ONLY KINECTThis year, thanks to the Kinect ($150), the Xbox 360 steps into the "oooo, cool" spotlight that the Wii has been hogging for the past few years. The Kinect is a camera (of infrared-and-other sorts) that can track players' whole bodies as they move around the room. Not only that, but it can recognize their faces and understand their words as well. Players merely need to be in the room with the 360 and some free space, and the games can begin.
Like most innovative technologies, the Kinect is just the first step. Great games still haven't arrived on the system. That's going to take a year (or more, if the Wii has taught us anything). But the Kinect does have plenty of tech demos - enough to gee-whiz your whole household and every holiday visitor you host. The Kinect comes with a game called Kinect Adventures! (Rated Everyone) that does a decent job of displaying what the machine can do.But the highlight is probably Kinect Sports ($50, Rated Everyone 10+), featuring activities such as beach volleyball and soccer - activities that use the whole body, not just the arms.
The Kinect is this year's most talked-about videogame gift not because of great games. The Kinect is so compelling because it offers a working glimpse of the future of electronic entertainment. The cords have been cut. The controllers have gone kaput. It's time to stand up and be recognized - by your Xbox 360.
ON THE MOVE
Motion-sensitivity also comes to the PlayStation 3 this year, in the form of Sony's Move. Combining the system's Eye camera ($40) with a special Move controller that looks like a futuristic ice-cream cone ($50), Move essentially duplicates the Wii's motion-sensitive powers with greater accuracy.
In the athletic simulations department, the PS3 gets Sports Champions ($40, Rated Everyone 10+), which uses alternative arm- and aim-games like archery and gladiator dueling to highlight the Move's tracking abilities. The Shoot ($40, Rated Teen) is a Hollywood style shooting gallery that uses the ball-tipped Move controller as a gun. Pistol-like plastic mounts for the controller, such as the PlayStation Move Shooting Attachment ($20) are also available. EyePet ($40, Rated Everyone) is Sony's entry into the virtual pet world, featuring a monkey-faced critter frolicking around the player's living room where players can interact with it using the Move controller.
WII-TURN OF THE SUPERSTARS
Having ridden the motion-sensitivity wave until it crashed onto other systems, Nintendo's Wii seems to be spending this season focusing on more classic-style games. Undoubtedly the biggest Wii release of the season features a star even bigger than Mario. Disney Epic Mickey ($50, Rated Everyone) puts players in charge of the iconic mouse as he heroically and artistically takes charge of an animated universe of forgotten Disney characters.
But if you know someone who simply must celebrate with a Nintendo icon or it's just not a holiday, I'm pleased to say that Nintendo is releasing a compilation that features the greatest Super Mario Bros. game of all time. Which one? Well, either Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 2, Super Mario Bros. 3, or Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels. Take your pick. They're all classics, and in Super Mario All-Stars: Limited Edition ($30, Rated Everyone) they've been upgraded for the Wii's simple, lightweight controller.
NORMAL GAMES, ANYONE?
So you say "bah humbug" to all this motion-sensitive, cutting-edge fun? You want your action, guns, glory and multiplayer mayhem served straight up? Look no further than Halo Reach ($60, Rated Mature) and Call of Duty: Black Ops ($60, Rated Mature). Both of these titles are the latest entry into their classic shooter franchises - Halo is a future blast-em' with aliens and Call of Duty an earthbound historical combat simulation. Both of them are beautiful to look at and deadly accurate. Plus their multiplayer modes can't be beat.
For players who don't want the run-and-gun monotony of a shooter or the live-it-or-leave-it detail of an RPG, Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II ($60, Rated Teen) lets players take over a wide range of Force Powers with which to combat their enemies in one of the greatest galaxies ever imagined. Equally inspired is Enslaved: Odyssey to the West ($40, Rated Teen), which takes a classic Chinese folk tale and transports it to a machine-dominated Earth. With its superb motion-capture acting and directing from Andy Serkis (Gollum in The Lord of the Rings), Enslaved gets my vote for this year's most original action game. It may not be as cutting-edge as the Kinect or the Move, but good storytelling and classic game design never go out of style.