In our house, we play video games as a family. It is something my husband and I both did as kids, and we enjoy sharing with our daughter. We do try to keep the amount of time we play in check (which isn’t hard, because life gets busy). When we do play, we have some tried and true favorites that are always great. I’m going to highlight a few of these and explain why they are awesome. For those of you who are not video game aficionados, I will explain some of the terms you may hear thrown around and that are included in this post.
The first thing we do when we look at purchasing a video game is to see what types of reviews it has received. Just because a game is based on the hottest kids movie this year, does not mean that it is going to be good or easy to play. Husband’s Note: Many, if not most of the movie-licensed games that are released in conjunction with films are cash grabs, capitalizing on the fact that most kids will see the familiar characters on the front of the box and parents won’t know any better… so be wary of these types of titles! And, since many video games can cost upwards of $50-60, it pays to do your homework. This generally falls on my husband’s shoulders as he keeps up on the video game industry more than I do, but you can easily find reviews online. Many games are also available at places like the Redbox, so you can check them out before committing to buy.
Next, we see what platform (console, hand held, computer) or system (XBOX 360, XBOX ONE, Play Station 3, Playstation 4, Playstation Vita, Wii, WiiU, 3DS) the game is being released for. Check and see if the game is available on a system you own or are willing to purchase. If you do not have a gaming system yet, again, do your homework. Really consider what you will be using that game system for and who will be using it. We have experience using a variety of platforms and consoles. We found that there are quite a few kid friendly games available for both the XBOX 360 and the WiiU.
We tend to purchase games that can be bought for a variety of platforms. This means that the same game is available for multiple consoles–Xbox, Wii, 3DS, PS, etc. In fact, we have bought games from franchises (a franchise is when a game has multiple incarnations of itself) for a variety of platforms and consoles. All of the games discussed below are part of a franchise and we have played many versions of each–and most are available for a variety of platforms and systems.
My Top 3! (not in ranked order)
The first video game our daughter REALLY got into was Skylanders. We purchased the first Skylanders game (Skylanders Spyro’s Adventure) for the Xbox. One thing you need to know about the Skylanders games is that you need a portal and game statues to be able to play the game. You cannot just get the disc. The concept behind Skylanders is pretty cool (and certainly lucrative). The players used in the game are based on small statues you purchase separately from the game (the starter pack comes with a few but there are MANY more). You place your statue of choice on the portal–which plugs into your console–and that is the character you play as in the game. But what is really cool is that the little statues keep all the character’s stats inside of them. Each character can be upgraded through game play to have new powers and to become tougher. This information is not stored on your game system, it is stored on a chip inside the individual statue. This means, you can take your statues to a friends house to play Skylanders and they will retain all of the upgrades you did at home and add any you get at your friend’s house. Pretty cool.
Games: There are 3 versions of Skylanders available now with a 4th coming out just in time for Christmas 2014. Each version of the game is similar in nature, but adds a new type of character. In Game 1, you have your basic Skylanders. In game 2, they added Giant characters that have special abilities. In Game 3, Swap Force characters were added. You can separate the top and bottoms of these characters and swap them with the top or bottom of another character to make “new” characters. Game 4, you will be able to use special crystals to trap enemies who you can then play with as allies. In each game, the Skylanders are defending Skylands from the evil Chaos (he is not at all scary) who is trying to take over the world.
Why I like this game: It is very easy to play. Our daughter has been playing Skylanders games since she was 5 and was successful from the beginning. It is a two player game (which means you can play as a family. My husband and I will often take turns playing levels with her). There is a LOT to the game play. Each level has items to collect and achievements to earn in addition to working your way through the general story line. While there is a monetary investment in the little statues (they range in price and can sometimes be found on sale for B1G1 50% off), you actually get quite a big bang for your buck in game play. Once you have finished the main story line, there are lots of other ways to enjoy the game. You can go back to each level and make sure you have found all of the extras, you can do side challenges, you can play through favorite levels to earn experience points or money to upgrade characters. We finished playing the main story of Swap Force 6 months ago and are still enjoying the game.
Downsides: The statues do cost money. True, you do not have to buy a bunch of statues to play the game; in fact, you can finish the game with the few that come with the starter kit. However, you cannot get into some of the side missions within levels if you don’t have characters from the various elements (earth, fire, water, air, life, tech, magic, undead). And in addition to the regular versions of the statues, there are also special versions that are only sold at certain retailers (like the Legendary ones at Toys R Us) or times of the year (Santa or Easter egg). It can get out of hand easily. Also, with the newest version of the game (Skylanders: Swap Force) you had to get a new portal, so everyone had to get the starter pack. This worked out for us, because we bought it for a different console, but it’s an added cost to consider. (One nice thing is that all of the statues we had for the first two games worked for the new game too. This works going up, but not going down. Most, if not all, of the newer statues don’t work with the older games. Still, you get a lot of value for the statues that you have purchased 2, even 3 years ago).
And since I talk about organizing here ALOT, let’s talk about storing all of these little guys. You really have to consider if you have the space. We used a small tub and kept it near our tv in our family room. This worked ok, but we had to dig around to find characters and some sort of got forgotten at the bottom. When we added new DVD shelves, we designated two small ones to displaying the Skylanders. This seems to work out a bit better for us, because we can see all the cool little characters.
Lego Video Games
In addition to the genius who thought up having people buy statues as characters, some other smart guy thought it would be a good idea to make Lego video game versions of popular movies. Seriously, how had nobody thought of this earlier! We have played Lego games on a multitude of consoles and platforms over the years. My husband and I started out playing the Lego Star Wars and Indiana Jones games together because it was something I could easily get into–and is not bloody or scary or requires me to walk and point a gun at the same time (this is much harder than it sounds because you use both joysticks on your controller. Just trust me on this). We really enjoyed them. When my daughter was small, we played the Pirates of the Carribbean Lego games, and I felt safe with her watching us play this because the “violence” is very cartoonish and silly. (i.e. Chewbacca pulls of the arms of Storm troopers and it makes a popping sound. When an enemy is defeated, he disappears from the screen).
When she was old enough to start playing games with us, we picked up a few of the Lego games for her to play too. And just an FYI, the Lego games in the beginning of these franchises are not as forgiving and easy to play as some of the ones released in the past few years or so. I think Lego Star Wars and Indiana Jones would frustrate her. She has played Lego Batman (Batman 2 is much harder), Lego Harry Potter, Lego Lord of the Rings, Lego Marvel Super Heroes, and Lego Hobbit. There is a Lego Movie-based game as well as a Lego Underground title which we haven’t purchased but look really great on the newer consoles. More on which ones we love the best and why later.
In the Lego games, there are two ways to play each level. There is the Story mode and Free play mode. In each level you collect studs (little Lego shaped coins) and must collect a certain amount in and finish the level to unlock Free Play mode. In Free Play, you can change the character you are playing as which allows you do go into areas and complete tasks that the characters you have to use in the Story mode cannot do. Because you can do so much more in Free Play mode, we would try and finish the level on our own the first time (when she was younger ) and now we generally try and help her through the level the first time so we could get to the free play.
Another cool thing in each of the later Lego games is a more open world concept (meaning a space you can walk around in and do things outside of a general story line). The open worlds in Lego Harry Potter, Lego Lord of the Rings, and Lego Marvel Superheroes have definitely added to the value of this game. In each of these games there is an area where your character can walk around and do mini-missions to unlock gold bricks (which you can use to buy or unlock cool stuff), add new characters, collect studs (the currency in the game), or just explore. Quite honestly, this is her favorite part. I think we spent 3 times as much time just walking around Middle Earth as we did finishing the story line of Lego Lord of the Rings. She likes being able to go where she wants and be who she wants. And, as a parent, it is much easier to regulate time in this open world area. You can easily say 20 minutes of the game if you are just wandering around where some levels take longer than that to complete.
One recommendation I have is to go online to find cheats for the codes you need to enter or red bricks you need to find in the story mode to give your characters added benefits. In most of the games, you can multiply your stud total by certain amounts (which allows you to get to the magic stud total to unlock free play much faster), be invincible (which is totally helpful for little kids), fall protection (which can be totally helpful for moms who fall off stuff alot and have trouble with jumping puzzles), and much more. I have had good luck with http://www.ign.com and http://www.famefaqs.com to get cheat codes. They are also a great place to find information on walkthroughs (someone actually writes out what you need to do in each level to find all the stuff!). I love walkthroughs when we get stuck in a level and can’t figure out what to do next–especially when my husband isn’t there to lend his expertise. Beware, there are no cheat codes out there for Lego Hobbit that are very helpful and you have to earn the codes in fairly complicated ways which makes the game much more challenging (which for some might be ok, but it is frustrating to the mom and kiddo).
Mario and Luigi are video game characters that most people have at least heard of if they have not actually ever played a video game. And, they are exclusively for the Nintendo consoles–the most recent one being the WiiU. My husband and I grew up playing Mario games, and we love being able to play them with our kiddo. The Mario game my daughter was most looking forward to was what we lovingly refer to as Cat Mario but is really called Super Mario 3D World. We call it Cat Mario because one of the powers the characters can take on is a cat costume–total winner for the cat-loving kid. This is actually something we can all play together, because you can have more than 2 people playing at a time and you can pick which character you want to be (Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Toad, etc.). There is a main play for this game where you progress through levels and are trying to free fairies captured by Bowser. In each level, you have extras to earn in addition to finishing the level on time including green stars and stamps. There are multiple worlds (levels) and within those are multiple sublevels. There is quite a bit of game play to the main story line. AND, we discovered that once you beat Bowser, you unlock a number of additional (and very, very challenging) worlds. Some of your main play worlds and most of your extra worlds need a certain number of green stars to unlock them. So, if you didn’t get them all the first time, you can go back and replay levels to capture all the green stars. There really is a lot of game play for the amount of money you spend on the game.
Another really fun game we got this year is the newest Mario Kart game. It is also for the WiiU and is super fun. Those of us who have played previous versions of the game will appreciate the inclusion of some levels from the past as well as the addition of new levels. You do not need anything special to play this game beyond the regular controls. Again, it is something that we can all play together as multiple players are possible. AND, another super cool thing is that you can play online with friends. My daughter and her cousin (who is her same age and does not live near enough to just pop over and visit) can play this game together. They challenge each other to races and can even speak to each other through the microphone in the WiiU pad. I really like that feature.
If you are into being frugal, I highly recommend these games as you get so very, very much game play for your dollar. One way to save costs is to wait for the game to go on sale or even to wait a few months until the game drops in price in the store or to check out used game stores. Husband’s Note: One idea though–when you go to used game stores, consider purchasing the “new” version of the game even if it is $5 more than the “used”. New purchases put revenue back into game developers’ pockets, while used purchases put money directly in the game store’s hands, leaving nothing for the developer who actually made the game. That’s something not a lot of people consider when they are trying to save a few bucks. So, if you like a game, support the developer–that’s the mantra we have in our house, anyway.
A special shout out to my hubby for reading through and adding to this post to make sure I got all my lingo and facts correct!
These are my top 3 choices for Cool Kid Video Games. What are yours?