So a few days ago I posted a rant about the sorry state of kids’ games, and afterwards I was bound and determined to find something that my son and I could play together.
Some people wrote in and told me that I should go back to some of the classics, and that's not really bad advice. However, I think the fact is that some of those ‘classics’ don't hold up as well as we think they do. I mean, let's get real… I can remember being driven batshit crazy by the absurd difficulty curves and just plain bizarre choices older games made. The state of design has come a long way since the NES, and I had a hard time trying to decide what titles would swim with my son, and which would sink. However, I think a lot of the same spirit found in the classics can be found in many of the download-only titles available from the various online services.
Totally abandoning retail, I gave the new WiiWare offerings another once-over since my son's been through most of the games on Xbox Live Arcade (and loved them), and I came up with two real winners.
Critter Round-Up from Konami is about as low-rent and simple as can be, but my son took to it immediately once I went through a couple levels and showed him the ropes.
Basically, the player controls a small character that lays a fence behind him. The object of the game is to separate the different kinds of animals running freely in each level. For example, there might be some beavers milling around with deer, so you'd have to wait until there was enough space to sneak through, lay the fence, and then pen them each up away from the other. The challenge comes from the fact that the character trips and falls when he touches an animal, and there are also some predator animals which will chase him. Other than that, it's about as straightforward as it sounds, and in this case that's a good thing. The graphics could use some work, but there’s a neat sort of 80’s arcade vibe going on here… I wouldn't be surprised if it was inspired by some forgotten quarter-muncher. This one is recommended for kids.
Toki Tori, also on WiiWare, is a fantastic little puzzler very much like the games that were found on the NES/SNES way back in the day. Incidentally, it seems that this same game was released on the Game Boy Color in 2001, but I don't remember ever seeing it before.
Anyway, in this game the player controls a squat little yellow bird tasked with freeing his still-in-the-shell brethren from 2D platformy puzzle levels. The catch is that he can’t jump, and the different abilities available to him are extremely limited and given in specific quantities on a level-by-level basis. For example, in one stage the bird will have five uses of a teleporter and two shots of an ice gun. In another, he'll have two ghost traps and three bridges, and so on. There's a lot of trial-and-error going on here, but so far the stages are quite short and a healthy dose of logic will usually solve any mysteries.
Although the difficulty and required level of puzzle-solving ability ramp up pretty quickly, the reason Toki Tori is a success is because a second player (Dad, in this case) can use an additional Wiimote to direct a cursor on screen to give hints and direction to the first player (son).
The same sort of setup was recently seen in Super Mario Galaxy (and a few earlier titles, IIRC) and after these two experiences, I'm convinced that any game with a hope of appealing to younger children should absolutely include this feature standard.
It definitely requires a lot more participation from parents since they have to be sitting next to their child and actively involved in the gameplay, but that's totally all right with me since I don't see games as an electronic babysitter for young ones. This “magic cursor” is the perfect way to involve both parent and child in the same activity, leading to natural cooperation and teamwork. What could be better? This one is recommended for kids and grown-ups... or just grown-ups.
Kudos to both Konami and Two Tribes for some great kid-friendly titles. I would never have imagined it, but based on my experiences with these games and previous ones on Live, it seems like download is a great way to go for parents right now.
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