Pro: Familiar fun
Con: Can feel a bit stale
Best for: Those for whom there’s no school like the old school
Retail price: $44.99
This year in the gaming world is all about the sequel, and games for the younger set are no exception. In its follow-up to Epic Mickey, Disney again relies heavily on its stable of beloved characters to produce a fun, familiar game that will appeal to kids of all ages.
Mickey returns, of course, as does his pal Oswald the Lucky Rabbit from the first title to help players fly over gaps and use his powers to turn enemies into friends. Gamers can choose to play solo or with a friend, thanks to flexible cooperative play that adds another layer to the game. The title also gives kids a little bit of the moral decision-making that shows up in more mature titles, as the way they play affects the world around them. Jumping on the heads of too many of the other creatures in a level makes other characters wary about working with you.
True Disney fans will appreciate that references to older movies and Disneyland jokes pepper the story line, making it a true nostalgic treat to watch as well as play.
Pro: Something-for-everyone gameplay
Con: Exclusive to the Wii U
Best for: Families who like to play together
Retail price: $39.99
With the latest Super Mario Bros. title, Nintendo is trying to show off the best of its new Wii U console and the new kind of videogame playing that comes with it. Called “asymmetric play,” the Wii U and its tablet-like controller give one player the opportunity to take a slightly different role in the course of the game. In New Super Mario Bros. U, that new role is one more suited to those not used to playing in the Mario world. The one who holds the tablet controller gets to create new blocks and platforms to help — or hinder — their fellow players as they work their way through the level. That could mean giving your friend a leg up on a part of the map that’s difficult to get past or blocking them into a confined space with an enemy.
The rest of the gameplay should be very familiar to Mario fans, who will be happy to see the return of the plumber protagonist’s most-used power-ups, including the leaf that gives you the ability to glide like a flying squirrel. The game also includes the return of baby Yoshi dinosaurs with special abilities to help players through the game world and toward the ultimate goal of saving the princess.
Pro: Pulls in the feel of favorite PlayStation games
Con: Can feel a bit chaotic
Best for: Good friends with thick skins
Retail Price: $59.99
Sony pulled out an impressive lineup of its classic characters to participate in a no-holds-barred battle game that should have PlayStation fans grinning from ear to ear as they beat each other senseless.
The cast of characters features those as varied as the sneaky raccoon Sly Cooper to Heihachi from Tekken to Nathan Drake from Uncharted. In each case, the company has taken pains to make the controls feel as familiar as possible; each character plays the same way they do in their original games.
The mash-ups extend beyond the fact that you can play characters from different titles in the same game. Levels are set in backgrounds that pull elements from Sony games and levels will often introduce tidbits from other popular games halfway through a battle. So, for example, the level that features the setting from God of War gets a sudden visit from the rhythm-worshiping creatures from Patapon.
All in all, the game plays like a love letter to the company’s biggest fans. It’s a great game to have with a crowd, though friends will have to promise to leave their feelings about victories and defeats on the battlefield.
Pro: Has a lot of build-your-own options
Con: Basic racing gameplay
Best for: Creative gamers
Retail Price: $59.99
The developers from LittleBigPlanet are taking their world to the racetrack with the latest installment of the series. The racing part of the game admittedly doesn’t add much innovation to the classic genre. But what sets this game apart is the ability to customize just about everything.
The development team has added a lot of tools that make it easy for any player to make up a level particularly suited to their own playing style. These options take the game far beyond its own genre for those who are willing to invest the time in building custom levels.
The toolbox itself is great and varied, though it could be a little overwhelming for younger (or even older, less experienced) players, who may otherwise enjoy the stock racing levels included in the game.
The title is a fun one for kids of all ages who enjoy zipping around the racetrack, particularly in the unique, fun world of LittleBigPlanet. LittleBigPlanet Karting is a strong addition to the popular series and certainly one that lets gamers express their full creativity.
Pro: Easy fun for the whole family
Con: Requires a Kinect; a little rigid
Best for: Folks with big living rooms
Retail Price: $49.99
Accio Xbox! Using the Kinect controller, this game is one of the first Harry Potter games to skillfully execute what, by all rights, should have been a no-brainer for any developer working on a Harry Potter game. This title reads players’ movements for spell-casting, potion-making and soaring through the air on a broomstick.
The Kinect is able to read movements easily and rarely misfires — a common problem with Kinect games that has been less prevalent in recent years. It’s certainly one of the better motion-controlled Potter games and should be great for getting kids excited (and moving around!) as they picture themselves as students at Hogwarts.
The game is really aimed at younger players, or those more interested in getting a quick bout of play in rather than exploring the nearly total lack of story line in the game. It plays more like a collection of rigid mini games, which can be fun for shorter sessions but not marathon play. It’s certainly a game for people who want to act like wizards rather than those who want to revisit the story lines from the popular books.