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Holiday Video Game Gift Buying Guide

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It is that time of the year again, video-game enthusiasts and moms/dads/grandparents etc., when we start losing some of our productivity cells and start loading up on good old-fashioned, gut-busting, thumb-numbing video gaming. I'm not talking about whipping out your smartphone and hunting Pokémon either. I'm talking serious gaming that could involve traveling back to World War II, fighting the everlasting evil of Sauron, or maybe taking a certain plumber on a wild and colorful (and super fun) odyssey. We're talking about controller-gripping, firefight-intensive game play that will leave you sweaty and exhausted and thirsty for more.

But there are a ton of options out there, and this is as much for the serious gamer as it is for the gift-giver who may need a helping hand in navigating the rich landscape of gaming in 2017. While there is a dizzying number of options—let's all welcome the big three back to the fold (Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo)—B&H is right here to help you with your choices. Here are our picks for the best of the best in gaming for 2017 and into 2018.

The Nintendo Switch

In March of 2017, the most anticipated upgrade to video-game consoles was released to mixed reviews. Nintendo has generally been thought of as the weakest link in next-generation console gaming, and with good reason. Traditionally, Nintendo has always seemed a step behind when it came to sheer power and hardware muscle when matched against the behemoths touted by Sony and Microsoft. But what Nintendo has lacked in the ability to push pixels, it has made up for with sheer innovation. Nintendo's games have always leaned toward brand loyalty and impressive gameplay over high frame rates and eye-popping visuals. Mario, Zelda, Pokémon, Kirby—the list of Nintendo all-stars reads like a who's who of every adult's childhood.

The Nintendo Switch proved, once again, that without a lot under the hood, it could still step up to the plate via innovation and imagination. And it did it in a big way with this year's best game: "The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild." Simply put, "The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild" is the epitome of what video games should be: fun and engaging, with a nuanced mix of great graphics and fascinating storytelling. You don't just play Legend of Zelda, you experience it. You experience it in the sense that when you're not playing, you wish you were. When you go through your day-to-day life, you're seeing the landscape around you melt into that of the game. And when you're finished playing it, you will feel a sense of loss, a sense of yearning for more. What other game can claim the same kind of emotional attachment? If you're looking to get a Nintendo Switch for someone this holiday, you must put "The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild" into that gift bag. The Switch, while certainly capable of entertaining you with other fabulous titles, does not feel complete without Zelda. You know at night when the lights are off and the controllers are charging in the dark expanse of your playing area, the Switch is looking at the "Legend of Zelda" box and whispering, "You complete me."

But, soft. What light through yonder flat screen breaks? Released in October 2017, it is the new contender for Game of the Year and Best Game for the Nintendo Switch: "Super Mario Odyssey." We received an advanced copy of the game, and in the last 24 hours that we've put in, it already looks like a solid contender for top-dog status. As involving and challenging as Zelda, "Super Mario Odyssey" is the wisecracking sidekick to Zelda; not as engaging a storyline, but still a massively fun romp with some of the trademarked innovation that you've come to expect from the Mario franchise. Does It get any better than "Super Mario Odyssey" on the Switch? Only if you're looking for the depth of a great storyline. That's where Zelda wins.

Another bonus for the Switch: it can transform from full-fledged console to portable game unit simply and quickly. This is no small thing (pun intended). Carting the Switch from room to room as easily as moving your smartphone is something that has its advantages. And getting to continue a game you were playing on the big screen at home while commuting on the subway is kind of awesome.

PROS

  • Sleep mode lets you quickly return to your game without load times
  • Engaging and inventive storytelling
  • Can be used as a home console and a portable gaming device
  • All-star lineup of games

CONS

  • Not as powerful as the Xbox One or the PS4
  • Smaller lineup of games
  • Joy-Con controllers may feel too small

Top 5 Switch Games at B&H

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Super Mario Odyssey
Super Mario Odyssey
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
Splatoon 2
Splatoon 2
A.R.M.S.
A.R.M.S.
Top 5 Switch Games at B&H

The Xbox One X

Microsoft has been in it to win it from the beginning with the release of the original Xbox in 2001. Sixteen years later, they're still staying relevant with the upcoming release of the new Xbox One X. What does the new console bring to the table that the previous Xbox One did not? True 4K and HDR support (and even HDR10 capability for higher contrast ratios), and the ability to play games in native 4K resolution at up to 60 frames per second, for one. Six teraflops of graphical power and 12GB of GDDR5 VRAM, for another. If you pair the Xbox One X with the right monitor, native support via AMD FreeSync will help reduce screen tearing and enable games to match variable frame rates to ensure more spectacular environments and lag-free action. But most importantly, it is backwards-compatible with all Xbox One games, and since the Xbox One S was released just a year ago (which translates to eons in video-game years), this means that jumping from the prior release won't be such a severe transition. The graphical output of the Xbox One X will be the standard by which all consoles will soon be judged, and with PC gaming back on the rise (after slumping year over year for almost a decade), they have many barbarians at their gate.

As for hot games for the Xbox One X, it's too soon to tell. But with backwards-compatibility in place, we can assume that the Xbox One's roster will probably hold steady. Fan series favorites like "Call of Duty: WWII," "Assassin's Creed Origins," and "Titanfall 2" will be joined by contenders for your video game bucks like "Cuphead," "Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus," and "Far Cry 5."

Assassin's Creed Origins courtesy of Ubisoft

PROS

  • 4K & HDR graphics
  • Home entertainment one-stop box
  • Improved controllers help gaming experience

CONS

  • Previous version of system still viable
  • Need a 4K TV or monitor to take full effect
  • Expensive

Top 5 Xbox One Games at B&H

Destiny 2
Destiny 2
Star Wars Battlefront II
Star Wars Battlefront II
Minecraft Xbox One Edition
Minecraft Xbox One Edition
Madden NFL 18
Madden NFL 18
FIFA 18
FIFA 18
Top 5 Xbox One Games at B&H

The PlayStation 4 Pro

Sony was never one to rest on its storied laurels, either. With the release of the PS4 Pro, the company upped its graphics game to compete with the 4K-compliant Xbox One X. The PS4 Pro now features HD resolution and enhanced resolution techniques, including output at 3840 x 2160 at up to 60 frames per second. It also sports Boost Mode, which features increased processing speeds (that will result in shorter load times and faster and smoother frame rates) for select games. The PlayStation 4 Pro also allows for 4K video playback from streaming services, such as Netflix and YouTube.

Additionally, Remote Play users on PC, Mac, or Xperia will be able to stream gameplay from a PS4 Pro at up to 1080p. Share Play users on a standard PS4 or a PS4 Pro will also be able to stream gameplay from another PS4 Pro at up to 1080p. More portable coolness—the PlayStation App will enable iOS and Android smartphones and tablets to become second screens for the PS4 Pro. Once installed on these devices, players can view in game items, purchase PS4 games, download PS4 Pro games directly to the console at home, and even watch the gameplay of other gamers remotely.

If there is a component of owning a PS4 Pro that be perceived as an advantage over the Xbox One X or the Nintendo Switch, it must be the VR angle. Although Microsoft has the fledgling augmented reality promise of the Hololens looming, the PlayStation VR ecosystem is already in place and, at times, it can be impressive. While not the apex of what VR offers, it is a swing vote in favor of getting a console if you don't already have one. Also, there are PlayStation-specific properties that, like Nintendo, have a following and an appeal that is undeniable. Game series like "Uncharted" and "God of War," which is specific to the Sony PlayStation family, may be a deal breaker or, at least, a fence-sitting tiebreaker.

PROS

  • 4K and HDR gaming
  • Virtual Reality is a reality on the PS4 Pro
  • Exclusive titles

CONS

  • Again, without HDR or 4K monitor, what's the point?
  • Not every game benefits from the enhancements
  • Old PS4 is just as good for the most part

Top 5 PlayStation 4 Games at B&H

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Call of Duty: WWII Bundle
Call of Duty: WWII Bundle
Horizon: Zero Dawn
Horizon: Zero Dawn
Ratchet and Clank
Ratchet and Clank
Overwatch
Overwatch
Top 5 PlayStation 4 Games at B&H

Also Playing

If the above arguments don't sway you, or if you're still unsure of which systems to buy (or if you want more eclectic choices because you already own all three consoles) there are other options to consider. A huge segment of gaming rests in the PC arena (which takes a whole separate article to talk about) and with the onset of full-on virtual reality systems now becoming more affordable, console gaming will have stiff competition this year and next. But for those who don't want to get into the complexity of PC gaming, you can go old school with classic gaming retro throwbacks, like the Super NES Classic. But finding it is more challenging than playing it because it's currently unavailable at B&H. If you search the site, you'll see that there are other gray-market classic consoles, like the Hyperkin Supaboy, which is a portable handheld system that claims to play NTSC and PAL Super NES and SFC (Super Famicom) cartridges. There are other Hyperkin consoles that can play NES, Genesis, and other retro consoles.

Super NES Classic
Hyperkin Supaboy

If you or your gift receiver are into portable gaming, the ultra-popular Nintendo 3DS system still brings a ton of value and solid gameplay to the mix. With one of the widest libraries of games available and game cartridges that are usually below the price of console games, the Nintendo 3DS is a great stocking stuffer, and a fantastic way to whittle away a long commute or extensive plane ride. You should know—there is a Nintendo 2DS system, which is just a flattened-out version of the 3DS, minus some features (most notably the 3D functionality). The 2DS is cheaper, but not as cool, trust us.

Nintendo 3DS
Nintendo 2DS system

Top 5 Nintendo 3DS Games

Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King
Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King
Fire Emblem Warriors
Fire Emblem Warriors
Pokemon Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon
Pokemon Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon
Metroid Samus Returns
Metroid Samus Returns
Monster Hunter Stories
Monster Hunter Stories
Top 5 Nintendo 3DS Games

So, these are some suggestions for those looking to buy, upgrade, or gift a video game system or games this holiday season. Buying video games and systems is not an easy decision, and shouldn't be taken lightly. You certainly don't want to walk into a store unequipped with the knowledge above. Tell us what you think. What are you looking for, what are you looking to buy, what do you geek out over when it comes to gaming? We'd love to hear from you.

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