Games don’t often come in boxes anymore (Photographer: Tom Merton/Credits: Getty Images)

GameCentral offers a guide to the best Christmas presents to buy a gamer, from new consoles and games to headsets, controllers, and merch.

Buying Christmas gifts for a gamer is always difficult for those that don’t know their Assassin’s Creed from their Elden Ring. The default choice for many is Call Of Duty, FIFA, or simply a gift card, but you don’t have to be an expert to get a bit more creative than that.

If anything, the main problem with buying video games as Christmas gifts is that increasingly few people want physical copies anymore. A recent survey of American kids suggested that only 22% of those asking for a video game related present for Christmas wanted a boxed copy, with the most popular requests being subscriptions and in-game currency.

We’ve got a section on that later but since it’s not really something you can unwrap on the big day, those who want the full Christmas tree experience need to look elsewhere. There are plenty of options though and as long as you have at least a faint idea of what the gamer in your life is interested in, you should be able to pick up something to please them.

Video game console gifts for Christmas

You’d have to really like someone to get them a new console for Christmas. And if they do want one, they’ve probably been talking your ear off about it all year already, so it’s not really going to be a surprise. For the sake of argument though these are the three main choices at the moment:

PlayStation 5

The current market leader, at least given the Nintendo Switch is currently in its twilight years, the PlayStation 5 has been a massive success since the moment it was released and is on course to be one of the most successful home consoles ever.

All the current consoles have multiple models but the PlayStation 5’s situation is fairly simple, as they’re all equally powerful and the only difference is whether they have a disc drive or not. A new, slimline, version of both models has just been released but that’s just a cosmetic difference and doesn’t change anything internally.

Standard PlayStation 5 console (with disc drive) – £479.99
PlayStation 5 Digital Edition console (without disc drive) – £389.99

PS5 Slim standard and digital edition with controller

The PS5 Slim is still the same console underneath (Picture: Sony)

Xbox Series X and Series S

Microsoft’s current generation consoles came out at the same time as the PlayStation 5, but while there’s very little difference in terms of power, and both play many of the same games, the Xbox Series X/S has so far proven less popular, in part because of its lack of compelling exclusive games.

It does have Game Pass though, which is an excellent value subscription where you get every first party Xbox game for free as soon as it’s released and many others beside. If you’re looking for a budget purchase, then it plus the Xbox Series S is a particularly good combo.

The Xbox Series X and S run all the same games, although there’re increasing signs that the Series S can’t quite keep up, as it’s a little less powerful. This came to a head with the delayed release of Baldur’s Gate 3, but even then the difference is mild most of the time and almost all games have the same features across both machines.

Xbox Series X (with disc drive) – £479.99
Xbox Series S (without disc drive) – £249.99
Xbox Series S with 1TB of storage (but still no disc drive) – £299.99

Xbox Series S and Xbox Series X consoles

The Xbox Series X is a little more powerful than the Series S (Picture: Microsoft)

Nintendo Switch

The Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 both launched three years ago and, as you can see, cost exactly the same and are roughly just as powerful. The Nintendo Switch is completely different though; it’s much less powerful and is a hybrid console that can be played in both handheld mode and through your TV.

It’ll also be seven years old in March, which probably means it’ll be superseded by a new Nintendo console later next year. Nintendo is not exactly the most predictable of companies though, so it’s probably best not to take anything for granted until there’s an official announcement.

Nintendo Switch Lite (doesn’t connect to TV) – £199.99
Nintendo Switch – £259.99
Nintendo Switch OLED Model (has a better screen) – £309.99

The Switch is old but it’s had a stellar line-up this year (Picture: Nintendo)

VR headsets

If you thought game consoles were expensive wait until you see how much a new VR headset costs. There are two main options, one that needs a PlayStation 5 to use and the Meta Quest 3, which works on its own.

The PlayStation VR2 is more technically advanced but it has to have a cable connecting it to the console. The Meta Quest 3 is completely cable free, but its graphics aren’t as good by comparison.

Meta Quest 3 software support has been getting increasingly good over the last year, but Sony seemed to instantly forget about its VR headset, the moment it was announced, and haven’t announced or released a single new game for it all year – although it does have a good range of non-Sony third party games.

PlayStation VR2 – £529.99
Meta Quest 3 – £474.82

The Taito and Capcom Super Pocket consoles are great value gifts (Picture: Hyper Mega Tech!)

Alternative console options

As you can see, all of these hardware options are very expensive, but there are some alternatives. A few years ago, there was a fad for mini-consoles but most of the official ones, such as the Classic Mini NES and Mega Drive Mini are out of print now. What you can get though is the Evercade portable console, which plays a wide range of retro games from many different formats, including classic arcade games.

The Evercade EXP console costs £129.99, while individual cartridges, usually featuring multiple games, are around £18. These are usually themed around individual publishers or franchises, such as fan favourite developers like Irem or Technōs.

What make an especially good Christmas present though are the Super Pocket handheld consoles. These are compatible with existing Evercade cartridges and there’s a Taito Edition and a Capcom Edition, which are decked out in appropriate colours and include a variety of each publisher’s best games.

The Taito Edition has 18 games, including cast iron classics like Space Invaders, Bubble Bobble, The NewZealand Story, Rastan, Operation Wolf, Elevator Action, Legend Of Kage, and Volified.

The Capcom Edition has 12 games, including the likes of Street Fighter 2′: Hyper Fighting, 1942, Ghouls ‘N Ghosts, Final Fight, Strider, Bionic Commando, Forgotten World, and NES game Mega Man.

They’re only £49.99 each, so they’re cheaper than even the Evercade EXP and perfect for anyone that remembers the games from the first time round.

The most boring gift (Picture: Sony)

Video game gift cards for Christmas

The problem here is that this is both the most boring present possible but also one of the most desirable, for kids at least. They’ll be perfectly happy if you just pay for a subscription or in-game currency through the console itself, but you can buy a range of gift cards at places such as GAME and Amazon, for all three of the major formats.

At that point you might as well just put an IOU inside their Christmas card, for all the difference it makes, but a printed card for in-store credit or a particular subscription – such as Game Pass, PS Plus, or Nintendo Switch Online – is at least a small step up from that. All a gamer really needs is a download code though, so there’s really no need for anything physical.

Best video game gifts for Christmas 2023

In recommending games we’re going to stick to titles that are available as physical copies, on the assumption that they make the best presents. That excludes most indie games, as well as the critically acclaimed Baldur’s Gate 3 and Alan Wake 2 (although personally we didn’t think much of the latter). If you want to get these as presents you’ll have to get them online, so a gift card might be useful there as well.

You can read the full reviews for each game if you click through to the links, but as a shortcut we’ve given each game one of three rankings – low, medium, and high – to indicate how complex they are to play and so therefore the level of experience the present recipient needs to have to play them.

PS5 exclusive video games

Spider-Man 2 (complexity: medium)

Despite how well the PlayStation 5 console has sold this year this has been the only major exclusive from Sony, apart from VR-only game Horizon Call of the Mountain. It’s very good, whether you’re a Marvel fan or not, but it’s odd how it’s the only one. Although there’s also Final Fantasy 16 by Square Enix, which is currently only available on PlayStation 5.

Xbox exclusive video games

Forza Motorsport (complexity: high)

Despite such a bumper year overall, Xbox hasn’t done particularly well either. The heavily hyped Starfield is okay, but is widely seen as a disappointment, and while serious racing sim Forza Motorsport is good it has its flaws and doesn’t have as wide appeal as the earlier Forza Horizon 5. The best Xbox exclusive of the year is actually the smaller scale Hi-Fi Rush, but that’s digital only.

Nintendo Switch exclusive games

The Legend Of Zelda: Tears Of The Kingdom (complexity: medium)

Compared to Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo has had a much better year – one of the best in a long time, with the long-awaited Zelda sequel being an instant classic and offering so much gameplay you’ll still be playing it next year.

Super Mario Bros. Wonder (complexity: low)

Another 10/10 classic, this is the best 2D Mario game since the 90s and a relentlessly charming and inventive platform game, that has a particularly fun four-player mode that anyone can join in with.

Pikmin 4 (complexity: medium)

Easily the best entry in the long-running series, this is a unique mixture of strategy, action, and exploration that sees you controlling an army of carrot-like creatures to help your pint-sized alien friends to escape a strangely familiar looking planet.

WarioWare: Move It! (complexity: low)

One of the best party games to be released on any console for years, that recalls the golden era of the Wii, when anyone could join in and play a game by just waggling the controllers.

Metroid Prime Remastered (complexity: medium)

A superb remaster, boarding on a full remake, of the classic GameCube first person adventure game, and a prelude to the eternally delayed fourth entry, that’s hopefully coming next year.

Multiformat PS5 and Xbox games

EA Sports FC 24 (complexity: medium)

This year’s Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is one of the worst in a long time but the other yearly staple of the games industry is FIFA and while it got a new name with the latest entry it’s still essentially the same game as always, and a mostly successful reboot for the series.

Hogwarts Legacy (complexity: medium)

Because Call Of Duty is having an off year this has a good chance of being the best-selling game of the year, although that’s helped by the fact that it came out for early on. Harry Potter’s creator may be more controversial than ever but she had nothing to do with the game, which is actually very good.

Star Wars Jedi: Survivor (complexity: medium)

The middle part in EA’s epic series is a melting pot of different third person influences, from Dark Souls to Assassin’s Creed, but this is an improvement on the already well liked Fallen Order, with some great story moments.

Resident Evil 4 (complexity: medium)

Another fantastic remake from Capcom, that many didn’t want to see happen as they thought the original was too much a product of its time to be revamped, but it worked out perfectly – including the fact that it’s not actually very scary, if you’re worried about that sort of thing.

Armored Core 6: Fires Of Rubicon (complexity: high)

The winner of Best Action game at The Game Awards, this highly involved giant robot game, from the makers of Elden Ring, is not for the faint-hearted in terms of difficult, but that only makes it all the more rewarding once you get the hang of it.

Street Fighter 6 (complexity: medium)

The best fighting game of the year and the best Street Fighter has been in the modern era, with tons of features and fighters but also more accessibility options in terms of tutorials and alternative control systems.

EA Sports WRC (complexity: high)

It was a good year as a whole for EA in 2023, with their new rally game from Codemasters proving to be very impressive, along with golf game EA Sports PGA Tour.

Diablo 4 (complexity: medium)

Not much of a departure from the previous games but still a well-crafted action adventure that’s particularly fun in co-op with another player or too. It’s being constantly updated too, even if some of the new additions don’t always go down so well.

Cyberpunk 2077: Ultimate Edition (complexity: high)

The base game was a disaster when it was originally released three years ago but after they finally fixed all the problems the launch this year of expansion Phantom Liberty (which is included here along with the original) confirmed that Cyberpunk 2077 is at last the great game it always promised to be.

Stealth Pro – a high end headset isn’t cheap (Picture: Turtle Beach)

Video game accessories for Christmas 2023

Apart from consoles and games the other obvious option for gamer presents is a peripheral, with headsets and controllers being the most popular. These can be surprisingly expensive, often more so than an individual game, but they’re also the sort of thing many gamers covet but never get around to buying on their own.

Headsets can vary greatly in terms of price and quality, but you usually can’t go wrong with Turtle Beach, with the lower end Stealth 600 being an excellent wireless headset, in a range of colours, that only costs £69.99.

At the two extremes of the spectrum you have the £279.99 Stealth Pro or if you want to go super cheap the Recon 70 is just £29.99; for that you you have to use a cable but it’s still a decent pair of headphones and makes a big difference when playing any game.

Nacon Daija – it’ll making a fighting master out of you (Picture: Nacon)

For controllers it’s always best to get the official versions if at all possible, but only when it comes to joypads. Racing wheel controllers and flightsticks are generally very expensive but Sony and Microsoft don’t make them themselves, so you’re best to look at manufacturers such as Logitech and Thrustmaster, and, for gaming keyboards, ROCCAT.

When it comes to fighting games we recommend the Nacon Daija arcade stick, which costs around £260 in the UK but is a great all-in-one controller. It’s made from arcade parts from SANWA and is fully customisable for every game – so it also works with 2D shooters and other titles that are better played with a digital joystick. The only downside is that you have to get either the PlayStation or Xbox version, as you can’t have one that does both; although both versions also work on PC.

Video games merchandise for Christmas 2023

One way to get around the digital-only problem with games (and not being sure what to pick) is buying your favourite gamer some merch instead of the games themselves.

Walk into a GAME store on the high street, or visit the website, or that of Zavvi, and you’ll find them filled with toys, board games, and lots of weird and unlikely presents, like purposefully ugly Christmas jumpers themed around games and movies.

Lego is another good choice, with an increasingly large range of sets based around video game series, including both Super Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog.

Some of the Mario sets are aimed squarely at adult collectors and while the Super Mario 64 Question Mark Block and The Mighty Bowser are rather expensive the recently released Piranha Plant looks great and is a relatively cheaper £57.99.

Or if Nintendo’s not your thing there’s an amazing working Pac-Man arcade machine, a brick-built Atari 2600 with some very cool dioramas, and even a Tallneck from Horizon Forbidden West.

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