The Exclaim! Holiday Gift Guide 2014:


BY Joshua OstroffPublished Nov 7, 2014

The holiday season is only a few weeks away. Before you rush off to pick up some presents, make sure to check out Exclaim!'s 2014 Holiday Gift Guide, which we will be rolling out in daily instalments this week.

While the season of giving brings plenty of pressures, there's often opportunity for some couch time as well. Here we present some videogame-related gift suggestions featuring inspiration from Fantasia to the French Revolution and from Lego Batman to a Sunday drive.

The Exclaim! Holiday Gift Guide 2014: Videogames

Fantasia: Music Evolved

Harmonix, the studio behind iconic post-millennial music games Guitar Hero, Rock Band and Dance Central, has joined forces with Disney to create an interactive "sequel" to the Mouse House's legendary music-fuelled film Fantasia.

"Harmonix was founded with a mission of using technology to enable people to connect with music," explains designer Jonathan Mintz. "In 1940, Walt Disney's Fantasia did exactly that through the young medium of animation. It was always an inspiration for the Harmonix team, so we naturally jumped at the chance to reimagine it as an interactive experience."

Mintz notes Walt had hoped his film would evolve with new animation and music added over the years, so their game fulfills that dream.

While they kept some of the classical works that animated the original — Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain, Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor — additions range from Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" and Depeche Mode's "Enjoy the Silence" to MIA's "Galang" and Drake's "Take Care."

"The original film has a unique ability to transcend generations, so we wanted our song list to reflect that," Mintz says. "Plus, the sheer amount of diversity in the songs and remixes give music fans of any age some incredible possibilities — mix a chiptune synth with Mozart, a ska horn section with Bruno Mars, or taiko drums with the Police. We certainly hope kids will have fun discovering some of the classical music in the game, but I also hope that classical purists are at least a little scandalized by hearing distorted guitars and dubstep synths playing Vivaldi."

Using the Xbox Kinect motion-sensing camera, the player is the sorcerer's newest apprentice, whose movements bring the worlds to life visually while manipulating the music itself, even making and recording your own.

"You can use your hand to paint a guitar solo, grab sections of a sound wave to chop and loop vocals, or stretch and twist a piano arpeggio," he says, adding you can record all of this and upload your unique performances to YouTube.

While Harmonix sets goals for the player, their new design philosophy gives players creative freedom in achieving them rather than imitating what they see onscreen. This is where the evolution comes in.

"Rock Band and Dance Central are about nailing a perfect performance, whether with an instrument or choreography," explains Mintz. "Fantasia also asks players to perform songs, but there's a key difference. In our previous games, the challenge comes from the increased difficulty of performing songs as you develop your skills. In Fantasia, the challenge comes from the increased possibilities you open up as you play," he explains.

"It's still trying to connect players with music, but it's asking them to think about music more like a conductor or composer. In addition, Fantasia invites players to explore realms made of music and play with sound in a much more freeform way, outside of the structure of a specific song."

Sunset Overdrive
(Insomniac/Microsoft, Xbox One)

Yes, it's another dystopian videogame, but Sunset Overdrive is different — it's a comedy! Inspired by a combination of I Am Legend (the novel) and Tank Girl (the comic), the studio that behind the Ratchet and Clank series got its goofball back on for this brightly coloured, wildly irreverent open-world meta-shooter set in futuristic corporate state where an energy drink has turned people into monsters.

Assassin's Creed: Unity
(Ubisoft Montreal, Xbox One, PS4, PC)

The Montreal studio takes their ever-popular historical epic back to Ubisoft's Gallic homeland for Unity, the French Revolution edition of Assassin's Creed. Set in Paris, it's their first to include four-player co-op as well as having thousand-strong crowds thanks to the now-gen consoles. Fans who haven't upgraded aren't out of luck, as they can play Assassin's Creed: Rogue, a new, naval-heavy last-gen title set during the mid-18th century Seven Years War.

Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham
(Traveller's Tales/Warner Bros Interactive, multiplatform)

Batman may get top billing, but like the previous entry, it's really a Justice League game. There will be over 150 DC characters on hand as Bats leads his fellow superheroes on a space-based mission to stop Brainiac and the Legion of Doom. It arrives not only as comic characters are scaling ever greater pop cultural heights but also in the wake of The Lego Movie propelling the Danish brick franchise beyond the stratosphere.

Forza Horizon 2
(Playground Games/Turn 10/Microsoft, Xbox One)

There are two types of racer fans — those who love the ultra-realistic and ultra-challenging sims and those who love the goofier, easier arcade racers. Forza Horizon is the Venn diagram where they overlap. The vehicles and handling mirror the realism of the mainline franchise, but the open-world setting, this time in southern Europe, and ability to rewind mistakes make it accessible to non-gearheads, too.

Dragon Age Inquisition
(BioWare, multiplatform)

Edmonton studio BioWare is the granddaddy of RPGs, having cut its teeth on D&D-based classics like Neverwinter Nights and Baldur's Gate. In recent years, Bethesda's Elder Scrolls have stolen their thunder. So the studio is borrowing some back with their third Dragon Age game, which is influenced by Skyrim's sprawling sandbox design and less linear narrative to please fans disappointed in Dragon Age II.

Need more holiday gift ideas? Then check out our other sections on music, movies, music ephemera and books, as well as gifts for the "urban hipster," hip-hop fan, folk fan and cineaste in your life.

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