Here's a look at some of the best virtual adventures for the video game player in the family.
Best games for PlayStation 3
What is it? The only entertainment console boasting a Blu-ray experience, the PS3 offers the ultimate high-definition viewing experience for movies and video games. A price break takes the PS3 down to $299.99 (with 120 gigabytes of storage) and makes it an awfully attractive gift.
Price: $59.9 for suggested games
Gift group: Old and young will find creatures to control and cinematic worlds to explore.
Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time (from Sony Computer Entertainment America Inc., rated T for teen, $59.99) - The lovable wrench-packing lombax and his robotic pal are back in another wonderful gaming experience for fans of third-person action games. This computer-animated adventure has it all: beautiful design, a ton of new weapons for Ratchet (such as the Sonic Eruptor, which features a gassy creature stuck on the end of a rifle stock) and Clank's mind-boggling use of time pads and the time-slowing Chronoscepter.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (from Sony Computer Entertainment America Inc., rated T for teen, $59.99) - Fortune hunter Nathan Drake returns in another Indiana Jones-style adventure boasting a beautiful melding of cinema and gaming. The action starts with Nathan stuck in a train car that's hanging off the side of a cliff and never lets up as he escapes and travels around the Far East to recover forbidden artifacts. With single, multiplayer and cooperative modes (up to three players work together) and loads of moves, weapons and lush areas to explore, it's a dazzling title that pushes the PS3 to its limits. Gift givers also should toss in the BradyGames Strategy Guide ($19.99) for the title so players have an easier time finding all 100 treasures.
Ninja Gaiden 2: Sigma (from Tecmo, rated M for mature, $59.99) - Dragon Ninja Ryu Hayabusa graces the PS3 with his high-definition presence in a re-imagined third-person action game culled from its Xbox 360 roots. Over 17 stages, a player controls Ryu, who wields blade, shuriken and Fiend's Bane Bow and practices the art of the Flame Phoenix to obliterate enemies and massive monsters. The cut scenes really sell the beauty of the violent story, while the chance to control three other characters, save and replay especially brutal fights, and enjoy more than 30 challenges in a cooperative mode seals the combat-saturated deal.
Best games for Xbox 360
What is it? A potent online gaming experience and multiple avenues of multimedia streaming make Microsoft's machine a workhorse in family entertainment centers. A price break and upgraded hard drive make it a worthy purchase this season. (Check out the Xbox 360 Elite, which comes with the games Lego Batman and the off-road racer Pure plus a 120 GB hard drive for $299.)
Price: $59.99 to $149.99 for suggested games
Gift group: The player looking for the widest variety of gaming possibilities
DJ Hero Bundle (from Activision, rated T for teen, $119.99) - This interactive music experience gives rap, techno and hip-hop lovers in the family a wireless turntable peripheral to scratch, cross fade, sample and freestyle their way across the hottest virtual club venues with help from Grandmaster Flash. Highlighting more than 100 songs from artists such as the Jackson 5, Nirvana, Billy Squier and M.C. Hammer, the game requires matching rhythmic icons cascading down the screen. Competitive and cooperative online multiplayer action supplements game play, and a second faux musician can even jump in, using a Guitar Hero guitar peripheral.
Lego Indiana Jones 2: The Adventure Continues (from LucasArts, rated E for everyone, $49.99) - America's premier serial archaeologist is once again Lego-ized in a family-friendly ode to all of the Indiana Jones films. Even the "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" saga is immortalized as one or two players control Jones and his cohorts as they partake in escapades around the world. Enhancements to the previous game include unlocking a whopping 60 characters, including Mutt Williams on a motorcycle, new whip animations for Indy, and a Build Your Own Adventure mode to share with friends.
Forza Motorsport 3 (from Microsoft Game Studios, rated E for everyone, $59.99)- One of the premiere arcade racing simulations will cause the average car lover to drool uncontrollably as he virtually drives more than 400 of the hottest cars on more than 100 real-world tracks and exotic road courses from around the globe. The fastest and most exotic street machines come to virtual life through high-definition graphics that even include detailed cockpits.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Prestige Edition (from Activision, rated M for mature, $149.99) - One of the most anticipated - and more controversial - games of the year gets a special-edition release loaded with extras for the very mature gamer in the family. This is one of the very best first-person shooters available and comes loaded with stunning, often bloody and violent scenarios in the solo and cooperative Special Operations mode and competitive multiplayer missions taking place from Afghanistan to the District. The Prestige Edition includes a steel case, a token to download the original Call of Duty, an art book, a plastic "bust" of Capt. "Soap" MacTavish and a pair of fully functioning night-vision goggles with sight up to 50 feet (five AA batteries required).
Best games for Wii
What is it?- Nintendo's magical console offers wireless motion-sensing controllers and a new $199.99 price point along with a pay, on-demand Virtual Console to download classic games from the 20-year-old Nintendo library.
Price: $19.99 to $59.99 for suggested games
Gift group: The family that games together
Muramasa: The Demon Blade (from Ignition Entertainment, rated T for teen, $49.99)- Wii owners can revel in frenetic swordplay and ancient Japanese lore while enjoying the prettiest Wii game of the year. This side-scrolling gem features hand-drawn 2-D animation and uses an old-school navigation scheme (with either Wiimote and Nunchuk, Classic or GameCube Controller) as the player controls demon-possessed princess Momohime and amnesia-stricken Ninja Kisuke. Between collecting souls and forging new blades, challenge 100 warriors, battle a giant octopus and eat some dumplings to raise your spirit in this breathtaking experience.
Nerf N-Strike Elite (from Electronic Arts, rated E10+ for players 10 and older, $59.99) - A mix of virtual game and real foam dart shooter gives children the best of both worlds. Using the included Nerf Switch Shot EX-3, a player can pull the barrel, replace it with a Wiimote and pop in a virtual shooting gallery on his Wii. It now reacts as a light gun as owners venture into hostile locations with members of the Elite squad. As an added piece of fun, connect the red lens to the pistol and look to the screen to unlock codes and find enemy weaknesses. The real, multifunctional Nerf Switch Shot EX-3 includes a trio of foam darts.
We Wish You a Merry Christmas (from Destineer Inc., rated E for everyone, $19.99)- Sure it's a cash grab tied to the season, but name me another video game starring Santa Claus and his merry elves. Players interactively partake in a baker's dozen of activities, including decorating a tree, tuning a radio to sing along to seasonal classics, bowling on candy-cane lanes and keeping an eye on an Advent calendar. The action even includes dropping a log on the fire and roasting marshmallows with help from the Wiimote. This adventure delivers a virtual Christmas wonderland.