Thursday, July 24, 2014

Holiday video game guide: Something for 'Everyone' (20 items)

Dec. 6, 2013

Headlining the video game news this holiday season is the release of two next-generation consoles — PlayStation 4 and XBox One — and launch lineups that include new installments of some of the most popular franchises.

Many of those offerings, however, are decidedly M-rated titles such as "Assassins Creed IV Black Flag," "Battlefield 4" and "Call of Duty: Ghosts" — games recommended for "mature" players because of violence, language, blood and/or sexual themes. Some of them made our elves blush.

Our family-friendly gift guide focuses on games for "Everyone" — those rated in the E range by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board.

We've compiled a list of games across the various platforms (PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, XBox One, XBox 360, Wii U, Wii, Nintendo DS) that are appropriate for a broader age range and are likely to keep families entertained with strong gameplay.

A few disclaimers: Not every game in the E range (some are rated E 10+) is appropriate for younger children, and the games are not always easy for kids to play. We've tested most of them, but in cases where we haven't, we'll refer to reputable online reviews. And while digital downloads and smartphone apps have greatly expanded the gaming landscape, we've narrowed our focus to software that can be found in retail stores.

Contributing: Aaron Shill, Jeff Peterson, Sarah Petersen, Lois Collins, Trent Toone, Landon Walters

1 of 20. "Disney Infinity"

Rated E 10+ for cartoon violence, PS3, XBox 360, Wii U, Wii

This multifaceted, innovative new release is overflowing with options and creativity. "Infinity" features tangible toys, a seemingly endless supply of digital building elements and familiar animated characters and settings that are, in all likelihood, close to the heart.

Parents will definitely want to understand Infinity's setup and structure before committing. And commitment starts with a "starter pack," which retails for $74.99. The pack includes the game disc, a platform called the "base," one "play set" piece and three character figures.

Like Activision's Skylanders series, plastic figures are required to import different characters into the game. The starter pack features characters from three different Disney films — Mr. Incredible, Sulley and Jack Sparrow.

Once in the game, there are two distinct play options — "play set" mode and "toy box" mode. Each play set is like a video game, filled with unique levels and challenges based on the theme of a particular Disney movie. The piece that comes in the starter pack actually contains three play sets — Monsters University, The Incredibles and Pirates of the Caribbean — and the physical piece must be placed on the base in order to access those worlds. Currently, three other play sets are sold separately — Cars, The Lone Ranger and Toy Story in Space. Each comes with two additional figures and sells for $34.99.

The second play option, toy box mode, allows players to build their own worlds with a random and robust collection of vehicles, characters, costumes, objects and terrain pieces. Separately sold power discs ($4.99 per pack) increase the number of options. Disney is constantly releasing custom-built toy box worlds that are free to download.

"Infinity" is quite sophisticated and can be experienced on many levels, making it an ideal game to play together as a family. Unfortunately, while all characters can play in toy box mode, they can't cross over in play set mode. So if you invest in the characters from the new "Frozen" movie, don't expect them to be admitted into the Monsters University playset.

Cost-conscious parents should ask themselves whether the starter pack will be enough for their little gamers. On its own, the starter pack provides plenty of shelf life and game-play depth. But everywhere gamers turn in "Infinity," they'll be enticed by all the upgrades waiting for them on the store shelves.

For a more detailed review, click here.

2 of 20. "DuckTales: Remastered"

Rated E, PS3, XBox 360, Wii U

Based on the Disney cartoon that ran for four seasons in the late ‘80s, Capcom’s original “DuckTales” video game on the Nintendo Entertainment System became a minor classic of the 8-bit era. Now, 24 years later, it’s gotten a 21st-century makeover. Gone are the pixelated graphics and off-model character art from the original, and the HD animation that looks cleaner and crisper than even the “DuckTales” cartoon ever did.

Despite the fresh coat of paint, “DuckTales: Remastered” is still, at its core, the same title, which is both good and bad. Gamers familiar with the old-school platforming of the old “DuckTales” will appreciate how much of it feels the same. But the gameplay is pretty limited, especially in comparison with recent 2-D platformers like “Donkey Kong Country Returns” and “Rayman Legends.”

Ultimately, if just the mention of “DuckTales” doesn’t make you want to sing “woo-oo,” you might not be the core audience for this nostalgia-fueled blast from the past. For a more detailed review, click here.

3 of 20. "FIFA 14"

Rated E, PS4, PS3, XBox One, XBox 360

EA Sports' long-running soccer franchise has a firmly established international reputation and respected brand, so buyers should expect a lot from this game. Reviewers, according to Metacritic.com, are giving "FIFA 14" lots of praise, especially the next-generation console versions. A video review from USA Today says EA Sports "delivers a much more refined version of the already solid game play from the franchise's last few iterations."

4 of 20. "Forza Motorsport 5"

Rated E for comic mischief, XBox One

A racing game exclusive to XBox, "Forza Motorsport 5" is called "an outstanding improvement to an already excellent racing franchise" by GameSpot.com. The game has earned an 82 score from Metacritic.com.

5 of 20. Just Dance

"Just Dance 2014"

Rated E 10+, PS4, PS3, XBox 360, XBox One, Wii U, Wii

AND

"Just Dance Kids 2014"
Rated E, XBox 360, Wii U, Wii

"Just Dance 2014" stays consistent to its previous versions, and true to its name, by allowing users to flail their arms and legs while feeling like they can truly break it down.

"Just Dance 2014" includes songs from a few top-of-the-charts artists, such as One Direction, Nicki Minaj, Lady Gaga and PSY; several old-school hits, such as Jack Jones' "Loveboat," Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive," Ricky Martin's "María" and The Village People's "Y.M.C.A."; and a number of songs from relatively unknown artists.

Group performances have been popular in the past, and many more are added to this year's version. The Ghostbusters routine would be simply hilarious at any house party. As far as lyrics go, most songs with inappropriate material have been bleeped out, but some suggestive lyrics and movements are included.

For families who enjoy the Just Dance video games but are hesitant to purchase "Just Dance 2014" because of its content, "Just Dance Kids 2014" is a great option. Although the visuals do seem to be for a younger crowd and it includes several toddler songs, such as "Hickory Dickory Dock," "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)" and "Mary Had a Little Lamb," it also has enough pop hits to satisfy any tween.

Some of the more popular songs include "One Thing" by One Direction, "Hit the Lights" by Selena Gomez & The Scene and "Give Your Heart a Break" by Demi Lovato. The dance moves are somewhat toned down compared to those in "Just Dance 2014," yet still very entertaining.

For a more detailed review, click here.