Video Game and Accessories Gift Ideas [2010 Cool Yule Tools - After Hours]

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Despite being on a space station, the game's setting is diverse and attractive.  Samus' tendency to bust out gymnastic maneuvers lends her fights a cinematic quality.  The camera almost always provides the best view of the action -- which is good, since there's no manual control.  The music subtly enhances the atmosphere, waiting for a climactic moment to make itself known.

Metroid: Other M can be completed in eight hours, though finding all the hidden items will take much longer.  It's a short and sweet enough experience to warrant tolerating the game's many shortcomings.

Cool Yule Rating: 3 starsPrice: $49.99 at Amazon.comGame Web siteReviewed by Ken Gagne

Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep, by Square EnixThis game is made for the Sony Playstation Portable (PSP), and continues the storylines developed in the other Kingdom Hearts video games, most notably the ones for the Playstation 2. Having played those (and not the Nintendo handheld versions), I was looking forward to once again going to the world where Japanese animated characters (a la Final Fantasy series) merged with Disney characters to present a gripping storyline and engaging characters.

While in Kingdom Hearts 2, you played the role of Sora, this time around you’re not continuing his adventure, but rather you get to play three other characters, and this is more of a prequel to the events from KH1 and KH2. So, in essence, you’re not continuing the story, you’re just getting more background. That was the first disappointment.

After viewing a lot of story, the game takes you through a tutorial of sorts, where you learn which buttons to push, which ones will do attacks, which buttons block, etc. You then get to choose which one of the three players you want to proceed with, although the game promises that you can play the storylines for the other characters during the course of the game.

Eventually, you get to the Disney worlds (much sooner than in KH2, by the way), and you start to interact with some of the characters. The first world my character landed on was the world from Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs (or Dwarves?). After running around the diamond mines and scaring the dwarves, I was able to rescue Snow White, and everything seemed to be going well until I had to fight off what I assumed was the boss for this level. In that fight, even on easy mode, I kept dying. And dying. And dying.

Wow. Either I’m getting old, or this game is way too difficult. Needless to say, after several hours and frustrating attempts at defeating this boss, I’m stuck. I’m sure there are other fascinating worlds to visit, but hopefully you are either a better player at this game than I am, or you have a greater frustration tolerance. Good luck either way.Seriously, Square Enix – if you’re making Kingdom Hearts 3, make sure you have an easy easy level, or some way to visit more of the worlds before you get stuck.

Cool Yule rating: 1 starPrice: $36.60 on Amazon.comWeb siteReviewed by Keith Shaw

Drawn: Dark Flight, by Big Fish GamesNormally I don’t really get into puzzle games, but this one intrigued me. From casual games company Big Fish Games comes Drawn: Dark Flight, a mystery / puzzle / different world type game that offers some very cool puzzles, dazzling artwork and a cool soundtrack and story.

The quick backstory: There’s an evil guy, he’s kidnapped the future queen, and you have to work your way through a set of puzzles to defeat the dark shadow creatures and light three different towers in order to win. Puzzles involve looking at different scenes, and then mousing over different areas to learn more about the stories or pick up objects to help you move forward. For example, using a rope to climb up in a new area, etc.

A really cool feature is the use of drawings that create physical objects. For example, some of the puzzles require you to draw the items that you need by tracing them on the paper, other artwork shows up (you jump into paintings to help complete some items). It’s very clever, and done very well. I enjoyed playing this game.

The puzzles will remind you a bit of the game Myst (way back when), but in this case the puzzles aren’t totally mysterious. If you get stuck, there’s a hint system that you can utilize that will point you in the right direction, and some of the puzzles you can skip (after a timer has completed, they don’t want you skipping it immediately) if you get stuck.

Cool Yule rating: 5 starsPrice: $14 at for the collector’s edition, otherwise only $7Game Web siteReviewed by Keith Shaw

Jackpot Slots and Pinball Magic, by new potato technologiesThis is genius – take an existing iPhone and build a special case for it that looks like either a slot machine or a pinball machine, then develop an app/game for it that takes advantage of the case. You’ve turned the device into a tiny portable pinball and/or slot machine, brilliant!

New potato technologies has done an awesome job with these cases, which are easy to install and get connected. The games, too, are fun to play – I preferred the pinball machine more than the slots, but your tastes may differ. If you’re looking to have a conversation piece in your office, check out these items.

The only downside is that you can’t play the games on the iPhone without the case – so if you lose them or break them, you’re up the creek. The apps tend to get bad reviews on the iTunes store because people don’t realize that the game needs the case accessory in order to play with.

Cool Yule rating: 4 starsPrice: $40 each for the cases, free apps.Web siteReviewed by Keith Shaw

Front Mission Evolved, by Square EnixThis game takes place in 2171, where the countries of the world have built orbital elevators, yet most of the battling for territory takes place back on earth in the form of “wanzers”, or walking panzers. If you’ve ever played or read about MechWarriors (basically giant Japanese robots), you’ll get the basic idea.

In this game, you take on the role of Dylan, a tech for a company that has developed a new wanzer, and during a test demonstration Dylan discovers that his father’s building has been attacked by an enemy, and Dylan goes to try and rescue him. In the course of this action, Dylan gets recruited into the army, and he has to battle through different missions as the story unfolds. Most of the action involves running around in a wanzer attacking other wanzers, tanks, helicopters and other enemies. But there are parts where you run around on the ground taking on some of the same enemies.

The gameplay is pretty good, although with the number of different weapons available you need to be pretty quick with your fingers and the mouse. I tended to turn around too quickly, often missing my target, and would take more damage instead of just avoiding attacks or trying to dodge. As the game advances, this strategy obviously doesn’t work as well. If you’re playing this game on the PS3 or Xbox 360, this might not be as much of an issue, as you’ll be using a controller instead of the mouse and keyboard.

If you’ve played mech-type games before, you’ll feel right at home with Front Mission Evolved. It’s got a good storyline, good graphics and the gameplay was fun. If you’re not too keen on robot battles, then you might find this game is not your cup of tea.

Cool Yule rating: 4 starsPrice: $28 on (PC version)Game Web siteReviewed by Keith Shaw

Gamefly  game service, by Gamefly.comThe easiest way to describe this service is to just say, “It’s like Netflix, but for video games.” If you understand the concept of renting DVDs via Netflix, and then returning them whenever you feel like that, as long as you keep paying the monthly service fee, then it’s basically the same thing with Gamefly, which lets you rent video games from all the major video game systems, and there’s no late fees or deadlines, etc.

Where they differ slightly is that if you really like the game you’re playing, you can log onto the site and purchase the game you’re playing, usually at a discount from the regular price in the store. That’s very cool. There’s also a neat little Web games area (Arcade) on the site, if you get bored with just looking for new games to try out.

I was able to sample the Gamefly service, and the games come in more sturdier cardboard than Netflix movies, presumably to protect the games from damage more than DVDs (maybe it’s a cost issue). The games also seem to take longer to arrive at my house, but that could be related to the location of the Gamefly warehouses (I think I’m really close to a Netflix hub).

With countless new games coming out all the time, it’s very tough to get to play all the games you want to try, without breaking the bank. With game rental stores going out of business (mainly because they were tied to video stores), Gamefly is a great alternative to the “try before you buy” option, and the option to buy without returning the game is also nice.

The only issue: Don’t fall into the Netflix trap where you keep holding onto a game and don’t play it – the monthly service charge is higher than Netflix’s.

Cool Yule rating: 4 starsPrice: $15.95 per month for one game out, $22.95 per month for two games out.Web siteReviewed by Keith Shaw

ChargeBase 360, by NykoOne of the biggest pains with modern video game consoles is always running out of battery power in your controllers right when you don’t need the hassle. You’re just about to kill that boss when – bam! Out of juice.

Fortunately, the ChargeBase 360 can fix this – the base station gives you recharging capability for two Xbox 360 controllers (you supply the controllers, they supply the rechargeable batteries and the base station). When the controllers are attached, you get a very pretty recharging light, and the next time you’re ready to play you have a completely charged up controller. The base can recharge one controller in about two hours (from an empty charge), or two controllers in four hours.

The only downside – the batteries themselves only last for 25 hours, so if they die eventually you have to buy some new rechargeable batteries that are consistent with the ChargeBase. Luckily, Nyko also sells the ChargePack batteries for $10 each.

Cool Yule rating: 5 starsPrice: $29.99Product Web siteReviewed by Keith Shaw

Wand Wii controllers, by NykoIf you’re a fan of the Nintendo Wii system, at some point you’ll get bored with the plain white controller – Nintendo has gone and made some black ones, but there’s more than just two colors in the world.

Fortunately, Nyko has made some of its own controllers for the Wii, and they come in very bright colors. We tried out the Red and Yellow versions, but the Nyko Web site has all sorts of other colors. The Wands work just like the regular Wiimote controllers, so you won’t notice any differences between using these vs. the normal remotes.

Cool Yule rating: 4 starsPrice: $24.99Product Web siteReviewed by Keith Shaw

Wireless Sensor Bar for Wii, by MemorexThere’s a very good chance that the wired sensor bar that goes on top of the TV for the Nintendo Wii has broken at some point, especially if you have kids. The last wireless sensor bar I was using, by Nyko, had this irritating problem of draining its batteries if I forgot to take them out. Yes, there was a timer on the system that allegedly turned off the bar, but I usually forgot to set that and the device just stayed on.

So I’m very pleased with this sensor bar from Memorex, which has an OFF switch in addition to the two timer settings (the bar can turn off automatically after one or two hours). In addition, the bar has curved edges that expand the range of the wireless signal of the bar, so players can be off to the sides more than with a normal straight sensor bar. This comes in handy with those big movement games on the Wii.

I’m very happy with this bar, thank you Memorex!

Cool Yule rating: 5 starsPrice: $15Company Web siteReviewed by Keith Shaw

Afterglow controllers (for Xbox 360 and Wii), by PDP AccessoriesThese very nice looking controllers not only have a clear case that let you see the inside “guts” of each of these controllers (we tried the Xbox 360 and Wii controllers), but they also glow when you’re using them, providing you with an extra level of coolness during gameplay.

PDP offers a choice of green, blue or red colors, so choose wisely. You can also turn off the glow if you want to conserve battery life, but you might lose some cool points.

Also, keep your eye on the site for upcoming products, including a Tron-based Xbox 360 controller, and a special Epic Mickey controller for that Wii game.

Cool Yule rating: 5 starsPrice: $29.99 eachWeb siteReviewed by Keith Shaw

Xbox 360 USB Flash Drive, by SanDiskI recently upgraded my Xbox 360, from the original model to a new model that had 250GB of storage capacity. Years of game saves, Rock Band song downloads and game demos had cluttered up the original hard drive, and even though I never experienced the dreaded “Red Ring of Death”, I kept thinking that I was living on borrowed time.

The biggest issue of converting to the new model was getting the game saves, songs and other files (including profile/gamertag info) onto the new system, so thankfully SanDisk sent me one of their new Xbox 360 USB Flash Drives to try out. The drive is preconfigured with Xbox 360 software that lets users transfer data for just such a move (if you try to convert with a regular USB drive, the game console will reformat and erase data on that drive).

With the drive in place, I was able to transfer my content from the old console to the new one, although I did have more than 8GB of space that needed to be transferred, so if that’s the case with you, I’d suggest getting the 16GB drive.

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