2021 Gift Guide: Video Game Hardware and Accessories
Last year’s hardware gift guide began with the somewhat obvious preface that 2020 was an incredibly different year in several ways, with the video game market both thriving and struggling with supply issues … and that was before the next generation of consoles were released before holiday shopping. Ideally, a year later, one would imagine that some of the issues might be smoothed out, and that this following holiday season would be primed for gift givers to get their loved ones caught up on the latest and most desirable in gaming. Alas, with the extended stay of the pandemic and its impacts on both the construction and distribution of electronics, it looks as if 2021 will be another year where folks will be frantically searching for the elusive next-generation consoles … and probably the other consoles, too.
Availability of those ever-so-desirable PS5s and Xbox Series X consoles will be in short, narrow windows where folks will need to be at the right place at the right time to get what they’re wanting to give. On top of that, it’ll be a bit tougher to “substitute” the newest systems with those of the current generation due to how many games simply perform more properly on the newer ones, even though heaps of great games still came out on them this year. At least Nintendo Switches shouldn’t be impossible to obtain this year, though it wouldn’t be unwise to go ahead and grab one of those while they’re available now.
Below, we’ve pieced together a bit of a guide to help point readers in the right directions during what will likely be yet another complicated holiday shopping season. Be sure to check out our Software Guide to figure out which games to gift.
For Fans of Marvel, God of War, and 4K UltraHD Superiority, Gift This.
PlayStation 5 Console w/ Disc Drive
Pros: 4K Gaming, PS4 Backwards Compatibility, HDR Disc Playback | MSRP: $499
In the early stages of this side-by-side console release, choosing between one or the other usually boiled down to brand loyalty, exclusives, and scrutinizing specks without much hands-on review impressions. After a year of seeing how these consoles perform, the choices have expectedly become much easier and determined by less factors, with the PS5 having two easy and noteworthy positives in its column: it has a not-so-arguably superior slate of exclusive games, and it’s a reliable, above-par 4K playback device. Discussions about performance have become more practical: while there may be moments of stronger processing power on the Series X, both essentially play their big, shared games on about the same level, and that’s understandable since the two machines are incredibly similar under the hood.
When it comes to their library, the PS5 started things off on a strong note by having their exclusive Spider-Man: Miles Morales title ready at launch, an impression that’s continued at a low, consistent level over the past year. Deathloop, Ratchet and Clank, and the dazzling remakes of Final Fantasy VII and Demon’s Souls are currently only available on PlayStation consoles, and future titles like God of War Ragnarok, Horizon: Forbidden West, and Wolverine will continue their exclusivity on Sony’s hardware. After a brief digital hiccup at release that overclocked the brightness levels while watching movies, the PS5 has also very quietly taken the crown as the superior 4K UltraHD disc player, though that’s to be expected from the company that produces dedicates players. While neither are top of the line in that arena, the PS5 has developed a reputation for being more stable and crisper through playback.
For Those Who Value Nostalgia, Versatile Power, and Bethesda, Gift This.
Xbox Series X Console
Pros: 4K Gaming/Media, Multi-Gen Back Compatibility, Not THAT Big! | MSRP: $499
Following the shaky release of the Xbox One, Microsoft has restructured their game plan to fill a void and satisfy users in ways neglected by their competitors: through easy backwards compatibility. While other systems choose to focus almost entirely on the latest and greatest, the folks at Xbox figured out that making older games and libraries available to play on their next-gen console wouldn’t so drastically impact the attention placed on new content, resulting in their effort to make 360 and even original Xbox games playable on the system through emulation. One of the most compelling parts of the Xbox Series X has been how one can essentially unplug all their old hardware from the Xbox One, plug it into the same slots on the Series X, and they’re good to go with continuing their gaming without much of hassle. Those games installed on an external HD? Easily playable on the Series X once the system recognizes it.
Here’s the thing: the Xbox Series X can also process games on a more advanced level, whether they’re new or classics. While new titles have been “Optimized for Xbox Series X” to take advantage of the full 4K graphical power coming from this machine, old-school games like Fallout 3 and Elder Scrolls: Morrowind have also been “Xbox One X Enhanced” with immense performance upgrades that make replaying them more than just a nostalgic rehash of joy, and effortlessly playable from either discs or external HDs. From storage and controller adaptability to downloading both old and new titles through the Xbox Game Pass subscription program, the experience in owning an Xbox Series X feels more diverse and accessible than the others … and the purchase of Fallout and Elder Scrolls gamemaker Bethesda Studios by Microsoft will have significant ramifications on the exclusivity of games to come.
For Those Who Love Portability, Family-Friendly Quality, and Zelda, Gift This.
Limited Edition Animal Crossing Nintendo Switch Console
Pros: Cute Colors, Kid-Room Appropriate, Semi-Available | Cons: Game Not Included MSRP: $299
Through the development and release of these new powerhouse systems, the Nintendo Switch has been content with being along for the ride, serving as both a primary gaming system for some folks and a secondary one for those who choose sides in the console wars. Sales were phenomenal in the previous year during the rise in popularity of Animal Crossing: New Horizons amid the pandemic, and the release of several games from Nintendo’s attention-grabbing franchises – Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword HD, Metroid Dread, and Mario Party – make the system equally or perhaps even more appealing this holiday season. Outside of issues where the screen gets scuffed in the dock and the motion controls have a brief lapse in connectivity, Nintendo’s hybridized system has proven to be a wildly successful experiment.
From among the primary video game systems of the latest generation and the one before it, the Switch will likely be the least difficult system to purchase this year. Currently, some models of Nintendo’s portable-home crossbred console can be purchased for mid-November delivery from Amazon, though the color selection is already limited. Bear in mind that the Animal Crossing version of the Nintendo Switch console, which does seem to be floating in and out of stock currently at several locations, does not come with that game included: an easy mistake to make considering how it’s designed. Some colors of the Nintendo Switch Lite – the compact, portable-only version of the system that doesn’t hook up to the TV or use detachable motion controllers — also seem to be available in a few colors right now at the $199 price point.
So, Uh … Where Are They? A Guide of a Different Sort.
Normally, this is where the Holiday Video Game Hardware Guide explores different console bundles and other gift options, but 2021 is a unique year where a perfect storm of slowed manufacturing, supply-chain issues, and halted last-gen console production has resulted in a major shortage across the board. Awesome bundles of last-gen gaming systems thrown together with some of their most popular titles are nowhere to be found, nor are most of the creative and colorful skinned systems, and it’s a struggle to even find regular standalone consoles from the PS4 and Xbox One era.
This isn’t a year where walking into a place that sells video games and walking out with holiday shopping done will be a common occurrence; in fact, most will have to resort to strategizing with different stores and keeping an eagle eye on stock will be necessary. Here are some of the methods that people are using to keep track of in-stock status of certain systems:
Twitter. One of the quickest and most reliable methods to receive alerts will be through Twitter, as there are numerous accounts dedicated to stock updates: @PS5StockNews, @SwitchStockNews, @XboxStockAlerts and so on. It’s possible to continuously refresh the Twitter feed for updates, but signing up for an account and following them will allow you to receive real-time updates when new stock alerts are published, so one can hop online and grab a system before that dreaded gray “out of stock” button shows up once again.
Get Connected. Different brick-and mortal stores will also have certain programs available so that customers may luck out and get one of the restocked systems, though they all involve jumping through hoops. One of the consistent themes about nearly all of the options is that it pays to be a member of some fashion to one of the stores, as that will grant exclusive access either to early info about the drops … or straight-up access to the consoles themselves when they’re available.
- BestBuy has a new TotalTech program that costs subscribers $200/year, but it boasts access to in-demand electronics before non-subscribers, and it makes sense that PS5s and Series X consoles would apply. The TotalTech program also comes with product protection benefits, free delivery and installation of purchases, around-the-clock GeekSquad service, and extended return windows alongside the discount perks, so there’s plenty of other stuff that comes alongside the membership fee.
- Walmart also has a subscription service, Walmart+, that grants early access to deals for its customers, and that has applied to next-gen console availability. Pricing for the subscription is $13/month or right at $100 for a year, and it also comes with free store-to-home deliveries, gas discounts and free shipping for Walmart items regardless of price (normally orders over $35 ship free).
- Costco recently got a restock on console bundles as well, but obviously only for members. That bundle features the console, an extra controller, a premium headset, and subscription cards for PlayStation’s 2 services. Here’s the landing page for that PS5 bundle.
- NewEgg periodically restocks with their own custom bundle (usually an extra controller and/or an HD Camera), but it’s gated by a raffle system called NewEgg Shuffle. After signing up for a NewEgg account, customers can visit the Shuffle page or receive notifications to be entered into specific raffles, which are started once certain items hit the warehouse. The landing page for that PS5 bundle can be found here.
- GameStop will be announcing when inventory will be available at select locations. Recently, they made a page available for a console “Bundle Event”, in which certain stores in and surrounding a half-dozen major cities would have custom bundles available on a given date at 8am. Bundles have also been available to purchase online, though the company’s PowerUp Rewards Pro Members — $14.99 for purchase discounts and trade/point benefits, or $19.99 if you want physical GameInformer magazines – have early access.
There’s no telling what the next few weeks leading up to Black Friday will have in store, whether little pockets of console stock will be unearthed and made available to the general public, or not. Until then, it’s the kind of year where one can only wish shoppers the best of luck in tracking down and rushing home with their treasures.
For Those Who Have Their System Situation Under Control, Gift This.
Pictured: Xbox’s Limited Controller in Aqua Shift
The one semi-benefit to there being a console shortage is that gift givers will likely have an easier time picking up the extra items for a given system, and just about every gamer will tell you that a new controller is a welcome sight. Also, with this being a year into the console’s life cycle, some new color options have been debut. While Sony has cranked out Midnight Black and Cosmic Red variants of their stock white controller, the folks at Xbox have predictably made more headway with numerous color variants that are compatible with the Xbox One and the Xbox Series X. That includes a snazzy Aqua Shift blue ombre controller that was released in August.
If none of the stock options will suit a specific person’s personality and they’re on the Xbox, there’s the Xbox Design Lab, which reopened for business in July of this year.
For Online Players and Freebie/Deal Hunters, Gift These.
Xbox Game Pass Ultimate / PS+ Subscriptions
Each yeah, there’s a little bit of uncertainty when discussing the future of the main console subscription services, as to what they’ll look like in the near future and whether card purchases are still viable. Regardless of the answer, the recommendation hasn’t really changed … until this year. While folks on Sony consoles will still be content with picking up year subscriptions to PlayStation Plus, those on the Xbox side of things may want to consider a shift, or perhaps more accurately an upgrade. This also opens a prime opportunity for a quality gift as well, one that’s essentially worth what the receiver decides to squeeze out of it.
Instead of loading up on yet another 12 Month subscription of the baseline Xbox Live service, folks will want to take a close look at the value of the Game Pass Ultimate program. Over the past year, the benefits of subscribing to just that program have dwindled: online play remains a must, but the Games With Gold freebies and associated discounts at the Xbox Store haven’t been as worthwhile. While the Game Pass Ultimate subscription is notably more expensive — $15/month as opposed to $10/month for Live; card discount prices not taken into account – it also opens the door for subscribers to download a huge amount of current, quality games and have access to the same Games With Gold benefits. There’s a Game Pass Only subscription for $10/month as well, but the online play might be integral to the subscription decision and the combo rate is preferable. Cards only come in 3-month increments though, for now.
For Tabletop and Tech Enthusiasts, As Well As For The Fam, Gift This.
Arcade 1UP’s Infinity Table
Pros: Movable, Pause Games, Apps Added; Cons: Light on Game Quantity | MSRP: $699/899
Over the past 4-5 years, Arcade1UP has been gradually building a reputation for its brand, delivering affordable yet high-quality duplications of arcade game cabinets at roughly ¾ scale. Many attempts have been made to do similar emulations and failed to fully capture the retro spirit, so it’s a noteworthy accomplishment for this company to survive the scrutiny of nostalgic gamers and become known as a reliable source of decent hardware. After moving to slightly unique products with their pinball machine and reshaped “counter-cade” cabinet for bar tops, Arcade1UP now moves into another more innovative stage of their product line with the Infinity Table.
What began as a Kickstarter campaign last year has moved into general availability, with two sizes of table displays currently available: 24” at $699, and 32” at $899. The Infinity Table essentially functions like a giant touchscreen tablet that exclusively boots up old-school board games and family-friendly activities. For some, that might downplay the uniqueness of the product; for others, the concept of a “giant game tablet” will effortlessly draw their attention. Nearly 50 different applications are available as of this writing, including licensed games that range from Monopoly and Scrabble to the outstanding strategy game Pandemic. The availability for new titles to be loaded into its library makes it very appealing, especially if they keep up the momentum by licensing more quality board games.