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December 31, 2005

Happy New Year!

Here's how we spent the last few hours of 2005 (well, 'til 9:30, anyway)...

  • Family Movie Night with Madagascar, complete with home-popped white popcorn. My wife makes the BEST! POPCORN! EVAR! She's old school.
  • We played Eye Toy Play 2** for a little while
  • We re-played a mission from Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves**
  • I sang the kids to sleep.
This is the good stuff.

Happy New Year, everyone. Thanks for stopping by. Here's to even more parents having a lot of fun playing games with their kids in 2006.

** My kids love both games. Reviews to follow in the coming weeks.

December 28, 2005

GUEST REVIEW (by Kim Pallister): LEGO.com Pre-School Games

If there's been one area where I've been remiss to date, it's that I've focused exclusively on individual games, to the exclusion of the many terrific "game-licious" websites for kids, as I ever-so-tantalizingly promised on Line 5 at the very top of the right sidebar.

I've listed many of the best sites further down the aforementioned sidebar (under "Multi-Game Websites for Kids"). Some are TV-channel-based (e.g. Nick Jr., Noggin, PBS Kids, HBO Family, etc.), and others are.....um.....not (e.g. MSN Kidz Games, Box7, National Geographic Kids Games). And I'll try to be more diligent about sprinkling some website reviews around now and again.

But for now, as an experiment of sorts, I'm going to hand over the reins temporarily. I have the pleasure of introducing GameFam's first-ever guest column, by fellow parent, gamer, blogger, and all-around swell guy..........Kim Pallister. **

So without further ado, here is Kim's review of LEGO.com's Preschool Games website:

"Get yer funny for nothing and yer bricks for free"

Finding software for infants and toddlers can be challenging. With their rapid development, the right level of interactivity can be tricky to find.

When first introduced to digital media, kids just want to see things happen before them. Then they'll progress to "click to observe something happen" levels of interactivity, before finally stepping up to choice/consequence levels. Activities requiring timing along with hand-eye coordination are even more advanced. This can be frustrating to those buying software for their kids, only to find that it's too advanced for their level, or that they've outgrown it before starting.

What a relief then, to find that there's a website with a bunch of games for kids to play, all of which are free, and which cater to different levels of advancement.

Lego's Preschooler section of their website offers SIXTEEN free activities for preschoolers. The activities vary in type and complexity, ranging from printable coloring-book type pages to tetris-style minigames.

All parents should be able to find an activity for their preschooler that matches their level of development and tastes. Try "Explore LegoVille" (pictured) for a bustling town where stuff happens when you click on just about anything (my son's favorite is clicking on the sun or moon to change the time of day). For something slightly more advanced "Train Driver" or "Airport Action" for games requiring simple choices to make the stories proceed. If those are still too easy, try "Pony Club Races" or "Brick Buster" for games requiring both choices and timing.

The games are all robustly implemented and we ran into no issues running them. In fact, the only negative thing we have to say is that there is SO MUCH stuff on the site that it requires a little hunting around before finding the games that are right for you. Apart from that, we have no complaints.

Kudos to Lego for offering a ton of fun for kids, and all for a price that's sure to please parents still feeling the sting of Santa's christmas credit card bill.

** Was it just me, or did anyone out there also conjure up the following classic Monty Python sketch in their mind as I was introducing Kim...

Compère: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the refreshment room here at Bletchley. My name is Kenny Lust and I'm your compère for tonight. You know, once in a while it is my pleasure, and my privilege, to welcome here at the refreshment room, some of the truly great international artists of our time. And tonight we have one such artist. Ladies and gentlemen, someone whom I've always personally admired, perhaps more deeply, more strongly, more abjectly than ever before. A man, well, more than a man, a god, a great god, whose personality is so totally and utterly wonderful my feeble words of welcome sound wretchedly and pathetically inadequate. Someone whose boots I would gladly lick clean until holes wore through my tongue, a man who is so totally and utterly wonderful, that I would rather be sealed in a pit of my own filth, than dare tread on the same stage with him. Ladies and gentlemen, the incomparably superior human being, Harry Fink.
Voice Offstage: He can't come!
Kenny Lust: Never mind, it's not all it's cracked up to be.

December 26, 2005

Is There Anything Better Than Giving Presents To Children?

Yesterday was a helluva a day, wasn't it?

Whether watching your kids attack the gift pile under the tree on Christmas morning, or watching them open their gifts with the first candle of Chanukah glowing in the background...

...seeing your kids' faces light up at the exact moment they realize what treasure was hiding beneath the pretty wrapping paper is fan-freakin'-tastic.

And helping to put that same look on the faces of needy kids is darn-near life-affirmimg.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the good folks at GameDAILY Family created Games Can Help, which ended up donating games and portable game systems to children in the Gulf region. I hope to have some photos to share with you soon.

And of course, Penny Arcade's amazing Child's Play charity, which donates "toys, games & cash" to children's hospitals across the country, raised $82,100 at their annual dinner earlier this month, and they're within shouting distance of donating half a million dollars for 2005.

May 2006 bring joy and happiness to children everywhere.

December 24, 2005

Merry Holidays! ;)

Merry Christmas

Happy Chanukah/Hanukkah

December 17, 2005

The GameFam 2005 "D'oh!-There's-Only-1-Week-Left" Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Since I started GameFam almost exactly 6 months ago, I've focused my reviews entirely on games my kids and I have played together (save for the "Not For Kids" section, of course). I thought that parents would appreciate a different parent's perspective on how my kids actually liked playing a particular game, as opposed to how they might like to play it.

And since we have a limited gaming budget as a family, I don't have the luxury of playing every new game that comes out (though GameFly is a huge help), not to mention that the Xbox 360, Sony PSP, and the Nintendo DS, GBA and GameBoy Micro are mere pipe dreams at this point.

So when it came to putting together a holiday gift guide for parents, I wasn't sure whether to...
  1. stick with the games that we'd played, to the exclusion of many terrific games, or
  2. include games we haven't played, which would mean no first-hand experience for several of the top games.
In the end (and just in time for the procrastinators among you), I decided that it made more sense to give parents more choices to fit their kids' tastes, so I chose option #2.

This list will include only games that have been released from January, 2005 - now (basically, since last holiday season).

If you want some more choices and don't want to pay full retail for newer games, there are plenty of great games from the previous few years on the right sidebar (in the ever-expanding "Reviews: yay :)" section), and you should be able to get them at a much lower price. You may not be able to get away with it with older kids, but young kids won't care if the awesome game you just bought for them was made 2 years ago, as oppposed to 2 months ago.

Seeing as there are only single-digit shopping days left this holiday season, I'll end my little preamble and get right to the games (The list currently stands at 31 games, though I may do some tweaking on the fly).

(Scroll down for more detail, handy-dandy links, and of course, pretty pictures)

  • LEGO Star Wars
  • Karaoke Revolution Party
  • Chicken Little
  • Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit
  • Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves
  • We Love Katamari
  • Guitar Hero
  • Dance Dance Revolution Extreme 2
  • Mario Superstar Baseball
  • Dance Dance Revolution Mario Mix
  • Mario Party 7
  • Super Mario Strikers
  • NBA Street V3
  • Donkey Kong Jungle Beat
  • Harvest Moon: Another Wonderful Life
  • Dance Dance Revolution Ultramix 3
  • Zoo Tycoon 2
  • Platypus
  • Cosmic Blobs
  • Nintendogs
  • Mario Kart DS
  • Animal Crossing: Wild World
  • Sonic Rush
  • WarioWare Touched!
  • Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time
  • Kirby Canvas Curse
  • Harvest Moon: More Friends of Mineral Town
  • WarioWare Twisted!
  • Mario Tennis Power Tour
  • Legend of Zelda: Minish Cap
  • Tokobot


  • LEGO Star Wars (E)
  • Platforms: PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube, PC, Game Boy Advance

    Hey! You just scratched my lightsaber with your LEGOs!
    Hey! You just vaporized my LEGOs with your lightsaber!
    Like chocolate & peanut butter, this combination may sound strange to some, but for some reason, it just works...really, really well. This is a terrific game for kids, and is one of the few kid-friendly games for the Xbox. EDIT: To clarify that last sentence, there are plenty of kid-friendly games for the Xbox that also appear on the PS2 and GameCube, but the exclusives are few & far between.

  • Karaoke Revolution Party (E)
  • Platforms: PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube

    Sing! Dance! Have fun! Great game for parents to play with their kids, or for a group of kids to play together.

  • Chicken Little (E10+)
  • Platforms: PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube, GBA

    While more "on rails" than wide-open games like Ratchet & Clank and Sly Cooper (both of which encourage free exploration), Chicken Little was still fun to play, and my kids really enjoyed it.

  • Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit (E)
  • Platforms: PlayStation 2, Xbox

    My kids and I enjoyed playing 2003's Wallace & Gromit: Project Zoo, and this game should be fun for fans of the show, or for anyone who enjoyed the movie that the game is based on.


  • Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves (E10+)
  • Platform: PlayStation 2

    Another outstanding addition to the Sly Cooper franchise. We just finished it a few days ago. This time, in addition to Sly, Murray & Bentley, you get to play as several additional characters. There are also some fun 2-player mini-games. Girls will like the fact that the 2 female characters hold their own, instead of helplessly waiting to be rescued by the men. My daughter certainly does.

  • We Love Katamari (E)
  • Platform: PlayStation 2

    Take last year's amazing original Katamari Damacy. Add co-op play and more multiplayer. Stir.

  • Guitar Hero (T)
  • Platform: PlayStation 2

    The only ESRB content descriptor is "Mild Lyrics", so it seems as though the only thing that earned the game the T rating are the songs themselves (here's the Guitar Hero song list), as opposed to inappropriate game content, so it looks like you should base your decision on what songs you want your kids to hear. If anyone has played it and can confirm or refute my educated guess, please share with the class.

  • Dance Dance Revolution Extreme 2 (E)
  • Platform: PlayStation 2

    Take the successful DDR formula, then add in head-to-head online competition. The PS2's Eye Toy peripheral lets kids see themselves in the game and interact with on-screen items.


  • Mario Superstar Baseball (E)
  • Platform: GameCube

    We played this one together for hours. The games are fun, as are the mini-games.

  • Dance Dance Revolution Mario Mix (E)
  • Platform: GameCube

    Kids love dancing, and kids love Mario. That's why this game is near the top of our rhythm game wish list.

  • Mario Party 7 (E)
  • Platform: GameCube

    More great party games, but this time, Nintendo brings an innovative touch with a microphone peripheral for some of the games.

  • Super Mario Strikers (E)
  • Platform: GameCube

    We can't wait to play this one. The reviews look very good so far. My kids have loved all of the sports-themed Mario games, except for Mario Golf Toadstool Tour, which is more complex than the others, since a golf swing is more complex than a baseball or tennis swing. Then add in club choice, wind, etc.

  • NBA Street V3 (E)
  • Platform: GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox

    Yeah, I know. What's a multiplatform game doing in the GameCube section? Since I write mostly from firsthand experience, I focus on games for younger kids, so although this is a multiplatform game, and an excellent sports game in it's own right, I only put it in the GameCube section, because of the playable Nintendo characters. Although it is considered an arcade sports title (as opposed to a serious sim), it ain't easy to play for young kids. However, your older sports fans will love it, and the young 'uns will enjoy trying to play with Mario, et al.

  • Donkey Kong Jungle Beat (E)
  • Platform: GameCube

    Great way for the kids to release some energy (and build up some calluses) in a fun way.

  • Harvest Moon: Another Wonderful Life (E)
  • Platform: GameCube

    A charming farming-themed game with a female lead character, which is nice to see.


  • Dance Dance Revolution Ultramix 3 (E)
  • Platform: Xbox

    Has head-to-head online competition like DDR Extreme 2. Freestyle mode allows kids to try the game without worrying about matching formal steps.


  • Zoo Tycoon 2 (E)
  • Format: PC CD-ROM

    The first Zoo Tycoon was terrific. The sequel puts you in the middle of the action. My daughter loves the camera mode, which lets her take snapshots of the animals (and anything else that strikes her fancy).

  • Platypus (E)
  • Format: Online Download

    I reviewed this game in early November, and my kids and I recommend it highly. The developer used real clay to make the game look as good and play as well as it does.

  • Cosmic Blobs: Lab Rat Edition (E)
  • Format: PC/MAC CD-ROM or Online Download

    What's that? You say your kids love claymation, but you're looking for something that's kinda like digital Play Doh? Well, you've come to the right place. Cosmic Blobs, the "3D Graphics Software for Kids!!" allows kids to unleash their creativity by making their very own 3D "digital claymation" creations. Props to GamerDad for finding this one.


  • Nintendogs (E)
  • Platform: Nintendo DS (handheld)

    DS Killer App #1 - Puppy Training sim. FYI, this isn't the packaging for the game, but rather for the DS Teal Bundle, which includes Nintendogs Best Friends Version. I felt compelled to use this photo since there's a beagle on the cover.

  • Mario Kart DS (E)
  • Platform: Nintendo DS (handheld)

    DS Killer App #2 - Race as several Mario all-stars. Challenge your friends via the Nintendo WiFi Connection.

  • Animal Crossing: Wild World (E)
  • Platform: Nintendo DS (handheld)

    The sequel to 2002's popular Animal Crossing on the GameCube, this version introduces real-time interactive play via Wi-Fi.

  • Sonic Rush (E)
  • Platform: Nintendo DS (handheld)

    Sonic fans, rejoice! The classic blue-hedgehog-based speed platformer makes a terrific debut on the DS.

  • WarioWare Touched! (E)
  • Platform: Nintendo DS (handheld)

    180 micro-games with the DS's innovative touch control. Fun!

  • Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time (E)
  • Platform: Nintendo DS (handheld)

    Funny, innovative action RPG sequel to 2003's Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga.

  • Kirby Canvas Curse (E)
  • Platform: Nintendo DS (handheld)

    Excellent, fun, innovative game that takes advantage of the DS's touch and double screens like few, if any, others.


  • Harvest Moon: More Friends of Mineral Town (E)
  • Platform: Game Boy Advance (handheld)

    Handheld farming fun!.......no, really.

  • WarioWare: Twisted! (E)
  • Platform: Game Boy Advance (handheld)

    200 microgames. Built-in gyro sensor means that you move the actual GameBoy to control the action.

  • Mario Tennis Power Tour (E)
  • Platform: Game Boy Advance (handheld)

    The GBA version has many of the elements of the GameCube's Mario Power tennis, as well as an RPG mode.

  • Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (E)
  • Platform: Game Boy Advance (handheld)

    Worthy GBA addition to one of the most iconic franchises in the history of the video game industry.


  • Tokobot (E)
  • Platform: Sony PlayStation Portable

    It was tougher to find kid-friendly games for the PSP than, say, the DS or GBA, but this one looks pretty interesting. Team up with the handy-dandy Tokobots, which combine to form different items you'll need in your race to save the world.

    Well, that's my $.02. Did I leave out any games that you think I should have included? Feel free to share your opinion.

    For those of you who want recommendations for specific age ranges, especially for older kids, check out the "GamerDad Holiday Shopping Guide 2005".

    December 15, 2005

    Boom Goes The Dynamite!

    Actually, boom go the myths about video games, in this excellent article by MIT professor Henry Jenkins.

    If you are a parent, you NEED to read this.

    Hell, if you're a beleaguered Illinois governor, clueless California assemblyman, hyper-ambitious New York senator, or, say, a mean-spirited, self-serving Florida attorney, you need to read this. Or maybe you already have, and just don't care for logical, well-reasoned arguments.

    I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin'...
    No wait. Actually, I am sayin.'

    So I'm gonna have to go ahead and ask you to read it, then do what the sign says.

    Why are you still reading this when you should be reading the article???

    Oh, you want a preview so you can decide whether the clickthrough is worth your time? Perfectly understandable.

    The following is a brief synopsis of what Professor Jenkins does to some of the more dangerously misguided myths about video games and their effect on children:

    1. The availability of video games has led to an epidemic of youth violence.

    2. Scientific evidence links violent game play with youth aggression.

    3. Children are the primary market for video games.

    4. Almost no girls play computer games.

    5. Because games are used to train soldiers to kill, they have the same impact on the kids who play them.

    6. Video games are not a meaningful form of expression.

    7. Video game play is socially isolating.

    8. Video game play is desensitizing.


    Oh, for those of you who were expecting something else from your Google/MSN/Yahoo!/Dogpile/AllTheWeb search, here you go. Enjoy!

    December 14, 2005

    Rock The Vote!

    I'm trying to make this here blog/website thingy as fun as possible, and what says fun better than a nice poll?

    No really, I'm askin'.

    Do you guys like polls, or is it just me? Clearly, I like to share my opinions, and I thought you might like to share yours, albeit in a far less verbose and time consuming fashion.

    Oh, and please don't necessarily judge based on this particular set of questions. Just on the concept in general.

    So, I put it to you...

    Polls: YAY or NAY?

    Thanks! Now bring on the comments!!!!!

    ...................any minute now................