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Holiday Tech Guide: Video Games

Mike Musgrove
Washigton Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 17, 2008 1:00 PM

Need advice on what to buy your favorite video game addict? Or someone who just bought their first console? @play columnist Mike Musgrove was online Wednesday, Dec. 17 at 1 p.m. ET to provide gaming gift advice for the holiday season.

Check out his latest video game gifts in the 2008 Holiday Tech Guide.

The transcript follows.

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Mike Musgrove: Hi everybody, let's get started...happy to talk about whatever's on your minds that's game related.

And here's a random question from me to you guys. One of my colleagues is looking for a Wii right now and can't find one. I'd been checking the local game stores every week or so this fall and supply has been decent this season... or has it dried up in the last few days? Anybody looking for and not finding the system, or vice versa?

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Worcester, Mass.: My son loved Oblivion; we spent hours & hours playing that game - working through all the side missions and storylines

He cranked thru Gears of War 2 on hardcore & is working through it on insane now.

So is Fallout 3 a good choice?

Mike Musgrove: It is, certainly. Fallout 3 is pretty bloody, but if you don't mind him playing Gears of War, you won't be too shocked.

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Vienna, Va.: My 11-year-old is hoping to get Rock Band (or is it Rock Band 2?) for Christmas. I'm a little concerned about the "T" rating. Is that for lyrics? Is there any way (either on Rock Band or Guitar Hero) for a parent to exclude certain songs from being used? Or is there an E or E10+ rated guitar-type game out there that I don't know about? My son is particularly excited about the guitar and vocal aspects of the game; and I'm not sure Wii Music has cool rock songs you can sing along to. (Re: the T rating -- he's 11, it's not such a big deal...but he has younger siblings who will be around).

Mike Musgrove: Rock Band 2, yes -- the "T" rating is for lyrics, there's nothing else in there that might you squirm, though there's also no way to filter out songs by that sort of content. I don't know of an "E" rated alternative that I'd recommend. (No, Wii Music does not have cool rock songs you can sing along to.)

The Singstar karaoke-style games for the PS2 and PS3 are pretty good -- but, jeez! even the Abba-themed version of the game is Rated "T" now that I check.

I'm glad to see some parents are paying attention to game ratings. For an easy way to check on this stuff and look for content you'll be comfortable with, go to ESRB.com. It's a useful site for parents.

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Chicago, Ill.: Any advice on what are the best games/software for a Nintendo DS for a 11 year old girl?

Mike Musgrove: I'd suggest Drawn to Life and Nintendogs, of the top of my head. Those aren't new titles, but girls do seem to like them. in Drawn to Life, you get to draw your own colors and/or color in the game levels as you play; in Nintendogs you get to take care of a virtual doggy. Legend of Zelda, Animal Crossing and the rhythm title Elite Beat Agents also come to mind.

More recently, a Nancy Drew game for the DS is aimed at this market and has been selling well, though I haven't seen any positive reviews of it. I think the general complaint has been that it's a little short for the $.

If any parents out there want to throw in suggestions, please do!

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West Falls Church: Do you have kids and if so, at what age would you consider it appropriate to have a game system around?

What is your school of thought with regard to the opposite extremes? a. No gaming for kids b/c it will distract from their studies, or b. Expose them to some gaming and control it so that it would be a total culture shock for them later in life.

Mike Musgrove: I have a 7-year-old stepson and a daughter on the way. When he's been good, I let him play whatever games seem appropriate. We both are enjoying Lego Batman, for example, though that is rated "E10+" which means it has been deemed suitable for kids 10 and up.

I've seen kids where games distract from the studies, no doubt, but I wouldn't say that's the case at my house just yet and I'm happy to keep videogames in the mix for him as long as that's the case.

One thing worth noting, by the way, for parents out there is that the consoles all have parental controls on them, so that kids can't get on and play unless you give them the passcode. On the Xbox, I believe you can even set time limits on how long your kid can play. I find these tools to be very handy.

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College Park, Md.: Hey Mike, Went through your Holiday guide -- mostly good picks. Two questions here: 1. Please justify your pick of the lowly rated Shaun White Snowboarding game. Is the use of the Wii board make it a worthy title?

2. Any budget friendly games you can recommend like "World of Goo" (retails for the PC @ $20)?

Thanks!

Mike Musgrove: Hey College Park. Yeah, I mentioned the Shaun White game because of the Wii version, which lets people stand on the $80 balance board to play.

Since that device has been a bestseller all year I thought it would be worth flagging that for the balance board owners out there looking for something other than the yoga lessons that come included with the thing. I haven't tried the PS3 or the Xbox 360 versions of the game, and they haven't gotten favorable reviews.

If you're on a budget, there are a lot of good downloadable games for the systems that only cost $10 or so. I was a fan of the remake of a 90s game called Vigilante 8 that was recently released for download on the Xbox 360.

Anybody out there try Dr. Awesome for the iPhone, by the way? It's $2, I think, and one of the only iPhone gaems that've kept me kinda hooked...

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Alexandria, Va.: Walmart.com had thousands of Wii's in stock last week. I was looking for a Wii Fit bundle package which they were out of, but Target.com had it, and at a cheaper price than anywhere else I found it.

Mike Musgrove: Thank you much.

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Philly: For your Wii search, try using amazon's text alerts. I know many people have had success with both Wii systems and Wii Fit.

Mike Musgrove: Just passing this along.

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Roanoke, Va.: Mike - simple clarification for you, Gears of War is exclusively for Xbox 360, right? Because on your top video game list for the year/christmas shopping, you've got it listed as a PS3 game.

What's your advice for people who have multiple systems (IE PS3 and Wii), who want one of the rhythm guitar games? I like the Wii because it is easier to travel with than the PS3, but I think the Wii loses out alot on the non-ability to download new tracks...

Mike Musgrove: That is absolutely right and that's a big goof that has now (I understand) been fixed. Thanks for pointing that out.

No dount, the Wii is a LOT more portable than the big ol' PS3, but if you're lugging around guitar controllers and all that stuff anyway, I would stick with the PS3, just with the thought that the graphics would probably be better.

The Guitar Hero folks say the Wii version of their latest game (World Tour) will be able to do song downloads, via the Wii's SD card slot. I haven't tried it tho.

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Washington, D.C.: My 5 year old son loves to play games on the computer, but I've found that after about 20-30 minutes playing them that he becomes angry and combative. This year he's getting 3 new games for his Leapster, but his friends are getting PSPs and Wiis. I have concerns about the anger and intensity of videogames. Are there any titles for the PC we should look at for age 5-7, or with his disposition, should we just back off entirely?

Mike Musgrove: Well, I'm no therapist, but if this were my situation I'd just back away from the videogame arena for a while. Does he get combative after using the Leapster, too?

My stepson, about to turn 8, is no stranger to temper tantrums, but I haven't noticed this behavior in him after playing videogames. For what it's worth, he seems to like the Leapster about as much as the DS, even though the Leapster is supposed to be educational and all that.

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Greenbelt, Md.: I'm one of four forty-year old dads who, after playing paper and pencil games through HS and college, have discovered online multiplayer RPGs. We enjoyed playing Neverwinter Nights and all its expansions, and have played Guild Wars for the past year, but are now tiring of the MMPORG scene, and would rather go back to a private server.

We've looked around for a long while, and see nothing in the way of good multiplayer RPGs out there. We tried Diablo, Baldur's Gate, and Dungeon Siege, but after NWN and GW, the graphics and game mechanics are too simplistic.

Anything on the horizon that's not a pay-to-play MMPORG?

Mike Musgrove: have you heard about the upcoming Star Wars, Knight of the Old Republic title ? Evidently it will be free to play, but players will have to fork over real $ to, say, buy a better lightsaber or whatever. This MMPORG is based on a great couple of titles for the original Xbox, so seems interesting...

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For Chicago: Our 11-year-old daughter loves the Kit Kitteredge mystery game for the DS (unfortunately, it does have the tie-in to the pricey American Girl line, but she really does love solving the mysteries).

Mike Musgrove: Thanks for this!

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Mount Airy, Md.: Hi Mike,Thanks for taking my question. I've been really disappointed with the Wii games of late. A lot of them seem to echo the poorly though out, generic playing environment that led the original Atari to its grave. That being the case, is there anything new in the Wii environment that is geared toward elementary age kids that offers fun and longevity of play?

Mike Musgrove: I do get this impression from Wii owners sometimes. I don't know of anything radically different on the way for that system.

If you're a Wii owner who agrees or disagrees strongly, please drop me a line at musgrovem@washpost.com.

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RB2 Rating: We have RB2 and the bad words are all edited out of the songs. I think the rating must be for what the songs are about, because there aren't any explicit words or lyrics.

Mike Musgrove: Thanks for mentioning this, I had not noticed.

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Arlington, Va.: Not really a buying question, but has bugginess been a problem with the Lego series? The first Star Wars game, the Indiana Jones, and Batman have all frozen on my Xbox 360 - I'm not sure if this is a company problem or not. Thanks.

Mike Musgrove: I've spent a lot of time with all these games, and never had the Xbox 360 freeze on me. (The only title that I can recall freezing my Xbox has been Fallout 3.)

I have often noticed that the game sometimes "tears." That is, there's a line in the middle of the screen where the top and the bottom visuals are briefly out of sync with each other. That's the only issue I've ever noticed with them.

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Anonymous: I was wanting to bring a little nostalgia into the holidays. I'm planning on giving the kids super nintendo games instead of all newer things. Do you know of a place to get them or is ebay my only shot?

Mike Musgrove: Hey, this reminds me I should mention a site & local company called Goozex.com...

It's a good service for trading in your old games with other gamers and it does seem that people are sometimes trading older titles, though I dunno if it goes back far enough to include SNES.

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NoVa: Hi Mike, Thanks for this chat, if you have an answer to our question, it'll be so much appreciated!

We've bought a Wii console for our 12-year-old daughter for Christmas. She's not a hard-core gamer (in fact, the reason she hasn't been enthralled with PS3 or Xbox is that they are too reliant on "thumbs"), but we think she'd enjoy playing with the Wii remote. And she has shown interest in it.

What would be some good, basic games for a girl her age? MarioKart? StarWarsLego?

Thank you!

Mike Musgrove: Everybody seems to get a kick out of MarioKart, so that sounds like a good one to me. Super Mario Galaxy is pretty cool, too. Anybody else want to throw in some suggestions?

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Henry: On the Itchy & Scratchy video game, is there a way to get out of the dungeon without using the wizard key?

Mike Musgrove: Hmm. Henry? Is this a question from my dog?

Try pushing up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, b, a, start.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Mike, I've been rockin' my PS2 for years now and have decided to upgrade to the xBox360. Should I go out of my way to find the new "Jasper" version of the 360? From what you hear, will the smaller chip totally get rid of PROD? Thanks!

Willis

Mike Musgrove: What's prompting you to make the switch?

When I've asked Microsoft hardware questions about the Xbox 360, they've usually declined to say anything... Personally, I wouldn't hold immense hope in a new chip eliminating the "red ring of death."

Having seen an Xbox or two die on me, I tend not to get too optimistic that Msft has fixed this console, which has a rep for breaking sometimes for no good reason.

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Cuke, Iceland: Any news about any new console hardware being considered? I know that so far, the games have sort of not yet caught up or exploited the capabilities of the current boxes (xBox 360, Playstation 3, or gamer PCs). The manufacturers can't be planning another generation of console to make these obsolete yet are they? I'm asking in the hope that the games purchased (the cost of 4 or 5 games exceeds the cost of the console) will live on.

Mike Musgrove: Yeah, none of the console makers seem to be interested in trying to get gamers to move on to a new device just yet. The consoles in this generation are still trying to grab the mainstream. Sony, for example, likes to talk about game consoels having ten-year lifespans.

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Western NY: Yes, the RB titles bleep out the bad words. I think it's rated T more for the ideas than anything else. As a gamer and a parent to two little up and coming gamers, I don't have a problem with my kids playing it.

As someone who has both RB and GH WT, I would strongly recommend the RB series over GH WT. It's better designed and much more fun. Also, RB2 has a "no-fail" modifier, great when kids play (or less adept adults). GH might have this but I honestly didn't play it long enough to find out (and the manual was a very rushed into production number, with almost no info in it).

On downloadable content -- be aware that the Wii has less space available and that you might have to use removable media for storage. The Xbox has the most space and the most songs available.

Mike Musgrove: Thanks for this.

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Towson, Md.: Far Cry 2 - is it worth it or as a GTA fan will I just be frustrated like I was with some other similar games?

Mike Musgrove: What in particular did you find frustrating about similar games?

Most GTA-style knockoffs over the years have been terrible, with a few exceptions. I haven't gotten very far into Far Cry 2 (too many other games competing for my attention), but it seems like one of those exceptions to me.

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Alexandria, Va.: For people wanting to get their NES fix, you need to go check out the Virtual NES website. You can play almost any title ever made for free right in your browser window (you just need a current version of Java). To make it more authentic, you can even purchase original-style NES controllers that plug into a USB port instead of using a keyboard. For long games like Kid Icarus, you still get a passcode that you can jot down then enter later to pick up where you left off.

Mike Musgrove: This is a good suggestion for the NES fan, thanks.

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Ellicott City, Md.: We bought a Playstation 3 a few months ago and we have two kids under 5. The older one likes "Ratchet and Clank" (as do I), and the Cars Mater-National game is also pretty good for kids, although I find it dull. Little Big Planet is on my Christmas list. Any other suggestions for games for the young (and young at heart?).

Mike Musgrove: LittleBigPlanet will keep you occupied for a while, so I'd say you're probably good to go. But, as I've already made clear, I'm a sucker for the Lego games and sounds like that might be your speed as well.

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Van down by the river: Your game of the year?

Mine is Metal Gear Solid 4; honorable mentions are Little Big Planet and Fallout 3.

Mike Musgrove: hey Van, thanks for asking. For me it'd be Fallout 3.

I have a big pile of videogames piled up at home... for a while I was trying to play a little of all of them, since there are so many good games out this year. But Fallout 3 is the one that I'm spending most of my own free time on.

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Re Wii games for 12 year old girl: Slightly more grown up girl here; I would recommend Zelda: Twilight Princess (yes, a year old, but still great). And I second Super Mario Galaxy. Also, games like Super Monkey Ball-she should have group games for if her friends come over (the Wii is very much a group game console).

Mike Musgrove: yes, Super Monkey ball would fit the bill too.

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Mark from PA: Another vote for Rock Band 2, and you can import songs from Rock Band 1 for $5 (to your hard drive) - just rent it and double the song library.

Mike Musgrove: I like them both well enough, but there's no doubt that RB2 has a huge library of songs and that's steering a lot of people to prefer that one over Guitar Hero.

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Manchester, NH: Getting a PS3 for Xmas. (Bill Gates doesn't need any more of my money for a buggy product.) Little Big Planet, SW:The Force Unleashed and Fallout 3 are all on my list. What game would you round this out with?

Mike Musgrove: Sounds like you wouldn't have played Bioshock yet -- so I'd suggest that. It's great stuff.

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Washington, D.C.: So, simple question - best PS3 games out there? Double bonus points if there is a car racing game in the mix.

Mike Musgrove: Hmm, none of the racing games have been grabbing me lately, so no bonus points for me.

Most of the games I like on the PS3 are available on multiple platforms anyway; the only favorite I have this year that's unique to PS3 would be LittleBigPlanet. Other than that, my favorites are the titles that have already come up. If you're a PS3 owner I would, again, suggest picking up Bioshock which came out for the Xbox 360 last year, but is out this year for PS3.

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Laurel, Md.: Hi Mike,

My latest gaming system is a PS1. I don't play it anymore since I started college and I barely have time for games. However, I'm about to graduate in May and I found a job in upstate NY and I was thinking I could buy a gaming system to keep me entertained while over there. The problem is that I don't know which gaming system to go for? Any thoughts?

Mike Musgrove: Personally, I have all three at home and tend to spend more time on the Xbox 360, because I like the way I can keep an eye on when my friends are online and what they're playing. There are a few exclusive titles for the console this year that are keeping me more on the Xbox 360 more than the others (Gears of War, Fable 2).

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DC: Thoughts on the The Force Unleashed? I'm kinda stoked about it, but I've heard the reviews have been so-so.

Mike Musgrove: I wasn't that into it, sorry to say. I liked it at first, but the controls weren't all that intuitive and that took away from the kick you'd want to get out of a game where you get to have Jedi powers, you know? I liked it for a few hours when it came out, then put it down and haven't popped it in again...

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Mike Musgrove: Hmm, I feel like I should sign off with a quote from the DJ named Three Dog in Fallout 3 ("okay, chillldren!"). But I can't think of one that would fit...

Thanks for coming by folks, it was a pleasure talking videogames.

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