Here’s part 3 of our holiday gift guide. Don’t forget to check out previous years’ gift guides. Note that the individual entries are by Natania Barron (NB), Matt Blum (MB), Jonathan Liu (JL), Curtis Silver (CS), Jenny Williams (JW), Z, and myself (JB).
Batman: Arkham City
Gotham’s mental health needs are now met by Arkham City, a metropolitan district that has been turned into an prison for the usual rogue’s gallery of villains for Batman to beat up. Batman: Arkham City is a beautiful game that is a worthy successor to last year’s Arkham Asylum. Rappel over rooftops and drop down on unsuspecting punks, solve riddles, and undertake side missions. Catwoman fans, take heart: you can play her as a character with her own storyline that is compatible with Batman’s. (JB)
Nixon RPM Headphones
Designed for the hipster crowd, and those DJs that cater to such, the Nixon RPM Headphones are bit bulky, but they carry clean sound to your ears. Speaking about your ears, the comfortable gel-filled ear cushions create a nice seal for your listening pleasure. Of course, the 40mm driver is tuned specifically for DJ monitoring, but they aren’t just for DJs. They are moderately priced for quality headphones, and additionally feature an interlocking coiled cable, and an iPhone-compatible cable with remote and mic. You can check them out at Nixonnow.com, as well as a full selection of brand new headphones. Also available at Amazon.com. (CS)
Lego Imperial Shuttle
Harkening back to Return of the Jedi, this Lambda-class shuttle model is built at minifig scale, meaning that the ship is sized proportionally as if the minifigs were human-sized. That means big: 28 inches tall (on its stand) and 22 inches wide with its wings locked down. It comes with five minifigs and over 2,500 Lego elements. Buy it from Buy it from Amazon or from Lego.com. (JB)
PowerSkin Battery Case
My friend Dave has returned to college, and that means he’s away from his charger pretty much all day. His HTC Sensation used to crap out by the afternoon but now he’s still mostly charged up by the end of the day. The tradeoff is a much thicker phone, but at least he can still call and text! Available for many Android phones as well as the iPhone 4. Buy it from Amazon or from Power-Skin.com. (JB)
Love building with Lego but can’t afford the intricate kits? Or have you run out of room on your bookshelf for all of your finished models? Nanoblocks offers a similar building experience, but on a much smaller scale. A bit like training a bonsai compared to trimming a regular tree, building Nanoblocks kits lets you create architectural or animal models with an itty bitty footprint.
Image: Nanoblocks (JW)
Just Dance 3
Aptly named dancing game is more fun and easier to play than DDR, with only a Wii remote needed to play (and able to accommodate up to four simultaneous players!). Basically you dance along with songs, performing the moves you see on the screen, and getting scored for your efforts. What makes this game a success is that the producers licensed a lot of great songs including those from Black Eyed Peas, Daft Punk, Chemical Brothers, and a lot more. The highlight? Danny Elfman’s “This Is Halloween”! A great way to get the kids off the couch this winter. Buy it from Amazon. (JB)
Olympus LS-20M HD Video/Audio Recorder
As smartphones take over the video market, those dedicated video recorders that remain have to grab a niche, and the LS-20M does that with its excellent capsule mics (24 bit, 96KHZ). Of course, it shoots 1080P as well, and the linear orientation of the camera — on the top, not the back — suggests that unit would be happiest on a tripod. You can also leverage its superior audio capabilities by simply using it as a reporter’s mic, and you can get tons of high quality recordings on a SD card. Buy it from Amazon. (JB)
Professor Layton and the Last Specter
Professor Layton has been one of the most consistently pleasing new IPs to hit the Nintendo DS since that system’s introduction. Gorgeous to look at thanks to the hyper-stylized design of the characters and the distinct ambience of the games’ mysterious locales, and delightful to play due to its innovative and often challenging puzzles, the series has become a hallmark of the niche (but nonetheless accessible) puzzle adventure genre. This fourth entry brings the property forward by taking it back, acting as a prequel to the previous chapters. Centered in the town of Misthallery, an old-world hamlet besieged by a destructive apparition, it’s up to Layton and his original assistant Emmy Altava to unravel the mystery. By solving logic puzzles, of course.
The gameplay itself holds few surprises for returning gamers, but quirky characters and a slowly unfolding plot are more than enough to warrant a return to the land of Layton. Still, fans hungering for something truly new are sure to be delighted by the bundled Brownie Brown-developed life-sim RPG Professor Layton’s London Life. Easily described as Earthbound meets Animal Crossing, this 16-bit charmer sees your in-game avatar setting up a new life in Little London. Here he will assist citizens (many of which are scaled-down versions of characters from the proper Layton series), buy new clothes and furniture for his flat and otherwise amuse himself across 100+ hours of additional gameplay. With so much to offer at a single price of admission, Professor Layton and the Last Specter is a must-have for fans of the series, and the introductory nature of the prequel makes it an ideal game for DS owners of all stripes. (Z)
Garbage-themed figures who immediately remind one of the 1980s’ Garbage Pail Kids, but actually are nothing alike. Where GPK featured sideshow-esque freakiness and grossout humor, Trash Pack characters are much more positive and fun. For instance, Rotten Apple “sees the good in everyone and always wants to help anyone who can use a hand or is in trouble,” according to the character description. They’re all examples of animated garbage like Mouldy Milk and Stench Fries. My favorite character is a Scummy Screen, a busted computer who specializes in helping his friends hack together new technology out of junkyard detritus. The characters are collectible, with commons, rares, and limited editions making the acquisition of a complete set a challenge. Finally, Trash Pack has some fun accessories like trash cans and a garbage truck. (JB)
Clone Commander 12-Inch Figure
Magnificent and incredible detailed figure with over 30 points of articulation, six sets pairs of hands in different configurations, two kinds of boots, and two different weapons. Perfect for displaying your Star Wars obsession for all to see. This figure was a Comic-Con exclusive but you can still buy it on SideShow.com. (JB)
Serenity Little Damn Heroes Maquette
If you’ve seen Quantum Mechanix’s big (damn) replica of Serenity, your jaw has probably dropped as much as every other fan’s, but if you’re like most the price tag kept it a dream. Now our hopes for a more affordable model for our shrine to the Firefly/Serenity arm of the Whedon-verse are being answered! QMx is coming out with a small, but still awesome, model of the ship, and for only $99.95. It lists as shipping in December, with the caveat that it may not arrive in time for Christmas; still, you can always give the Whedon fan in your life a photo of it with an IOU. Preorder it now to ensure it arrives as soon as possible. (MB)
Settlers of America by Mayfair Games
If you like Settlers of Catan but you want something a little deeper, go west: Settlers of America is a recreation of the westward expansion, challenging you to build cities, lay train tracks, and deliver goods across the good ol’ United States. It’s not just a rehash of the original game, either — Settlers of America takes the basic mechanics of Catan and adds a whole new set of actions, which adds considerable depth to the game. Here’s the full review or buy it from Amazon. (JL)
The Sumo Lounge: Sway Couple
The first time I encountered Sumo was at PAX East two years ago. The hallways at the place were strewn with these beanbag-like pieces of furniture, and every single one of them was occupied by a most satisfied looking geek. Fast forward to the future, and one of these chairs now sits in my living room. People comment on it whenever they see it, and more often than not they sit down. That’s usually followed by a profession along the lines of, “I really need one of these!”
See, that’s the thing about Sumos. They might be classified as beanbags, but they really aren’t. First, they’re too attractive. In my experience, beanbags are, quite frankly, terribly made and uncomfortable, too. On the contrary, the Sumo Sway Couple that now resides in my house is extremely well made, filled with a foamy material and certainly not those horrid beans, and is the center of a continual family debate over who will get to sit on it (the humans, that is; our clever cat just waits until we’re asleep and sits on it all night).
My favorite part about the Sumo Sway Couple is that my son and I can fit on it together. Extra bonus? It has back support. Yeah, that’s right, this “beanbag” has complete back support. It’s comfortable for long periods of time, and is especially nice for me (considering I’m in my second trimester and things are getting uncomfortable). I absolutely adore the corduroy cover in red, which is soft and durable. And the pocket on the side? Brilliant. Great, indeed, for both lounging and gaming, it’s totally versatile. Not to mention miles and miles more attractive than most similar ones on the market. (NB)
Star Wars Ultimate Darth Vader FX Lightsaber
Finally, Hasbro has come out with a lightsaber that looks awesome but isn’t so expensive and beautiful you’ll be afraid to let your kids play with it. It makes all the sounds you could want — on and off, blade clash, and a nice swift hum as you make your best moves. They make one for Anakin, too, but the Darth Vader one is an awesome red, and besides, Darth Vader is cooler than Anakin Skywalker in pretty much every way. (MB)
The Toaster Project: Or a Heroic Attempt to Build a Simple Electric Appliance from Scratch
This fascinating book follows the adventures of Thomas Thwaites as he attempts to build a toaster… from scratch. He molds his own plastic, extrudes his own nickel-chromium wire, and refines iron ore to build the frame. It’s an entertaining and well-written book and I love how Thwaites embraces failure as a part of the story, which is a reality for many “maker” style projects. Buy it from Amazon. (JB)