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Family-friendly games fill retail shelves this year

by Anita McSorley

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — I didn’t predict the housing collapse. And I didn’t predict the stock market crash.

But I did predict in these very pages that the Nintendo Wii was going to change the face of gaming — and it has.

Consider this: The cover of a recent issue of Game Informer magazine features some very cool art from an upcoming mature-rated horror/military first-person shooter game called “Wolfenstein.”

But inside, where it lists the top-selling games of the month, 10 of the top 20 were rated either E (for Everyone) or T (for Teen).

Take that, “Grand Theft Auto.”

Sadly, however, just when the Nintendo Wii began rewarding game developers for taking seriously what I call the family gamer, enter that pesky housing collapse and stock market crash.

Combined, they leave many a Christmas budget significantly tighter than it was a year ago. That means every dollar has got to count — and even a family-friendly video game is only a good gift if it is actually a good game.

Bridging the gap

I started this guide more than a decade ago in an effort to steer parents and grandparents toward family-friendly games that their youngsters would enjoy as much as the violent and well-publicized alternatives. With nine out of 10 youngsters asking for video games this year, that need is greater than ever. But the introduction of the Nintendo Wii has given me a second objective as well: pointing out titles that might be enjoyed by the entire family as well — something literally unheard of just a few short years ago.

To start with, I should note that if the revolution was actually accomplished by the Wii, it was certainly fueled by franchises like “Guitar Hero” and “Rock Band.” Even boomers — or should I say, especially boomers — want to be rock stars. And this year a whole host of new titles allow gamers to play more than just guitar in their own virtual rock band.

“Guitar Hero,” for example, rated T for Teens (Activision and Red Octane), has multiple titles out for every gaming device imaginable. (All games reviewed here are available on multiple consoles.) Some are packaged with just a guitar, but others include bass and drums as well (“Guitar Hero: World Tour”). A console version (and an Internet connection) lets your youngster (with parental supervision, of course) rock out online from the comfort of his own home with band mates down the street or around the world, or to compete with same.

Before going the full band route, however, check out your gamer’s preference. Although both “Guitar Hero: World Tour” and “Rock Band 2” are each excellent in its own way, each also has its strong and weak points. And at close to $200 a kit, it’s better to be safe than sorry. If the youngster you’re buying for doesn’t have it yet, it might be better still to buy an earlier version of the still-popular “Guitar Hero 2 or 3” (T, for all systems) at a greatly reduced price.

Sports and fitness

Two of the top titles in the sports category this year are the newest versions of a couple of old standbys, now made playable by a whole new host of players because of the Wii: “Tiger Woods PGA Tour 09 All-Play” (E) and “Madden NFL 09 All-Play” (E). Both the work of EA Sports, these franchises continue to provide quality play year after year.

Tiger’s new “all-play” feature, which allows all levels to play together — is a great addition to an already great game.

And although the enhancements to Madden are subtler, the Wii version of this annual bestseller is getting close to providing the same deep and realistic play of the other consoles’ versions, while keeping it more user-friendly.

But perhaps the biggest hit of the holiday season will be the game that gets all
those armchair golfers and quarterbacks off the couch and working up a little sweat themselves.

Even at $89 for the basic bundle, “Wii Fit” (Nintendo, E) is flying off retail shelves. A video game that truly taps the incredible potential of the medium, “Wii Fit” starts off by having the gamer “weigh in,” then proceeds to line out a workout program customized to the individual gamer. Buyers beware, however. This excellent game is not for the faint of heart — or the “wii not so serious about getting in shape.”

Action/adventure games

Except for a few notable exceptions, the family-friendly action/adventure games that in past years have been the lifeblood of the gaming industry are few and far between this year.

One of those exceptions, however, is “Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures,” (Lucas Arts Entertainment, E 10+) which is making the Christmas list of even hardcore gamers this year. Those of you who can’t quite make the connection between Legos and a video game should know that since its inception with “Lego Star Wars,” the games of this franchise have captivated nearly everyone who has played them with their combination of creativity, charm, and humor. Who knew that if you built a great product, people would buy it? George Lucas, apparently. If Indy’s price tag is too steep for you, get “Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga” (Lucas Arts, E 10+) at a third the price.

Next, “Kung Fu Panda” (Activision, E 10+) is a surprisingly satisfying game, considering that movie tie-ins have a less-than-impressive track record. Like the Lego titles, the fun is as much in the antics as in the game play.

Finally,“Nerf N-Strike”(Electronic Arts, E 10+) takes the first-person-shooter experience to the kiddies with a family-friendly Nerf gun bundled with the game. The gun doubles as both a peripheral for the video game and a Nerf gun for outdoor play. Although older gamers will find this one a little repetitive, it’s just the thing for younger gamers or Moms and Dads, whose trigger fingers aren’t yet ready for anything but the very slowest of the zombie invaders.

Fighting games

Not everyone plays video games to pursue a story line. Some just like to bash things up. If you prefer your onscreen talent to be of the comic book variety, then Midway’s T-rated “Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe” should be right up your alley. 

But fans of the recent box office hit “Twilight” might prefer to do their fighting with the sartorially splendid undead instead. If so, “Castlevania Judgment” (Konami, T) makes for a hearty game of vampire bashing.

Due to space constraints this issue, the second part of this guide — which will review the puzzle, role-playing and singing and party games, as well as the handheld titles — will appear in the Dec. 19 issue of The Leaven, but can be viewed on our Web site (www.theleaven. com) immediately.

Shoppers out there who were born to slack, however, can chill until next week. That’s because game developers have finally come up with a gift that will make you the coolest parent/grandparent/ uncle or aunt on the planet — with little or no real thought or effort on your part!

Tune in next week to find it right here. Or, if you insist, visit our Web site today.

About the author

Anita McSorley

Anita, managing editor of The Leaven, has over 30 years’ experience in book, magazine and newspaper editing, including stints as the assistant editor of the “Diplomatic Papers of Daniel Webster” at Dartmouth College and then in the public relations departments of Texaco, Inc., and the Rockefeller Group in New York. Anita made the move to newspaper editing when she came to The Leaven in 1988, where she has been ever since. Anita is a member of St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City, Kan., and in her spare time, she enjoys giving her long-suffering husband, her children and her staff good advice that they never take.

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