Die Hard GameFAN’s Holiday Guide (For Kids!)

Holidays mean holiday gaming. Holiday gaming, in turn, means stacks of discount games at your local S-mart, Wallsmart, Target’s, We B Toys, or whatever fictional and/or misspelled store you afford your patronage.

There is a certain siren song to seeing a beloved cartoon character (or reasonable facsimile) on an affordably priced game. Taking them home, however, can quickly show their true colors. If you are lucky, your game is mediocre and repetitive. This is the case with a good number of licensed Wii properties, those things you’d find with Shrek or Spongebob on the box.

If you are really lucky, you have picked up a game with the word LEGO on the box. Lego Star Wars, Batman, and Indiana Jones feature easy and death proof gameplay for the kiddies and a nice mixture of parody and nostalgia for the parents. (The only downside to these games is when you start screaming instructions at your children. GODDAMNIT TIMMY! STAND ON THAT FREAKIN’ SWITCH!!)

If you are really unlucky, you may have purchased a Zoo game. Zoo games dominate those 19.99 racks at Target. You know the shelves I’m talking about right? All the other games are locked up behind glass, except for a bunch of games all featuring the Zoo logo.

Don’t believe me? Here are
a few
examples
for you .

There a lot of things to consider when purchasing a game for a kid or your family. Let’s just focus on three of them for the today”Ëœs purposes.

The first and most obvious thing is “maturity level”. Most parents aren’t going to want their 6 year old playing No More Heroes, but there is an obvious M rating slapped right on the front of the box.

(Of course, my daughter loves playing NMH. Though, I only let her drive the motorcycle.)

Beyond that, there are subtler things for which to account. My wife and I bought our daughter Disney’s The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure as both a Christmas present and a way to keep her busy on a long car ride from Chicago to Buffalo (and back again). The Nintendo DS is a wonderful way to stave off the inevitable “Are we there yet?”-itis. Unfortunately for us, our daughter was quite young and the game required a surprising amount of reading.

Truckloads of reading.

The wife and I spent our formative years with the Atari and NES. Reading wasn’t essential to know that your princess was in another castle. We made the reasonable assumption that a game featuring a character popular with the pre-school set wouldn’t necessitate literacy.

How wrong we were; so, today we will also discuss “age appropriateness”.

The third thing we will factor in with this piece is this: is the game any good? Family games and kid games are generally not as big a deal as, say, Halo 3. As such, you are going to find fewer reviews of something like, My Dress-Up or Igor: The Game or Shining Stars Super Starcade.

I’ll save you time: they all stink.

The following is an overview of games enjoyed by Thalia Kennedy, age 6 1/2.


The Raving Rabbids series
What is it?
Rayman Raving Rabbids, Rayman Raving Rabbids 2, and Rayman Raving Rabbids :TV Party are essentially mini-game collections loosely tied together with a story about semi-evil, slow-witted, deformed bunnies and their heroic nemesis Rayman, a duck-like man who has hands and feet but lacks arms and legs.

Is it okay for my kid to play it?
There are a bunch of fart jokes, bodily fluids, references to MTV shows, and mostly cartoonish violence. The game has a tendency to veer towards the grotesque, such as levels wherein you pull worms from rotting Rabbid teeth. Still, it is nothing that would seem out of place on “Spongebob Squarepants”.

Can my kid play it?
Most of the mini-games are easy to learn and rely on simple motion controls. A kindergartener will require a little help learning the rules to new mini-games, but should be able to play all of them.

Is it any good?
Yep. The Rabbids are funny and memorable, and the games motion controls are among the best the Wii has to offer. The wide array of mini-games range from rail shooters to rhythm games to dress up. There really is something for everyone.

Check out our review of Rayman Raving Rabbids TV Party here!
Or check out our review of Rayman Raving Rabbids 2 here!



The Mario Party Series
What is it?
Mario, his good friends and his bitter enemies play giant board games. Between every turn they play a mini-game.

Is it okay for my kid to play it?
There is little to no objectionable content. Shaking the Wii-mote when it isn’t your turn will taunt the other players; that is about as naughty as the Mario Party games get. If your religion has strict taboos against “nyah nyeh” I would recommend not doing this thing.

Can my kid play it?
The mini-games controls are usually quite basic, with some requiring nothing more than shaking the wii-mote. Directions are given visually alongside the written instructions. Plus, winning the mini-games will often have little effect on who wins the board game. The board game sections merely requires you to flick the wii-mote up a little bit in order to break a dice block. (Even so, my daughter and her friend have both managed to crack themselves in the face doing this thing.)

Is it any good?
It’s okay. Games tend to run a little long for adults playing it with kids. Plus, it can be frustrating to be paired with a little one in a two against two mini-game. Competitive parents might find themselves yelling blunt instructions at their tiny partners. The board games has enough variety to keep things interesting with pirates and ghosts for the kiddies and a particularly cutthroat hotel managing game for the adults.



The Super Smash Bros. Series
What is it?
Mario, Kirby, Samus and Link beating the crap out of each other.

Is it okay for my kid to play it?
In lieu of blood, guts or Mortal Kombat style fatalities, the goal here is not to kill your opponent. It is instead to knock him/her/it/them off screen. You can shoot an arrow into the face of a young boy, and it does less damage than a saw blade on the head of Curly Howard.

Can my kid play it?
Most kids can figure it out with minimal practice. This is a game made for chaotic, button mashing. Given a week, a five year old will be at about the same level as the computer on normal difficulty. My daughter is able to raise holy hell with Princess Peach, a character with which most hardcore gamers can’t accomplish anything.

Is it any good?
Yeah. Especially, if you enjoy button mashing fighting games. There is also a single player mode which is a decent platformer with wonderful cut-scenes.

Check out our full review of Super Smash Bros. Brawl here!



The Mario Kart Series
What is it?
Mario, his close friends and his bitter enemies racing go-karts and motorcycles.

Is it okay for my kid to play it?
Sure. The most objectionable thing here is driving a vehicle through a mall. There aren’t even any cops chasing you like when the Blues Brothers did that thing. HOWEVER Mario Kart, in all its forms, can easily drive the adults playing it to swearing. Like when you get blue shelled just before the taking the checkered flag and end up finishing fifth place behind that uppity Birdo. Damn you BIRDO!

Can my kid play it?
With either the Gamecube or Wii-mote wheel set-up, Mario Kart Wii‘s controls are ridiculously simple. After some practice, my daughter could win first in just about any race at the easy difficulty setting, before her fifth birthday.

Is it any good?
Yes. Pretty much any Mario Kart you can buy is worth playing. The Game cube’s Double Dash has an interesting two person per car dynamic, and I’m told that the DS might have the strongest version of the game of all of them.

Our own Mark B. reviewed the latest Mario Kart when it was released. Check it out here!



The Cooking Mama Series
What is it?
A weird little cooking sim for the DS or the Wii.

Is it okay for my kid to play it?
There is questionable content here. That is unless you have moral objections to burning rice or a slightly peeved cooking instructor. . .Or you are a nut-job from Peta.

Can my kid play it?
Probably. Thalia generally just makes sandwiches over and over again and steers away from more complicated fare.

Is it any good?
It is an interesting distraction, albeit a pointless one. Doing well on a recipe just unlocks more recipes and it really isn’t an accurate representation of cooking. It’s basically a tricked out Phone app.

Aaron Sirois recently reviewed the latest Cooking Mama game. Check out his full review!



WWE: Day of Reckoning 2
What is it?
The strongest of the weak batch of WWE games for the Gamecube.

Is it okay for my kid to play it?
Probably not. There is blood. There are bra and panties matches. There is sexism and violence out the yin yang. Bob dole would probably call this thing a nightmare of depravity. What can I say? Thalia likes putting trash cans on The Hurricane’s head.

Can my kid play it?
Not without a lot of practice. This game requires more button pushing than landing the space shuttle. When I play with my daughter, we usually team up in a handicap match against a weak opponent.

Is it any good?
Not really.

Alex Lucard agreed about the quality of Day of Reckoning 2. You can read his full review here!


Now, Thalia is also a fan of rhythm games. Unfortunately, she has never quite gotten the hang of both pushing buttons and strumming with Guitar Hero III and had much better luck with the Game cube’s Donkey Konga.

Being tone deaf and having no rhythm, myself, I consulted with DHGF’s resident Rhythm Game Expert, D. J. Tatsujin. Here is what he has to say:



Pop’n Music (Wii) – Konami

Is it okay for my kid to play it?
The title is rated E for everyone and has a lineup of tracks spanning the last handful of decades in an attempt to create a family-focused listing. The title also has a number of instrumental and Japanese-influenced tracks crafted by members of the Bemani team at Konami of Japan to round out the song offerings. The visuals are just as family-appealing as the sound, bringing forth the best of MZD’s character designs and the bouncing pop-kuns in a vivid and cartoon-style manner, complete with animations. A few of the multiplayer modes feature “attacks,” however, this could be described as mild cartoon humor at worst.

Can my kid play it?
Pop’n Music is easy to understand and very little reading is necessary, although some menu navigation is required, especially in the song options. However, on screen controls are for the most part illustrated, with arrows that cycle through menu options, songs can be previewed with short audio samples before selecting them and even the main gameplay screen reminds you which direction the Wii Remote and nunchuck can be motioned in order to slap a button. The title features very easy difficulties along with some harder tunes (mostly reserved for the Bemani originals) along with an unlockable difficulty for those older or more skilled at rhythm-based titles. There are also cooperative modes in multiplayer to allow players with less skill to partner with another player. Most of the current songs in the game should be recognizable by anyone in the younger crowd that follows music and overall contains suitable content.

Is it any good?
While the visuals might give off the vibe of a kids’ game, it is a fun, lower-priced title that can appeal to anyone looking for something a little different in the music game genre, especially given the weak performance of most first-time rhythm efforts on the Nintendo Wii. The controls are hardly perfect, but they are suitable for the experience, even though the gameplay might seem odd to anyone unfamiliar with a Pop’n Music arcade cabinet (which, in the U.S., is going to be a large majority of people). There is a good variety in the title’s multiplayer modes and there are a lot of unlockables and DLC tracks to bring players back to the game. While the new format and song choices might have traditional Pop’n Music fans groaning, the title on its own merits is a moderately fun and interesting title – when you’re around the age of 10, I’m going to be inclined to believe you just care about how fun a game is rather than how Konami gave up on the traditional Playstation 2 nine-button gameplay and inserted non-Japanese songs into the title. It’s not perfect, but it’s cheaper than most music game titles on the market (and better than most that don’t involve Guitar Hero or Rock Band) and the anime stylings and bright colors should be of great appeal to the younger crowd.

We recently put up screenshots of Pop’n Music here!


We Cheer 2 (Wii) – Namco-Bandai

Is it okay for my kid to play it?
Anyone at the junior high school level should be able to appreciate the title, along with any younger girls, as the title will most likely appeal to the cheerleading crowd for very obvious reasons. The title has 30 songs from popular artists, with some of them featuring slightly suggestive lyrics, but there is nothing overboard and most of the younger players will either have the references go over their head or will be too busy with the gameplay to notice. Parents will have to take heed that some lyrics also contain a few mild four-letter words, but, still We Cheer 2 has the E10+ blessing. Lastly, while it can be seen in live cheerleading, the only other maturity factor at hand would be the fact the onscreen ladies (which are cartoony in nature) are sporting typical cheerleading skirts and some routines feature poses or motions that could be considered provocative. While these descriptors might seem a little overbearing, at face value, if you would let your child watch a cheerleading routine (which, I’m sure most people would see no harm in), We Cheer 2 is easily appropriate.

Can my kid play it?
A new easy mode has been implemented into the sequel and the timing system has become more lenient than in the first title, opening up the ease of play. Given the source material of cheerleading, the game is naturally going to pull in a younger, female audience, and on this ground, We Cheer 2 definitely fits the bill with appropriate tunes and motions that would be emulated by anyone interested in cheerleading. This title will most likely target more of the junior high crowd that has such extracurricular activities being made available to them for the first time, but growing up in an area where high school sports nearly rules all, I know younger girls even pick up the activity. Anyone wishing to emulate waving pom-poms will find an interesting title and it is easy to follow the onscreen arrow commands.

Is it any good?
Based off the Happy Dance Collection Bandai and Namco produces in Japan, We Cheer features full routines and the quality of the game might actually surprise you. Much like other Wii titles, you’ll find a lot of waggling and rotations involved in the gameplay, but given the accompanying animations, it gives the motions some meaning. You’ll actually find a decent amount of unlockables in the title and the younger crowd will no doubt appreciate the game’s customization options. Again, this title will probably really only fit the bill for the younger female demographic, but We Cheer 2 is filled with very solid rhythm-based gameplay and, surprisingly, a good number of Namco-Bandai references from titles such as Tekken, Galaga and Pac-Man.

We put up screenshots of We Cheer 2 back in October. Check them out here!


Rockin’ Pretty (DS) – Aksys Games

Is it okay for my kid to play it?
Rockin’ Pretty is probably another title more suited for the female demographic based on its themes, but you won’t find any offensive material in the title. The game’s tunes are originals developed by Arc System Works and the dialog and situations in the game can be considered suitable for any age. This is another music game title rated E for Everyone by the ESRB.

Can my kid play it?
While the content is wholesome, players are going to need some reading ability in order to fully enjoy the title. The meat of the game is progressed via a story mode which has members of an all-female band forming and attempting to win a battle of the bands-style contest. This story is told through still portraits and a large amount of text and the menu navigation might be beyond some of the youngest players. The gameplay itself, however, is based on graphical indicators, but a few of the instrument types might be a tad complicated for early gamers to grasp right away. Still, the game features 100 percent clean content and the teenage female demographic should be able to identify with the characters and be pulled into the band customization.

Is it any good?
Given players can play a number of roles in the band and the unlockables to be found in the game’s shop, there is a good amount of replayability in the title. The visuals are quite nice and while players won’t recognize any of the music the game, the originality is a breath of fresh air for a recent music title. The game’s theme really targets the female demographic the most, but the rhythm gameplay is very solid overall. Rockin’ Pretty is a bit short, but players can play through each song a number of different ways thanks to the different band roles. While the title wasn’t very visible this year, it is one of the better rhythm-centered games to be released on a portable in 2009. Rockin’ Pretty scores most in its originality, so younger girls that have no problem reading the game’s story should be a bit of mileage out of the game.


LEGO Rock Band (multi) – Warner Bros.

Is it okay for my kid to play it?
Outside of a bit of mild cartoon/slapstick humor and a small bit of suggestive lyrics, LEGO Rock Band‘s E10+ rating has been a marketing point for the title. The actual gameplay in and of itself has no questionable content, as it consists of watching scrolling markers or lyrics that indicate when a player should sing or play their given instrument. Any content that could be considered questionable lies in the situational “story-based” levels with the band fighting off armies and creatures through minimal violence and trashing local environments such as buildings and hotel rooms. It’s all very minimal in nature and if you would let your child watch an action-based Saturday morning cartoon, you should find very little to question in the title outside of its song selections. As a safeguard, LEGO Rock Band does block downloadable songs from the Rock Band store that is deemed “inappropriate” for family play. Along with the safeguard, Harmonix and MTV Games is now releasing small batches of content geared more toward the family play with acts such as Simon & Garfunkel .

Can my kid play it?
It would be hard to believe that most children haven’t played Guitar Hero or Rock Band in some form, but LEGO Rock Band does ease up on the series a little bit with a new super easy difficulty for all band roles and slightly less intense songs as well as implementing the classic LEGO franchise as well as means to customize the characters and band garage and scenarios that have the players obtaining crazy means of transportation and participating in various movie-based scenarios. You could argue Rock Band has always been appropriate for family and child play when you look beyond questionable song content, however, LEGO Rock Band feeds on the theme of family gameplay and creates an experience even more suitable for the younger crowd. The easier difficulty will help players get into the game and the new themes will hopefully attract their parents to the game as well. Really, children have probably been playing these titles since Guitar Hero surfaced, so I would be inclined to believe they can already handle at least the easiest difficulties on the instruments as well as the singing portion of the gameplay.

Is it any good?
In a phrase, the quality is top-notch. LEGO Rock Band is perhaps the finest band experience released in 2009, evolving the Rock Band 2 gameplay with modest touches to appeal to families and the younger game players. If you or your child enjoys Rock Band or Guitar Hero, LEGO Rock Band is a hands-down easy recommendation. There is plenty of charm in the title that LEGO fans will no doubt enjoy and the gameplay is just as fine-tuned as always.

Read Guy Desmarais’s full review of Lego Rock Band here!


Well, that’s all for now. Good luck with all that last minute Christmas shopping. Feel free to consult with the various and sundry reviews here at Die Hard GameFAN before making any video game purchases!

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