Once again it's that time of year, the time when we give presents to loved ones just because they're family and friends. It's also time for the annual Press The Buttons holiday gift guide, and this year's edition looks to pare things down from the approach of previous years. Instead of listing pretty much every major release as an option, this year's guide hits of my personal favorite highlights from 2010. In order for a game to make the list, it must be something that I thoroughly enjoyed. It's a more personalized perspective that I hope you find useful as you make your list and check it twice. Before you head out to the mall or over to Amazon.com, take a look at what I'm recommending this year.
Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood (PS3 / Xbox 360)
Ezio Auditore is back in the follow-up to last year's popular Assassin's Creed II. This sequel is no mere stopgap side story though. Everyone's favorite assassin continues his rampage through the Italian Renaissance as he wipes out as many members of the Borgia family as he can get his hidden blade inside. In addition to the game's online multiplayer mode, there's a massive single-player quest with plenty of people to kill, objects to collect, secrets to find, and tombs to explore. Gameplay shifts from open combat to platforming to a little bit of Farmville at times, oddly enough. To truly see and do everything will take players weeks. It can be just a little glitchy at times, but what does one expect from a one-year development period? For more on Brotherhood, be sure to read my ongoing series that chronicles my exploration of Rome as well as episode 30 of the Power Button podcast.
Donkey Kong Country Returns (Wii)
Fresh off of the Metroid Prime titles, Retro Studios tackles Nintendo's long-running monkey mascots in this revival of the popular Donkey Kong Country from the Super NES era. When the Tiki Tak Tribe hypnotizes the animals of Donkey Kong's home island, they steal the gorilla's banana horde. That will not stand! Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong embark on an extremely challenging side-scrolling hop 'n bop platformer adventure that is heavily inspired by the original Country. Players familiar with the franchise will hear rearranged musical selections and find homages to past level design, but the overall experience is new and original. Two players can work together for local multiplayer, too. Collecting every last item and exploring every hidden corner of the game will challenge even the most dedicated players.
Fat Princess: Fistful Of Cake (PSP)
I wouldn't have expected this portable take on Fat Princess from Sony and Santa Monica Studio to have made an impact with me, as I enjoyed the PlayStation 3 Fat Princess title, but didn't see the need for more of it. Taking this iteration of the series on the go actually works really well from a single-player point of view, surprisingly. The rules of Fat Princess remain the same: depending on the game mode, players must feed a captive princess magical cake to increase her weight while simultaneously attempting to rescue their own princess from enemy hands. New levels, modes, and options make this title worth a second look if you passed it over earlier this year. And yes, of course, there's multiplayer both in ad-hoc local mode and traditional online multiplayer modes. For more on Fistful of Cake, be sure to listen to episode 9 of Power Button.
FlingSmash (with Wii Remote Plus) (Wii)
Let's be honest up front: you're not going to buy FlingSmash because it's FlingSmash. Sure, it's a fun little game from Nintendo and Artoon in the spirit of Arkanoid and other block-breaking games from days gone by that supports two-player local cooperative play, but it can't stand up with the likes of some of the other Wii games available this holiday season. No, you're going to want FlingSmash because it comes packed with Nintendo's new Wii Remote Plus which is the perfect fusion of Wii remote and Wii MotionPlus add-on in a single remote shell without the need for an extra peripheral. It's the old "Wii Play packed with a Wii remote" scenario all over again. Somehow, that's just fine with me. For more on FlingSmash, be sure to read my review of the game and listen to episode 29 of Power Button.
GoldenEye 007 (Wii)
Speaking of new games heavily inspired by older games, Activision and Eurocom are the latest publisher/developer combination to try and top Rare's classic GoldenEye 007 from the Nintendo 64 era. This Wii title follows the basic GoldenEye story beats, but changes and modernizes them without corrupting the core themes. Don't think of this as a remake of the N64 game, but instead a new game based on the GoldenEye story infused with a bit of Activision's Call of Duty franchise. Daniel Craig fills the James Bond role, embarking on a single-player adventure with multiple challenge levels that follows the structure of the original game. Motion controls, classic controller, GameCube controller, and the Wii Zapper are all supported, so there must be at least one control method that's right for you. Oh, and there's local and online multiplayer, too. Like the original game though, it's not for the weak-thumbed. For more on GoldenEye 007, be sure to listen to episode 30 of Power Button.
Just Cause 2 (PS3 / Xbox 360 / PC)
And now for something completely different. Square-Enix and Avalanche Studios have teamed to create the ultimate open-world sandbox third-person action game. Join government agent Rico Rodriguez on his mission to destabilize the island nation of Panau by blowing up as much of the island's infrastructure, architecture, weaponry, and military as possible. Of all of the game's on this year's list, this one will undoubtedly provide the most to do: I've played for over eighty hours and have still only completed just over 60% of the game. That's longevity, folks. For more on Just Cause 2, be sure to read my review, listen to episode 6 of Power Button, and watch the chaos unfold in my Mayhem In Panau video series.
Kirby's Epic Yarn (Wii)
Not every title on this year's list is an explosive adventure for hardened players. Here we have the long-awaited return of Nintendo's famous Kirby in a new game from developer Good-Feel that manages to change the rules of what a Kirby game can be. Turned into yarn and transported into a world made of same, Kirby (and, in two-player cooperative mode, Prince Fluff) reach the end of each side-scrolling platformer level in order to save his native Dream Land from the evil Yin-Yarn. Simple enough, right? Actually, yes, it is. Kirby literally cannot die in this adventure, making it perfect for younger Nintendo fans on your gift list. More advanced players, however, will find a healthy challenge in earning gold medals on every level and completing all of the side-quest content. Oh, and the visual style on display is some of the more unique you'll see on the Wii. For more on Kirby's Epic Yarn, be sure to read my review and listen to episode 27 of Power Button.
Mega Man: Official Complete Works and Mega Man X: Official Complete Works
As much as we all hate to admit it, we cannot play video games all of the time. Sometimes we have to read. That doesn't mean that you can't read about video games though! This pair of books from Capcom and Udon Entertainment showcase all kinds of artwork from the Mega Man and Mega Man X franchises. You'll see promotional artwork of Mega Man, development sketches of Robot Masters, manga scans from popular comics, horrible box art from overseas, and other surprises from rare sources. The books are also packed with memories from the franchises' many developers as they share their experiences with creating characters and developing the games themselves. For the dedicated Mega Man fan, there are no finer tomes. For more on the Complete Works, be sure to read my reviews of both the Mega Man and Mega Man X volumes.
Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit (PS3 / Xbox 360 / Wii / PC)
As a huge fan of Burnout Paradise from Criterion Games and Electronic Arts, I was intrigued when I learned that the duo was working on a new Need For Speed title that aimed to drop the realistic racing simulations of Need For Speed: Shift and the ridiculous underground "fast and furious" racing from Need For Speed: Underground and Need For Speed: Carbon. This iteration of the franchise casts players as either a police officer or an illegal racer and challenges them to complete a series of events that are familiar to Burnout veterans such as takedowns, conventional races, and related challenges. There's even a huge open world to drive through and explore. Multiplayer is a major part of Hot Pursuit, in addition to the usual online racing one would expect, a new feature called the Autolog allows friends to track progress and compete in an automatic, simple-to-follow format. Burnout Paradise is still tops in my book, but Hot Pursuit is a worthy follow-up (and it's plenty of fun, too).
Red Dead Redemption / "Undead Nightmare" (PS3 / Xbox 360)
Developer Rockstar has taken the big city Grand Theft Auto formula and applied it to the American old west in this surprisingly fun title. Take on the role of former outlaw John Marston as he works to take revenge on his old gang at the behest of the U.S. government. This third-person action/adventure game focuses mainly on horseback riding and shoot-outs, sure, but it's the little things that happen along the way to Marton's reward that will surprise you. Take a break from the narrative to gamble, hunt animals, assist strangers, do some ranching, and recover treasure. A massive online multiplayer mode allows players from all over to either team up or turn against one another in a variety of objectives. As if that isn't enough, several large collections of downloadable content add new material to the game in both single- and multiplayer modes. Consider, for instance, "Undead Nightmare", a zombified interlude that sees the undead rise up in single-player mode. Those looking for a less expensive purchase who want to get in on the Red Dead Redemption fun should consider the stand-alone Undead Nightmare disc which includes the zombie DLC and the regular game's complete online multiplayer mode. For more on Red Dead Redemption, be sure to listen to episodes 11 and 18 of the Power Button podcast for the main game and episode 26 for "Undead Nightmare" DLC discussion.
Rock Band 3 (PS3 / Xbox 360 / Wii)
I'm a newcomer to the Electronic Arts and Harmonix team-up that is the Rock Band franchise. What was I waiting for after all this time? The piano, of course. Rock Band 3 adds keyboard support to go along side drums, guitar, bass, and vocals, so now I can tap out the Huey Lewis, Elton John, and Chicago songs that I know so well and love so much. The new pro mode allows those with legitimate musical talent to try their hand at the game with their honed skills, too. It's difficult to drum up more to say about a franchise that so many are know so well. For more on Rock Band 3, be sure to listen to Power Button episodes 27 and 29.
Sam & Max: The Devil's Playhouse (PS3 / PC /Mac / iPad)
This year's season of downloadable five-part episodic Sam & Max titles from Telltale Games sends freelance police detectives across an amazing old-school adventure quest featuring dialog trees, inventive puzzles, and heavy helpings of clever and sometimes devious humor. Featuring charismatic characters, likeable villains, and plenty of plot twists, it's difficult to say too much about this one without spoiling too much, so I'll just say that for more on The Devil's Playhouse, be sure to read my review of each episode starting with the first one.
Sonic Colors (Wii)
Whoa, hold on there. A modern Sonic the Hedgehog game made the list? A modern Sonic game for the Wii, of all things? Believe it. This third-person action game takes the best part of the so-so Sonic Unleashed - the speedy joyous daytime stages - and builds an entire game around them. Moreover, Sonic's annoying friends sit this one out during actual gameplay as the blue blur rushes to stop Dr. Robotnik from imprisoning a species of friendly aliens. Sonic must use the power of the aliens to zip zap his way around Robotnik's orbiting amusement park through a series of levels that alternate between traditional side-scrolling and Sonic Adventure-style 3D presentation. While Sonic the Hedgehog 4 received the load of attention this year from the Sonic fan community, Sonic Colors may actually be the better game with the dust settles.
Super Mario All-Stars (Wii)
Another blast from the past from Nintendo this season, here we have the classic Super Mario-All Stars compilation from the Super NES years that modernizes Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 2, Super Mario Bros. 3, and the super challenging The Lost Levels for the 16-bit era on a single Wii disc. While the original Nintendo Entertainment System versions of these games have been available on the Wii Virtual Console for years, this disc seems mainly aimed at collectors and those who have not yet sprung for a classic Super Mario game for the Wii. At a budget price, this set also includes a soundtrack CD featuring some of Mario's greatest audio hits and a little history book that outlines the creation of everyone's favorite plumber. Don't drag your feet on this one though; it's a limited edition release and may already be difficult to track down.
Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii)
While it debuted earlier this year, Nintendo's latest effort to send Mario to space must warrant a recommendation. Following on from the previous Super Mario Galaxy, this sequel takes what everyone loved from the last game and adds more: more levels, more power-ups, and much more Yoshi who is now an included rideable character with a few special tricks of his own. Oh, yes, and then there's the magnificent Throwback Galaxy which remakes the classic Whomp's Fortress level from 1996's Super Mario 64 right down to the spectacular rearrangement of the music. The developers even managed to discard elements that nobody really liked the last time around, making this a more balanced, better organized adventure. For more on Super Mario Galaxy 2, be sure to read my review and listen to episode 11 of Power Button.
Super Scribblenauts (DS)
Speaking of fixing elements from the last game in the series, 5th Cell's seuqel to last year's Scribblenauts drops all of the frustrations that made it a neat idea in a poorly conceived package. Now the Scribblenauts experience of writing up words to create objects to solve quirky and crazy puzzles is a complete blast. The emphasis on action-platforming from the last game has been mostly dropped, replaced with a more relaxed take on puzzle challenges and outside-the-box critical thinking. Best of all, Super Scribblenauts adds adjectives to the in-game dictionary, meaning that players can now conjure up flying shoes or poison meat or a burning werewolf should the need arise (and you'd be surprised how often those three things come in handy). For more on Super Scribblenauts, be sure to read my review.
Super Street Fighter IV (PS3 / Xbox 360)
Capcom took an already-solid Street Fighter IV and added more to it: more stages, more playable characters, and more moves. Choose from the returning cast of the previous iteration of the game plus ten additional characters (two of whom are completely new) and put the beatdown on opponents in single-player, local multiplayer, online multiplayer, and online tournament modes. While Capcom is preparing to release its next big heavily anticipated fighting game, Marvel vs Capcom 3, it's really hard to argue with Super Street Fighter IV's budget price and assured longevity. READY? FIGHT!
The Sly Collection (PS3)
If you're like me (and I know I am) then you missed out on the three Sony PlayStation 2 titles that featured raccoon thief Sly Cooper and his gang of thieves. Now for us latecomers there's The Sly Collection in which those game — Sly Cooper and the Thievius Raccoonus, Sly 2: Band of Thieves, and Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves — have been given a high definition makeover for the PlayStation 3 along with Trophies, new mini-games, PlayStation Move support, and limited 3D capabilities. The Sly titles are solid action/platformers, and while the first title in the series is a traditional mostly linear adventure, the sequels take things up a notch and go open world with different missions, more playable characters, and a much greater challenge. Definitely consider this compilation for the platformer fan on your list (even if that person is yourself).