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USgamer's 2016 Holiday Gift Guide: Gaming-Related Gifts That Don't Suck Icicles

Let the USgamer team ease your gift shopping woes with some awesome game-related gift suggestions.

This article first appeared on USgamer, a partner publication of VG247. Some content, such as this article, has been migrated to VG247 for posterity after USgamer's closure - but it has not been edited or further vetted by the VG247 team.

Do you hear those sleigh bells ringing and ting-ting-ting-a-ling? It's time to get into the festive spirit of giving and sharing.

Holidays can be a stressful time, especially if you don't know what to nab for your loved ones (and a gift card is likely to be met with a stony stare). Let the USgamer team help you out a bit by offering our top picks for game-related gifts that don't suck.

We suggest consoles, triple-A games, indie games, accessories, and even off-the-grid gifts that'll serve your friends and family well the next time an ice storm takes out their power and leaves them bored to pieces.

Enjoy, and have the happiest of holidays.

Recommended Game Consoles


I guess I could recommend a current system, but... honestly, I question their longevity. Vita's dead, 3DS and Wii U are on the outs, PlayStation 4 Pro has made a standard PS4 a poor investment, and Scorpio's about to do the same for Xbox One. So why not cut to the chase and invest in a system that's already obsolete? RetroUSB's AVS doesn't play current releases; it's a clone of the NES, a console that debuted 30 years ago and saw its final official release in 1994. But since the hottest non-Hatchimal toy this holiday is, in fact, a miniature NES clone, it's kind of hard to make the case that the AVS doesn't matter. On the contrary, the AVS is great! It features output quality and game fidelity on par with Nintendo's own Classic NES Edition while allowing you to play more than just a baked-in 30 games. Granted, the AVS doesn't hold a candle to the quality of Analogue Interactive's Nt clone system... but it's priced a lot more realistically for most budgets. That's why it gets my recommendation: It strikes a great balance between quality, flexibility, and affordability, making it by far the most versatile way to accurately play classic NES games (which is all the rage this holiday!) without going full-premium.

JAZ: Xbox One S

As Jeremy just said, current consoles are in a bit of an odd spot at the moment, with both low- and high-end versions of the Xbox One and PS4 either available, or soon-to-be-available to buy. However, the thing to remember is that both versions of each machine will play the same games - the difference comes down to graphical output. If you're considering buying a 4K TV over the next couple of years, then it's probably worth spending the extra cash to buy a higher-end machine. Otherwise, pick up a low-end version. At the moment, both basic machines are available for $250, which is a pretty good price. Which one should you purchase? That's a really tough choice, but my advice is to look up each system's exclusive games, and buy according to the list that appeals to you the most. For me, Forza Motorsport 6 and Forza Horizon 3 tip the balance in favor of an Xbox One S right now, but ask me next year when Gran Turismo Sport is out, and my answer will very likely be different.

MIKE: PlayStation 4 Pro

I'm the early adopter. I'm the one that tries to be on the bleeding edge. Why would I choose anything other than the PlayStation 4 Pro this holiday? If you have a television that's 4K and HDR-capable, you will see some amazing image fidelity on the PlayStation 4 Pro. HDR is legitimately keen on certain titles and I'm glad all the the PS4 and Xbox One are both along for that ride. If you don't have a 4K TV, no worries as the PS4 Pro's upscaler means the image quality on your 1080p set (and PlayStation VR) results in a sharper image overall. As I said in my review, it's a harder sell if you already have a PlayStation 4, but if you don't, this is the one you should be buying.

KAT: PlayStation 4 Pro

I thought hard about recommending the Xbox One S, which has come a very long way since the original's troubled launch, but I ultimately have to throw my support behind the PlayStation 4 Pro. Aside from their customarily strong indie support, Sony has managed to build up a diverse array of exclusives ranging from The Last Guardian to Uncharted 4 to Bloodborne, with 2017 looking stronger than ever. The PS4 Pro is also the only current console to support 4K; and while it's still early days yet, early adopters will no doubt support both its stronger visuals and its larger hard drive space (1 TB). But even if you decide to get a stock PS4, you're getting an excellent console with a well-rounded library that caters to a variety of interests, particularly if you're into Japanese games. Suffice it to say, the PS4 is the console of choice this generation.

NADIA: New Nintendo 3DS

2017 is probably going to be the last hurrah for the Nintendo 3DS in any of its iterations, but oh, what a great library this handheld system built up during its lifespan. Dragon Quest VII and Pokemon Sun and Moon both rank as two of my favorite titles for 2016 alone, and there are innumerable other reasons to own this little clamshell warrior: A Link Between Worlds, Majora's Mask 3D, Fire Emblem, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Super Mario 3D Land, Mario Kart 7, M2's excellent 3D Classics line ... it just goes on and on. Oh, and the new Nintendo 3DS lets you play SNES games via the Virtual Console. Know what's better than Mega Man X? Only portable Mega Man X. An A+ investment all around. Thanks for your hard work, Nintendo 3DS.

Recommended Triple-A Games

JEREMY: Final Fantasy XV, Dragon Quest Builders, Nights of Azure, Shin Megami Tensei IV: Apocalypse

Wow, I hope you like RPGs, because... that's pretty much what I'm recommending. But there's quite a gamut here, I think you'll agree. From massive, big-budget, open-world Final Fantasy XV to the self-contained chapters of construction RPG Dragon Quest Builders to the PS2-esque action combat of Nights of Azure to the classic turn-based approach of the latest Shin Megami Tensei, the RPG (specifically, the Japanese console RPG) had a lot to offer this year. By no means were these the only JRPGs worth playing in 2016, either... just the ones I feel offer the best spread of styles and formats.

JAZ: Titanfall 2, The Division, Overwatch, Forza Horizon 3

If you don't like shooters or racing games, you might as well do yourself a favor and skip the rest of this paragraph, because as a big fan of both, I'm picking three of the former, and one of the latter. I thought about mixing things up a bit, but since the USgamer team has such a diverse taste in games, I think we'll ultimately end up covering all the bases. So! Shooters! Titanfall 2 features an outstanding single-player campaign, and superb multiplayer action. If you're after a sci-fi shooter, there is no finer game out there. Overwatch also offers fantastic multiplayer gaming, with an impressive roster of 23 diverse characters that give the game incredible depth and appeal. The Division also gets a nod from me. After being fettled and tweaked with a series of patches this year, the cover-based game is currently in really good shape. It can definitely feel depressingly dystopian at times, but bringing justice to the post-apocalyptic streets of New York is also highly compelling. Finally, my racing pick is the superlative Forza Horizon 3. With a roster of more than 350 vehicles, and a huge, gorgeously-realized Australian environment to drive around, it's without doubt the greatest open-world racing game yet seen.

MIKE: Forza Horizon 3, The Witcher III: Complete, Hitman, Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth

I left Overwatch off this list because the others have covered it already. Forza Horizon 3 is a class-act of a racing game: a beautiful romp through Australia in some of the best cars from around the world. Playground are master of their craft and they keep getting better. The Witcher III remains one of the best RPGs I played this year and the all-new Complete Edition means you get the base game and both expansions in one package. Well worth the price. Hitman was my dark horse surprise for the year, a game that I was skeptical about, but ultimately ended up delivering a franchise best and the best shot at a great James Bond game. Finally, freeing up my Overwatch slot allows me to give a shout out to a forgotten game from earlier in the year. Is Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth the best RPG this year? Nah, but it's a damned good JRPG that a lot of folks missed out on for PlayStation 4 and Vita. Fun characters, a good story, and a great monster evolution mechanic means if you're willing to give it chance, you won't be disappointed.

KAT: The Last Guardian, Overwatch, Final Fantasy XV, Madden NFL 17

This list covers a nice range of shorter and longer games that should keep you busy for a long time to come. Final Fantasy XV is a fun open-world RPG, and one of the year's freshest experience. Overwatch, meanwhile, is already the biggest shooter of the year, and it will be getting even bigger once its new eSports league gets underway. Last Guardian is the long-awaited successor to ICO and Shadow of the Colossus, and it appears to live up to the hype. And finally, Madden NFL 17 is one of the year's best sports sims. All four games are great investments, and a perfect snapshot of this year's best games.

NADIA: Final Fantasy XV, Dragon Quest Builders, Pokemon Sun and Moon, Rhythm Heaven Megamix

Unsurprisingly, Jeremy and I have similar picks for our favourite triple-A game releases this year (that's what happens when you share one brain, I guess. We'll have to do something about this shared liver, though). Pokemon Sun and Moon is my favorite entry to the Pokemon series since Red and Blue, and Dragon Quest Builders was as good as I expected it to be (hint: so good). I had zero expectations for Final Fantasy XV, so I'm happy I fell in love with it. Also, I implore you all not to ignore Nintendo's beautiful Rhythm Heaven Megamix, which is packed full with soul, love, life, and content -- not to mention epic music ("~I'm a lady now, I'm a lady now, already~"). Hmm, I don't even know how many of my picks count as "triple-A big budget releases," but they're all published by big companies, so I guess they count? Either way, their existence is a sign that said big publishers are still willing to take risks, and I'm happy about that.

Recommended Indie Games

JEREMY: Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate, Shantae ½ Genie Hero, Downwell, 7th Dragon III

A couple of these probably aren't properly indie games, but I kind of don't care! Shantae was a more visible game than 7th Dragon or Shiren, despite it being "indie," so what does it really matter? Let's just agree to focus on low-budget niche titles and call it a day. I've already gushed plenty about Shiren, the finest console-based original roguelike I've ever seen; what I've played of Shantae (finally out next week after a lengthy crowd-funded development cycle!) is solid 2D platforming; Downwell offers blistering shooting action with a unique twist and a visual style that appears to have been ripped straight from an 8-bit British microcomputer; and 7th Dragon III marked a great RPG series' long-overdue debut in English. All are fairly unknown, and all are absolutely worth getting to know.

JAZ: Overcooked, Inside, Song of the Deep, Lumo

If you like holding gaming parties, you seriously need Overcooked. It's a brilliant couch co-op game in which up to four players take the role of a chef, and have to work together to create and serve a variety of dishes against the clock. It might sound a little mundane, but it's a recipe for some genuinely riotous multiplayer fun. Lumo is an isometric puzzle-platform-adventure that's basically a love-letter to British gaming from the 80s. Fortunately, though, you don't need to understand its many historical references to enjoy its oldschool action. Song of the Deep received a mixed reaction on launch, but I thoroughly enjoyed playing through this beautiful-looking sub-aquatic metroidvania. It doesn't take long to finish, but its story and puzzles very much appealed to me. Inside is one of my favorite games of this generation: An utterly compelling platform-puzzler whose twisted storyline makes it incredibly difficult to stop playing once you've started. If there's one game you buy this year, make it Inside.

MIKE: Superhot, Stardew Valley, RimWorld, Shadow Tactics

Surprisingly, only one of my recommendations is a game that I actually covered this year. Superhot is an FPS with a clear hook: time moves when you move. It provides an excellent action movie feel, where you can slice a bad guy in half, snatch his gun out of mid-air, and shoot his partner with it. Utter madness and great fun. Stardew Valley ended up charming me, even if I hadn't really played Harvest Moon prior to that. RimWorld floored me. Imagine indie classic Dwarf Fortress with actual graphics and you have an understanding of this game. Herd your survivors and help them make it through a harsh, unforgiving planet where how you die is most of the fun.

Finally, Shadow Tactics creeped up on me at the end of the year! I have a review coming, but let me say that the game is revitalization of old real-time strategy games like Commandos and Desperados. Take your squad of warriors and assassins in ancient Japan and puzzle your way through this hardcore stealth tactics game. There's really nothing recent out there like it.

KAT: Firewatch, Stardew Valley, Steamworld Heist, Darkest Dungeon

My favorite indie games kind of run the gamut. >Firewatch tells the story of a man who becomes a forest ranger to escape his past, only to find himself in the middle of stranger events. Stardew Valley is a charming 2D farming simulator in which you gradually build up a farm and get to know the townsfolk. Steamworld Heist is brilliant: a deep 2D turn-based tactics game featuring steam-powered robots in space. Finally, Darkest Dungeon is a Lovecraftian dungeon crawler in which death and insanity is around every corner for your hapless explorers. If you like RPGs and simulators, all four of these games should keep you busy for a very long time.

NADIA: Steamworld Heist, Stardew Valley, Hyper Light Drifter, Salt and Sanctuary

Steamworld Heist technically came out in 2015, but 2016 brought us a gorgeously upscaled HD release, plus some excellent DLC. If you haven't played this top-tier action / strategy game from Image & Form, you no longer have an excuse: It's out for everything now, up to and including your waffle iron. Get it, or I will find you. On the topic of "Play this or I will find you," other recommended indie titles from Yours Truly include the unofficial Harvest Moon successor Stardew Valley (I put so many hours into courting Sebastian -- worth it), the uniquely stylish Hyper Light Drifter, and the grim and grey Salt and Sanctuary, which offers an almost Dark Souls-tier challenge. What a great year for indie games. Thanks for your hard work, little devs.

Recommended Gaming Accessories

JEREMY: XRBG Mini Framemeister and the gscartsw 3.4

My quest for a perfect retrogaming experience (suitable both for playing and for recording in high-definition, simultaneously) has come to a satisfying conclusion, and it's thanks in large part to these two irreplaceable pieces of gear. The XRGB Mini Framemeister is essential for making classic consoles work on a modern TV; the device takes a 240p or 480p video signal and upscales it to 720p or 1080p with excellent quality and minimal lag, allowing all those old consoles you love to work on a flat panel HD television with no compromises. At $350, it isn't cheap, but you'd best hurry - manufacturer Micomsoft has said that due to a shortage of chips, they'll be discontinuing the Framemeister in 2017. Meanwhile, the gscartsw ($220) is a godsend for everyone who owns a bunch of old pre-HDMI consoles: It allows you to connect up to eight systems via SCART cable into a single hub. It automatically detects video signals and switches to the active port. It introduces no lag and no appreciable drop in quality. Best of all, it allows you to output video simultaneously by SCART-out and VGA-out, meaning you can split a signal to run to, say, a CRT television and a Framemeister for HD recording (like I do). Currently it looks like orders are closed as the creator is developing a new version, so keep an eye out for that. But if you're serious about classic games, you need these devices. They literally give me life.

JAZ: Razer BlackWidow mechanical Keyboard, Xbox Design Lab Controller

It might be a little pricey, and it might sometimes make my PC gaming sessions sound like a couple of robots tap-dancing down a metal staircase, but I'm a huge fan of the Razer BlackWidow mechanical keyboard. It comes in a variety of forms, from the compact X Tournament Edition to the beautifully-backlit Chroma. No matter which one you choose, you're buying into a seriously robust and reliable keyboard that'll last you for years.

If you have an Xbox One, and don't mind paying the premium, designing your own custom-colored controller using the Xbox Design Lab is a lot of fun. There's an impressive range of different options available - apparently adding up to 8 million combinations - so you should be able to create something that suits your aesthetic. You can even have the controller laser-engraved with your name or a message, if that floats your boat. And if you're buying it as a gift, you can purchase a code that lets the recipient design his or her own controller. That's a pretty neat present.

MIKE: Logitech G900 Chaos Spectrum and G810 Orion Spectrum

As I said in my review, the G900 Chaos Spectrum is simply the finest gaming mouse I've ever used. Solid construction, wired/wireless options, ambidextrous design, and it trends away from the tendency to overdesign that plagues most gaming mice. It's only problem area is the price: $149 is a bit much for a gaming mouse for most folks.

The G810 Orion Spectrum doesn't have the same problem, but again, what I like about this mechanical keyboard from Logitech is what it doesn't add. There's no huge screen, it lacks a ton of extra buttons, and there's not a ton of configuration options. It's a basic mechanical keyboard with RGB backlighting and a few media keys. Sometimes less is more and the G810 is one of the those times. I started using the G810 for my review, but it ended up becoming my day-to-day work and gaming keyboard.

KAT: Sennheiser HDR 160 Headphone and Saitek X52 Pro Flight Control System

If you're looking for a comparatively affordable pair of wireless headphones, look no further than the Sennheiser HDR 160 Headphones ($75). Though a couple years old now, these headphones output excellent sound, and are great if you want to enjoy some immersive gaming on your PC or console. For flight sim fans, the Saitek X52 Pro Flight Control System ($199) is a well-built flightstick and throttle combo with all the trimmings. I've tried quite a few flightsticks, but I've found that the X52 is the best combination of (comparative) affordability and precision. If Star Citizen ever comes out, then this is the stick you want to play it.

Recommended "Off the Grid" Gaming Gifts

JEREMY: Data Discs' SEGA soundtrack LPs

Last year for Christmas I asked for a record player, because I owned a bunch of old records I picked up in the '90s back when no one cared about vinyl and it was super cheap and I thought it would be fun to listen to them from time to time. But then I ended up getting a genuinely nice player that made me appreciate how good the sound quality on even a slightly dinged-up old record can be, which caused me to get serious about buying music on vinyl. Beloved rock albums, yes, but also game music - and no one is doing game music on vinyl better than UK-based Data Discs. For whatever reason, Data Discs has to this point focused wholly on SEGA releases... well, I say "for whatever reason," but SEGA has a vast library of awesome music, which is a pretty damn good reason. Almost every album Data Discs has put out over the past year - I think they're on release 8 or 9 now - has contained truly classic game tunes. And almost every album they've published has shipped in beautiful, high-quality packaging. And absolutely every record they've produced has featured immaculate sound quality, newly remastered in perfect fidelity. I can't recommend them enough.

JAZ: Destiny Hunter Action Figure

These are ludicrously expensive luxury items, but I'm totally in love with Threea's Destiny action figures (along with many of the other products the company creates). Weighing in at a hefty $190 apiece, these very limited edition, sixth-scale "toys" are astonishingly detailed, and come with a variety of replica named weapons from the game. Threea already released a Titan Destiny figure this year, and that sold out instantly - but there are Hunter and Warlock figures scheduled for release next year, and they're still on pre-order. I can't think of a cooler gift for a hardcore Destiny fan.

MIKE: The Art of Fire Emblem: Awakening

I don't usually buy gaming stuff that's not related to directly playing games, but I am a fiend for art books. The Art of Fire Emblem: Awakening is one of the releases from this year that's worth picking up. Yes, it's a bit behind the times with Fire Emblem Fates coming out this year, but Dark Horse Books took their time to put this book out right. 320 pages of hot, hot, hot Yusuke Kozaki artwork, designs, storyboards, profiles, and all of Awakening's support conversations. If you're a Fire Emblem fan, you owe it to yourself to pick this up.

KAT: Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation

Blake Harris's entertaining look back on the 16-bit era is a natural successor to the seminal Game Over, which covered the rise the NES in the '80s. One part novel and one part oral history, it follows Tom Kalinske and his band of upstarts at Sega of America as they go toe-to-toe with Nintendo. You can quibble with the creative license that Harris takes with some of the drama, but his tale is nevertheless a riveting look back on the rise and fall of Sega in the west (and Nintendo, too).

NADIA: Giant Five Nights at Freddy's Foxy Plushie

So, er, I'm kind of a fan of Five Nights at Freddy's. I guess everyone's entitled to one silly indulgence, and my secret shame for 2016 was dropping a wad of cash on a big plushie of Foxy. Listen to me, though: It's adorable. Also, I like foxes in all forms -- that includes the murderous, vengeful kind. So, Foxy was a silly purchase, but not a regrettable one. And if you have a FNAF-lover in the family, a big ol' Foxy doll won't go unappreciated.

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