The news is all over the lamestream media: An international team of investigative journalists has infiltrated Santa's Workshop. They exposed elven hordes working 16-hour days in sweaty, converted bomb shelters under Santa's petulant, avaricious younger brother, Dick Claus—with only two 10-minute breaks per day and watery hot chocolate to sustain them.
A Frontline special is forthcoming.
What you may not know is that the same journalists hacked into the SantaWeb mainframe and retrieved top-secret documents on global gift allocations, production tables and budgets. As a public service, we at the Tucson Weekly have distilled gigs and gigs of data, isolating video games and gadgets that might interest you. This is information Santa doesn't want you to see!
First, the games.
Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale (Carpe Fulgar/EasyGameStation, Not Rated) is the perfect PC game for budding capitalists, who will appreciate its strangely addictive mix of hack-and-slash RPG action and retail-store simulating. Mark up prices; pay down debts; and make your shop purdy with customizable flooring, furniture and drapes. Available via Steam, Impulse or GamersGate; $19.95.
What holiday season would be complete without a first-person shooter in your stocking, a yuletide tradition as familiar as Botox gift certificates? Call of Duty: Black Ops (Activision/Treyarch, Rated M) is the super-spectacular smash hit that recently broke sales records. Check it on the Xbox 360, PS2, Wii, PC or even the li'l DS; $49.99 to $149.99.
Rock Band 3 (MTV Games/Harmonix/Electronic Arts, Rated T), the latest entry in the venerable series, is like a rollicking karaoke party. This time around, there's a new instrument—the keyboard—along with vocal harmonies and an 83-song track list. Available on the Xbox 360, Wii, PS3 and, in a more limited form, DS; $29.99 to $129.99.
A sequel to the classic real-time strategy game StarCraft finally hit stores earlier this year, causing quite a splash. With StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty (Blizzard Entertainment, Rated T) for the PC, you'll get intense online sci-fi action, great voice acting and solid replay value. Unfortunately, unlike the first iteration, this one only lets you play through one faction's single-player campaign. The release date for the editions featuring the other two species hasn't been announced yet; whet your appetite for $59.99.
Hooded hero Ezio Auditore returns for a new parkour-packed adventure in Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood (Ubisoft/Ubisoft Montreal, Rated M). The game picks up where Assassin's Creed II left off, with Ezio returning to Rome to retrieve the Apple of Eden, a powerful artifact stolen by the ruthless Cesare Borgia. You're basically given free rein to explore the Eternal City, which has been rendered in exquisite detail. Available now for the Xbox 360 and PS2; $59.99 to $99.99.
Side-scrolling superstar Kirby is as charming as ever in the recently released platformer Kirby's Epic Yarn (Nintendo/Good-Feel, Rated E) for the Wii. As is typical for Kirby titles, Yarn is a kid-friendly adventure serving up imaginative graphics, cute mini-games and quirky transformations for the cuddly pink puffball with powerful lungs; $49.99.
Now let's take a look at an assortment of gadgets.
This is truly the year of the e-reader. Prices have come down in time for the holidays, and the offerings themselves have diversified and improved. Just be sure to research thoroughly, because the Barnes and Noble Nook Color ($249), the Amazon Kindle ($139 to $189) and the Apple iPad ($499 to $829) each have distinct pros and cons.
The Microsoft Kinect is a new motion-sensing controller for the Xbox 360 that's been making headlines. The device contains a camera and a depth sensor that measure the position of four dozen points on your body, allowing you to come that much closer to manipulating menus and onscreen action using hand gestures, like Tom Cruise in Minority Report. It's even equipped with a microphone for voice commands! There are some caveats, such as substantial space requirements, so be sure to take a gander at specs and online reviews before rushing out to buy; $149.99 by itself or $299 with a 4GB Xbox 360.
Video addicts, rejoice: The Boxee is a glossy, black cube that lets you stream video content from the stifling frames of the Internet to your big-screen TV. It accommodates not only Netflix movies, but also Web videos that you send from your browser to the device. The Boxee compares favorably to similar offerings, such as Apple TV, Google TV and Roku. Check it at www.boxee.tv; $199.
If you're shopping for someone who gets a kick out of being irritating, take a look at the Annoy-a-tron from ThinkGeek. The device emits short beeps of varying pitch at irregular intervals. It's sleek and comes with a magnet for easy hiding, and it's practically guaranteed to get under someone's skin. Give the gift of annoyance for only $9.99, and watch your loved one become the most popular prankster there ever was.
The Parrot AR.Drone is a remote-controlled helicopter with four blades that at first blush appears similar to any number of toy aircraft that have been available for years. But unlike its forebears, this device can be controlled using an iPhone, iPod Touch or iPad through the magic of WiFi and is equipped with two reconnaissance cameras. It's available at Brookstone stores throughout the country or via online retailers such as Amazon.com. For more information, check ardrone.parrot.com; $299.99.
Attach a hard drive to your keychain with the LaCie CooKey, a solid USB thumb drive in the shape of a metallic key. The device comes with 4GB of online backup storage for two years and is available in 4GB, 8GB, 16GB and 32GB capacities. For more information, visit www.lacie.com/us/products/product.htm?pid=11405; $19.99 to $99.99.
The USB Typewriter is billed as "a groundbreaking achievement in the field of obsolescence." Now you can attach the dusty old typewriter that, once upon a time, you pecked at, Jessica Fletcher-style, to your cutting-edge computer for use as a keyboard. You can choose from ready-to-use typewriters or DIY kits that, along with some tools and know-how, will allow you to convert your own into an appealing hodgepodge of archaic and modern technology. Unfortunately, its creators have been swamped with orders, so it may not make it to you before the holidays. Maybe Santa could come late, using the Great Recession as an excuse. (What else has it been good for?) Visit www.usbtypewriter.com for more information; $59 to $399.
Well, that wraps up this year's gift guide. Be sure to check your local PBS listings for that report on the SantaCorp sweatshops. Until next year!