Ah the Holiday season, a time when people ‘round the world come together in harmony to pretend to care about peace and love while secretly lusting after the years' newest shiniest consumer goods. Unfortunately for us gamers, people who grew up when a cup-and-ball was considered cutting edge fun are all too often the ones tasked with acquiring our digital entertainment.
With that in mind here's your guide to the various cyber turds (released in 2012) that will be squeezed into your stocking this Christmas by well-meaning parents and grandparents. Start practicing masking your disappointment now kids.
Category 1 - Lousy Games Based on Licenses You Like
While most older folks live in a fairly airtight cultural bubble, even your grandma who spends all her time watching Murder She Wrote reruns is at least vaguely aware of Star Wars, Harry Potter and them sexy Twilight vampires (perhaps more aware of the last one that you want to know). The kids today seem to like this stuff, so surely they’d like a video game based on them, right?
Of course what a non-gamer doesn’t realize is that the development of your average licensed game is handled with more or less the same level of time and tender loving care you use to clean your cat’s litter box. Licensed games are made by people who not only have no idea how to make a fun game, but are so utterly uncreative that even coming up their own character by slapping a pair of running shoes or sunglasses on a cartoon marsupial is beyond them.
Lumps of Coal to Expect: Family Guy: Back to the Multiverse, Kinect Star Wars, Game of Thrones: The Game, The Amazing Spider-Man
Category 2 - Right Game, Wrong Platform
Here’s another situation largely unique to gaming that you can’t really blame non-gamers for being confused by. When you watch a movie or TV show on various platforms the size and clarity of the picture may change, but you get the same basic content. The Lord of the Rings isn’t a special effects epic on the big screen and a puppet show filmed in Peter Jackson’s basement on the DVD. Both versions are the same.
Not so with video games, where depending on the platform you may be getting completely different games. Worse, it’s near impossible to predict which version of a multi-platform game will be superior – sometimes the flashy hi-def version is the one to buy, while other times it’s the damn DS game that’s better. Either way, the version educated gamers don’t want will be the one most likely to be still sitting on the store shelf waiting to be picked up by a relative of yours who doesn’t know a PS Vita from a Xbox 360 from their left tit.
Lumps of Coal to Expect: Call of Duty: Black Ops Declassified, Ninja Gaiden 3 (Xbox or PS3 version), Assassin's Creed III: Liberation
Category 3 - “Helpful” Recommendations of Store Employees
Every year certain titles are hyped by frothing publicists and game executives as the next great step in human evolution. They’ll blow your mind, turn your DNA inside out and leave you quivering in a puddle of your own bodily fluids. Roughly half the time when these games finally come out they’re actually, well…kind of lousy.
This leaves game stores in a bit of a bind. They now have approximately 500 copies of a game which have to be cleared out somehow and suddenly all store employees see when your grandmother timidly steps across the threshold of the GameStop is a flashing blue-haired target. Now we’re not saying all game store employees are heartless opportunists looking to foist the year’s flops off on unsuspecting elderly victims, we’re sure some of them are good people who work by a strict code of ethics. Anything is possible, right?
Lumps of Coal to Expect: Playstation All-Stars Battle Royale, 007 Legends, NeverDead, Inversion
Category 4 - Bad Games from Franchises That Delivered in the Past
Now we don’t want to paint our elders as complete gift purchasing incompetents. Sometimes out of sheer dumb luck, or because you made sure the name of the game you wanted was printed in 3-inch tall, bright red letters on your Christmas list, they will actually get the right game, and when they do, oh boy, they remember it.
Sure they may eventually forget inconsequential things like which order their pants and underwear go on, but they won’t forget that how well that copy of Sonic 3 went over 15-years ago. As a result that smarmy blue varmint will continue to haunt your Christmas stocking until you personally hunt down and eliminate every last member of Sonic team. Er, not that we’d ever advocate anything like that. Perhaps we’ve said too much.
Lumps of Coal to Expect: Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, Resident Evil 6, Epic Mickey 2, Fable: The Journey,
Category 5 - Bad Games in Good Games’ Clothing
For every title on the shelves that’s actually worth playing, there are another couple games trying desperately to piggyback on that good game’s success, and we can’t blame them. Making decent games is like, hard work and stuff. These days it takes tens of millions of dollars and countless thousands of man-hours to create a top-notch video game, with no guarantees as to whether it will be successful.
Ultimately it’s a lot more efficient to simply focus on how the game is packaged and presented. Never mind that the game itself is about as fun as a DVD box full of swine flu, what matters is fooling unsuspecting shoppers. Producing quality games is fine and all, but quite frankly it’s not a great business plan.
Lumps of Coal to Expect: Medal of Honor: Warfighter, any party game on a Nintendo console not made by Nintendo
Category 6 - Games Based on Things Old People Like
From time to time we all make the mistake of buying gifts based on what we’d like to get, rather than accounting for the recipient’s tastes (yes, I know all about that Steven Segal box-set you bought for your girlfriend last year). It’s a particularly common problem amongst older game shoppers whose eyes often seem to be magnetically attracted to the most boring s--t on the rack.
Game publishers are clearly well aware of this, as there’s really no other explanation for the baffling fact that there have been over 20 video game versions of Wheel of Fortune released over the years.
Lumps of Coal to Expect: Gettysburg: Armored Warfare, Wheel of Fortune, Law and Order: Legacies, Farming Simulator 2012
Category 7 - Games That Will “Improve” You
While most people are content with temporarily buying their child or grandchild’s love, a small handful can’t help but wonder if killing Nazi-bred zombie gorillas as a D-cupped cyborg ninja is really going to enrich the recipient’s life in any way. Are they really learning anything as they replay the same lesbian alien sex scene over and over again?
Thankfully for those looking to ease their guilt, there are plenty of games out there that promise to grow your brain or shrink your ass. Surely grabbing little Timmy a couple of these games will balance out any bad karma gained by buying him that copy of “Breastarella vs. the Third Reich” he actually wanted.
There’s two problems with this plan. One, there’s been roughly one good brain training game ever made (that being the original “Brain Age”), and two, gyrating in front of your TV isn’t actually going to get you in shape. At least the lesbian alien sex scene will strengthen your right forearm.
Lumps of Coal to Expect: Challenge Me: Brain Puzzles, You're Shape: Fitness Evolved, Jillian Michaels’ Screaming at Fatties 2012
Category 8 - Dinosaur Games
Most of the above categories assume that the shopper has at least some vague notion of what to buy. A naïve, ill-informed notion, but hey, at least it’s something. But what if you don’t even have that? Buy something with a dinosaur on the box of course. With age comes wisdom, and your parents and grandparents know that even if a game with dinosaurs in it stinks, it’s still a game with dinosaurs in it, and thus can’t help but be at least a little bit awesome.
Lumps of Coal to Expect: Combat of Giants: Dinosaurs 3D, Orion: Dino Beatdown, Barney’s Backyard Brawlfest.