Some of this year's best video games are interactive works of art.
With all the big shooting and action games that have launched in recent weeks, it can start to seem like this holiday's video game offerings are all about big explosions and even bigger body counts.
But this holiday, if you're looking for the perfect gift to give the gamer in your life who appreciates something a little more ... let's say cerebral ... there are plenty of excellent options out there to choose from.
Here are five great games for those who appreciate the arts ... not to mention, those who appreciate video games as an art form.
El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron — PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Rated T, $30
This shape-shifting, eye-popping action/platforming game is one that dares to take risks. And while it occasionally trips and stumbles while bravely marching to its own beat, it certainly offers up a genuinely unique gaming experience so full of artistry that it will leave players entranced.
How unique is this game? Well, to start with, "El Shaddai" is inspired by the ancient Jewish work called the Book of Enoch (hardly your standard video game foundation). And as it weaves a dreamy, otherworldly story about heaven, hell, angels and mankind it moves between 2-D and 3-D gaming styles. You've got side-scrolling areas mixed with more free-roaming spaces. Meanwhile, its highly stylized visuals — which change in tone throughout the course of the game — are absolutely magnificent to behold.
Yes, the story — a decidedly modern and abstract interpretation of an ancient work — can be difficult to follow at times, and the combat can be repetitive. Still, "El Shaddai" earns high marks for daring to be different.
LittleBigPlanet 2: Special Edition — PlayStation 3, Rated E, $60
It's been three years since the first "LittleBigPlanet" game debuted, making everyone who saw it gasp in wonder at a hand-crafted world that it seemed you could reach out and touch. When "LittleBigPlanet 2" launched earlier this year, the crafty, whimsical art style dazzled everyone yet again while the 2-D platforming and puzzle-solving proved to be even more inventive and thrilling than ever.
Adorable Sackboy returns to "LittleBigPlanet 2" to traverse worlds that seem stitched together from real fabrics, yarns and cardboard cutouts. Meanwhile, as with the original game, the sequel gives players the tools to create their very own video game levels. But more importantly, "LBP 2" greatly expands on the kind of games players can create. That's right, here's your chance to play game developer by building racing games, role-playing games, arcade games, etc. ... all within the game of "LittleBigPlanet 2." (Check out In-Game editor Todd Kenreck's video review at right.)
Meanwhile, the newly released "LittleBigPlanet 2: Special Edition" adds the option of using Sony's Move motion controls with the game and bundles in loads of bonus content including lots of new levels.
All in all, "LittleBigPlanet 2" is an excellent game for the player who not only appreciates the artistry of others ... but likes to get creative themselves.
Bastion — PC, Xbox 360, Rated E10+, $15
This bright, imaginative game from the small team at Supergiant Games will absolutely delight both your eyes and your ears while digging its addictive action/role-playing talons right into your gamer heart.
A wonderfully original game full of intriguing characters, "Bastion" tasks players with traversing a world that has been shattered into a series of floating islands. You'll have to search for survivors and fight strange beasts, customizing weapons and building your powers along the way.
But what really makes this game pop are the gorgeous hand-painted environments that literally rise and fall into place at the feet of your character as you explore, not to mention the gripping, distinctive narration that tells you the story of your game step-by-step as you play it.
From narrative, to art style, to gameplay, "Bastion" is a joy to behold on every level. (Check out In-Game editor Todd Kenreck's video review at right.)
Meanwhile, because this is a downloadable game, you'll want to gift the Xbox version to your favorite gamer using Xbox Live or an Xbox Live points card (available at many retail outlets). And you can gift the PC version through one of these online game services: Steam, GamersGate, Origin, Green Man Gaming, Direct2Drive, and OnLive.
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet – Xbox 360, Rated E, $15
Shadow Planet Productions
Created by Fuelcell Games in collaboration with artist/animator Michel Gagne ("The Iron Giant," "Horton Hears a Who"), "Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet" acts as both a 2-D side-scrolling game filled with brainy puzzles as well as an eye-grabbing piece of interactive art.
Here players navigate a tiny ship as they traverse this bizarre, wondrous world drawn from Gagne's mind — a world at once full of vibrant colors and yet veined with deep, eerie blacks. With various tools at your disposal, you'll find yourself exploring, shooting and puzzle-solving — that is, if you can tear your eyes away from simply watching the thing unfold.
"Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet" was inspired by a set of creepy-cool animated interstitials that Gagne created for Nickelodeon. You can check them out here. And you can check out more of Gagne's work at his website here. Meanwhile, check out Todd Kenreck's video review above.
If you want to give an insanely twisted gift this holiday, head over to Xbox Live or pick up an Xbox Live points card for the gamer on your list. (They make great stocking stuffers, by the way).
Child of Eden — PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Rated E10+, $40
Speaking of interactive art ... the trippy "Child of Eden" is a sensory sensation, not to mention a game to show people who have yet to understand the artistry and creativity found within the video gaming medium.
"Child of Eden" is a lush blend of electronic music, trance-inducing visuals and target-shooting gameplay. The game sends players on a journey to revive the persona of the first human born in space in an online archive of human memories known as Eden. But you'll have to rid the archives where these memories live of a virus that has invaded.
Created by Tetsuya Mizuguchi — the man behind the similarly trippy cult hit "Rez" — "Child of Eden" is a gorgeous explosion of sound and color. You can play it either with a standard controller, the Kinect motion controller on the Xbox 360 or the Move motion controls for the PlayStation 3. I highly recommend using the motion controls to those who want to fall right into this moving piece of game art.
For more holiday shopping and video game news, check out:
- 5 great games for people who love a good story
- 5 great games to play with the whole family
- Kinect will read lips, join with Sony TVs?
- Kinect gets a makeover for PCs
- Five tips for getting the most out of 'Skyrim'
Winda Benedetti writes about games for msnbc.com. You can follow her tweets about games and other things here on Twitter or join her in the stream here on Google+. And be sure to check out the In-Game Facebook page right here.