A video game store can be daunting if you don’t know what you’re looking for. It’s not easy to tell the winners from the losers, and sales clerks typically make the same salary whether they sell you a gem or a stinker. (“Farming Simulator,” anyone?)
So when you head to the mall, take this list. These are some of the best games of 2013, and any gamer on your holiday shopping list will be thrilled to see one of them under the tree.
“Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag” (Ubisoft, for the PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC, $59.99): There are treasures buried everywhere in this version of the 18th century New World, but the real prize is the rousing ship-to-ship combat across a churning Caribbean.
“Need for Speed: Rivals” (Electronic Arts, for the PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC, $59.99): The latest edition of EA’s street-racing franchise is packed with enough high-octane challenges to satisfy the most demanding speed freak. But the chases really get chaotic once the police get involved.
“Grand Theft Auto V” (Rockstar, for the PS3, Xbox 360, $59.99): A gangbanger, a former bank robber and a psychopath cross paths in the new chapter of the blockbuster crime series. It’s vicious, profane and thoroughly entertaining.
“The Last of Us” (Sony, for the PS3, $59.99): Twenty years after an infection decimated American society, a jaded survivor and a teenage girl set out on a cross-country journey. Their battles against mutants and other humans are nerve-racking, but the most memorable element of “The Last of Us” is the growing affection between its protagonists.
“Skylanders Swap Force” (Activision, for the PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Wii U, $74.99): The Skylanders franchise, which combines collectible figurines with video games, is satisfying on both fronts. The toys are durable and attractive, while the games are clever and packed with a wide variety of activity.
“Rayman Legends” (Ubisoft, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U, PC, $59.99): This utterly beguiling cartoon adventure from France takes Rayman — an armless, legless creature who can nonetheless punch and kick with the best of them — across a hallucinatory landscape filled with tricks and traps.
“Super Mario 3D World” (Nintendo, for the Wii U, $59.99): The beloved plumber and his pals Luigi, Princess Peach and Toad explore a sprawling environment jammed with running and jumping challenges. The major upgrade, a cat suit that lets characters crawl up walls, is essential to finding all the secret goodies hidden in the world’s nooks and crannies.
“Tearaway” (Sony, for the PlayStation Vita, $39.99): The new game from the studio behind “LittleBigPlanet” takes full advantage of the hand-held Vita. You can help characters by drawing objects on the front screen. You can tap on the back of the Vita to poke holes in the papercraft settings. It’s the best game yet for Sony’s portable device.