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Gaming gifts for grads

Sony’s Project Morpheus is a virtual reality headset for PlayStation 4.
Sony’s Project Morpheus is a virtual reality headset for PlayStation 4. AP

The school year is over – or will be soon – and that means it’s time for fun and games. Get your grad the right gaming system for summertime entertainment. These games won’t waste your free time. And, of course, you don’t have to be a recent grad to play.

New Nintendo 3DS XL

CNET rating: 4 stars out of 5 (Excellent)

The good: The 3D screens on this portable device are improved by new face-tracking, and the larger size offers a less cramped viewing experience. Internal tweaks and updates add a behind-the-scenes boost.

The bad: The poor battery life hasn’t improved. Having to remove the back of the console to change the SD card is a poor design choice, and the legacy data transfer process is infuriating. Also, there’s no AC charger in the box, so you have to buy one separately.

The cost: $200 to $209

The bottom line: The 3DS XL’s improved 3D head-tracking is a big step up, and its performance boost makes a noticeable difference. A few head-scratching design choices prevent us from falling for the New 3DS XL, but this still is the best Nintendo portable to get. http://play.nintendo.com.

PlayStation 4

CNET rating: 4 stars out of 5 (Excellent)

The good: The PlayStation 4 serves up dazzling graphics, runs on a simplified and logical interface and boasts a fantastic controller. It has the upper hand on indie and digital-only games and can stream legacy titles via PlayStation Now. The PS4 makes it super-easy to capture and broadcast game play online and generally delivers zippier performance than its direct competition. And it doubles as a Blu-ray player and solid streaming box.

The bad: PS3 games aren’t compatible and PlayStation Now streaming isn’t a flawless experience. The Xbox One (and even the older PS3) has a slight edge on nongaming entertainment features such as network media streaming (DLNA), media app support and remote-control compatibility.

The cost: $400

The bottom line: The PlayStation 4’s beautiful graphics, smart interface, blazing performance, near-perfect controller and better indie offerings give it a slight edge over the Xbox One as both consoles enter their second year. www.playstation.com

PlayStation Vita Slim

CNET rating: 4 stars out of 5 (Excellent)

The good: The new Vita Slim charges with any Micro-USB cable, is thinner and lighter, has improved battery life, and works nicely as a PS4 accessory for local game streaming. The game library has gotten really good, too, including freebies for PS Plus subscribers.

The bad: Expensive proprietary memory cards are necessary and annoying; new LCD display is less vivid than the original Vita’s OLED display; the lack of rumble and extra buttons means some remote-play PS4 games translate awkwardly.

The cost: $199

The bottom line: Two years in, the PlayStation Vita has come of age and become a refined piece of hardware and an excellent place to play a lot of games. You don’t need one, but it’s really fun and worth its price. www.playstation.com

Alienware Alpha

CNET rating: 3.5 stars out of 5 (Very good)

The good: The compact Alienware Alpha plays a huge library of PC games in a living-room-friendly format, and it works with a standard Xbox 360 controller.

The bad: It’s built around the Steam gaming platform, so it’s harder to use for PC games purchased elsewhere. The custom user interface is slow and clunky, and the base configuration is underpowered for long-term use.

The cost: $435 to $559

The bottom line: The bold Alienware Alpha makes good on many parts of its promise to meld the gaming PC and living room game console, but there are still too many rough edges to make this a true console killer. www.alienware.com

How to play the game

▪ First decide whether you want to play on a computer or with a console system. Some players, meanwhile, might be more satisfied with games on a handheld device.

▪ A console system typically puts your game on your TV screen. That can be fine as long as you won’t need to share the TV with someone who prefers movies or reality shows. Most of the best consoles allow online gaming, play movies and stream content.

▪ A PC-based game system can be as simple or as advanced as your games. Advanced gaming may require upgrades to a basic computer, but you can also create a custom system that combines peripherals such as ultra high-definition monitors and accessories for virtual reality.