For the gamer in the family, or the family that would like to play games together, here is a sampling of some nifty gifts this holiday season. A few gadgets are thrown in for good measure.
(Note to parents: When it's rated T, leave the little ones home!)
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Rated E, from EA Games) Once again, J.K. Rowling's fans have the chance to attend Hogwarts, the school of magic. This game takes players into the Chamber of Secrets' lets them duel with wizards; and fight Aragog, the giant spider. All platforms.
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Rated T for teen, from EA Games) Stunning graphics, exclusive clips from the upcoming "Two Towers" film, interviews with the stars, and a mix of film and game technology make this a cool gift for those who want to live the Ring lore. Play as the rightful heir, Aragorn; elf Legolas; or Gimli, and fight through legions of Orcs and Ringwraiths. The new level of graphic intensity and realism these games deliver render them best for the stout-hearted. On Playstation 2 (PS2), GameBoy Advance (GBA).
Spider-Man (Rated E for everyone, from Activision) Leap and crawl just like Spidey. With plenty of options and action, this is a fun extension of the film for those who want to be superheroes. The gameplay is not difficult and can be mastered quickly. A nice alternative to the world of first-person shooters that dominate the hero genre. On PC, PS2, GBA, GameCube (GC), Xbox.
Treasure Planet (Rated E, from Disney Interactive) Based on the new Disney film, these games are a fun exploration of the new graphically fantastic worlds of the film. Solar surf your way into new galaxies based on an old story - pirates and the search for hidden gold. On GBA, PS2, and PC.
Age of Mythology (Rated T, from Microsoft) A wonderful followup to the Age of Empires series, this was one of the most highly anticipated games of the year. Great graphics introduce you to mythical worlds and beings - minotaurs, sphinxes, and mummies. Lots of variety in this strategy game. On PC.
Everquest Gold Edition (Rated T, from Sony Online Entertainment) This popular online game is now out in a five-game expansion pack, including the original EverQuest Classic, The Ruins of Kunark, The Scars of Velious, The Shadows of Luclin, and The Planes of Power. This is a limited edition with a thick manual, map, and metal figurine. For fans of EverQuest, this is the world in one place. Online PC, requires Internet access and an EverQuest account.
Kingdom Hearts (Rated E, from Disney Interactive/SquareSoft) Final Fantasy meets Disney to create a surprisingly engaging game. The brooding figures from the 10-part adventure game team up with Goofy and Donald Duck to defeat monsters known as the Heartless. Characters visit Disney-themed worlds, such as "Aladdin," but the play is complicated enough to make this game a good draw for young and old. On PS2.
The Sims: Deluxe Edition (Rated T, from EA Games) The holiday issue of the ultimate game of Life includes the Livin' Large expansion pack as well as Sims creator, with which you can create your very own Sims. Also, check out the new Sims Unleashed expansion pack - Sims now have pets! On PC
Splinter Cell (Rated T, from Ubi Soft) This is Tom Clancy's world and you're in charge. For older players, this game takes you on commando missions where you work for a top-secret group trying to rid the world of a terrorist threat. Super use of the Xbox graphics. On Xbox, PC.
Wild Arms 3 (Rated T, from Sony) This sequel enters a fantasy version of the Wild West - not a world many games explore. The play follows a ragtag group of "Drifters" as they roam the desolate worlds of the Old West. On PS2.
Zoo Tycoon: Marine Mania expansion pack (Rated E, Microsoft) This popular zoo series is a bit like the Sims world - you create your own environment, this time a zoo world. The marine mania pack adds aquatic options. Lots of fun for all ages, this is a game that sneaks in some educational information about the plants and animals as you play along. On PC.
Animal Crossing (Rated E, from Nintendo) This charming game for all ages isn't easily categorized. It unfolds in real time as you, a human, move into an animal village. You communicate with your sometimes silly, sometimes wise animal neighbors, collect things like seashells, and live a life. Simple, but wise enough to appeal to the child in us all. On GC.
Kirby: Nightmare in DreamLand and Hamtaro: Ham-Hams Unite! (Rated E, from Nintendo) Two funny games for the GameBoy Advance that let you play with these round, goofy figures in different situations. Make Hamtaro dance, turn Kirby into a whirling tornado, or make him breath fire. They are for the younger set, but older siblings may want to take turns. On GBA.
NBA Live (Rated E, from EA Games) Videogames were made for sports, and this is a good one. There is plenty of fast, fun action - not exactly the real thing, but who plays videogames for reality? On PS2, GC, PC, Xbox.
The Ceiva Digital Photo Receiver: The receiver has proved to be a great tool for keeping in touch. Now that it's easier than ever to snap a picture, the receiver, which uses a regular phone line to upload new pictures, provides a good-looking interactive photo frame that distant relatives will appreciate.
Star Wars Bounty Hunter (Rated E, LucasArts) If you want to explore the Star Wars universe as a bad boy, this is your chance. Told through the eyes of Jango Fett, this game fills in the backstory of Episode II while offering the chance to spacepack through the universe. On GC, PS2.
Stuart Little 2 (Rated E, Activision) If you liked the mouse, now you can be the mouse as he hunts for his new best friend, Margalo - not to mention Mrs. Stuart's wedding ring. Skateboard, fly an airplane, or race with a friend using the Game link cable. Good, non-violent fun. On GBA.
Monsters, Inc. Scream Arena. (Rated E, THQ) Play the game as any of your favorite characters and help them keep in shape - either through laughter or the occasional bit of monster mayhem. Lots of fun for fans of the Pixar original. On GC.
Law & Order: Dead on the Money (Rated T, Legacy Interactive) If you like the life of an armchair sleuth, now you can move it over to your computer and join in the fun. Partner up with Lt. Lennie Briscoe to uncover clues and interrogate your suspects, then team up with Assistant DA Serena Southerlyn to persuade a jury to convict. Cases can take hundreds of different directions depending on your choices at every turn, so find your Watson and load up to play Sherlock from the safety of your living room. Oh, and don't think these are imaginary characters - the REAL actors who play the TV characters voice the computer versions. On PC.
Metroid Prime (Rated T, Nintendo) The popular Gamespot.com review site says it best: "Metroid Prime is the best GameCube game to date. It's one of the best games on any platform this year." So, what does it offer? You play the interstellar bounty hunter, Samus Aran on her quest to quell really bad space pirates. The sprawling, mysterious 3D environment invites the adventurous spirit. Definitely for older players. On GC.
Ratchet & Clank (Rated T, Insomniac/Sony) This is sort of the opposite of creating an environment - the goofy and imaginative weapons are the point of this game. Ratchet and Clank are off to save a deep space world from death, so it's not non-violent, but it is definitely in the cartoon category. Road Runner wasn't exactly non-violent, was it? On PS2.
Backyard Football (Rated E, Infogrames) Goofy fun as a sports game - play kid-level NFL as the major league stars back in their childhood days. Simple play, easy levels but enough going on that two generations could play together and have fun. On GC.
Soccer Mania (Rated E, Lego) This is even goofier fun as you choose your favorite Lego figure to team up and play Lego soccer. Oh, and you aren't stuck on that boring old grass in this game. No, you get to play in outer space, medieval castles, anywhere in fact that Lego has gone before you. On PS2.
Lego's Harry Potter: Chamber of Secrets (No rating) This is the actual Lego construction set. Turn around and get those hands full of plastic bits and pieces as a nice break from all that video game play. Once again, this is a fun, imaginative reconstruction Lego-style of a popular venue - the serpent and final chamber where the second Harry Potter book ends up.
Lynx wireless Xbox controller (from Mad Catz) Just what you need to liven up play a bit, this controller allows you to move up to 50 feet away from the console, without dragging a bunch of wires around. It vibrates to make the games feel more real and has a tough rubber grip to keep your hands firmly on the game. A nice addition on the hardware side.