With annual game industry tradeshow E3 having wrapped in Los Angeles last week, it's now clear that the business has now been split into several unexpected directions. Many of the best video games of 2012 and 2013 are similarly all over the place in terms of tone, subject matter and play style - a good or bad development depending entirely on your individual perspective.
As with upcoming system launch the Wii U - a new tablet-powered successor to the bestselling Wii due by year-end - popular Facebook and mobile titles such as SimCity Social and Angry Birds will continue to play towards families. But despite gestures including Sony's Wonderbooks, animated and motion-powered storybooks by the likes of J.K. Rowling, and Microsoft's Nike+ Kinect Training fitness program, the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360's focus is suddenly back on traditional gaming enthusiasts. This means more games with violent overtones, adult ratings and complex play methods. However, it also bears considering: Interest in simple but sophisticated free-to-play games accessible through Web browsers is simultaneously exploding, as is fans' appetite for digitally-downloadable exclusives and online multiplayer experiences.
The net takeaway: The best video games of 2012 and 2013 are suddenly diverging in marked and unique ways. On a positive note, for grandparents and parents, there's more choice than ever at a broader range of prices, and that costly set-top console you invested in last holiday season won't be collecting dust soon. On a negative one, many titles won't be appropriate for children, and teens will undoubtedly be clamoring for access to titles which many families will find controversial. And from a neutral perspective? Just take heart knowing that you've got no shortage of engaging and affordable options, regardless of preferred platform - be it PC, smartphone, Wii, PS3, Xbox 360, Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation Vita or otherwise.
For those tasked with birthday or holiday shopping, however, here's a cheat sheet to some of the top titles readily available at Wal-Mart, Gamestop, Best Buy and other retailers that'll soon be topping fans' wish lists:
BioShock Infinite (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC) - A first-person shooter set in a steampunk world of soaring airships and cities in the clouds. Highly literate, it offers a sweeping story that melds fascinating yarns with wild action and gunplay sequences fueled by genetically-enhanced superpowers.
The Last of Us (PlayStation 3) - Over-the-top violence and mature dialogue define this gritty tale where a man and girl attempt to survive a trek through a world gone wrong. Expect equally gripping storytelling to go with its ultra-intense combat scenarios.
New Super Mario Bros. U (Wii U) - Side-scrolling arcade action starring everyone's favorite cartoon plumber, now with the ability to affect the action by interacting with the tablet controller's secondary display.
Resident Evil 6 (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360) - Splatter zombies in spectacular fashion while winding your way through a gripping storyline filled with tense moments, pant-soiling shocks and support for cooperative play.
Dishonored (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360) - A supernatural thriller that combines elements of action and stealth into one heady cocktail that lets you use unique skills and equipment to accomplish goals.
Tomb Raider (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360) - Lara Croft returns in a more mature and lethal format - a greater emphasis on firefights lends this puzzle-solving and action-oriented adventure a grittier feel than previous installments.
Wonderbook: Book of Spells (PlayStation 3) - A motion-controlled storybook filled with games and activities by Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling which lets you fling fire or conjure up dragons with a wave of your hand.
Dance Central 3 (Xbox 360) - A gesture-tracking dancing simulator that sees players shake a leg just as they would in real life to pop, rock and hip-hop tracks and compete to set it off in team-based crew throwdowns.
Cartoon Universe (PC) - A kid-friendly online virtual world where children can connect with thousands of fellow tots and enjoy crossover cameos by popular characters from Looney Tunes and Scooby Doo's worlds.
Assassin's Creed III (PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U) - While inappropriate for children, adults will marvel at this technical showpiece, which sees you engaging in swordplay, gunfights and ship-to-ship battles as a Revolutionary War-era hitman.