Mutant Storm Empire Xbox Live Arcade (Xbox 360) [$10.00]
Mutant Storm Empire is one of the most recent examples of the shoot 'em up renaissance that is now taking place via Microsoft's Xbox Live Arcade gaming download service. The gameplay mechanic isn't that original (use the left analog stick to move, use the right one to fire), which is why this game seems to be getting overlooked as just another Geometry Wars clone. Or, if you were a coin-op kid in the '90s, you might prefer to think of it as a Smash TV clone. Regardless of what it's cloning, it looks great doing it, complete with beautiful HD graphics that might best be described as bloopy alien polygons. The control is fantastic and responsive, and the strange alien worlds are beautifully laid out and quite intuitive to navigate. Perhaps best of all, there is pretty much no fanfare behind this game right now, so it's a fantastic game with which to surprise someone with what is an extremely fun, and at its highest level staggeringly hard, gaming experience. At only 10 bucks, it's also one of the most affordable gifts you could possibly come up with this year.