2005 Gift Guide: Video games
Peter Jackson's King Kong: the Official Game of the Movie ($49.99)
There's no other way to say it: Kong rules the screen, small and big, this holiday season. After you take in the film masterwork, you can rush home, pick up your controller, and go back to the lush, atmospheric Skull Island where the King lives. A first-person action adventure game, you can play as hapless screenwriter Jack Driscoll or as Kong himself. But whether you enjoy battling the astonishingly detailed and well-rendered dino-critters of this lost world, or just looking around, the game is a great personalized visit to a vision that once again sets new standards for computer-graphics storytelling. Rated T for teens.
Star Wars: Battlefront II ($49.99)
A follow-up to a familiar franchise that many fans are calling better than the original. This multiplayer shooting game with online capability offers a few notable improvements without straying too far from the original most important among them: the new space combat maps and the Jedi characters whom you can play. The maps let you zoom out into space fights, much like the movies, while the additional characters expand on the familiar Star Wars universe. A must for "Star Wars" fans. Rated T for teens.
Lumines for PSP ($39.99)
Sony launched its challenger in the handheld marketplace earlier this year, the PSP, a sleek, high-powered miniature console that plays games, movies, and MP3 files. It's somewhat ironic that one of the best early games for this extremely sophisticated piece of equipment is the puzzle game, Lumines, dubbed by some fans the best in its class since Tetris. A simple yet extremely satisfying game that allows for single and multiplayer modes, the goal is to assemble similarly colored blocks in appropriate patterns. The music and pulsating colors make the game endlessly seductive. Rated E for everyone.
Nintendogs for DS ($29.99)
If you missed the virtual-pet fad of a decade ago, Nintendo resurrects the genre, this time for soft-hearted adults as well. Who can resist the astonishingly well-rendered pups in this game? You can adopt one of 18 different breeds, train and play with it on a two-screen hand-held system that's so engaging it virtually guarantees you'll miss your bus or train if the puppy wants your attention. Buyer beware: These pixel pooches will steal your heart and time every bit as much as the real thing. Rated E for everyone.
The Movies ($49.99)
Tap into your inner Steven Spielberg or Tom Cruise. This Sims-inspired game can be played in two modes: movie mogul (creating and running your studio) or filmmaker (casting, writing, and shooting your movie). It's a fun dry run for all those aspiring filmmakers or movie stars on your gift list, offering all sorts of interesting industry insights - that directors and actors don't perform well under stress and that movies are more likely to make a box-office killing if they're in a hot genre - as well as an informative window into one of the biggest businesses in the world. Warnings: Parents should note the rating, no doubt for the seamier sides of the biz, from the casting couch to plastic surgery. And it's a real system hog - make sure your PC is up to the requirements. Rated T for teens.
Sid Meier's Civilization IV ($49.99)
For all you parents, Sid Meier and crew has just made it that much harder to pretend these games are just for the kids. This strategy franchise continues with its familiar format of allowing players to charge through time as a world leader (Gandhi, Caesar, etc.) bent on taking over the globe. Going through the various "ages" - stone to space - developing cities and cultures along the way, everything about the familiar game is better in this version. Best improvement: the new "open borders," which allows players to fence off their territories while pursuing diplomatic options to their problems. Rated E for everyone.
• Clayton Collins, Gloria Goodale, David S. Hauck, Stephen Humphries, Teresa Méndez, and Yvonne Zipp contributed to this guide.