Art by Angelica Alzona

If you are giving a video game gift later this year, there’s a chance you’ll be wrapping up a copy of Call of Duty or Nintendo’s NES Classic. You may be dutifully satisfying a request for Overwatch or doling out for PlayStation VR. This is what people will ask for. Maybe you’d like to toss in a surprise?

Advertisement

The following games are all very good, but for various reasons aren’t likely to be on many people’s holiday wishlist. Trust us, though, if you give these games you might first get a quizzical look, but that’ll be followed a few days later with hearty gratitude.


Superhot

Get this one for people who have eclectic tastes and who’ve ever enjoyed a first-person shooter. This one is minimalist and stylish, all based around the idea that time stands still until you move. Enemy shooting at you? Stand still and the bullets will hang in the air. Side-step. Shoot. Keep moving so your shot lands. A simple idea, brilliantly executed. (Superhot is digital-only. It is giftable on PC via Amazon or Steam (how to gift a game on Steam); also available on Xbox One, though we aren’t aware of an easy way to gift it on that system.)


Inside

Here’s a beautiful side-scrolling game that lasts for just a few unforgettable hours. It’s dark, mysterious and almost as interesting to see in action as it is to play. (Inside is digital-only. It is giftable on PC via Steam (how to gift a game on Steam); also available on Xbox One, though we aren’t aware of an easy way to gift it on that system. Amazon sells PS4 download codes.)


Offworld Trading Company

A real-time strategy game about economics on Mars is not the kind of gift most people would ask for. Trust us: It’s fun and full of fresh ideas like the ability to invest in your enemies so that you reap rewards when they do well. The game’s lead designer is one of the architects of the Civilization franchise and introduces some clever twists in this sci-fi evolution of the form. (Offworld Trading Company is digital-only. It is giftable on PC via Amazon or Steam. (how to gift a game on Steam.))


Steamworld Dig/Heist

Here are two robot games without a lot of obvious things in common. Steamworld Dig is a side-scrolling game about digging underground for treasure. Steamworld Heist is a side-scrolling turn-based strategy game. Their common trait is development studio Image And Form’s impressive attention to detail and overall application of polish. They feel like lost Super Nintendo classics. (Both games can be purchased separately on a variety of platforms. A new combo disc is available for PS4 and Wii U.)


Quadrilateral Cowboy

Never mind the title. It’s not a western. This game is more Mr. Robot than Westworld and is best for anyone even remotely interested in hacking or coding. In Quadrilateral Cowboy, you’ve got a keyboard that lets you reprogram how the things in the game world work. It starts out easy. You’re just turning lights on and off. It gets way more challenging and is one of the year’s best PC releases. (Quadrilateral Cowboy is digital-only. It is giftable on PC via Steam (how to gift a game on Steam)).


Near Death

This is a low-key survival game set in an abandoned Antarctic research station. You begin the game freezing and must find a way to get back to a functioning base. Most popular survival games are stat-driven. This one isn’t. It’s not about numbers but about figuring out, bit by bit, how to deal with the cold, lack of electricity, wind and more. (Near Death is digital-only. It is giftable on PC via Steam (how to gift a game on Steam)).


Boxboxboy

Possibly the best NIntendo-published game of the year, and it’s a little $5 black-and-white side-scroller for the 3DS that... oh. You can’t gift 3DS games. Well, you should be able to! If they have a 3DS, get them a Nintendo eshop card and mandate that they get this game. Boxboxboy, a sequel to Box Boy, is essentially a puzzle game, a series of increasingly difficult levels you must run through as you control a little box-shaped guy who can sprout a few more boxes out of his frame. (eshop gift cards are available on Amazon).

In fact, many of the excellent games on this list are digital-only and might be easier to gift if you just give a money card for Steam, Xbox Live or PlayStation network. Just recommend that they get some of these games, okay?