The gamer’s guide to holiday gifts

Lead art for 2020 gift guide lists
(Jillian Goeler / For The Times)

While many of us have spent the bulk of the year at home, that doesn’t mean we haven’t been going places. Throughout 2020 we’ve traveled to tropical islands filled with talking animals, visited feudal Japan to master swordsmanship and flopped around zany, candy-colored obstacle courses: With so many of our usual places off-limits for most of the year, from the corner tavern to theme parks, video games have provided a virtual escape. The power and the importance of play has never been more clear, and that’s a trend we don’t expect to slow this holiday season.

See the full L.A. Times 2020 gift guide here.

‘Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit’

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit. Credit: Nintendo of America
(Nintendo of America)

If there’s a toy this fall and winter that represents a mix of pure joy and showy tech, it’s “Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit,” which transforms our homes into race courses full of physical and virtual items. Even if you avoid crashing into a fridge, digital trappings can slow your car down. You’ll need a Nintendo Switch to take advantage of this accessory, in which mini Mario or Luigi race cars (each is sold separately) are affixed with cameras to use augmented reality to turn your home into a video game.


$99.99| 👉 Purchase here

PlayStation 5

PlayStation 5. Credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment
(Sony Interactive Entertainment)

Sony’s PlayStation 4 went out on a high note, with games such as “The Last of Us Part II” and “Ghost of Tsushima,” and the PlayStation 5 era will begin with “Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales,” one of a few new titles that is expected to be released this year that’s designed to take advantage of the new system. While the PlayStation 5 — available with or without a disc drive — will be hard to find, expect a system that promises blazing-fast speed for bigger, deeper and better-looking games.

$399.99 (digital-only edition) or $499.99 (disc drive)| 👉 Purchase here

It’s rare to have so many family games released at once. “Bugsnax,” “Sackboy,” even a repackaged “Super Mario Bros.” leave the storytelling to the player, providing a space for us to ask, “I wonder if I can do this?”

Nov. 24, 2020

Xbox Series S / Xbox Series X

Xbox Series S, Lt, and Xbox Series X. Credit Microsoft

Microsoft’s console upgrade is going a slightly different route than Sony’s PlayStation 5, as Microsoft is releasing a pair of systems with different tech specs, hoping to change the way we think of game devices. Rather than something that is upgraded once every seven to eight years, Microsoft views its Xbox line as the entry-point into an eco-system not too dissimilar from how we view smartphones, where once in hopefully players will subscribe to the company’s subscription service for access to a massive library of games.

$299.99 (the entry-level Series S) or $499.99 (the enthusiast Series X)| 👉 Purchase here

Oculus Quest 2

Oculus Quest 2. Most Advanced All-in-One VR Headset.

Yes, for years you have read that virtual reality is “the next big thing.” We know. We’re tired too. But here’s the thing: The Oculus Quest makes at long last the case that virtual reality is indeed the future, as it’s easy to use (cordless!), a cinch to take on and off, and home to a growing library of games that increasingly feel like transportive experiences rather than tech demos.

$299.99 (64GB)-$399.99 (256GB)| 👉 Purchase here

Annapurna Interactive Deluxe Limited Edition

Annapurna game set
(Annapurna Interactive / iam8bit)

In just a few years the video game division of Annaupurna Pictures (“Booksmart,” “Hustlers”) has become one of the most important publishers in the space. With games ranging from “Donut County,” which explored Los Angeles gentrification with silliness, to “Telling Lies,” the most convincing argument yet for interactive television, Annapurna Interactive’s games manage to be thoughtful, accessible and experimental. This limited box from Echo Park firm iam8bit collects eight of Annapurna’s must-play titles for the PlayStation 4, preserving them, in an increasingly digital world, with physical editions.

$199 | 👉 Purchase here

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Disney’s Haunted Mansion: Call of the Spirits

Haunted Mansion video game

Southern California theme park fans have experienced serious withdrawal this pandemic, but those who missed riding the Haunted Mansion this year can at least play in that world. This bright and inviting board game is relatively simple and short, making it an easy addition to family game nights, and manages to nod to plenty of fan favorite ghosts and scenes from the beloved attraction.

$25| 👉 Purchase here


Game & Watch: Super Mario Bros.

Nintendo Game & Watch. Credit: Nintendo of America
(Nintendo of America)

A must either for those nostalgic for gaming’s past or those who want to introduce a new generation to a piece of video game history. In honor of the 35th anniversary of “Super Mario Bros.” Nintendo is re-imagining its classic Game & Watch handheld device, which in the early ‘80s introduced many to appeal of video games. This little device gives us the original “Super Mario Bros.” and the especially aged “Game & Watch: Ball.” Or just get it and use it as an animated clock.

$49.99| 👉 Purchase here

Blinks board game

Even non-gamers are familiar with today’s major video game players of Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft, but every now and again a more independently minded game platform comes along. Blinks is one of those, and it is downright enchanting. Bonus: Much of its games can be played solo. The core set features six hexagonal cubes, each one packed with lights that respond to our touch, and each one housing a color-driven strategy game.

$99.99| 👉 Purchase here


‘Virtual Cities: An Atlas & Exploration of Video Game Cities’ by Konstantinos Dimopoulos

Virtual Cities: An Atlas & Exploration of Video Game Cities by Konstantinos Dimopoulos
(The Countryman Press, 2020)

Video games are long. But one reason those of us who play are willing to devote 30, 40 or sometimes 100-plus hours to them is because their digital worlds are often meticulously designed. “Virtual Cities” is a hardcover book that serves as a love letter to the interactive architecture and takes us into the worlds of games as diverse as “Fallout: New Vegas,” “Super Mario Odyssey,” “Final Fantasy VII,” “Deux Ex” and more. Author, artist and designer Konstantinos Dimopoulos has a background in urban planning, and the art of his “Virtual Cities” shows us how video games can make us feel like a tourist.

$30| 👉 Purchase here

‘Edible Games Cookbook’ by Jenn Sandercock

Edible Games - Veggie Land from the Edible Games Cookbook
(Kate Baldwin/Kate Baldwin / Inquisiment, Inc)

Throughout 2020 many have rediscovered — or discovered for the first time — the art of cooking and baking. No doubt a large percentage of that group is tired of cooking. So it’s a good time to start viewing our food as an entrant to play. Jenn Sandercock’s book, available as a Kindle edition, comes with recipes — and rules — for 12 food-based games, such as the gingerbread-based “The Order of the Oven Mitt.” While the loving pictures will show perfectly crafted playable food items, don’t be overwhelmed, as Sandercock’s book offers store-bought and even non-edible alternatives to get you into the game quicker.

$25| 👉 Purchase here

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