Gaming with Children: Good first steps

October 19, 2010

My kids aren’t old enough yet for this to be a big concern for me (unless I’m scarring them for life by playing Halo: Reach while they sleep), but it will be in the future. Looking over my game shelf here are the best three games I could find for some quality time between Dad, one of the kids (or maybe more), and a video game console.

Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga (360, PS3, Wii, PC):  I love the Lego games regardless of who I get the privilege of playing with, but it’s hard to not notice that Tt Games designed the games with a younger player in mind without making the experience boring for an adult. The humor is cute, the controls are simple, and lives are unlimited. Combine these three things and you have the perfect storm of adolescent game design. Kids can have fun no matter how many times they jump in the lava, and parents can still feel like they’re accomplishing something because episodes are fairly short and forward progress is always possible. Being able to control your favorite characters and introduce a whole new generation to the wonder of Star Wars is a nice bonus as well. Other Lego games are certainly appropriate, but as more games have been made they’ve gotten a bit more difficult and lost a little bit of their charm. If you’re hurting for another Lego adventure when Star Wars wears thin, however, Lego Indiana Jones 2 should be your next stop.

Lego Rock Band 2 (360, PS3, Wii): Everybody likes music, and with songs that only last a few minutes a Rock Band session doesn’t need to last multiple hours to be worthwhile. With five separate difficulties, the addition of a no-fail mode and the addition of a filter that only lets you play family-friendly songs (these reasons are why I’m recommending Lego Rock Band vice the original Rock Band or RB2) and the ability to set up a player on drums and then turn off the need for a bass pedal makes Rock Band 2 a great choice for the whole family. It is also possible to get four people playing simultaneously, and letting your players choose songs (that can be sorted by difficulty) round-robin style means that all four kids can play a favorite within 20 minutes of sitting down. Lego Rock Band also has a kid-friendly story and a great Lego aesthetic.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii (Wii): New Super Mario Bros. Wii is another title that lets four kids play together. Younger kids probably won’t see the end of the story mode for many years (it took my wife and I more lives than I’d care to admit to beat the final level). NSMBWii artfully combines cooperative multiplayer with competitive. Sure, the big goal is to reach the end of the level and save the princess, but along the way it’s great fun to fight over helicopter hats, throw your teammates into pits because they stole the aforementioned hat, and use one another as bouncy blocks. Unlimited continues ensure that nobody will get too frustrated, and an easy save feature means that when things get too hectic it won’t be an ordeal to turn the game off with a promise that everybody can come back later. 

It was harder to find child-friendly games on my shelf than I thought as most games, even those with child-friendly themes and stories, seemed to difficult for kids to play and have fun with. Ratchet & Clank is a great example of this. I love it to death, but the guys over at Insomniac have clearly made an adult’s game with a child’s veneer. Anybody who has attempted the time puzzles (which, admittedly, are skippable) in R&C Future: A Crack in Time can attest to that. The combat sections aren’t exactly a cakewalk either. I know that I love the game for those things, but it would spell nothing but frustration for a new player. It can be difficult to find fun games for kids, but they’ll play them long enough (thanks to rationed video game time) that a small supply of high-quality games is all that’s really needed.