[Special thanks to Jonathan Ross, Brett, and Dale for helping me put this all together. The list would have been much more dull without their creative suggestions.]
For me, gift guides have always been more about the fun of imagining yourself possessing things you don't particularly need and likely can't afford rather than using them to actually figure out what you want to buy for your loved ones. Isn't that what Amazon wishlists are for?
As we saw in our holiday gift guide for software, games are one thing -- especially given the high quality of digital-only titles and frequency of heavy discounts on the more expensive releases. But hardware? That's where I start to delve into daydreaming territory.
More than anything else, this gift guide is focused on suggesting "cool stuff" that you wouldn't mind receiving as a gift or treating yourself to. It really is the thought that counts, and since we don't personally know your friends and family (that well), the truly thoughtful, tearjerker gifts are solely on you. With all that said, let's dive right in.
If you or someone you know can afford the following big-ticket items on a whim, I probably wouldn't go announcing that on the internet for all to see. Money can't buy happiness, but it sure doesn't hurt, either. If some of these recommendations seem crazy to you, don't worry -- the choices will become drastically more budget-friendly as we progress.
Razer Blade - from $1999 at Razer
You knew this was coming. While far from practical, the revamped 2012 model is one sexy piece of gaming hardware. This 17.3" laptop isn't the total powerhouse to end all others, but its form factor, aesthetics, and decked-out keyboard are there to make up for it.
A modern gaming PC
Rather than include a pre-built gaming PC only for you guys to write long-winded comments about how we can all save so much money by building ourselves (we know!), I'll save us all the time by suggesting buyers do exactly that. Yes, this approach takes the surprise out of it, but going for a custom-made rig will get the most bang for your buck and, going a step further, the building process itself could be a way to bond with the recipient. It's not that hard! Since we are just ahead of the next console generation, this is a particularly good time to beef up your PC.
iPad mini - from $329 at Apple
To be perfectly frank, I was skeptical of the iPad mini from day one, but I've since come around after seeing the device used in-person. Last year, we recommended the iPad 2 as a safe-bet purchase, and that more or less holds true again this time with the mini. Alternatively, there's the iPad with Retina display should you feel that bigger is better.
Wii U - from $299 online
This was another big surprise for me. Up until a week or two before launch, there wasn't a whole lot of anticipation for the Wii U outside of those who would get a new Nintendo system or "next-gen" console no matter what. And then it hit. While there is much for the company to prove over the coming years, the Wii U is quite promising in its current state. Seriously, though, the GamePad -- I never expected to like it as much as I do. If you're going to have a big family get-together, this would be a nice choice.
NEOGEO X Gold System - from $199 online
It's still a little hard to believe that this thing -- 20 games on a handheld with a 4.3" screen, a docking station, and a full arcade stick -- actually exists. Your money could almost certainly be better spent on, oh, a PlayStation Vita or Nintendo 3DS (both are excellent choices given the discounting that's been going on), but there's an old-school charm to this device that the others are missing. Have a die-hard NEOGEO fan in your life? Done!
These are the gifts you'd still be delighted to see under the Christmas tree, even if they aren't quite so luxurious. And, hell, you won't feel totally guilty when your present for the gift-giver pails in comparison. The last thing we'd want is for the holiday season to become a competition.
Nintendo 3DS - from $169 online
As stated earlier, the PlayStation Vita and 3DS are solid buys. While the former is absolutely worth investing in if you can still find a great deal, the long-term viability of the platform is still up in the air to some extent, much as I want to believe. While the Vita has the nice tech behind it, the 3DS picks up the slack in the software department. Now is as good of time as any to grab either the base 3DS model, or its big brother, the 3DS XL.
PlayStation Pulse headset - from $149 at Sony
We originally reviewed this back in October, and Dale says he still uses it as his gaming headset of choice. If you knew how many of these devices move through the North household, you'd understand the weight those words carry. As the branding would imply, the PlayStation Pulse is best used for Sony's console, but it's still a solid recommendation with its virtual 7.1 surround sound, sleek look, and build quality.
Hauppauge HD PVR 2 Gaming Edition - from $149 online
Recording game footage (and live streaming, for that matter) has really picked up in the last few years, and I can only see the phenomenon growing in popularity as viewership increases and additional revenue options become available to more people. The HD PVR 2 is one option for those looking to partake -- it's a small USB 2.0 capture box with HDMI and component in that promises a "no-delay" passthrough. Could be a neat project for the holiday break.
Affordable / Assorted
Oh, yes. This is where the real fun begins. To keep you on your toes, this list is in no particular order. Actually, some of these recommendations defy categories and wouldn't have grouped well together anyway. If nothing else, we hope these picks inspire you to think of something fun and memorable to give to a loved one.
[Disclosure: Some, but not all, of the aforementioned products were sent to Destructoid for evaluation purposes. Trust me -- you would know if someone gave me that Creepy Crawlers Bugmaker, because I wouldn't have shut up about it.]
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