Here are some gift ideas for the little gamers on your shopping list.
Pro: New vehicles give the game a new dimension.
Con: Your kids will probably want add-ons.
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Price: $74.99 for a starter pack
The Skylanders are back in “Skylanders Superchargers,” the latest title from the franchise that’s championed the “toys-to-life” trend. As with all toys-to-life games, “Superchargers” blurs the line between the real and digital worlds by way of smart, interactive figurines that players place onto a game pad. Those characters then come to life onscreen, for the PlayStation, Xbox and Wii U. There are also mobile versions.
This year, the game gets a new dimension with the addition of vehicles that will help you make your way through the world by land, air or sea. That means there are even more extra figures that kids will probably want to add to their collections - though it’s worth noting that it’s possible to play the whole game with only the figures included in the starter pack. Some cartoonish violence earns this game a 10+ rating from the Entertainment Software Ratings Board.
Disney Infinity 3.0
Pro: Lots of time to spend with your favorite Disney characters.
Con: The starter pack may not be enough for everyone.
Price: $64.99 for a starter pack
Disney has refined its own toys-to-life offering with its latest title, “Disney Infinity 3.0.” This installment has a better story and more polished gameplay than its predecessors. Plus, it’s hard to compete with the range of characters Disney has at its disposal, from “Star Wars” and Marvel as well as from the classic animation films we all know and love.
“Star Wars” takes the center stage here, adding lightsabers into the mix of the game’s combat system. And it’s perfectly possible to get full enjoyment out of this title with just the figures that come in the starter pack. (Though it may not be easy to convince your kids of that.) In addition to the story, the game also has a Toy Box mode that lets you build your own adventures or play through levels that others have built. The latest game also adds the ability to have sidekicks, which adds even more fun to the overall experience.
Pro: Improved diplomacy adds a new element to the game.
Con: Not all of the humor is aimed at kids.
Another toys-to-life title, “Lego Dimensions” stands out from the others by asking you, sometimes, to put the controller down and engage in some old-school play. Rather than having all the toys that work with the game come pre-built, “Lego Dimensions” has you build them yourself.
Those plugged into pop culture at all in the past several decades will find a lot to love about the story line, which weaves through a variety of fictional worlds. You may not have realized you wanted to see a “Lord of the Rings” and “Scooby-Doo” crossover, but there it is. One thing to note: Some of the humor in the game, while not necessarily inappropriate, is designed to go over your kids’ heads - think the “Lego Movie.” The game was rated most suitable for players 10 and up, which feels about right.
Yoshi’s Woolly World
Pro: You can go on adventures together.
Con: Not the world’s most challenging game.
The adorableness factor is off the charts with “Yoshi’s Woolly World,” a Nintendo title for the Wii U that gives Mario’s famous dinosaur partner a crafty makeover. Everything in this game is designed to look knitted and/or crocheted. Players must puzzle their way through the levels by unraveling objects around them, then reconstructing them in ways that progress the game. It’s clever but never too challenging; it’s a game for relaxation as much as fun. Plus, Yoshi’s pretty cute as a stuffed animal - you can even buy him as one, since this game works with amiibo, Nintendo’s line of toys-to-life figures.
Adults, too, are likely to find a lot to love in this charming game; it’s not a bad way to unwind at the end of the work day. It supports having two players on the screen at a time. So if you want to hop onto the Wii U with your kids, it’s easy to go on adventures together. The game is rated appropriate for all ages.
Rock Band 4
Pro: Getting the band back together is fun.
Con: The included song catalogue may not appeal to everyone.
Price: Starts at $60, but bundles with instruments are $250.
Back in the early 2000s, music games were all the rage. For people of a certain age (read: middle school and high school), it seemed like every party had those plastic guitars, maybe some fake drums and a microphone ready to make you a virtual rock star. “Rock Band 4” revives the genre, with online connectivity and a new guitar layout that feels more like playing an actual instrument - though it’s certainly not going to make you a musician any time soon. Older instruments from previous games are supported.
Overall, the game brings back all the heady fun of playing with your friends. Sure, the directions can be a little hard to figure out, and there are a lot of directions. And you may have trouble finding songs right off the bat that you want to sing. (Though, surely, that’s a matter of personal taste.) But there’s a lot of downloadable content to pull from; it just may take a little digging. “Rock Band 4” has a “teen” rating, meaning it’s best suited for ages 13 and up. And those with a real nostalgia for music games may also be happy to know that Rock Band’s rival, “Guitar Hero,” also has a new title out this season.
Chibi-Robo: Zip Lash
Pro: An adorable robot is your guide to puzzling fun.
Con: Can get a bit repetitive.
Earth is under threat, and its only real hope is a tiny robot who’s seriously skilled with a whip. “Chibi-Robo: Zip Lash,” a game for the handheld Nintendo 3DS, puts you in control of that teeny hero, and the electrical cord he uses, Indiana Jones-like, to get himself from place to place. Players navigate by sending the cord over pits, through blocks - and, sometimes, into secret switches - to solve puzzles. You can lengthen the cord, and therefore your range of mobility, by picking up items along the way.
Older players may find some of the puzzles a bit repetitive, but there’s plenty to explore across the game as you work to save the world from a swarm of malicious robots. While the game could benefit from a slightly faster pace, it is a charming romp through a micro-universe. The game is rated appropriate for all ages by the ESRB.
Minecraft: Story Mode
Pro: Improved diplomacy adds a new element to the game.
Con: Die-hard Minecraft enthusiasts may feel limited.
Price: $25 for the full season
Part of the beauty of the Minecraft franchise is that it doesn’t have a story. Instead, it’s a big sandbox that lets you make whatever you want. So fans of the series may be skeptical about “Minecraft: Story Mode,” an episodic version of the game that actually sports a plot. But you can mostly rest easy: Even though it has a story, this title retains much of the creative crafting spirit that makes Minecraft so much fun.
Building cool things is still at the heart of the game. And it’s written with cheeky humor as players step into the shoes of Jessie, a protagonist that players can make either male or female, as one of a band of friends trying to stop an ancient evil. This game comes out in episodes, meaning that you can’t play it all at once - new parts are available for download at regular intervals. It’s available on all the major consoles, plus iOS devices. The ESRB recommends that it is best for players ages 10 and up.
Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below
Pro: Satisfying, adventurous fun.
Con: Fans should know this is different from other Dragon Quest games.
Originally released in February, “Dragon Quest Heroes: The World Tree’s Woe and the Blight Below” has earned the praise of critics and fans alike. It’s different from other games in the series, which largely have you lead a customizable hero through a lengthy adventure. This one is action-focused. Like the “Dynasty Warriors” franchise, players are pitted against swarms of enemies and have to cut their way through those battles.
This title is fast and action-packed, and while it’s a deviation from the luxurious storytelling and exploration, it is still terrific fun. The wit of the Dragon Quest series is there. And this is a game with great feeling of flow; there’s something supremely satisfying about a well-timed and well-fought battle.
That was enough to earn “Dragon Quest Heroes” a “teen” rating, meaning it’s best suited for those 13 and up.