Monday, December 21, 2009
Growing up, my parents didn’t (and, frankly, still don’t) understand my obsession with video games. They viewed it is a passing fad, an overcomplicated series of button commands and generally a meaningless waste of time.
Regardless of your opinion of gaming, it is important to spend time doing activities that the kids in your life enjoy — or, if you are like me, to share your hobby with those kids. Here’s a list of 10 great, recent games you can have fun playing with anyone in your family without worrying about questionable content. They make great gifts (hint, hint).
Wii Sports Resort (Wii)
Rating: E for Cartoon Violence
No other game has enthralled both my two-year-old and my parents /in-laws as much as Wii Sports. Combining easy and intuitive controls, nearly anyone can compete in virtual sword-fighting, canoe races, pick-up basketball games, and bowling, in addition to the multiple other activities available in the game. Note that the game requires a new accessory called the Wii MotionPlus. Either one or two are sold with the retail package, so purchasing additional add-ons may be necessary.
New Super Mario Bros. (Wii and DS)
MSRP: $34.99 (DS) and $49.99 (Wii)
Rating: E for Comic Mischief
The basic gameplay and control elements from classic Super Mario Bros. games are gussied up with quasi-3D graphics. The DS version includes a number of basic mini-games, while the Wii version has unique cooperative and competitive modes that allow multiple players on-screen per level. The Wii version also includes an option to help frustrated gamers complete a difficult stage by letting the computer control your character. For both inexperienced gamers and old school Nintendo fans, this is a great game to own.
Little Big Planet (PS3 and PSP)
MSRP: $59.99 (PS3) and $39.99 (PSP)
Rating: E for Comic Mischief (PS3/PSP) and Mild Cartoon Violence (PS3)
Little Big Planet takes what makes New Super Mario Bros. such a great game and adds a creative component stirring the imaginations of gamers young and old. The story mode allows up to four players to venture throughout quirky level designs and clever puzzles. The icing on the cake, though, is the creation mode. Using a basic set of tools, players can create their own stages, ranging from basic platforming levels to intricate mechanical puzzles. Additional pieces and decorations are unlocked throughout the game, and you can also download other players’ creations from the PlayStation Network. Read our full review.
Lego Star Wars, Lego Batman, Lego Indiana Jones (all consoles)
MSRP: $19.99 to $49.99
Rating: E and E10+ for Cartoon Violence
The Lego series takes characters older generations know and love, sanitizes the more violent parts for younger audiences and injects the stories with humor for children of all ages. Solo and cooperative gameplay emphasizes running and jumping, as well as some fighting and shooting elements, resulting in “dead” characters disassembling into tiny Lego components. The controls represent an additional challenge beyond those of Little Big Planet and New Super Mario Bros., but are generally easier than those in more complex platforming games.
Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time (PS3)
Rating: E10+ for Animated Blood, Comic Mischief, Fantasy Violence
Of the platforming games in this list, Ratchet and Clank is the arguably the best — it’s like a Pixar movie in video game form. The graphics are lush and detailed. The humor is funny to kids without being dumb to parents, and it’s amusing to parents without being too dirty for little ears and eyes. The violence cited in the ESRB rating is done in a Loony Tunes-esque manner, using cartoony weapons. The blood is generally of the alien goo variety. While this game might not be appropriate for the youngest kids, it’s certainly a blast for tweens and parents. Read our full review.
Rating: E10+ for Cartoon Violence and Comic Mischief
Scribblenauts is a puzzle/strategy game disguised as a side-scroller. Using an impressive list of words, players summon a bevy of possible objects to complete stages. Have a fire that needs put out? Write “fire hose.” Have a marauding vampire? Type “garlic.” Can’t reach a tall ledge? Try “jetpack.” While weapons can be used, creative solutions to the game’s trials are infinitely more fun and less dangerous to your in-game character. Problem-solving and creativity are more important than skilled controls, although the game’s use of stylus controls can be a tad frustrating at times. Read our full review.
Katamari Forever (PS3)
Rating: E for Alcohol and Tobacco Reference, Comic Mischief, Mild Fantasy Violence, Mild Language
It’s nearly impossible to fully explain a Katamari game. At its simplest, the game involves rolling a ball of junk until it meets certain criteria, such as size, temperature, or contents. The goal of rolling this ball is to create a new planet, star, or moon. Don’t ask — it doesn’t really make any sense. The controls are simple and the graphics are odd, but the game’s peculiar personality is what really sets this game apart from its E-rated competition. You needn’t worry about the rating for alcohol and tobacco reference. You won’t notice, and neither will kids.
Band Hero / Lego Rock Band (all consoles)
MSRP: $29.99 to $59.99 (game only) to $169.99 and up for all instruments
Rating: E for Comic Mischief and Mild Lyrics, E10+ for Comic Mischief, Mild Cartoon Violence, Mild Lyrics, Lyrics, and/or Suggestive Themes
Both Rock Band and Guitar Hero have taken off over the last five years. While the namesake games may contain music some kids aren’t ready for, Lego Rock Band and Band Hero contain less heavy metal and punk music and more kid-friendly pop hits from the last 40 years. Each retains much of the gameplay of the more adult titles. If you don’t already own one or more instruments for Rock Band or Guitar Hero, the buy-in cost for one of the games can get pricey, but most instruments from past games work with the newer games. Read our full review of Rock Band 2 (Wii).
Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box (DS)
Rating: E10+ for Alcohol Reference and Mild Violence
For the intellectual gamer, Professor Layton offers a series of brain-teasers wrapped in a twisting, turning murder mystery. The story and characters are outlandishly written and drawn. The ESRB’s recommendation for 10 years and older is spot-on, not only because of the content, but also because of the difficulty of some puzzles. If your child is old enough to do brain teasers, they are old enough to tackle this game, even if it does require your help from time to time. An added bonus to the game is the inclusion of free downloadable puzzles available through the DS’s Wi-Fi connection.
MSRP: $29.99 to $59.99
Rating: Generally E
If your child is a sports nut, many sports games are available on each console — football, baseball, basketball, soccer, hockey, driving simulations and more. However, as sports games have become more realistic, they have also become more complex and can have a high learning curve for newcomers. Once two people learn to play a game like Madden NFL 10, they can have hours and hours of gratifying fun. But many people will not have the patience for picking up the controls — those people should stick to Wii Sports. Read our recent review of the Forza 3 driving simulator. Other sports games reviews at lawrence.com/gamer.
Bonus Stocking Stuffers
If you aren’t sure of your gamer’s preferences or skill, a good idea is buying them Microsoft Points, Nintendo Points, or a PlayStation Network Card. With these, gamers can download any number of modern or classic games. For the Xbox 360, I would recommend a Kingdom for Kelflings, a SimCity-style game, and Peggle, an addictive puzzle game. For the PlayStation 3, the games Flower and echocrome offer beautiful and unique experiences. The Nintendo Store offers both a selection of original games and class games from past consoles.