Soon, it’ll be Christmas morning, or less than a week after the end of Hanukkah, and you’ll have a stack of gift cards. Rather than burning a huge percentage of your haul on a $50 or $60 game like “New Super Mario Bros. Wii” or “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2,” you might want to make your gift card last. Most of us are scrimping and saving where we can, and why buy one or two brand new, blockbuster games when you can get five or six games that are nearly as good?
With an eye toward stretching your gift cards, here are a few titles you might want to target. They’re either cheap, or pack dozens of hours of gameplay inside one neat little package. (Prices are mostly from GameStop or Best Buy.)
“Dragon Age: Origins” (rated M, $60 on Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3, $50 on PC): BioWare’s latest swords-and-sorcery roleplaying game is the one new release on this list. If you complete all the game’s side quests on your first playthrough, it could take close to 60 hours. What’s more, the game features a number of different beginnings, or origin stories, based on what type of character you decide to make, and your companions react differently to your choices, as well. This is one full-priced game that could keep you busy for a long time. Single-player only.
Capcom triple pack including “Dead Rising,” “Lost Planet: Colonies Edition” and “Devil May Cry 4” (all rated M, $40 on Xbox 360): These games are a bit long in the tooth, but they’re all solid. Despite the multiplayer excellence of the “Left 4 Dead” games, “Dead Rising” remains my favorite zombie video game ever. “DMC4” is a challenging, fast-paced action game that’ll scratch the “God of War” itch, and “Lost Planet: Colonies Edition” is one of the few titles that lets Xbox 360 owners go head-to-head with PC gamers.
“Burnout Paradise” (rated T, $20 on Xbox 360 or PS3): You can snap up what is still arguably this console generation’s most fun racing game for a third what you’d pay for “Forza Motorsport 3,” a better-looking but more realistic simulation. “Forza Motorsport 2” (rated T, Xbox 360) also costs $20.
“Valkyria Chronicles” (rated T, $20 on PS3): This stylish, Japanese-style role-playing game won raves from critics for its hand-drawn art style and innovative battle system when it came out a year ago, but almost no one bought it. “Valkyria’s” plot echoes the runup to World War II, and a sequel is planned for the PlayStation Portable.
“MadWorld” (rated M, $20 on Wii): This bloodbath puts the character inside of a violent game show that sounds a lot like Stephen King’s “The Running Man.” One of the few ultraviolent games on the Wii, it never really found a niche, despite decent reviews. It’s new enough to land on some critics’ lists of the best Wii games of this year.
“Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots” (rated M, PS3), “Dead Space” (rated M, Xbox 360 or PS3), “Mirror’s Edge” (rated T, Xbox 360 or PS3), “BioShock” (rated M, Xbox 360, PC or PS3), “Mass Effect” (rated M, Xbox 360 or PC): All of these games would make the short list of best games released within the past three years, and all can be had for $20 or thereabouts. “BioShock,” my favorite single-player shooter, also comes in a $40 bundle with “The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion.” But I’d recommend picking it up separately for $20, then buying the Game of the Year edition of “Oblivion” for $30. That package includes a bunch of downloadable content for Bethesda’s epic role-playing game from 2006.
“New Play Control! Pikmin” (rated E, $15 on Wii): Nintendo is notoriously stingy when it comes to price drops, which is why you don’t see many Wii games on this list. But here’s an exception. The “NPC!” series takes GameCube hits and reconfigures their controls for the Wii. If you never played this Lemmings-style puzzler, it’s a great budget find.
PS3 controller-plus-game bundles: I have no idea how widespread these are, but Best Buy was selling DualShock 3 controllers for the PS3 bundled with either “Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction” or “Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune” for $60, or $5 more than the cost of just a controller. If you got a PS3 plus a gift card and are looking to pick up another controller, that’s probably your best deal.
“Fable II” (rated M, $30 on Xbox 360): One of last year’s top games, “Fable II” plays a bit like a mashup of simulation and traditional role-playing. I got hooked on building a real-estate empire, for example, and never got back to the main quest. Because of its hybrid nature and unwillingness to penalize players for screwing up and dying, this game makes a great introduction to the role-playing genre. What’s more, they’re breaking the game up into “episodes” you can play via Xbox Live. The first part’s free, so you can download and sample it before you buy the game at retail.
“Guitar Hero: Aerosmith” (rated T, $8 on Xbox 360): Best Buy was selling this game for $8 earlier this week, or half the price of an Aerosmith CD. Outside of “The Beatles: Rock Band,” I’m not a fan of the band-focused music game, or a fan of Aerosmith. But if you’re a fan of the Boston quintet, this is a no-brainer.
“Rock Band 2: Special Edition” (rated T, $100 on Xbox 360 or PS3): Yeah, $100 is a lot to spend, but if you’re looking for the best music game on the market, this is it. The bundle, which I saw for this price at Best Buy, comes with a mic, drum kit and guitar controller. To add a fourth player, you’ll need an extra guitar controller, sold separately.
“The Orange Box” (rated M, $20 on Xbox 360 or PS3): This collection of games from Valve is getting pretty long in the tooth, but “Half-Life 2,” “Portal” and “Team Fortress 2,” plus the first two episodic sequels to “Half-Life 2,” all for $15, is a phenomenal deal.