2019 Gift Guide: Video Game Hardware and Accessories
Last year, as I mentioned in our Hardware Gift Guide, it wasn’t the easiest experience to simply go out and pick up the latest Xbox or PlayStation console over the holiday season, as the variety of models had saturated the shopping experience. Pros and cons of all the systems – including monetary investment and the newness of premium consoles – made it difficult to choose, even for the ardent gamers out there. However, the past year has brought more focus toward what’s worth the investment and what’s not, particularly in terms of Xbox’s newest iteration of the Xbox One: a $500 machine, the Xbox One X (click here for our review) that has justified the extra dollars spent with proven elevation in gaming performance and media functionality.
With that said, this year has also proven to be lopsided in terms of the quality of exclusive titles, heavily in Sony’s favor. Between a return – well, a rebooted return — to a popular mythical franchise from the heyday of the PS2 era to a well-executed, endlessly enjoyable portrayal of a beloved superhero and his swinging across New York, there’s no disputing the popularity of the games that could only be played on the PS4 this time around. While the Xbox One plows away at backwards compatibility and offering the technically superior way to enjoy cross-platform releases, the PS4 has substantial gaming tricks up its sleeve that Microsoft cannot deliver, making the decision between Option A and Option B tough as always.
Below, this guide will attempt to bring a little more focus onto which systems might be best to pick up over the holidays for both veteran and new gamers, either as the prized gift for a loved one or as the best usage of one’s giftcard funds. Remember to also check out Bens’ Bargains Software Gift Guide to see which games not offered in bundles would best pair with any of the below systems.
For Those Gearing Up for 4K Warfare, Gift This.
Xbox One X 1TB Gears 5 Bundle
Pros: 4K Gaming/Media, Backwards Compatibility, Gears 5 Included | MSRP: $399
As I mentioned in our software guide, Gears of War has sustained a reputation as one of the leading exclusive properties for the Xbox, turning into one of the big system sellers for the 360. While other entries in the series have been released on the One to mostly positive but mixed receptions, Gears 5 seems to be the one that’s designed to evolve the franchise for a new era. Whether it’s for newcomers to the franchise or those that have fondness of it for generations past, this Xbox One X bundle will be a wonderful way to enter the fray.
Several years have passed since the release of Microsoft’s juiced-up version of the One, and the years since then have further cemented its position in the market as the versatile machine of the bunch. It still bests the competition as a media device by coming preloaded with a 4K Blu-ray player, which has been tightened in functionality since its initial buggy release. More graphically impressive titles continue to come out bearing the “Xbox One X Enhanced” label as well, and while the output has slowed down for the backwards compatibility feature, the catalog now stands as a length roster titles across several platforms for lots of legacy gaming. Having the entire Gears of War remastered catalog included with a stylishly designed Gears-themed Xbox One X for $400 bucks … well, it warms the heart.
For Those Wanting to Answer that Call of Duty, Gift This.
PS4 Pro 1TB COD: Modern Warfare Bundle
Pros: Slick Design, Latest Call of Duty Included; Cons: No 4K Blu-ray | MSRP: $399
Being completely honest here? There aren’t many video game gifts better than this bundle. Now, that isn’t a comment on the quality of the latest Call of Duty: Modern Warfare itself; it has received strong, if reserved praise as well as some controversy about the brutal realism depicted in it. However, objectively and on the surface, it’s tough to find a more reliable complete package to wrap up and give somebody than a state-of-the-art PlayStation with the latest COD included, loaded and ready just as soon as it’s plugged in and set up.
Are there any extra goodies packs with this PS4 Pro bundle? Negative. It comes in the standard all-black iteration of the 1TB console, the ergonomic and highly lauded PS4 controller, the standard components of the system, and Call of Duty. That’s it, and that’s all it needs at the $400 price point, as it’s a fine-tuned 4K gaming machine; note, however, that it still doesn’t come with Blu-ray media playback. The Spider-Man bundle from last year comes close to being a “better” package, and I still wholeheartedly recommend grabbing that one if possible, but these bundles have a tendency of selling out pretty quick due to the intrinsic value built into ‘em. Definitely set sights on this one.
For Those Who Need Just the Essentials to Explore, Gift This.
Xbox One S 1TB Anthem Bundle
Pros: Slim White System, 4K Blu-ray, Anthem Included; Cons: No Native 4K Gaming | MSRP: $249
Last year, I recommended grabbing the Fallout 76 bundle for the Xbox One X because it was a convenient, marginally more cost-efficient way to give Bethesda’s online open-world game a chance. Similar logic applies to this bundle, though this year we’re talking about the Xbox One S and BioWare’s newest game, Anthem. Since its release, much like Fallout 76, this game has gotten a beating for its loot issues and perceived monotony of missions, though others have spoken up about it being a better sci-fi loot shooter than it gets credit for. Microsoft gives players the opportunity to dive into BioWare’s world with this budget-minded bundle of their Xbox One S system.
The longer the Xbox One X remains on the market, the more the S model moves further away from the spotlight, and that’s a shame. It may have been a gap-bridging version of the console, but it made a number of reputable, welcome tweaks to the original clunky Xbox One, from its general size and power supply placement to the inclusion of 4K UltraHD disc playback; it can upscale games to 4K resolution but cannot process them as such natively. At $250, the system itself remains one of the best values for the buck in the gaming spectrum, and the inclusion of Anthem elevates that value.
For Those Who Like Portable Consoles in One Package, Gift This.
Nintendo Switch – Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Bundle
Pros: Lighter, Highly Portable, Variety of Colors; Cons: No Docking Function | MSRP: $199
By now, everybody understands the novelty and popularity of the Switch, to the point where you can just — *gasp* — walk into stores and buy them whenever you want now. Part of the appeal of Nintendo’s latest system lies in its portability, but it’s also within the versatility of the system, in that it can either be a fully transportable unit or set up in one’s living room as the main gaming console. A dedicated mobile gaming system has become a tricky area in the realm of tablets and mobile phones that can simply play high-resolution games, but if anyone can nail it, it’d be Nintendo. So, of course they’ve made an attempt with the Nintendo Switch Lite: a fully-functional Switch + screen that isn’t convertible.
The experience one gets from traveling with their Switch has been fully duplicated with the Lite: so long as the game has the requisite handheld mode, it can be played here either digitally or by cartridge. That’s the vast majority of games available, which of course includes titles like Breath of the Wild and Mario Odyssey to Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, even though the portable format may not be the most ideal way to play ‘em. What makes this desirable above a regular Switch, outside the price difference? It’s lighter, more streamlined, and less clunky than its multi-component counterpart, and doesn’t sacrifice the quality of screen or resolution by scaling down about an inch. This is clearly the move that hopes to nudge the 3DS out of the way for Nintendo’s portable slate, and it just might happen.
For Those Who Dig a Little Character In Their Controller, Gift This.
Xbox Design Lab Custom Controller
Pros: New Camo and Umbra Color Options, Engraving Available, Xbox and PC Compatible | MSRP: $79
Several years ago, I mentioned the Xbox Design Lab as a gift option when the customize-your-own controller service was in its infancy. Even when it only features an array of color options, it made for a great way to personalize one’s own gear or give the gamer in your life something personalized; the engraving option’s a nice touch, too. Several years later, Microsoft’s still at it with their Design Lab, only they’ve brought in several other options that might be worth another look, perhaps if simply selecting different colors wasn’t enough customization for some in its early stages.
While you can’t go wild with a bunch of different patterns, Microsoft has opened their signature geometric camouflage and color-fade umbra designs, each available in five different color options. From there, the variety hinges on what colors you’d like to make the buttons, triggers, and battery chassis; while there are plenty of (the same) color options for the elements that can be a variety of colors, the core ABXY and menu buttons remain the same monochrome-ish options. And if you want to show team spirit, there’s a (somewhat hidden) option to select from a series of NFL logos that will be placed in large fashion on the face of a white controller.
For That Player Running Low On Hard-Drive Space, Gift These.
As consoles get more advanced, the games they run take up even more digital space with their installations, updates, and downloadable content. Base models of this generation’s consoles – some at 500GB, but most now getting to 1TB of space – can’t store very many games, which throws a conundrum at owners: should they upgrade their systems to newer ones with bigger hard-drives, or upgrade their storage solutions?
Thankfully, it’s a fairly easy problem to solve on both consoles, as the Xbox One supports external USB hard-drives and the PS4’s internal hard-drive can be swapped out. Seagate has affordable, compatible options for both, with each of their 2GB varieties priced at around $85.
For Online Players and Freebie/Deal Hunters, Gift These.
While the primary reason for purchasing subscriptions to either PlayStation Plus or Xbox Live used to boil down to having access to online gaming, both companies have taken strides to make their paid memberships really worth the monthly, quarterly, or yearly investments.
Weekly exclusive deals on a variety of digital games can be nice, of course, but how they’ve upped their value games can be found in the monthly free game offerings (regularly covered here at The Checkout), which range from quirky indies and day-one releases to the occasional high-profile title. And in the case for Xbox, their 360 offerings are routinely backwards compatible on the newer console, too, bringing Xbox One owners up to four available freebies per month.
For Switch Users Who Want Nostalgia and Functionality, Gift This.
PowerA Wireless Gamecube Controller for Nintendo Switch
Pros: Duh, a Wireless Gamecube Controller; Motion Controls; Officially Licensed | MSRP: $35-50
So, the $60 price tag for Nintendo’s Pro controller seems intimidating, especially for a regular old black controller without much personality. It seems too … smooth, regular, indistinctive, and perhaps that conjures memories of gaming sessions past. Obviously, one of the controllers on the other side of that spectrum would be Nintendo’s very own Gamecube controller: y’know, the funky-shaped one with buttons in all sorts of weird areas, yet positioned in such a way that managed to be both comfortable and near-perfect in responsiveness. PowerA remembers, and hopes to take players back to that time with their Switch Gamecube Wireless controller, at nearly half the price of Nintendo’s primo device.
An officially licensed replica bearing the Switch logo, this wireless controller mimics the wired Gamecube controller in just about every way, with some additional buttons and features to bring it closer to the functionality of Nintendo’s official offering. While there isn’t any vibration or Amiibo interactivity, it does – perhaps surprisingly — include motion control reactivity for the games that require or benefit from it. Moreover, PowerA have increased the size of the D-pad in an effort to boost responsivity, and the thumbsticks both click downward for use with other Switch games. Smash Bros. aficionados will have preferences in feel, but as a general Pro controller alternative, it’s a winner.