GIZMO: Wow, are there choices for the video gamer on your shopping list, from the most serious of shooters to the most casual of kiddie diversions, all begging, "Take me home." Here are some that caught (and held) my eye.
CRITICS' FAVORITES: Buying for a serious gamer? A trigger-happy adventurer who brags about playing all the way through a multilevel action title in a "mere" 40 or 50 hours?
The top pick of the season (as was its predecessor) in the combat category is "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2" (Activision for Xbox 360, PS3 and, in scaled down form, DS). It's a tension provoker even in the quiet times between assaults.
For those who relish a bit of costume drama with their adventure, "Assassin's Creed II" (Ubisoft for Xbox 360 and PS3) turns back the clock to 15th-century Renaissance Italy, rife with political intrigue and assassination plots.
The gamer community has awarded almost perfect scores to "Uncharted 2: Among Thieves" (Sony Computer Entertainment, exclusively for PlayStation 3). Naughty Dog's treasure-hunting, cliff-hanging adventure is rendered as richly as a $200 million movie.
Sony and the PS3 have also scored exclusive hits with the alien and robot buddy romp "Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time" and the high-definition upgraded adventures of an ancient Greek warrior that is the "God of War Collection."
With its softer graphics and younger demographics, Nintendo's Wii system has been largely snubbed by developers of mature-rated action games. But this season there are a couple of worthy entries to get grown-up Wii-sters kicking major butt. Namely, EA's thrill-packed monster shooter "Dead Space Extraction" and Capcom's "Resident Evil: The Darkside Chronicles," the latter compatible with the Wii Zapper gun mount (sold separately).
ON THE ROAD AGAIN: Ever imagine yourself pumping the pedals at Le Mans? Live the dream with "Forza Motorsport 3" (Microsoft Game Studios for Xbox 360), maybe the most realistic racing emulator ever. Also ready for a good ride are "Need for Speed SHIFT" (Electronic Arts for Xbox 360 and PS3) and close relation "Need for Speed NITRO" (EA for Wii).
MUSICAL MERRIMENT: While the genre began as an outlet for hard-rocking "air guitarists," the music video-game genre today serves a wider variety of tastes.
In just the past two months, more than a million consumers worldwide have snapped up a copy of "The Beatles: Rock Band" (Harmonix/MTV Games/EA for Xbox 360, PS3 and Wii).
Classic-rock and -pop devotees also will get a charge vocalizing on "Queen Singstar" and "ABBA Singstar" (both Sony for PS3). We hear that a Motown package is on the way.
The dance-club/electronic/hip-hop culture had been ignored, but that's fixed in a major way with "DJ Hero" (Activision for PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii), the year's most novel and realistic music game. This pricey ($120) package is built around a lifelike, two-piece controller - a turntable with colored buttons that you spin and tap to match screen cues, plus a separate fading/effects module used to blend two tracks (from R&B, hip-hop and rock notables) preselected for compatibility and coolness by the likes of DJ Shadow and the late DJ AM.
Even folks who thought that they had no interest in "turntablism" (like myself) get caught up in it.
How 'bout for the youngsters in the house?
"Lego Rock Band" (Warner Bros for PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii) works with blocky toy graphic figures, plus a parade of pop hits from Bon Jovi to Ray Parker Jr.
And almost anyone age 6 to septuagenarian should find something to perform on "Band Hero" (Activision for PS3 and Xbox 360).
MOVIE ADAPTATIONS: Wanna be in the movies? Or at least live the life of your favorite character? "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" (Activision for 360, PS3, DS) will get you clawing your way through relentless combat action.
Put on 3-D glasses (supplied) to jump into "Toy Story Mania!" (Disney for Wii) or Disneys' high-tech hamster escapade "G-Force" (for Xbox 360).
Surprisingly, the game adaption for James Cameron's 3-D "Avatar" (Ubisoft for PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, PSP, DS) does not require 3-D specs - maybe to underscore that it's veering off in different plot directions?
TRIVIA PURSUITS: While not putting you into a role, per se, "Twilight Scene It?" (Konami for Wii) surely tests knowledge of the movie that started the vampire revival craze. Movie clips play as you answer on the Wii remote.
Previously a hit on PS2, the pop game-show pursuits of Sony's "Buzz!" are now yours to enjoy as "Buzz! Quiz World" on PS3 (this time with an online "sofa to sofa" challenge option) and on PSP as "Buzz! Master Quiz."
SPORTS ACTION: If you refer to soccer as "football," you're man enough for "PES 2010: Pro Evolution Soccer" (Konami) or "Fifa Soccer 10" (EA Sports for Xbox 360 and PS3).
The slam dunk for basketball fans is "NBA 2K10" (2K Sports for PS3, Xbox 360). Build your career to WrestleMania with the best-in-series "SmackDown vs. Raw 2110" (THQ, multi-game and portable platforms).
THEIR FIRST TV STARS: Little tykes will get a charge out of the Nick Jr. "Go Diego Go!" adaptation "Safari Rescue" (2K Play for Wii). For the DS portable, fans of "Dora the Explorer" can become her and adopt a pet on "Dora Puppy," or blast into outer space as intergalactic garbage collectors in "The Backyardigans" (also from 2K Play for DS).
SOLVE A MYSTERY, DS STYLE: Role-playing mysteries that require playful problem solving are among the "smartest" gifts for DS-toting young 'uns. "Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box" (Nintendo) holds more than 150 brainteasers.
My boyhood faves "The Hardy Boys" (always into gizmos) have to solve a royal rail heist in "Treasure on the Tracks" (Sega). "Mystery Case Files: MillionHeir" (Nintendo) deploys the DS microphone and touch screen to dig up clues, even in total darkness and underwater.
WII MUSCLE TWITCHERS: Majesco offers new uses for the Wii Balance Board with its Go-Play series of Wii Games, including the tightrope-walking "Circus Star" and log-balancing "Lumberjack."
"Wii Fit Plus" (Nintendo) lets you create custom routines using original and new activities.
Ubisoft believes that putting the exerciser into the picture improves motivation and performance. So a motion-tracking camera is deployed, and other controllers are eliminated, for the "Your Shape" workout sessions hosted by Jenny McCarthy.
You and the kids can practice reading and acting skills with "Storybook Workshop "(Konami for Wii). Talk into the provided microphone to voice the characters in 16 classic fairy tales, plus a few sing-along songs. Tap a button to play back the performance.