Christmas gear for gamers

If there are Mac gamers on your Christmas list that you still have to buy for, it’s not too late. In fact, there’s still time to get some really great holiday booty for that Mac gamer on your list.

World of Warcraft gear

One of the most successful franchises in recent Mac game history is Blizzard Entertainment’s incomparable World of Warcraft. Since its debut in 2004, the game has spawned one already-released expansion pack—The Burning Crusade—and stands to have another expansion pack, The Return of the Lich King, which will be released at some point in the future.

Blizzard is no dummy when it comes to knowing a good thing when it sees it—World of Warcraft has spawned an entire universe of merchandise for collectors and fans alike: Everything from t-shirts (you can pick these up at your local mall’s Hot Topic store) to trading card games (check any toy store) to a board game (you might have to dig around specialty toy stores for this one) to a series of books (Borders, Barnes and Noble or any other decently-stocked book store should have these in the Fantasy and Sci-Fi section).

Another thing you should be able to get from most video game stores and retailers that sell World of Warcraft: A pre-paid time card. World of Warcraft incurs a monthly fee, so this is a thoughtful and welcome way to help that World of Warcraft fan in your life get some more time to play without hitting their wallet too hard.

Guitar Hero 3

It just started shipping last week. Guitar Hero 3: Legends of Rock from Aspyr Media is now hitting store shelves, and should be available for purchase from your local Apple retail store or Best Buy stores. The game is shipping on hybrid disc, so if you’re in Best Buy, make sure to check the packaging to be sure you’re getting the Mac version in the box too.

This game is quite a formidable gift under the Christmas tree, because it comes bundled with the X-Plorer guitar controller. Smaller than a full-sized guitar, it still makes for a big box (and a big price tag, too—it costs $80).

Teen-rated, this game is fun for the whole family. You get to play along with some of rock and roll’s biggest hits as you try to hit notes (by pressing buttons) and strum on the special controller.

If you’re not in a rush for it, you can also order it online through Amazon.com and other mail-order resellers.

Warrior Xxtreme

The Warrior Xxtreme is a really unusual peripheral that actually works quite well. It’s a special gaming keyboard designed for a very specific market—for first person shooter and role playing game enthusiasts. It’s not your normal keyboard. In fact, it’s two keyboards in one: On one side is a special keyboard laid out in a radial pattern designed for optimal positioning for your left hand, while you’re moving around inside of immersive 3-D environments, like what you’d find in your average FPS or RPG game. On the right hand side is a more conventional QWERTY layout, but still with an odd twist: It’s laid out in circular fashion just like the left keyboard is, so you can hit some quick in-game chat comments or console commands using a layout you probably have a good muscle memory for right away.

I wouldn’t recommend using the Warrior Xxtreme in place of a regular keyboard all the time, but for the FPS or MMORPG fan that has everything, it’s a neat piece of kit. And it works on the Mac (says so on the box even). It costs $80.

If that seems extreme (no pun intended), you can also score the Warrior for about $40. The Warrior is basically just the left-hand version of the Xxtreme keyboard, and it’ll plug into your Mac keyboard (or any available USB port) and provide the same functionality for a lower price. Unlike the Xxtreme, Wolfking didn’t put a Mac logo on the Warrior box, but I can tell you it works—I’ve been using one on my Mac.

You should be able to find this gear in Fry’s Electronics, Circuit City and online retailers.

Age of Empires III, The WarChiefs

MacSoft’s Age of Empires III and The WarChiefs expansion pack is a certain one-two punch for any strategy gamer on your list that doesn’t already have this game. The title was originally developed by Ensemble Studios, a business unit of Microsoft, but please don’t hold that against it.

In Age of Empires III, you journey to the New World during the Age of Exploration and set up shop, trading with natives, fighting enemies, harvesting resources and depending on your far-away home empire to supply you with the materials and personnel you need to develop as a successful colony. You can play as one of eight different civilizations in this game, using really gorgeous 3D graphics and realistic physics.

The WarChiefs is an expansion pack that adds new features to the game, such as the ability to play as Native American civilizations and a new single-player campaign. This should be available wherever you buy Mac games.

Madden NFL 08, Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08

Sports games are a huge novelty on the Mac, as they come out so infrequently. And with the NFL playoffs approaching, I can’t imagine a better gift for the gridiron fan in your life than Madden NFL 08 for the Macintosh. Available for $40 from Apple retail stores, this is the latest and greatest edition of EA’s storied football game franchise, only the second time it’s ever appeared on the Mac.

Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08 is the latest version of the golf game for the Macintosh. Golf on the computer doesn’t require the technical knowledge or the reaction time that football does, and this game frequently appeals more to the busy executive. It’s gorgeous- looking, too, and sports myriad features that really draw you into the game, such as a new FedEx Cup championship format and the ability to take on some PGA and LPGA greats including Vijay Singh, Annika Sorenstam and others.

Just bear in mind that both these games require Intel-based Macs, so if the gamer on your list is still working with a PowerPC system, keep looking.

Big Bang Brain Games

If there’s a casual gamer on your list, you might want to consider Freeverse Software’s Big Bang Brain Games. It’s a collection of six different games that will test your mental skills instead of your reflexes.

The game features a Sudoku title, a Minesweeper style game, my favorite, Reaction, which has you popping molecules in the fewest number of clicks, the concentration-like Remembrance and one of the most unusual games I’ve seen this year, Fallacy—where you test your knowledge of logical fallacies. As you win, you can post your scores online to impress your friends, and Big Bang Brain Games grades you on how much brain power you’re using.

It’s loads of fun and it looks gorgeous. Big Bang Brain Games was developed using a Mac-original development platform called Unity, which makes it even more special for Mac fans. It cost $30, and if you can’t find it on the shelf of your local Apple store, fret not—you can download it and buy it online, too.

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