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What to get the gamer who (probably) has everything

By Sid Lipsey
CNN Headline News

A handheld gaming gadget with a PDA influence, the Nintendo DS delivers crisp graphics and wireless capability.
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(CNN) -- If you want to find the perfect holiday gift for the video gamer in your life, beware: Gamers can be surprisingly hard to shop for.

If there's a hot new game like "Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas" that you think would be perfect for the gamer on your list, chances are he snatched it up right as it hit store shelves.

What if your favorite gamer somehow managed to put off buying that hot new item? If you're a video game know-nothing who wouldn't know a GameCube from Ice Cube, you run the risk of inadvertently buying a useless gift that embarrasses everybody once the wrapping paper comes off: "Wow. 'John Madden NFL' -- The 1993 version. Gee... thanks. I can't wait to play it on my old Sega system. I think it's in the basement somewhere next to my Big Wheel..."

Here are some gift ideas that will help you avoid such awkward holiday scenes.

The Nintendo DS

If within the last two months you've accompanied your favorite gamer on a cross-country flight, on an extended road trip or in a long line at the DMV and he didn't whip out the new Nintendo DS, either he doesn't have it yet or he's discovered reading. This new portable system would make a great gift for someone who likes to "game on the go."

The DS has voice recognition technology, two screens (one is a touch screen that, like a PDA, requires you to use a pencil-like stylus) and wireless capabilities that let you play with (or against) nearby DS users and send them text messages.

Some popular titles are available for the DS, including "Spider-Man 2" and "Madden 2005." Neither game comes close to matching the awesome 3-D movement in the more hi-tech PlayStation 2, Xbox and GameCube versions, but the games are still diverting and, for a handheld, the sound and graphics are impressive.

Nintendo also is releasing games made exclusively for the DS. In "Feel The Magic," you try to win the love of a young woman by completing outlandish tasks -- all in a competition that's presented with the kitsch and overblown pageantry of a Japanese game show. In some missions, the game has you yell -- and blow -- into the built-in DS microphone. That'll definitely earn you some weird looks on the subway.

Old-School Atari
Look familiar? Classic `80s games like "Missile Command" are featured in the new "Atari Anthology" for the PS2 and Xbox.

Most gamers are probably too busy buying and playing the hot new titles to notice that a lot of reissued classic games are making a splash in the marketplace. These old-school games could make nice gifts.

"The Atari Anthology" for the PS2 and Xbox is an all-in-one collection of 85 classic games that many Generation X-ers remember with the same nostalgic fondness they reserve for "Schoolhouse Rock." Some of the games such as like "Asteroids," "Missile Command" and "Centipede" are presented in their arcade incarnations as well as the versions made for the Reagan-era Atari 2600 home system.

"Anthology" also features a number of modern conveniences, including a 3-D interface through which you choose between games and add little innovations like "high-speed mode" and "trippy" mode, in which the action is presented in blurry, psychedelic colors (makes one wonder exactly which segment of the gaming market Atari is targeting with that innovation).

And unlike those games of old, "Anthology" lets you pause mid-play -- a feature that would have been nice in the old days when you had to stop playing just as you were about to break your personal best score on "Asteroids" because Mom was calling you for dinner.

The Atari Flashback, a shrunken update of the `80s-era Atari 7800, plugs right into your TV.

If you know someone who doesn't own an Xbox or PS2 but would still get a kick out of playing the games he or she enjoyed as a kid, the Atari Flashback is a good option. Flashback is a stand-alone game console that plugs right into your TV and has 20 games built-in.

At a suggested price of about $40, the Flashback is about double the price of "Anthology" and features half the games. So if your retro-minded gamer owns a PS2 or Xbox, "Anthology" would probably be the better choice.

There you have it: two safe and yet cool video game gift ideas. Stuff those under the tree and maybe you will receive in return the best gift one can get from a gamer: He'll let you play with his new toys.

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