National Catholic Register

Arts & Entertainment

Christmas Gaming

’Tis the Season for Cool Choices

BY Thomas L. McDonald

December 5-18, 2010 Issue | Posted 11/29/10 at 12:43 PM

 

Want to get out of the cold and have some fun at home this Christmas season? Here are some new games for under the tree, along with suggestions for families watching their money this year.


For Your Table

Lego has a new game series that lets you build and play at the same time, and there are options that appear to gamers in every age group, from “Wild Wool,” for ages 5 and up, to “Pirate Code,” for 8 and up. The line’s flagship title, “Creationary” ($35), is “Pictionary” with Lego. You build an object from a generous selection of Legos, while players vie to guess what it is. Flexible rules make this one adaptable for a wide range of ages and any number of players. Heck, if you have enough Legos around, you can make up rules to create your own “Recession Edition.” USAopoly’s “Telestrations” ($30) is like the old schoolyard game “Telephone,” only with drawings. The game comes with topic cards and erasable eight-page drawing pads. One person draws an item and passes it to the next person. That person flips the page and writes down what they think the picture shows. A third person then draws a picture from this suggestion, and so on down the line. This is a load of fun with a big group, and kids love how silly it can get. Hasbro produces a similar game called “Scribblish” ($20). You can also come up with your own picture ideas and make a home version with a pad of paper, although the little erasable whiteboards of “Telestrations” are kind of neat.

Meanwhile, if you have an existing game, think about just buying an expansion set. Owners of “Small World” can pick up “Be Not Afraid …,” which adds new races and special powers to change up the gameplay a bit, while owners of “Memoir ’44” can try their hand at fighting the Ardennes Offensive in the “Winter Wars” expansion.


For Your Trip

“Scrabble Flash” ($20) turns the beloved crossword game into a high-tech, fast-paced word jumble. The game comes with five “smart tiles,” each capable of displaying a single random letter. The tiles recognize when you’ve formed a legitimate word, and you need to make as many words as possible before the clock runs out. It’s a remarkable twist on classic “Scrabble” play, and it’s surprisingly addictive as both a solo and competitive game.

A deck of “Bicycle Prestige Playing Cards” make a great stocking stuffer. You don’t need special cards for “Uno,” “Go Fish,” “Old Maid,” “Rook,” “Skip Bo,” “Solitaire,” “Hearts” or any number of other games. You can play all of them, and hundreds more, with a simple deck of cards, and pass on a 500-year tradition of game playing while you’re at it. Although plastic cards like “Bicycle Prestige” ($10) cost more than a standard paper deck, they last far longer, won’t wrinkle or bend, can be used on damp or even wet surfaces without damage, wipe clean with a damp cloth and come with their own case, making them perfect for families and traveling.


For Your Wii

For the younger kids, “Scooby-Doo and the Spooky Swamp” offers a surprisingly entertaining trio of mysteries to solve. Kids play as junior versions of the entire gang as they puzzle their way through the locations and fight bad guys. There are the usual array of Scooby-style monsters and cartoon mayhem, but nothing really frightening.

“Kirby’s Epic Yarn” ($50) is the big title for Wii this season, and it’s a gem. Nintendo’s titular pink blob gets sucked into Patch World, where everything is made of yarn, felt and other fabrics. Kirby uses his new stringy structure to make his way through eye-popping, colorful levels as he deals with foes and solves puzzles. It’s visually dazzling and utterly charming.


For Your Computer

Adults, teens, kids: Everyone can find something to love in “Civilization,” the long-running series about building a culture. The latest edition, “Civilization V” ($50), simplifies certain aspects of the gameplay, making it more accessible to newcomers and younger players. More seasoned gamers, or people on a budget, might want to check out “Civilization IV Complete,” which is available for about $12 online.

If you really need to keep it inexpensive, point your kids to “Minecraft,” which is available in both free and $10 versions online at MineCraft.com. This independent work-in-progress uses retro 3-D graphics to create a giant game world, and then allows you to use raw materials like wood, stone and wood to craft almost anything: houses, weapons, even electrical circuits. It’s like a huge sandbox, and kids have become so impressed with its depth that they overlook its technical limitations.


For Your Xbox/PlayStation

Forget about Kinect, Microsoft’s much ballyhooed motion-control technology. It will be too hard to find this Christmas season, it’s expensive, and you don’t need it. Sure, it’s an impressive, even revolutionary, piece of hardware, but it will still be around next year, when there will be far more games from which to choose.

Also, give the big-ticket M-rated games a pass, unless you’re an adult. Games like “Call of Duty: Black Ops,” “Fallout: New Vegas” and “Medal of Honor” may be good examples of their genres, but they don’t really belong under a Christmas tree. A better bet for the family is “Monopoly Streets” ($50, also on Wii), which lets you enter the classic game at street level for a nice twist on a perennial favorite.


For Your Mobile

“Cut the Rope” ($1, Apple Mobile Devices) is from the people who brought you “Angry Birds,” and it’s even more addictive and clever. Your goal is to get a dangling piece of candy into the mouth of a hungry monster by snipping ropes and setting off chain reactions. It’s a terrific example of a mobile puzzle game.

There’s really only one Nintendo DS game your kids need this season: “Super Scribblenauts” for DS ($30). The original “Scribblenauts” included a massive object dictionary that allowed you to type in any noun and see that object materialize in the game, ready to use in solving various puzzles. “Super Scribblenauts” adds adverbs to the mix, so now you can use that giant flying purple polka-dot pig to reach the star at the top of the level.

Follow Thomas L. McDonald on Twitter at @StateofPlayBlog.