With the 2020 holidays nearly upon us, it’s time to talk about gifts. Whether you’re shopping for a loved one or a Secret Santa recipient, trying to keep things lowkey or looking to splurge, or just grabbing something for yourself, Goonhammer’s got you covered with our handy gift guide.
In this guide, we’re looking at video games and related electronic entertainment, and peripheral products around that.
For the Whole Family
These are games that your whole family can play, and are well-suited for younger children who aren’t yet ready for violence and real challenges.
New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe
Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones
It came out last year, but now that my son is old enough to play games with a bit more going on (and is into Mario), we’ve been playing New Super Mario Bros. U co-op. It’s easy enough for one player to carry the others and the game gives you options for characters who are easier to play, such as Nabbit, who can walk through most enemies.
Paper Mario: The Origami King
Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones
I’m not a huge Paper Mario fan – I’ve certainly liked some of the series’ entries but I don’t go nuts for them – but the new entry has proven to be a fun time, and it retains a lot of the fun humor and quirks that the series is known for. My son in particular has been enjoying watching it with me, and while he doesn’t pick up on the complicated wordplay and puns yet, he loves the visuals and a lot of the goofier sight gags.
Untitled Goose Game
Robert “TheChirurgeon” Jones
Another game that came out last year, but the addition of co-op in September this year really changes things for the game. Untitled Goose Game was one of the first games my son played and took an interest in and the simple visuals and controls with a lack of violent antagonists/life system made it easy for him to get into it and getting into the character of “being an asshole goose” perfectly fit his MO. Now that we can play co-op, it’s even better.
THPS 1+2 Remaster
The kickflips are even better in HD. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater launched a generation of skateboarders and introduced millions to light-ska. For one of those things we should be grateful. The 2020 remaster is as damn close to perfect as a game can get. Every level is faithfully recreated and updated to look good, the soundtrack still slaps (and the new additions are excellent), and the new challenges are hard enough to satisfy those of us who mastered the original. It’s also been a great game for my 5 year old to cut his teeth on. He’s quickly learning how to chain grinds together, and while his little baby hands are too small to make flips/grabs easy, he’s slowly putting the concepts together.
Rob: My son is three and he could watch virtual Tony Hawk just eat shit all day long.
Another game that’s been as fun for me to watch the little guy play as it is to play myself is Fall Guys. This free to play title mashes up the Battle Royale genre with ABC’s hit television show Wipeout. Loose controls mix with collision physics to create hilarious obstacle courses of death for your adorable little bean characters. Few accomplishments in video gaming have felt as rewarding as winning my first crown.
Club House Games
Club House Games for the Switch is a really neat little package. It has 51 games on it, mostly digitized versions of classics like Mancala, and even full versions of Riichi Mahjong. There are some weird choices here but basically for about 40 dollars you get a cart that has all sorts of board games and other amusements, many of which can be played off of a single console in handheld mode! This is a great option for families, as you can very easily get people not into games to play something, and makes a good choice for when the TV might be occupied, and the overall game package itself is very sleek, colorful, and fast.
These are co-op games you might buy for yourself and someone else, and are a great way to stay in touch while the pandemic keeps us apart.
The other Bean People game of the year, Among Us is actually free on Android phones, if you don’t mind ads. But generally, it’s worth paying for so you can get faster games in, and you can also get it on Steam for 5 dollars, and the game supports crossplay! Among Us takes social deduction games like Werewolf and Mafia and combines them with dogshit flashgames, but in a fun way. If you are the type who got burned by games like Secret Hitler, never fear: the fact that you have personal tasks, and can continue playing after death, makes Among Us a very silly and fun little game. You need at least 4 people, and up to 10, but you can have a real blast playing this in large groups, especially if you use Discord for tense voting sessions.
This is perhaps an odd entry here — the Spelunky games are known mainly for being punishingly hard roguelikes with little in the way of progression, simply demanding that players engage with, internalize, learn, and love some of the best 2D platforming mechanics out there in a modern-day title. However, Spelunky 2 does have a new array multiplayer mode which allows you to cooperate with (or, ah, the opposite) with up to three friends. Perhaps go with the PC title if you’re interested in this one, however; a couple looks at how the netcode on the PS4 version played, at least at launch a couple months back, was enough to sour me on the idea of recommending the game on that platform for that purpose.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Another game that isn’t a conventional multiplayer game but which gives you a lot of value for multiple people in your household, possibly with very different investment levels. Animal Crossing is, of course, the hit Nintendo first-party series where you build up a small community and tend to it in real time (so if you boot up the game in the morning, it’s the morning in the game, and if you don’t come back to the game for a couple of days, a couple of days will have passed in the game as well). You cut down trees, plant gardens, build little parks, go fishing — it’s like a combination of an idle game and something from the Harvest Moon series. In New Horizons, there’s one community (in this case, a tiny island) per console, but multiple players can log on and tend to it, doing what needs to be done to attract new residents and fill out the various collections of stuff fished or grown or mined. Beware that there is a “main” account, though, and that’s the account which controls most of the game’s progression — this is a great setup if you’re a parent and your kid is playing through the game but you want to log on and help out, but if you and your partner want to see all that Isabella content from the beginning, you’ll probably need separate consoles with separate islands.
These are games that will eat up 10 to 20 hours for most people, but don’t necessarily demand weeks of your life (though you may still give them that!).
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim
13 Sentinels is my GOTY. It might be yours, too, if you are willing to give it a try. The game is essentially a branching path visual novel combined with a tower defense game; in fact, both of these are literally separated by a menu, meaning you can pursue one or the other until the game asks you to do otherwise. What makes this weird combo work is Vanillaware’s gorgeous artwork and the absolute love letter to literally all sci-fi fiction that 13 Sentinels not only succeeds in pulling off, but excels at. Not only did I find myself shouting at the screen when the game would make references to various works like War of the Worlds, but the actual mystery of the game itself is a wild ride that I thought I’d figured out numerous times, only to discover I was totally, totally wrong. The game also sticks the landing at the end, which I feel is worth mentioning; you will absolutely be rewarded for sticking with the story here. The game took me about 30 hours to do literally everything, and you can play the tower defense on any difficulty, meaning if you really do just want to see the story, you can make that part very simple.
This game could either go here or in the next section; rogue-lites — games based on short, maybe 20-30 minute runs through content but which reward you for doing them over and over and over again — are kind of like that. In a year mostly defined by either small indie endeavors like Among Us or Fall Guys or huge, operatic undertakings like the Final Fantasy 7 Remake, Ghost of Tsushima, or The Last of Us 2, Hades is a welcome breath of fresh air: a game that both does and doesn’t take itself super-seriously, combining best-in-class combat and metagame mechanics with a humorous and heartfelt take on some of the more well-known tales from Greek mythology. Hades is going to win a bunch of Game of the Year Awards this winter, and you can see why on PC or Nintendo Switch without having to commit to more than half an hour of gameplay at a time. Unless you want to just try one more run, again, to see if you can finally defeat your father.
World of Horror
This one is more of an acquired taste — a visual novel-type game made in the style of the old, blocky, late 80s and early 90s Macintosh and PC-9800 titles that dominated that particular computer gaming landscape. The conceit is rather straightforward — you are some sort of horror story protagonist, meaning usually some kind of teenager, and strange things are happening in your hometown as the world degrades and falls to cosmic horror, centering around the lighthouse in the center of town. Each playthrough takes an hour or two at most (many will end before that, with you dying), and involves choosing six “cases” to take on and investigate, from a strange letter inviting you to a wake at a mansion from an estranged relation to a ramen place that’s just opened up downtown which has a feverish, dark secret. Each case has a variety of endings, as well, and how well you do in solving them will affect how quickly your character’s own sanity slips away. Hit zero, of course, and you go mad as the world ends around you. The only criticism I have here is that the combat system is both strangely prominent and startlingly complicated — this is actually very true to the visual novels of the era, but that doesn’t make playing it less esoteric and baroque. Still, once you get the hang of it, there’s a lot to like across the rest of the product.
For the Hardcore
These games call for a serious investment of time and energy, and are perfect for the person you know who likes to put 200+ hours into a game.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon
If Thirteen Sentinels didn’t exist, Yakuza: Like a Dragon would be my Game of the Year. The Yakuza franchise has been one of the most near and dear to me, combining gritty crime drama with absolutely nonsensical sidequests and memorable characters. After 6 mainline games and a few spin-offs, the beat-em-up style of gameplay of the main games is replaced by… a turn-based RPG? Yes, you read that right, and it rules. Yakuza: Like a Dragon is the imaginary Dragon Quest romp you’ve thought of in your wildest dreams, with you beating up sleazy salesmen and dudes wearing trashbags instead of slimes. The party based combat works with the new cast, and Ichiban is an amazing new lead for the series. The wacky sidequests and minigames return, and almost make more sense now as RPG sidequests than they did originally. The best part is that if you’ve never played a Yakuza game before, Like a Dragon is a fine place to start, and if you are a returning player, there are a lot of little homages and story beats that reward you for that knowledge. I am still playing it as I write this, and expect to put at least 70+ hours into the game in order to Platinum it, if not more. The story is great, the characters are awesome, the combat as fun, and it’s the most fun I’ve had with an RPG since Dragon Quest 8.
Unless this title gets delayed again, Cyberpunk 2077 is going to be the big-name marquee release of the holiday season. From CDProjekt Red, developers of Witcher 3, this is a first-person action-adventure open-world roleplaying extravaganza, promising a massive near-future corporate dystopia for gamers to much about in for dozens, if not hundreds, of hours. Also, Keanu Reeves. It was supposed to be out by now, but rolling delays in development for mostly-unspecified reasons (somewhat concerning) have pushed it back to a December 10th drop date. The good news is, some enterprising people have already taken copies from their retail jobs at Walmart, Gamestop, and the like and streamed some of it, so we know the physical game is out there in the wild and ready to go once the street date hits.
If you’re looking to get ahead of the curve, Genshin Impact is going to be the next big thing in free-to-play, pay-to-win gaming for awhile — luckily, instead of being a multiplayer concept, it’s a giant, Breath of the Wild-esque open-world exploration, and what you’re paying to win is new and different characters to explore and fight with across its vast terrain. The game is cross-platform and can run on anything from your PC to your phone, allowing pick up and play anywhere (once this pandemic is over and you’re moving around to some place other than your couch, of course). You might not have to buy the obsessive in your life a physical copy of the game, but kicking them some of the paid-for currency to help juice their gacha rolls as they try desperately to unlock this or that new character they’ve taken a shine to won’t go unappreciated.
Looking for more?
If you’re still looking for more, be sure to check out our other holiday shopping guides for different games and categories – we’ll be posting them all week and doing a round-up on Friday. And if you have any questions or feedback, shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.