miniature-sized worlds inspired by the experiences and things in their shared life.

It Takes Two uses this Pixar-worthy premise to offer up a wildly varied adventure which presents new mechanics, minigames, and objectives at every turn. It genuinely feels like two dozen games in one, and adapting quickly to whatever the game throws at you is a big part of the fun. With a colorful world and consistently upbeat pacing, It Takes Two turns its serious logline into one of an immensely playful game that’s best shared with someone sitting next to you. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

Life is Strange: True Colors (Square Enix – Xbox/PlayStation/Switch/PC/Stadia)

RRP: $59.99

The Life is Strange series has provided some of our favorite game narratives of the past decade, and its latest installment is no different. In True Colors, players will take control of former foster kid Alex Chen. Now an adult, she’s reunited with her long-lost brother, Gabe, in the small, Colorado mountain town of Haven Springs. Alex harbors a secret, super power-like ability which is both a gift and a curse: the ability to read others’ emotions as an aura of color emanating from their bodies. (If the feeling is powerful enough, it will overtake Alex’s own emotional state.) Tragedy strikes just as Alex starts adapting to life in her new home, and Alex’s inability to turn off her supernatural empathy becomes a waking nightmare—but also a powerful tool to help the people around her.

Although it’s been released as a single game, Life is Strange: True Colors follows the same formatting of its predecessors, broken down into two- to four-hour chapters that make for perfect evening-long servings of entertainment. With top-notch writing and voice acting, memorable characters, a unique premise, and well-realized setting, Life is Strange: True Colors is another excellent entry in the high-quality series. It’s a must-grab for fans of the earlier games, and a perfectly suitable jumping-on point for newcomers, as well. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

Lost in Random (EA – Xbox/PlayStation/Switch/PC)

RRP: $29.99

Imagine taking a journey through an action-adventure game set in the world of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas and you’ll begin to have an idea of what it feels like to play Lost in Random. The appropriately-named world of “Random” is made up of six kingdoms. When children come of age, they’re to roll a six-sided die belonging to the land’s creepy queen to determine which of these kingdoms they’ll be forced to live in. After her sister, Odd, is banished to one of these distant lands, young Even joins forces with a rogue magical die to find her lost sister, and bring an end to the wicked queen’s reign. With strong, humorous writing, ridiculously flavorful character and world design, and an engaging combat system that combines real-time action with deck-building and dice-rolling, Lost in Random is more than just a quirky adventure—but one of the more immersive gaming worlds we’ve stepped into in years. It’s perfect for fans of Tim Burton, Studio LAIKA, Labyrinth, and goth-y fantasy. By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

Mundaun (Hidden Fields/MWM Interactive - Xbox/PlayStation/PC)

RRP: $19.99

It’s the holiday season of 2021, and we’re living in an age where there’s little shortage of psychological horror games and walking simulators. It takes a lot for us to recommend any one from the pack, but Munduan—with its pencil-drawn art style and chilling sound design—is one of the most compelling we’ve played in years. Your protagonist arrives in a remote town in the Alps with plans to investigate the death of his grandfather, who was supposedly burned alive in a barn fire, but it’s clear the circumstances are murkier than the locals are letting on. It’s a game that gets weirder as it goes on, as you’re asked to interact with mysterious goats and react to every creepy sound you hear. With a handful of genuinely frightening sections, this is a seven-hour adventure worth gifting to any adventure-horror fan in your social sphere. (Buy it here.)

Resident Evil Village (Capcom – Xbox/PlayStaion/PC/Stadia)

RRP: $59.99

In this latest sequel in the quintessential survival horror series, Ethan Winters—hero of Resident Evil 7—finds himself in a frosty Gothic village somewhere in Eastern Europe, in a desperate hunt for his kidnapped newborn. For fans who’ve followed the series since at least the Gamecube era, the setting will call to mind that of the unforgettable Resident Evil 4—arguably one of the series’ highest moments—with its cobblestone walls, leaning houses, and wrought-iron fences. Oh, and monsters, of course. Resident Evil Village is one of the more frenzied, heart-pumping installments we’ve seen in a while, with enemies that are faster-moving, more intelligent, and dare we say human-like than the zombies most often associated with the game. With strong gameplay, a spooky atmosphere, and a memorable antagonist in the form of Lady Dimitrescu, Resident Evil Village earns our recommendation for any action-horror fan on your list. Make sure they play it with the lights low! By Austin Trunick (Buy it here.)

Family-Friendly Games

Colors Live (Nighthawk Interactive – Nintendo Switch)

RRP: $29.99

With Colors Live the Nintendo Switch becomes an artist’s tablet, a sketchbook for limitless ideas. Paired with the Colors Sonarpen, you can complete Color Quests, where the game tells you what to draw within a time limit. There’s an online gallery where you can display your pictures and look at the artwork of others. The gallery is organized via various categories and is searchable. You can even export timelapse videos of your paintings. You don’t have to use the Sonarpen, finger painting works too. It’s rating E for Everyone and can enjoyed by everyone from budding artists to seasoned professionals.

My eight-year-old daughter Rose says: “I think it’s cool how you can do drawings, as not many video games are like that, and I like how it makes drawing a challenge in the Color Quests. I also like how you can see other people’s work. I also like how you can pretty much draw anything, there’s no limit.” The first thing Rose drew when we got the game was Godzilla. By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Disney Classic Games Collection (Nighthawk Interactive – Switch/PlayStation/Xbox)

RRP: $29.95

The Disney Classic Games Collection brings back three 1990s games based on iconic Disney films: Aladdin, The Jungle Book, and The Lion King (a previous collection from 2019 didn’t include The Jungle Book). It features Sega Genesis or Super Nintendo versions of the games, but also allows you to play other versions, such as Game Boy versions, with Aladdin and The Lion King each available in both in black & white and color. You can also skip parts of the games or rewind parts. The collection also includes behind-the-scenes videos and various music options. Rated E for Everyone, Disney Classic Games Collection would appeal to retro gaming fans, Disney collectors, and current kids.

My eight-year-old daughter Rose says: “I like how you can play three different games about very good Disney movies. And I like how each game is very different. I like how in Aladdin there’s a lot of swinging and jumping on people’s heads, but in The Lion King there’s a lot of climbing on rocks and in The Jungle Book there’s a lot of swinging around on vines.” By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Etherborn (Akupara Games/Altered Matter/iam8bit – Switch/PlayStation/Xbox)

RRP: $19.99

Etherborn is a serene windswept world to get lost in for hours. It’s a puzzle game unlike any other. In the one-player game you play as a humanoid figure, one that is slightly see-through so that you can see their central nervous system. You maneuver through the stunning digital landscape, taking pathways that defy physics and working out how to keep moving forward. Sometimes you have to collect white spheres and place them in slots to make bridges move or appear. It’s a truly beautiful game and one that was clearly crafted with great care. Etherborn is rated E for Everyone. My eight-year-old daughter Rose says: “I find it very interesting and cool, how things are done in that world.” By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

KeyWe (Sold Out/Stonewheat & Sons – Switch/PlayStation/Xbox)

RRP: $24.99

KeyWe is a cute and quirky all-ages game. You play as a couple of kiwi birds named Jeff and Debra who help out at a rural post office in Australia, the Bungalow Basin Telepost Office. You help them type telegrams and mail letters, among other tasks, by hopping around on desks and keyboards. The delightful game is rated E for Everyone and with younger elementary aged kids it can help encourage reading, spelling, and typing. My eight-year-old daughter Rose simply says: “The birds are cute and when they fall off the side they have parachutes.” By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Manifold Garden (William Chyr Studio/iam8bit – Switch/PlayStation/Xbox)

RRP: $19.99

Manifold Garden is like a M.C. Escher painting brought to life. It’s a first person puzzle game where gravity is fluid and your only goal is to keep exploring the game’s expansive world, one room at a time. In order to move forward, you have to work out how to open doors, often by moving objects around. But sometimes you need to switch perspective until the floor becomes the ceiling or the wall or vice versa. In gameplay there’s a hint of Portal 2, without the actual portals. It’s a very zen and hypnotic game that you can get lost in for hours. It’s rated E for Everyone and suitable for every age.

My eight-year-old daughter Rose says: “I find it challenging, but also fun, and very different from all the other games. P.S. Don’t fall off the side.” By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy (Square Enix – Switch/PlayStation/Xbox)

RRP: $19.99

When James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy movie came out in 2014 the characters weren’t exactly household names. I grew up reading Marvel Comics and even I didn’t really know the characters that well. Now, with a third movie in production, the characters are superhero mainstays. Before Baby Yoda captured our hearts and minds, the world was obsessed with Baby Groot. Now our heroes—Groot, Rocket, Gamora, Drax, and Star-Lord—headline their own video game. The first thing fans should know is that Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy is not connected to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), the character designs are decidedly different and none of the big screen actors voice their video game counterparts. These versions, however, are similar in spirit to the MCU heroes and will appeal to fans of the movies.

You play as Star-Lord, human leader of an alien team. The game opens with a young Peter Quill, who will later become Star-Lord, and you get to explore his teenage bedroom and interact with his mother, before you end up on the team’s ship in space. After exploring the ship, you embark on an adventure on an alien planet, accompanied at first by Rockey and Groot, who help guide you. The game features an impressive open world to wander and is fittingly accompanied by an ’80s soundtrack featuring Wham!, Loverboy, Rick Astley, Billy Idol, Tears for Fears, and others. We played the cloud version for the Nintendo Switch and had no connectivity issues or gameplay problems; it was a smooth experience. The game is rated T for Teen, but so far we haven’t come across anything that’s particularly inappropriate for younger players.

My eight-year-old daughter Rose says: “I really like Guardians of the Galaxy because it’s more of a walk-around game and you can choose where to go, rather than ‘you have to go over here.’ And I like how in the beginning when you are in the ship you don’t have to start the mission yet, you can walk around and do a few other things. It’s cool you can ask other characters for help, like you can ask Groot to make tree bridges.” By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

My Singing Monsters Playground (Big Blue Bubble – Switch/PlayStation/Xbox)

RRP: $39.99

Choose your monster and compete in various different contests of dexterity. Play against the computer or with up three other friends (it’s a 1-4 player game). At the end of each tournament, while standing on the winners’ podium, the monsters will sing silly songs, hence the game’s title. The creatures wouldn’t be out of place in the Monsters Inc. movies and include PomPom (a pink cheerleader monster) and Mammott (a yeti type creature). There are seven different monsters to choose from. In one game you need to compete to launch a rocket the fastest, in another you have to roll the biggest snowball possible while avoiding being caught up in another player’s snowball. There are races and a hockey game where the puck is a donut. It’s rated E for Everyone and with the multiplayer option it’s a great one for young friends to play together.

My eight-year-old daughter Rose says: “My Singing Monsters Playground is a very fun game. Some of the levels can be challenging, others are easier. I like how it has a bunch of multiple games instead of one story and how it’s very funny.” By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Spinch (Akupara Games/Queen Bee Games/iam8bit – Nintendo Switch)

RRP: $34.99

Spinch is a colorful and psychedelic side-scrolling game. Canadian cartoonist Jesse Jacobs designed the vibrant world of Spinch and fellow Canadian James Kirkpatrick composed the game’s soundtrack, writing it “on modified Gameboys and circuit-bent, hand-made instruments.” Basically, you are a circular little white blob of a creature and you navigate through the game’s crazy world attempting to rescue your missing babies, while also avoiding being eaten by giant rainbow worms and other monsters. It’s rated E for Everyone, so it’s great for families, but is a 1-player game. Spinch is like a music video by The Flaming Lips or Super Furry Animals crossed with the classic Super Mario Bros. game, but with modern graphics. If you like the sound of that then you’re going to love this game. My eight-year-old daughter Rose says: “I like Spinch because it’s very fun, but also very challenging and I like a challenge.” By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)

Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania (Sega – Switch/PlayStation/Xbox)

RRP: $39.99

Super Monkey Ball first debuted way back in 2001 for arcades and the Nintendo Game Cube. As the series celebrates its 20th anniversary it’s back with a new edition, Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania. The basics remain the same: you’re a monkey in a clear ball racing other monkeys on various tracks, which get progressively more challenging. Gameplay is similar to Mario Kart. Beyond the racing, you can also play all sorts of other games with the characters, such as tennis, golf, soccer, baseball, bowling, billiards, target practice, and more (it’s like Wii Sports with monkeys). It’s rated E for Everyone and supports up to 4 players, so it’s a great party game. My eight-year-old daughter Rose had some vaccinated friends over to play it recently and there was much laughter to be heard.

Rose says: “I like Super Monkey Ball Banana Mania because of how it doesn’t just have one game, it also has a bunch of different mini games that are all really fun. I think it’s funny how instead of people it’s monkeys in balls and I find that amusing.” By Mark Redfern (Buy it here.)


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