If Santa made you one of the lucky owners of a new game console this year, chances are you’re already knee-deep in at least one of the big-name games that accompanied the release of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S (not to mention the Nintendo Switch, which is still selling like crazy almost 4 years after its March 2017 debut).
Whether you went for Sony’s early roster of PS5-exclusive games or decided to spring for the extensive backward compatibility and sweet online library of the Series X, the choices are already too abundant for our few precious gaming hours in the day. Even longtime Switch owners may have yet to experience one or two of the best titles on Nintendo’s hybrid platform — an understandable dilemma for anyone who’s sunk gobs of time into Super Smash Bros. Ultimate or Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
The options are growing by the week, and there’s definitely no getting it wrong no matter which games you pick up for your new system. But if Jolly Old St. Nick were to leave a shiny new gaming system under our tree, here’s a rundown of the games we’d definitely fire up first.
Bluepoint Games’ impeccable remaster of the game that launched the Souls series (as well as the entire gaming sub-genre) may be tough, and its unforgiving difficulty may not even be your casual-gaming cup of tea. But for our money, nothing on the PS5 to date (except, perhaps, for Spider-Man: Miles Morales) looks, sounds, and plays as slick as the next-gen upgrade of FromSoftware’s 2009 classic. The fantastically brutal land of Boletaria comes to spectacular visual life in ways the original Demon's Souls could only dream of back in its PS3 days, and the PS5-exclusive remaster all but coronates Bluepoint as the go-to studio when the goal is to recreate a gaming classic.
There’s a reason Demon’s Souls sits at the very top of Metacritic’s PS5 score charts with a 92 review consensus: It’s beautiful, it only builds on what was already a great game, and — even when the boss battles have you throwing your controller in frustration — it’s an absolute blast to play.
Spider-Man: Miles Morales
For most people, this one will be a no-brainer. Spidey’s Marvel-ous star power would be enough to sell Spider-Man: Miles Morales all on its own, but Insomniac Games has crafted a short-but-sweet hero story that somehow manages to one-up the studio’s Spider-Man for the PlayStation 4 in just about every way.
Making the $20 upgrade splurge for the game’s Ultimate Edition will quite literally one-up the earlier version of Spider-Man, too: Insomniac cut no corners in updating Peter Parker’s 2018 adventure for the PS5, essentially giving players a pair of side-by-side Spidey stories that put the new system’s next-gen horsepower on full display. You don’t have to be a Spider-Man fan to enjoy Miles Morales — all you need is a healthy appreciation for great games.
We know, we know: Astro’s Playroom is supposed to be the kind of game you skip right past as you hasten to load up one of the AAA titles you laid down your hard-earned $69.99 for. We’re here to tell ya: that’d be a mistake. Developed by Sony’s in-house Japan Studio Asobi Team, Astro’s Playroom is a surprisingly delightful romp through PlayStation history, not to mention simply a killer platforming game. It’s also the best showcase for the incredible new haptic features that the PS5’s DualSense controller brings to the table.
Packed with nostalgia, fluid platforming mechanics that even Mario fans can’t fault, and a sly step-by-step play challenge that cleverly gets you acquainted with the PS5 without ever showing its hand, Astro’s Playroom also has one other ace up its cute little robo-sleeve: it’s completely free, and it comes ready to play with every PS5 console.
Xbox Series X/S
Assassin’s Creed Valhalla
Microsoft may not have leapt out of the gate with a lineup of Xbox exclusives to rival Sony’s new game offerings, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be starved for fun. While fans wait for Xbox-only titles like Halo Infinite, Fable 4, and Perfect Dark to come along, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla might just be the smoothest next-gen experience you can have on the new Xbox console twins. Ubisoft’s by-now famous penchant for mining history to unearth all the sandbox fun to be found in bygone spaces and places is on full display in Valhalla.
It’s a beast of a title; one with so much to do, so much to see, and so many ways to play, that you could easily spend weeks (or longer) running your Viking raiders across open-world 9th-Century Britain and still discover new secrets. Given the current new-game lineup for the Series X and Series S, we’d definitely start here.
Yakuza: Like a Dragon
Of all the times to find out what SEGA’s Yakuza franchise has been about since its PS2 debut back in 2005, there’s none better than right now. Yakuza: Like a Dragon may not be a household name to casual players, but once you get lost in its gripping, delightfully absurd criminal underworld, you’ll think it’s a crime that more people aren’t playing.
Like a Dragon introduces a novel take on traditional turn-based RPG battles with a real-time mechanic that lets you improvise weapons from your environment, while giving RPG fans a truly unique setting that’s far from the typical swords, dragons, and magic stylings that typify the genre. Packed with side activities and loaded with pulpy atmosphere, Yakuza: Like a Dragon is almost an RPG niche unto itself. Come to Yokohama for the karaoke and the kart racing — and stick around for the film-worthy crime story.
Ori and the Will of the Wisps
Like the rest of the games here, there are other places you can play Ori and the Will of the Wisps besides Xbox. But we’re betting a lot of players have yet to discover the delightfully illuminated world that developer Moon Studios introduced with 2015’s Ori and the Blind Forest, and evolves to spectacular effect with this year’s endearing follow up. Along with Team Cherry’s Hollow Knight (due for a sequel of its own with the upcoming Hollow Knight: Silksong), we think it’s one of the best action-platformers of the current generation, and a must-play game for anyone who enjoys the old-school action of map-based side-scrollers combined with beauty of current-gen graphics.
Published by Xbox Game Studios, Will of the Wisps released earlier this year for Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC. But now that it’s landed on the Series X, Microsoft’s new console is the obvious choice to enjoy Ori’s colorful world to the fullest.
Super Mario 3D All-Stars
While we rue the absence of Nintendo classics like Banjo-Kazooie or the Metroid Prime trilogy on the Switch, thankfully Mario is here to save the day. Super Mario 3D All-Stars collects a trio of the plumber’s platforming greatest hits from console generations gone by, and leaps onto the Switch with boosted graphics and some cool new features that make it a stone-cold 3-in-1 bargain. All-Stars packs in hi-def upgrades of Super Mario 64 (released in 1996 for the Nintendo 64), Super Mario Sunshine (Mario’s 2002 GameCube adventure), and Super Mario Galaxy (the 2007 Wii platformer).
Together, these three games comprise countless hours of full-scale Mario madness, and make for a great walk down memory lane for a tour of how our hero made the jump from 2D scrolling to 3D, camera-swerving motion. All three hold up well to this day, but there’s a catch: Super Mario 3D All-Stars is only available until March 31, so act fast…before our princess moves on to another castle.
Pikmin 3 Deluxe
If you’re detecting an under-the-radar trend on this list, you’re onto us. Thanks to the Wii U’s small-ish install base, a lot of players missed out on Pikmin 3 when it crash-landed back in 2013 — and that’s a shame. The ongoing alien adventures of Captain Olimar and his merry band of botanical footsoldiers make for some of the most creative and just plain fun puzzles anywhere, and Pikmin 3 Deluxe — Nintendo’s Switch-boosted version released in October — lets you marshal your colorful little Pikmin to the task at hand like never before.
Set out across the alien landscape as engineer Aleph to track Olimar down with the class-based powers of multicolored Pikmin at your disposal (red ones can take fire; grey ones can break rocks, and so on), and dive into a whimsical world that’s deceptively challenging. Pikmin 3 Deluxe is the kind of game that only Nintendo could make, which is why we regard it as a must-play for any Switch owner.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Sure, we could have picked another well-aged game like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe or Super Smash Bros. Ultimate for the last spot on our short Switch list. But even years after The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild landed on both the Wii U and the Switch back in 2017, we just can’t leave it out. Yep — it’s that good. Remarkably, BOTW sits at a comparatively distant no. 4 on the list of all-time Switch best sellers, which means there are still plenty of Switch players who have yet to experience Link’s sprawling open-world adventure.
We’ve written tons and tons of praise for BOTW elsewhere (and we’re probably not done), so we’ll keep it simple here: for the very best that the Switch has to offer, and for a journey that could easily keep you playing until Ganondorf concocts his next scheme for controlling Hyrule, take the plunge into Breath of the Wild’s wide, wild world. Believe us — you won’t be disappointed.