Originally Published: December 17, 2008, on 1050ESPN.com (now ESPNNewYork.com)

The nights are growing shorter and so is your time to get that last solid present for under the tree. You know they want a video game, but which one? You don’t want to have it end up just as another trade-in at the local GameStop and most clerks at these places can’t tell their elbow from a Wiimote. Well have no fear, lucky reader. I am here to give you a list of last minute winners guaranteed to put a smile on their face.

Now, if you’re looking for games for some little ones and don’t feel they’re ready for an over the top, alien shoot ’em up, or some action-adventure, sword wielding bloodbath, then here are a few E-rated games that will keep them happy till their birthday rolls around.

1. Warioland: Shake It! – Nintendo Wii – This title reminds me of the old Super Mario World games for Super Nintendo. With some stellar cartoon cell-shaded graphics and a very forgiving life system, your child will love the cartoon antics of Wario when he catches fire or gets frozen as he goes searching for treasure over 30 unique stages. With at least three missions and secret treasures to find on each level, the replay value is strong for a children’s game and the race back to the beginning of the level is a great twist on the stage-ending mechanic. A great way to introduce your children into the classic platformer.

2. Ninja Town – Nintendo DS – Based on the popular Shawnimals plush toys, I admit I did not expect much from this game, but ended up being blown away. It easily deserves all the accolades it has won. This game is a great way to introduce kids into the RTS (real-time strategy) genre. With only one resource to maintain (your magical ninja cookies, of course) you do not have to worry about foraging constantly to create new dojo for your ninjas to become stronger and concentrate on pure strategy. Add in the ridiculously cute creatures that populate Ninja Town (that your kids might already be familiar with) and you have a winner whether they are looking to get into the RTS genre or simply hone their skills.

3. Lego: Batman – All systems – If your kids are fans of any of the other Lego based games, then this is a fine addition to the series. Star Wars is still the best, by far, but if your child has a predisposition towards the Gotham Guardian, this works on lots of levels. Warner Bros. opened the vault to help make this as authentic a Batman game as possible while still keeping it kid friendly. With the new movie just coming out on Blu-Ray, it could be a Caped Crusader Christmas.

“But, Ray! My kid is in high school and I don’t think these childish games will work for him/her.” Never fear! There is plenty of T-rated games just waiting to be picked up.

1. Prince of Persia – XBOX360, PS3, PC – The trilogy with the last prince was complete, so the fine folks at Ubisoft Montreal have started a new storyline with a new prince, a beautiful new world to traverse, and a fine looking mystical companion. The amazing new storyline plays out across an expansive world with new fighting mechanics and the same great wall jumping and acrobatics that made the series a breakthrough to begin with. This action/adventure gem is at the top of a lot of people’s lists for good reason so if you’re teen is into that kind of game, then this is a must pick-up.

2. Tales of Vesperia – XBOX360 – A Xbox exclusive, this one is for the more financially minded consumer. If your teen is a fan of RPGs (role-playing games), anime, or both, then this is great way to make them happy and to make sure they don’t go looking for another game for a while. With a minimum of 40-45 hours of gameplay before completion, this game will sit in the system for a while before they go looking for their next video game fix. The gameplay is solid, the storyline is compelling, and the characters are unforgettable. This will make a solid present under any tree.

3. Mirror’s Edge – XBOX360, PS3, PC – Another action/adventure game that deals with amazing acrobats, but this time you are in the head of a female urban free runner (those are the people that jump off and climb buildings for fun). The story takes place in a futuristic world where information is monitored and only the urban free runner can get the real information through. A sinister conspiracy is uncovered involving your family and things go for a crazy turn. Not a tremendously long game, this seems to be setting the table for something bigger (Do I smell a sequel?) and it is ridiculously fun leaping from rooftop to rooftop. Another strong showing for the action/adventure genre.

Now you’re wondering, “What about the games for Mommy and Daddy?” Well, there are plenty of M-rated games out there for long after the kiddies go to bed.

1. Left 4 Dead – XBOX360, PC – A gory, survival-horror game in a bright green case and tons of Christmas red blood splattering on the screen to represent the most wonderful time of the year. One of the best online multiplayer games to come out in years, this is a game you’ll want to play with a friend. The graphics aren’t as sharp as you would like, but this is truly a game focused on the gameplay. Hordes of zombies with little to no lag and never enough bullets to go around make this one of the best survival-horrors to come out in a long time.

2. Fable 2 – XBOX360 – The long awaited sequel to the revolutionary RPG. If you enjoyed the first one, then you have to have the second. Improved graphics, more choices and consequences, and all the RPG elements you’ve come to know and love make this a great 20-30 hour romp in the woods of Albion. You even get a dog this time around!

3. Fallout 3 – XBOX360, PS3, PC – This has truly been the year of the sequel and the biggest jump in terms of quality between titles is evident in this series. The year is 2277 and the U.S.A. is a nuclear wasteland. Your mission: survive. What makes this game memorable is learning how to survive. From constructing exploding teddy bears to locking in for a Matrix-like kill system; this game will consume your time well until it is safe to come out of your nuclear bunker.

Those are the games that will make everyone you know, no matter their age, happy. On this last list, are the games that leave everyone cringing and they will be returned. Guaranteed. Avoid these games at all costs Grandma!

1. Sam and Max: Season 1 – Nintendo Wii – It was a short-lived cartoon whose humor did not resonate with an audience. Now, I remember why. The series had an underground following on the PC, so it has been ported to the Wii for this holiday season and helps remind us why point and click adventures only work for the PC. I could not finish this game because it was just plain awful. Repeated, tired humor, with unresponsive controls makes this one of the worst games I’ve played in a while. If you are looking for a funny, point and click game, you might have better luck with Harvey Birdman: Attorney at Law.

2. Castlevania: Judgement – Nintendo Wii – People jumped for joy at the announcement of a Castlevania game for the Wii. Then they heard it would be a fighting game. Moans and groans echoed throughout the video game community, as people feared how Konami would screw this up. Well, there were more ways than I could count. The powers were cool, and the story was okay, but it gets repetitive much too quickly, even for a fighting game. The levels were nicely themed and had some cool hazards, but I would rather fight the zombies and monster fish that were hazards as bosses than against characters that haven’t been around in over a decade. It left me completely unsatisfied as I yearned for the classic side-scrolling that defined the series. Overall, this was a sad effort from Konami.

3. Resistance 2 – PS3 – I was really surprised at this one. The first game was amazing, it put the PS3 on the map, and was an instant hit. The second game looks like the folks at Insomniac Games saw what Epic was doing with Gears of War and they would steal as much as they could. You can no longer carry different types of weapons as you come across them, you can only carry two at a time. Very frustrating for when you need a shotgun against a certain type of enemy, but dropped it at the beginning of the level for a rifle because you did not know what you were going to be up against. It may make the game harder, but it also makes it more frustrating when I could carry eight weapons in the first game. The enemy A.I. is predictable and the bosses are too simple to be anything more than a nuisance. It becomes more of a chore to beat the levels than an enjoyable experience because it is the same wave after wave of enemy as you progress. No puzzles or choices or anything imaginative to mix it up. The graphics are much better, but the game lacks so much of the soul from the first installment that I had to put this on my “Do Not Buy” list.

Well folks, there it is. For all you last minute shoppers out there, those are some helpful hints. I tried my best to showcase games that I have not highlighted before, so this might be a good time to look in my archives if you still need more ideas. Thanks for reading my article and have a happy and safe holiday season.

-Ray Carsillo