Holiday gift guide – The best of the Vault 2016
Collecting together some of our favourite peripherals, collectables, tees and books from the last year in games™
Portal: The Uncooperative Cake Acquisition Game
Take control of some test subjects as they desperately try to acquire slices of cake, and fight off opponents’ subjects as the test centre crumbles around you in this surprisingly decent board game.
£35.99 @ www.forbiddenplanet.com
DIY Gamer Kit
If you want to make games, why not start with something small before launching into a huge project? This DIY kit helps you to literally build your first console (solder included!) and code your first, simple games on the newly-constructed handheld.
Terrible Old Games You’ve Probably Never Heard Of
Whether or not you’re a fan of YouTuber Ashens, if you love gaming and don’t mind having a few laughs thrown in with your knowledge then you’ll enjoy this collection. Bringing together some truly atrocious old games and explaining in hilarious detail why you should avoid them, Stuart Ashen breaks everything down for you in a smart little bundle of titles. On the whole, it’s a very personal journey through some of retro gaming’s most forgettable and disposable games. Ashen makes no claim that he’s attempting to list the worst games of all time, just the ones he found personally interesting and abhorrent. Such a curated guide feeds into the personable tone of the whole book. It feels a little like browsing through someone’s game collection and being given a whole back story on each one.
Additional restriction have been placed on what could qualify for this list, adding to the justification of why these are bad old games you’ve never heard of. They were all released between 1980 and 1995 and were released on home computer systems, not consoles. That might well mean that there’s a bunch of pretty terrible titles you were hoping to see in this book that don’t pop up, but what’s here offers quite a journey of discovery as it is.
There are great write-ups on the history of each game, what it was often ripping off, whether it got any review scores and what formats you might be able to torture yourself by playing it on. Highlights include Bionic Granny, Crazy Kong and SQIJ!. Nostalgic fun for those who remember and an amusing jaunt for the rest.
Journey Vinyl Soundtrack
Journey’s soundtrack, composed by Austin Wintory, was the first videogame soundtrack to be nominated for the Grammy award. If that isn’t reason enough to pick up this stunning set, then perhaps the artwork on offer will convince you; it features two picture discs, with artwork spanning the entirety of the surface. The art on show, created by Mark Englert, not only looks incredible, but links back to the game – the embroidery on the Traveler’s scarf becomes increasingly more complex as you progress from side A to side D – just like each time you beat the game.
Xbox One Elite Controller
If we had to pick one stand-out feature of the Xbox One Elite controller it would be the click sound that the magnets on the D-pad make when it snaps onto the controller. We know it sounds odd, but that is the sort of sound that dreams are made of. Thankfully, we don’t just have to pick one feature – what kind of review would that be?
The replaceable D-pad (and sticks) are exceptionally well-done; it takes less 15 seconds to change all three, and you get a good selection of options in the included carry case. The other massive sell for us was the addition of hair-triggers – flick a small, physical switch on the back of the controller and the triggers stop half-way; perfect for shooters. The additional rear triggers were more hit and miss… which is to say we kept hitting them by accident. Still, our podgy fingers shouldn’t be a strike against the controller – especially as these triggers are just as easy to attach and remove.
Button customisation is straightforward, too; the Xbox’s built-in app allows you to map buttons, change dead zones and trigger sensitivity, and lets you create two custom presets that can be switched at any moment. The price is the real sticking point, but you get a lot in the box – if you want to step up your game, there isn’t a better way to do it.
Before becoming the company we know today, Nintendo was a fairly successful toy company. This book, which is packed full of photos of the toys themselves, explores that genuinely interesting history. The design keeps things simple, but the photos are the real star here – the toys captured look fantastic.
Picking up this art book, you may not at first be able to fully appreciate the amount of work that has gone into filling 324 pages with stunning arcade marquees artwork, but what you need to keep in mind is that every single one of them has been digitally restored to their former glory, thanks to the efforts of Tim Nicholls. He originally got access to some 40 years of arcade cabinet marquees from a prop company in Hollywood who had been holding onto them and the restoration job that has been done is very impressive.
The collection goes from Death Race in 1976 to Alien Vs Predator in 1994 and includes some fantastically strange and glorious pieces of work, interspersed with some nice photography of the marquees in their natural habitat and a couple of interviews. And if we were to have one complaint about this book it would only be that we would have liked a couple more interviews with people involved in the process of creating these pieces. The creation of marquees to sit on top of arcade machines was a peculiar and unique art that has since been lost. The work in this book is a testament to the talent of those involved. But it really is a small complaint against the vast wealth of content and the time it took to compile it.
Ultimately, this book does an amazing job of showcasing these wide pieces, with the gutter of the book offering only a mild frustration in dividing the pieces in two. The quality of the printing and the paper are superb, making this a very high-quality coffee table book.
Super Famicom: The Box Art Collection Book
If you thought the games on the Super Famicom were cool on the screen, you won’t believe how good some of the boxart was for the Japanese console. The box designs in the East were often varied wildly from those released on the SNES in the West, not least because the box dimensions themselves were actually different.
This collection is 250 pages and features fantastic photography of some of the very best Famicom boxart from the Nineties. It’s all printed beautifully on great quality paper with Lithographic print for the sharpest possible colours. There are around 250 titles in the book too, ranging from the well-known to the more obscure. And thanks to the dimensions of the book, every box is presented in its life-size form, which is a nice little touch.
It’s good to see that every inch of the book is being put to good use too as the square format allows some room for editorial along with the art. There are interviews with enthusiasts, collectors and critiques of the art itself, all nicely laid out.
It doesn’t feature games you might want to see in such a collection, but the curation and presentation are of the highest standard and it makes a fine addition to any collection of gaming titles on your coffee table.
Rival 700 Gaming Mouse
This is a very impressive mouse for its price range. While it may be wired and not wireless as some prefer, you can’t argue with the precision, build quality and customisation of the Rival 700. The mouse has a nice weight to it for starters, giving you just enough heft in your hand to not feel weightless as you move your cursor around. The matte finish on the right and left click buttons is very comfortable and contrasts nicely with the slightly smoother material that is used as the default body cover for the palm of you hand. Some nice texturing on the sidegrips gives the whole mouse a variety of tactile indicators that keep you on track when you play.
The downloadable software to the mouse includes all of the usual light customisation options to change the illumination of the mouse, but one of the really cool small touches is the LED readout on the inside left of the mouse that can be customized to a whole bunch of different animated gifs and messages. While this isn’t a cheap mouse for being wired, it’s still a very comfortable and precise one and that counts for a lot in our book.
Gametee prides itself on high-quality, classy gaming designs, and this Fallout 4-inspired tee is a very good example. It’s a subtle nod to the game that feels like it could be from a boutique store.
Turtle Beach Stream Mic
We don’t know about you, but if there’s one thing likely to turn us off from an otherwise interesting livestream it’s going to be poor audio quality from the streamer’s mic. There are a bunch of mic setups available, but few that were actually built for the purpose of streaming and keeping things as simple as possible for the gamer. And that’s where Turtle Beach’s new Stream Mic steps in rather gracefully and offers exactly that kind of experience.
The Stream Mic is purpose built for console streaming, bypassing the need for a PC or Mac setup to capture your audio as you play. It works with Xbox One and PS4 and just needs to be plugged in via USB to start working. With advanced voice pickup and digital processing for EQ levels, you should find you get an instant improvement to the quality of your audio recording too.
Mounting options, personalisation of levels and headphone output round off a smartly designed mic that’s also pretty reasonably priced compared to PC mics we’ve seen used up to now. Something to consider if you want to get into the streaming game as a hobbyist or pro.
The Art Of League Of Legends: Volume One
It’s incredible really, how far League Of Legends has come in the seven years since Riot Games first opened the gates to Summoner’s Rift in 2009. The game has undergone a gradual evolution as its Champions, mechanics, meta and even art style have evolved to match the growing influx of players – League now services 100 million players a month. The Art Of League Of Legends: Volume One chronicles this evolution; it’s a thoughtful and honest examination of the mistakes and successes the MOBA has made over the years. It offers a look at early concept artwork of game-altering characters, dives deeply into the design decisions behind Summoner’s Rift itself and offers commentary all throughout.
Truth be told, it’s incredible to see it unfold in your hands. The game has clear shifts in tone and style, with Riot eager to continue pushing League Of Legends to new heights despite its established success in the market. Riot has actually been good enough to put the entire book online, for free, for fans to check out but the physical collection is well worth getting your hands on. This chronicle is presented on a heavy paper-stock and comes bound in a faux-leather hardbound cover. For anybody out there that’s spent far too many hours locked in battle down their favourite lane, The Art Of League Of Legends is certainly the perfect accompaniment to a lonely coffee table.
World Of Warcraft: The Official Cookbook
The Alliance and Horde are locked in near-constant battle and that works up quite the appetite. Thankfully, this handy official cookbook will teach you how to whip up a few meals fit for a war chief; it’s a fun and pretty silly compendium of recipes themed up for the hit MMO.
SteelSeries Arctis 3
As great as most gaming headsets are, they can have a tendency to look a little like childlike, big monstrous pieces of plastic with the components thrust into huge cans. But not the Arctis 3, the latest set from SteelSeries. This headset comes equipped with a purposefully subtle and classy design without compromising on quality, as the Arctis boasts a strong and defined virtual 7.1 surround sound with that clear SteelSeries signature clarity throughout.
The understated design of the headset is easy to fall based on how comfortable it is, you’ll really feel the benefit of the Arctis 3 after a lengthy session of Battlefield 1 or Titanfall 2. In fact, these headphones thrive in the multiplayer arena, with a sumptuously-rich sound across the entire spectrum really working hard to help you pick out every little detail around you. If we had any complaints, it would be that the virtual 7.1 surround and noise-cancelling software for the adjustable microphone is locked behind the need to have a SteelSeries account, though this can be immediately mitigated by ample use of the ‘junk mail’ filter in your email account. Overall though, the Arctis 3 is an incredibly good-looking, great-sounding, headset that acts as a fine alternative to Corsair’s Void RGB offering at a similar price.
The Reaper – Gaming Tarot Tee
Inspired by tarot and illustrated by artist AJ Hateley, the Reaper tee is just one in a line of stunning gaming-related shirts. This one echoing the spookiness of Manny Calavera, is our favourite.
Halo Mythos: A Guide To The Story Of Halo
Success, on the scale of Halo at least, can never be anticipated. Now, a decade later, the franchise has spiralled wildly out of control, transforming itself into one of the largest and most popular science-fiction universes in the world. As that was never planned, there are a handful of gaps in the timeline that still cause debate between fans to this day. That’s why there’s a huge desire for a book like Halo Mythos; an official and comprehensive guide to the Halo universe written in collaboration with 343 Industries.
This beautiful coffee table book serves as the first time that the entirety of the Halo canon can be found collected together. We aren’t just talking the five mainline games either, this compendium collects everything – the wider universe material fleshed out in the books, comics, live-action and animated entertainment – and fits it into a timeline that’s easy to grasp. We’re talking a million years of Halo story here folks, from the earliest days of the Forerunners, Humanity’s battles against the Flood and Covenant, up to the recent events of Halo 5.
Better still, Halo Mythos also includes 50 specially-commissioned full-colour paintings, showcasing the vehicles, weapons and ships from a group of illustrators including Jean-Sébastien Rossbach, Leonid Kozienko, Benjamin Carré, Isaac Hannaford, not to mention 343’s internal art team, too. Bungie and Microsoft may not have planned for Halo to be the success that it is, but this serves as one of the best celebrations of what is has become.