Video Game Gift Guide

Downloadable edition

The devastatingly endearing Meat Boy
The devastatingly endearing Meat Boy

Downloadable video games get short shrift during the holidays. Sure, there's cyber Monday, but it's tough to be proud of gift that can't be wrapped. If you know very little about your little cousin other than his or her penchant for electronic entertainment, perhaps a gift card is in order. Here's a roundup of notable games that you can't buy in stores.

(Don't get me started about Microsoft Points and Nintendo Points. At least Sony charges actual money for its downloadable content rather than forcing players to do some mental math and figure out what the dollar/point conversion rate. Ugh.)

The fact that downloadable games make such underwhelming gifts is a shame being that some of the best games of this past year have been discless.

Take for instance, the latest installments from the Bit.Trip series. Developer Gaijin Games has created five downloadable games for the Wii with one more coming next year. Bit.Trip.Fate is the most recent iteration of the game and features the series' signature blend of rhythm matching and fast-paced action. The standout chip-tune soundtrack matches the somewhat darker palate of this shoot-em-up sequel as you take control of CommanderVideo and use your Wiimote to shoot everything in your path while avoiding the onslaught of bullets. Enemies come to life and die in rhythm to the soundtrack adding a layer of immersion that is the series' calling card.

For my money (or Wii Points) the lighthearted and more musically intuitive Bit.Trip.Runner has a crossover appeal that Fate lacks. Casual gamers will enjoy the peppy musical attributes while hardcore gamers appreciate the rapidly escalating difficulty. The combination of jumping, sliding, and kicking require increasingly precise timing that might scare some of the lightweights away. The never-say-die crowd will repeat each level until muscle memory and heightened twitch reflexes take over. At that point you can just sit back and enjoy the tracks from chiptune legends Anamanaguchi.

The long-awaited porting of the browser gaming addiction Meat Boy was released this past October on Xbox Live and more recently for PCs. Created by indie gaming superstars Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes, Super Meat Boy is a veteran gamers game. The game's simple controls and devilishly appealing art design will endear it to anyone, but only those who remember the masterpieces of the 90s will catch all of the references throughout. The plot is as classic as they come. Meat Boy loves Bandage Girl. Bandage Girl is kidnapped by Dr. Fetus. Meat Boy gets tough and runs and jumps his way through what seem like countless fiendishly difficult levels to rescue his beloved. It's almost pitch perfect, from the visuals to the soundtrack. A game that can make the player retry the same level hundreds of times without destroying your Xbox must have controls that feel so perfect that you can blame your countless deaths on no one but yourself. That is, ultimately, what sets Super Meat Boy above other platforming games: when you die for the 173rd time, you know that it was your timing that was off by a millisecond and not sloppy programming. Any game that can be this callous-formingly hard and still make you want to get to the end is doing something very right.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Gaming, Super Meat Boy, Bit.Trip.Fate, Bit.Trip.Runner, Gift Guide

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