There’s never been a better time to be a geek in love with gaming: consoles, handhelds, PC games, AAA titles from big name studios, quirky indie releases that scratch a retro itch; there’s something for everybody in the increasingly diverse video game market.

Whether you’re shopping big (like picking up one of the brand new game consoles), small (a game here or there), or somewhere in between, we’re here to help. There’s been a whole lot of activity in the gaming market this year and we’ve got a pile of suggestions for the gaming geeks in your life.

This is the third  of the How-To Geek 2013 Holiday Gift Guides; to keep up with the rest of the guides throughout December, be sure to keep an eye on the article tag GiftGuide2013.

Next Gens and Portables: So Many Choices

It wouldn’t be a holiday gaming gift guide if we didn’t start out with the most obvious categories: what to play your games on. One of the most prominent developments in the last year of gaming is the release of the next generation consoles. Microsoft released the Xbox One ($499) in November as the successor to their eight year old Xbox 360. Sony released the PS4 ($399), also in November, as the successor to their seven year old PS3. Although not as fresh in everyone’s minds (and technically not a 2013 event, but a late 2012 event) the Nintendo also released a refresh: the Nintendo WiiU ($349), as the successor of the wildly successful but seven year old Wii.

There’s a dizzying array of new features, more processing power, and a whole range of multimedia integration that was just beginning to really take hold in the previous generation consoles. A good place to start orienting yourself is to read our comprehensive review of the PS4, which frames a lot of the discussion about the PS4 in terms of the specs and features of Xbox One and WiiU.

The handheld market is hardly stagnant, either. Nintendo’s 3DS line enjoyed a recent update in mid-2012 with the release of the hulking (but comfortable to hold) 3DS XL (~$200), and then introduced the 2DS ($140) as an interesting sort of ruggedized offshoot of the 3DS line. The 2DS is essentially a 3DS that is permanently fixed open in a solid-body case (there’s no hinge for kids to break) with the 3D features (which many people don’t actually use) removed. It was curiously received, but sales appear to be picking up.

In addition to all the new and newer stuff going on, the PS Vita ($211), Sony’s handheld introduced in 2011, is still going strong with various revisions including a model with 3G connectivity for gaming on the go.

Adding further complexity to the mix, there’s also the PC gaming market (where different specs on different computers mean you can’t assume a PC game you buy will run on your niece’s computer) and the mobile device gaming market for Android and iOS. While this all adds up the greatest diversity gamers have ever enjoyed, it makes shopping a bit bewildering.

With that kind of diversity and a spread like that to work with, an expensive spread at that, we’ll be the first to tell you to do your research before throwing down cold hard cash for things like a big console purchase. In fact, given how few titles are actually available at the moment for the Xbox One and PS4 (and they aren’t, unfortunately, backwards compatible with older games), unless you’re shopping for a die-hard early adopter, it’s probably best to wait and purchase high quality titles for the current generation consoles.

While we can’t tell you which game platform is a perfect match, we can move onto to looking at some of the hottest titles in gaming this year, so if you’re playing it safe and only buying games for systems you know they already have, you’ll have great options to pick from. Let’s take a tour of the digital goodies worth tucking under the tree.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

3DS only ($35)

Rating: E for Everyone

Released in November, A Link Between Worlds is the most recent game in the Zelda franchise and every bit the smash hit you’d expect. The game is set the same world as the 1991 classic The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (and, in fact, takes place six generations after the events in Link to the Past). While fans of the franchise will delight in the connections between the two games, you hardly need the foreknowledge to pick up the game.

A Link Between Worlds was well received by fans and critics alike with a solid 91/100 score on game ranking website Metacritic. If you’re looking for more Legend of Zelda goodness, be sure to check out the other 3DS Zelda release, a 3D remake of the critically acclaimed N64 title, Ocarina of Time.

Bioshock Infinite

Available for: Xbox 360 / Xbox One / PS3 / PS4 / WiiU / PC (~$48-60)

Rating: M for Mature

Bioshock Infinite is the third installment in the Bioshock franchise, and it continues the tradition of weaving a compelling story, dystopian environments,  stunning visuals together into a game that is as much a stunning movie-like experience as it is a fast paced first-person-shooter.  The game takes you inside the floating city of Columbia, which is no longer the utopia it was conceived to be, as seen through the eyes of hired-gun Booker DeWitt. The action starts strong, doesn’t slow down, and, if the Metacritic score of 94/100 is any indicator, finishes strong.

Although you certainly don’t need to play the first two games in the franchise to enjoy the third, all season long sales are popping up where you can pick up the three games as a package deal. Around Thanksgiving, for example, Amazon ran a game deal where you could snatch up the entire series for a fantastic $15.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf

3DS only ($34)

Rated: E for Everyone

The Animal Crossing series is still going strong, and the newest release for the 3DS is just as addicting as previous iterations of the games. There’s no leveling, no points, just a a simulation world where you can goof around for as long as you want. Fish, socialize, build a house, gather plants for the museum: the point of the Animal Crossing games is to wander and play. Kids and adults alike are completely enamored with the easygoing pace of the game and the open play. I won’t even admit to how much time I’ve spent with my own kid, wandering around in Animal Crossing land. Metacritic score? 88/100. Not bad for a game that doesn’t actually keep score itself.

The Last of Us

PS3 only ($43) 

Rated: M for Mature

Just when we were all sure we were sick of zombie games, The Last of Us comes along and reminds us that there is room for growth yet in the genre. The game takes place twenty years after a pandemic decimates the global population and transforms the world as we know it. The game begins with the protagonist, Joel, trying to smuggle a girl out of quarantine and quickly spirals into a complex and terrifying journey across what remains of the United States. To say the game is spooky and will make you jump a lot as you maneuver yourself in and out of skin-of-your-teeth scenarios would be an understatement.

Skylanders Swap Force

Available for: Xbox 360 / Xbox One / PS3 / PS4 / WiiU /  Wii / 3DS (~$55-65)

Rated: E for Everyone

You know how people joke that they regret not being the guy that invented the pet rock and got rich? We regret not inventing the Skylander game franchise. The premise is pure genius: it combines a fun game with collectible figures (which interact with the game itself). You purchase the base game that comes with a Skylander Portal and three figures, and then you can further enhance your game experience with extra figure purchases (typically around $10-15). We hardly have to talk your ear off to impress upon you how popular the mashup of video gaming and action figure collecting is among kids. While the game might not have really taken hold among adults, that didn’t stop it from scoring a whopping 92/100 on Metacritic.


Available for: Xbox 360 / PC ($15)

Rated: E for Everyone

Spelunky is an indie game that has enjoyed a meteoric rise in popularity this year (it was originally released in 2008 but completely overhauled and re-released this year). It’s a platformer (think side-scrolling 2D game) that is procedurally generated (the levels are random every single time you play) and it’s completely addictive (you’ll keep coming back to collect loot and continue exploring). You can do practically anything you want in the game as not only are most of the objects interactive, but the entire levels are destructible. Collect stuff, smash stuff, bust your way through a floor (and then regret it): there are so many ways to play the game. If you’re looking for some lightweight (but surprisingly nuanced) retro game fun, we can’t recommend it enough.

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Rated: M for Mature

Available for: Xbox 360 / Xbox One / PS3 / PS4 / WiiU / PC (~$48-60)

The fourth in the Assassin’s Creed series, Black Flag combines the incredibly well received historical-fantasy franchise with pirates. If you needed even the slightest motivation to check out the series, the mashup between the critically acclaimed game mechanics, incredibly well researched historical components of the series and, well, pirates, should seal the deal. Not sure if the a franchise can keep it going strong for this long? Metacritic gives it a respectable 87/100. Did we mention the pirates?

Pokemon X and Y

3DS only: Pokemon X / Pokemon Y ($39.99)

Rated: E for Everyone

To say that people were excited about the new Pokemon games would be an unforgivable understatement. Thousands of people went out and bought new Nintendo 3DS units just to play the game. In fact, before you check the store for a copy of the game we suggest checking Craigslist. Following the release of the game earlier this season, there were hundreds of used DS units and Pokemon games on Craiglist as nostalgic gamers in their late 20s had finished playing the game and were ready to offload it.

It’s everything you’d expect from a retooled Pokemon game. It’s prettier, it’s bigger, and there are more ways to interact with your Pokemon. Whether you’re shopping for an old Pokemon fan or introducing a new generation of gamers to the franchise, it’s a sure bet. The two additions to the Pokemon family scored 87 and 88/100, respectively.

We’ve been having a blast writing gift guides this holiday season but, hands down, this was the hardest one to write. With the sheer number of great games that came out in 2013 (let alone in the last few years) it was agonizing to pick and choose. Have a recommendation we didn’t list? Jump into the discussion and share it. We never turn down a game recommendation!

Profile Photo for Jason Fitzpatrick Jason Fitzpatrick
Jason Fitzpatrick is the Senior Smart Home Editor at How-To Geek. He has over a decade of experience in publishing and has authored thousands of articles at How-To Geek, Review Geek, LifeSavvy, and Lifehacker. Jason served as Lifehacker's Weekend Editor before he joined How-To Geek.
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