The Xbox 360 began as a traditional gaming console when I purchased my first machine back in 2005, but today the 360 has evolved into equal parts gaming machine and home media device. Now on my second 360, I still enjoy it for occasional gaming, but also for Kinect-controlled fitness, listening to music, and watching TV show /movie streaming. Who knew years back that the hub of the living room would be a gaming console?
Tis the season for gift giving, so we've gathered up a list of accessories and games revolving around the Xbox 360, whether it be for gaming, enjoying a night at the movies from the couch, or even getting your sweat on:
Xbox 360 Console: Let's start off with the Xbox 360 itself, just in case you're looking to pick one up/gift one to a friend or family member this Christmas. The best deal right now is Walmart's Xbox 360 Holiday Value Bundle at $50 off list price. You get your choice of 360 console (4GB vs 250GB), your choice of 2 games, and the option for a Kinect depending upon which console you choose. Just note it's a little too late for delivery before the 24th, but you will receive free home delivery, all for $274.00
Amazon also has a Xbox 360 250GB Holiday bundle with Forza Motorsport 4 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim for $249.95, with the addition of Xbox LIVE 3 Month Gold Membership + 5 Digital Arcade Games (Acqua, Load Runner, R Type, Snoopy, and The Maw) + $10 Amazon Instant Video Credit.
Custom Xbox 360 Wireless Controller: I personally like the 360 controller the most of all console controls at this time, and there's nothing offensive of the stock controller in the looks department. But there's something geeky-appealing about this custom controller from Llamma Customized, a sort of stripped down Star Wars/Stormtrooper aesthetic. $44.99.
Xbox 360 Live Points Card: Believe it or not, I know a few friends who barely even use their Xbox 360 for gaming any longer. But they're avid movie and TV show watchers, using their console as part Netflix streaming machine, and on-demand subscribers/watchers via Xbox Video. If you know someone with a similar habits, an Xbox 360 Live Points Card is likely going to be a welcome gift received.
Custom All Chrome Xbox 360: Maybe you're not looking for "subtle" but something more eyecatching to customize your favorite console/entertainment center device? The coolest one out there in my opinion is this all-chrome XCM 360 CASE PACK WITH HDMI which adds an extremely shiny sheen to Microsoft's machine.
Best HDTV to Play and Watch With the Xbox 360: This is the sort of topic which opens a big can of worms...argumentative, opinionated worms at that. I turn to the 360-loving trusted colleagues over at the Official Xbox Magazine to recommend several modern HDTV displays built to take advantage of several of the console's features, including 3D gaming. In short, they crowned the Samsung PN51D8000 51" 3D Plasma HDTV ($1,197.99) as the "hands-down, the best-looking and -performing TV of the bunch." It's been considerably discounted by over a $1,000, so now might be a good time to grab one before they go out of stock.
Xbox 360 Kinect Wall Mount: The motion tracking + camera technology of the Kinect Sensor is pretty amazing and extends the definition of gaming and the gaming console considerably. But the device also requires proper positioned to work optimally. Since many of us already wall mount our HDTV displays and possibly also our audio speakers, you might want to consider taking a similar approach to the Kinect Sensor with this Xbox 360 Kinect Wall Mount if you're looking to find that "just right" spot for the Kinect's array of depth and motion cameras, alongside its 4 microphones.
Download This App: Microsoft's foray into smartphones and tablets has been bit of a bumpy ride. But where they've gotten it right is the release of the Xbox SmartGlass app (free) for just about any smartphone (iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and Windows 8 devices).
Think of SmartGlass as a mobile device interactive extension of whatever you're doing or watching on the 360 console. Alongside migrating the console's UI over to your touch device, the app connects your devices and pushes enhanced content to your mobile screen, including interactive gaming companion content, alongside data/tips/additional features for TV shows or movies streamed through Xbox 360 service.
The Games: Alright, alright...enough of all these extras. Let's get down to the heart of the Xbox 360 experience: the games. Since no gamer and their preferences are the same, here's a selection of some of the best titles to consider divided by personality: action vs. reaction
Dishonored: An action game where there's the option to creep around an imaginary steampunk city armed with magic and weaponry without the need to kill any enemies is ironically what makes this action game unique. The painterly graphics aligned with creative level and environment designs make this a visual masterpiece of a title.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II: I'm actually mostly a bystander of the Black Ops phenomena (those lines outside of Gamestop were crazy), mostly because I don't want to fall into the rabbit hole of any multiplayer addiction/commitment. But if you're a shooter title fan, you probably already own this latest in the Call of Duty lineage because of everything that has made CoD one of the Xbox's biggest franchises. Did I mention there's also a zombie killing mode?
Halo 4: I haven't played a Halo title since Halo 2, and it's been a comfortable transition and upgrade to the latest title assuming the role of Master Chief. The graphics have been upgraded, the audio production quite excellent, and arguably most important, an engaging storyline between your armoured hero with his artificial intelligence guide
Far Cry 3: Like a real world Dr. Jack Shephard, I'm always insisting I need to return to the island (in my case a less mythological Kauai). But unlike the show or Far Cry 3, I don't usually dream about including an arsenal of weapons and explosives during my tropical escape. But I may have to settle for adventuring on FC3's imaginary island, because just about every review of the third in the series proclaim this is one of the best 1st person shooters ever, due to blend of high production presentation and voice acting, with an HBO-style (okay, more like Starz) ensemble of digital actors pushing the FPS genre forward. This game should come with a travel brochure with complimentary lessons for Krav Maga.
Forza Horizon: I have to admit, it took a little while to get used to the CW Network style RPG storyline of this latest Forza racing title. But once I got out onto the road, it was pure bliss gliding across the winding roads of Colorado in an assortment of vehicles. If anything, I load up Forza Horizon for relaxation and to drive around occasionally without racing anyone...just for the sheer joy of taking to the virtual road. As long as you realize Horizon is less of a simulation and more of a pick up and play car driving title, its appeal becomes more evident with each hour, and you can sit back and steer your way across some challenging, yet scenic, roadways.
You Don't Know Jack: The party games of party games won the 2012 Spike Video Game Award in the category of Best Social Game, charming all with its blend of adult-themed humor, trivia, and faux game show setting. You Don't Know Jack is one of those group gaming titles capable of wooing even those most anti-video game personality into admitting, "okay, this is really fun" (especially after a couple glasses of wine).
Just Dance 4: With over 40 all-new songs, ranging from the embarrassing hip-shaking appeal of Rick Astley "Never Gonna Give You Up", to Flo Rida's "Good Feeling", and scientifically proven undeniably catchy Carly Rae Jepsen's"Call Me Maybe", this is a must-buy for those who love to connect via Kinect. There's a new Battle Mode, Bring Your Crew mode with team choreographed dance routines, workout mode, and of course, un-lockable content (Gagnam Style and beyond).
NBA 2K13: It may not use the Kinect full-on (you can now call out plays using the Kinect, but I found this sort of awkward to use unless you live alone), but hoops nerds like myself find NBA 2K13 plenty immersive already. The 2K team has improved almost everything, most notably how easy it is to create on the dribble with your best players. The graphics took a modest step forward, but the level of detail in opposing AI and simulated movement make it all too easy to convince yourself any moment, Kenny, Ernie, Shaq, and Barkley are going to call you out on your play calls at the half. And I'll leave it up to you whether the Hova/Jiggaman soundtrack adds or detracts (may depend upon whether you love or hate the Nets).
Nike+ Kinect Training: I've already recommended this title as a Daily Find, comparing it to my experiences training with one of those surprisingly effective informmercial DVD workout systems. This is similar, yet better because of the interactive instant feedback in regards to form, goals, and progression...an effective gamification where winning means a more fit and healthy you. If you own a Kinect and want to tighten and tone, the $43 spent seems a steal compared to a gym membership.
Kinect Nat Geo TV: Completely kid-friendly, fun, yet also educational, no surprise considering this title was based upon the Nat Geo WILD TV show. It's a blend of educational puzzle solving gaming alongside interactive TV, offering 30 minute episodes utilizing the motion-detection powers of the Kinect. Purchasing this "game" could prove to be the perfect Xbox 360 virtual babysitter when the need arises for a small break for mom or dad. And it doesn't hurt the subject of the game is non-violent, revolving around learning about science and nature.
NBA Baller Beats: I know this is the second basketball title I've included, and I admit a propensity for hoops games, but this is one of the coolest games integrating the Kinect into gameplay. I first tried this out earlier this year at E3 and noted the appeal (and limitations) of learning how to dribble a basketball using motion and rhythm feedback. It's very likely if you become adept at NBA Baller Beats, you should be halfway decent dribbling on an actual blacktop (it can't help you with shooting). If you've got a spare garage or hardwood living room, think of this as the sports equivalent to Just Dance.
(Images: Gregory Han/As linked above)