- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Here are just a few of the cooler video game systems and games that make an excellent gift package for the PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One or mobile-gaming addict in the family.

Switch (Nintendo, $299) — Gift givers looking for a family friendly and portable video-gaming system have plenty of reason to try tracking down Nintendo’s latest multifunctional entertainment console.

For those unaware, the handheld device has a 6.2-inch LCD touchscreen offering 720p resolution, slightly larger than an iPhone X screen, and can hook up to a pair of small-hand-sized Joy-Con controllers to either side to offer a fully mobile-gaming experience.

The cool tech trick features a TV mode that allows the system to slip into a dock plugged into a television monitor via an HDMI port and play games at 1080p resolution.

Players can also use straps on the Joy-Cons controllers, loaded with motion-sensing tech for a more Wii-style session (with compatible games) or use the included plastic grip to attach both Joy-Cons that allow for more of a traditional game controller experience.

Tech features include 32 gigabytes of onboard storage with an expansion slot for an up to 2 terabyte microSDHC or microSDXC card, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, a rechargeable Lithium Ion battery, an accelerometer, a gyroscope, stereo speakers, an audio jack and a slot for Switch game cartridges.

Buy the system but also look at NYKO’s line of charging options such as the Portable Docking Kit ($49.99) with three USB ports for a compact way to hook up the Switch to another TV without detaching the original doc.

The company also offers a USB-powered Charge Block ($19.99) to recharge the Joy-Cons without having to be hooked up to the Switch or the more expansive Charge Base ($29.99) to easily charge both the Switch and up to four Joy-Cons.

As far as virtual adventures, Nintendo’s Switch offers about 24 top-tiered games to enjoy, but here are some of the best to buy immediately with the system.

Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo, rated E10+, $59.99) — Considered one of the greatest free-roaming sandbox adventures featuring that irascible mustached plumber by critics and gamers, this third-person, three-dimensional epic has up to a pair of players controlling Mario and his new buddy Cappy (with each using one of the Joy-Con controllers).

They travel to colorful worlds with the airship Odyssey and must rescue Princess Peach from Mario’s archenemy Bowser.

The action features visually stunning terrain, massive worlds to explore, loads of gold coins and Power Moons to collect, and challenging environmental obstacle courses (set in two dimensions and 3-D) to conquer.

Mixing nostalgic charm with plenty of new tech tricks and even taking control of a full-sized Tyrannosaurus Rex, the game offers an entire gaming family a reason to fall in love with Mario all over again.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo, rated E10+, $59.99) — One of the first titles released with the Switch is still one of best and allows a player to control the Link as the elfin hero attempts to stop his archenemy Calamity Ganon before the brute can destroy the kingdom of Hyrule.

Link explores a fully, free-roaming sandbox environment that is a whopping 12 times larger than the Zelda franchise’s “Twilight Princess” by land (walking or on horseback), sea (using a raft) and air (with help from a paraglider).

Our pint-sized dynamo must constantly scavenge and customize his clothing, food and gear to survive hostile terrain. He battles a variety of weapon-wielding enemies and aggressive creatures as well as solves more than 100 puzzles in the mysterious Shrines of Trials.

Gamers will embrace the nonlinear action by applying creative strategies to any obstacle and dangerous encounter in Hyrule, while animation fans will love the cel-shaded style of the characters and enormous world.

Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle (Ubisoft, rated E10+, $59.99) — A legendary group of irreverent, Minion-style rabbit aliens team up with that famed plumber and his pals to help restore a splintered Mushroom Kingdom.

Turn-based battles with odd weapons (such as Rumblebangs and Boomshots), puzzle-solving and collecting gold coins, and over 100 goodies will consume up to a pair of younger players as they assemble a customizable team and roam around four brightly colored and surprise-filled worlds.

Suffice to it report, the cute factor as well as the strategy is high as gamers dive deeper into the more complex matches that will require additional powers, some friendly bouncing maneuvers and plenty of travel through massive pipes.

Doom (Bethesda Softworks, rated Mature, $59.99) — Let’s not forget, older gamers looking for some stress- relieving fun can also appreciate the Switch through a legendary first-person shooter loaded with gory violence.

As the Doom Slayer dressed in a customizable Praetor suit, the player explores a research facility on Mars overrun by Hell’s demon hordes.

Don’t expect the incredible visuals from Xbox One or PlayStation 4, but the gameplay continues to remain as brutal as ever, highlighting demon obliteration by weapon, fist and stomping foot at its finest.

An additional multiplayer option allows up to a dozen warriors to unleash the hurt and carnage upon one another in team and solo death matches.

And, remember, the Switch is a portable device so Doom sessions are now as easy to tackle at a friend’s house as roaming the virtual world for opponents.

Star Wars: Jedi Challenges (Lenovo, rated 12+, $199.99, requires 2 AA batteries included) — This augmented reality set gives fans of a galaxy far, far away a chance to become a true Jedi or Sith master as they battle top lightsaber-wielding legends in a virtual “Star Wars” environment.

Using Lenova’s Mirage AR headest, a glowing tracking beacon and a replica of Anakin Skywalker’s original lightsaber (seen now in Rey’s hands in “The Last Jedi”), a player literally fights experts such as Kylo Ren, Darth Maul, Seventh Sister, Grand Inquisitor and Darth Vader on planets ranging from Hoth to Naboo.

A stereoscopic image culled from the “Jedi Challenge” app appears in the smartphone (USB wire tethered to the headset) and reflects the animation inside the headset to display ghostly imagery of characters and environments, now in front of the player in their home entertainment room.

The owner’s saber works with the beacon, the headset’s motion-sensing cameras and through a phone’s Bluetooth connection to deliver the magic.

Hacking and slashing became my preferred strategy here for the solo battles as the game also tosses in waves of other villains such as super battle droids to swing away at. Of course, the sound effects, voicing and music are pure “Star Wars.”

For those who have conquered lightsaber fighting, the app contains two additional challenges.

First, a tower defense-style strategy game takes place on a 3-D arena and has the player command and place either Rebellion, Republic or Resistance forces against Empire, Separatists or First Order legions. I actually found it more visually rewarding than the lightsaber fights, especially when I plopped Ben Kenobi on the battlefield.

Next, Chewbacca’s favorite game Holochess, also called Dejarik, comes to life and is an exact replica of the board seen on the Millennium Falcon. A player chooses from a selection of monsters to battle, such as a Kintan Strider or Mantellian Savrip to fight a virtual opponents team in the turn-based challenge.

Although virtual and augmented reality can be a pricey hit-or-miss proposition, “Jedi Challenge” performed admirable throughout the play sessions.

Parents should be aware that set-up time is minimal and mostly involves charging the headset and lightsaber, but some phones may burn through battery life quickly to keep up with the intense, real-time experiences.

The list of compatible smartphones includes iPhone 6 thorough iPhone X (iOS 9 or later), Samsung Galaxy S8, Galaxy S7 edge, Galaxy S7, Google Pixel XL, Google Pixel, Moto Z² Force Edition and LG G6.

Destiny 2 Collectors Edition (Activision, rated Teen, for Xbox One and PlayStation 4, $249.99) — Gift buyers looking for something special for gamers smitten by developer Bungie’s famed online multiplayer, first-person, sci-fi shooter can purchase a special package loaded with goodies tied to the latest epic battle between Guardians and the evil Cabal.

Not only does this limited edition bundle offer a full version of the game in a steelbook case but download codes for an expansion pass for the next two downloadable adventures as well as premium content such as a Legendry Sword and Cabal Empire emblem.

Of course, that is not enough for the price so Activision tosses in a solar panel USB charger with built-in light (contained in a mysterious silver three-sided obelisk), a human-sized solar blanket, large length of red paracord and an ancient Cabal-themed book that contains extras such as a genealogy schematic, art booklet about the enemy and postcards.

And, as they say, that’s not all. Besides the great game, fans will really love a rugged, lifesized frontier bag used by rebel Suraya Hawthorne in the game. It can be worn as a backpack or messenger bag by owners and features a protective sleeve for an up to 15-inch laptop, heavy-duty straps, zippers, metal snaps and Destiny emblems

Star Wars Bloxels (Mattel, for ages 8 and older, $49.99) — Youngsters can create their own side-scrolling, 13-bit pixilated video games based on their favorite galaxy far, far away using a square board, 320 multicolored blocks and a free app for tablets and smartphones.

First, a creator uses the board with 169 slots in a 13x13 grid to place patterns of blocks that represent parts of a game built from eight colors. For example, green blocks are terrain, purple is for enemies, yellow for collectible coins and pink for power-ups.

Once satisfied with the set-up, the designer takes a photo of the layout using the in-app camera, and it magically transforms the blocks into an actual functioning game screen on his device.

He can then embellish with more functionality, challenges, a room background or alter the blocks.

As far as the “Star Wars” tie-in, that means using characters such as Greedo, Luke Skywalker, Emperor Palpatine and Chewbacca to traverse the obstacle courses filled with dangerous Stormtroopers or womp rats and set on locations such as Tatooine, Hoth, Endor and the Death Star.

Owners can also share their original games to a Bloxels community for others to enjoy as well as play others’ challenges. Also, a story mode allows a player to get inspired through conquering character-driven levels and unlocking heroes and villains to use in their games.

Suffice it to report, this is a brilliant and educational way for youngsters to hone logic skills and even some core mechanics of coding video-game design within the colorful “Star Wars” universe.

Star Wars Battlefront II: Elite Trooper Deluxe Edition (Electronic Arts, rated Teen, $79.99) — Perhaps the slickest-looking of the Skywalker family gaming sagas arrives in a third-person shooter excelling in action and deep in mythology.

Although mainly touted for its multiplayer challenges, a new story-rich solo campaign will also not disappoint.

A player controls the Empire’s female special operative Iden Versio from the Inferno Squad as she and her team try to keep her government’s tight rule of the galaxy in tact after the death of the Emperor and loss of the second Death Star at the hands of those Rebel scum.

The action not only requires that a player control Iden, even piloting a T.I.E. Fighter, X-Wing and AT-AT Walker, but also brings in levels featuring Luke Skywalker, Gen. Leia Organa and maneuvering a bearded Han Solo as he escapes with an Imperial defector from Maz Kanata’s castle.

The multiplayer action is frenetic and impressive as up to 40 warriors (20 per team) can battle against one another or co-operatively on 14 locations (from Hoth to Kamino and Jakku) and through all eras of “Star Wars” canon.

They control characters such as Stormtroopers, Imperial officers and Rebellion fighters as well as a hero roster that includes Skywalker, Organa, Solo, Chewbacca, Lando Calrissian, Yoda, Darth Vader, Emperor Palpatine, Boba Fett, Bossk, Versio and Darth Maul.

The Trooper Edition includes versions of Kylo Ren and Rey plucked from the new “Star Wars” movie; four weapons upgrade packs such as Master Specialist access to the A280-CFE blaster with scope and land trip mine usage; and hero modifiers including Ren’s ability to freeze opponents and use of “The Last Jedi” version of the Millennium Falcon.

Note: Parents will need to be aware of the potential return of microtransactions to the game that had been shut off by Electronic Arts’ after the outcry of players during Battlefront II’s release. The concept allowed purchasing certain in-game loot with real money and gave player’s unfair advantages during the action.

Never mind the fact that spending that much money to buy a video game should not require spending even more money to more quickly unlock some of the greater characters.

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