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GameFam

May 18, 2006

Presenting...THE FAMMYS - The E3 2006 Dad's Choice Awards

I came.
I saw.
I played many many games at E3 2006.

I left.
I flew home.
I brought back killer schwag for the kids.

But back to the games. Some were outstanding, some were disappointing, and most were on a sliding scale somewhere in between. So without further ado or unnecessary preamble, I present the E3 2006 Dad's Choice Awards - "The FAMMYS":



Most Family-Friendly Next-Gen Console
Nominees: Microsoft Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, Sony PlayStation 3

What made the current-gen battle (between Sony & Nintendo) competitive were PS2-exclusive franchises like Katamari Damacy, Sly Cooper, Ratchet & Clank, Dog's Life, Jak & Daxter, and the EyeToy series. This year, whether for the PS2 or PS3, there was nary a new one to be found on the E3 show floor (though there was a R&C title for the PSP, and actually, Sony will be releasing an EyeToy version of Lemmings, so I guess there was one after all, but still nada for PS3). And believe it or not, with Viva Piñata and downloadable classic arcade games through Xbox Live Arcade, the Xbox 360 slides into 2nd place....for now (remember, this isn't a projection into the future, this is as of E3 '06. I expect Sony to have a strong kid-friendly presence at E3 '07). Meanwhile, the House of Mario unveiled a truckload of first and third-party kid-friendly games for the Wii, which, by the way, will be priced far, far less than the competition. What I love most is that the Wii controller will make it much easier for parents and even grandparents to play games together with the children in their lives, and that can only be a good thing. And guess what? I haven't even mentioned the Wii Virtual Console, which will open up a vast treasure trove of old-school games. This one wasn't even close.

...and the Fammy goes to...Nintendo Wii!




Least Family-Friendly Next-Gen Console
Nominee: Sony PlayStation 3

No kid-friendly launch titles?
$600 for families without unlimited gaming budgets?
I don't think so.

Try me again next year, though.
Can we be friends in the meantime?
Call me!
*puts thumb & pinky up to side of head, in international sign for "call me!"*


...and the Fammy goes to...Sony PlayStation 3!




Most Family-Friendly Publisher
Nominees: LucasArts, Namco, Nintendo, Sega

Many other companies (Activision, Buena Vista Games, GameFactory, Midway (no, really), THQ) also had several kid-focused titles this year, but I chose to focus on these few, for their combination of quantity and quality. LucasArts had a very strong showing, with games like Lego Star Wars II and Thrillville, as well as Star Wars Galaxies and Indiana Jones 2007 for older kids. Namco had Pac-Man World Rally and Snoopy vs. Red Baron, as well as Ace Combat X (PSP) for older kids. Sega has the great-looking Sonic the Hedgehog, Wii-natural Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz, and Charlotte's Web for the GBA. However, I don't see how any company can possibly compete with the oodles of excellent games for kids from Nintendo, including new Mario and Zelda titles for both the Wii and the DS/DS Lite. With games like Red Steel, I realize that Nintendo is trying to shed their kiddie image to a degree, but E3 '06 was quite simply a family tour de force by Nintendo.

...and the Fammy goes to...Nintendo!




Best Use of Wiimote
Nominees: Excite Truck, Super Mario Galaxy, WarioWare Smooth Moves, Wii Music, Wii Sports

Madden incorporates the Wiimote into its hiking, passing and kicking functions, but several other games took it several steps further. Super Mario Galaxy used controller waggles to spin and collect stars, and a point & click slingshot to beat the bad guys and collect gems. Excite Truck used the gyroscopic controls nicely, though it felt a tad awkward to hold the remote on its ends**. Wii Music let you play the drums and conduct an orchestra in a pretty intuitive way, and Wii Sports let you play baseball, tennis & golf in a fun, natural, easy-to-learn way. Both should draw a lot of non-gamers into the Wonderful World of Wii. But with 200+ microgames that require the player to hold the controller in any one of a dozen ways, WarioWare: Smooth Moves gets the most out of the Wii's revolutionary new controller.

...and the Fammy goes to...WarioWare Smooth Moves!



** Strangely enough, as I was writing this, I saw a commercial for Go-Gurt that was a tie-in with Pixar's Cars movie & game. The ad featured kids holding their rectangular Go-Gurt containers exactly like they would hold the Wiimote for Excite Truck.


Godfather 2 Award (Best Sequel)
Nominees: Guitar Hero II, Lego Star Wars II (Original Trilogy), Super Mario Galaxy

Call me a coward, but they're all so freakin' great that I can't choose between 'em.

...and the Fammy goes to...Guitar Hero II! Lego Star Wars II! & Super Mario Galaxy!




Caddyshack 2 Award (Worst Sequel)
Nominees: Chicken Little: Ace in Action, SpongeBob SquarePants: Creature From the Krusty Krab

Chicken Little - Take a pretty good kids' game and take everything but the combat out of it. Pass.

SpongeBob - I don't know what the rest of the game will be like, but the level I played in the Nintendo booth was a flying-on-rails shooter with controls that weren't so hot. That isn't what made SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom and The SpongeBob Movie game very good games for kids. The only reason this game doesn't share the award is that I don't know for sure that the entire game is combat-based.

...and the Fammy goes to...Chicken Little: Ace in Action!




Best Game Starring An Old-School Video Game Icon...Award
Nominees: Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (DS), Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, New Super Mario Bros. (DS), Pac-Man World Rally, Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario Galaxy

I'm taking Zelda out of the equation (yeah, I know, blasphemy), because it's more geared toward older kids and adults. Pac-Man World Rally may be a Mario Kart clone (FYI, Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man and the ghosts are playable characters in Mario Kart Arcade GP), but it's a good clone, with playable characters including Rygar from Dig Dug and the Prince of All Cosmos from Katamari Damacy. Sonic looks great and should be much better than last year's Shadow the Hedgehog. But I've been a Mario guy for a good while, now, so it's between the DS & the Wii. I've played and thoroughly enjoyed both, but Super Mario Galaxy is more of a quantum leap for the franchise than New Super Mario Bros.

...and the Fammy goes to...Super Mario Galaxy!




Best New IP Award
Nominees: Elebits, LocoRoco, Spore, Thrillville, Viva Piñata

If this weren't strictly from a family perspective, then Spore would have won (see Holy Crap! Award below). As for the other four, Elebits looks fascinating, but I didn't get enough time to play it (consolation prize - Hidden Gem Award - below). LocoRoco should be fun, but although the control scheme learning curve isn't as steep as I thought after playing it at GDC, it's still steep enough to be frustrating for kids when they try to play for the first time. Thrillville is a fun, deep game that I think kids will love, but it's not exactly a revolutionary new idea (they also share the Hidden Gem Award). Viva Piñata may be a piñata-themed spin on the original Toy Story concept, but everything else is completely new. And though I'm not a big fan of the near-simultaneous VP TV-show launch, that's not nearly enough to keep me from enthusiastically recommending this game. Viva Piñata is not only bright, colorful and whimsical, but it also allows for a great deal of choices for customization and control, which lets kids find their own comfort level. If we had a 360, Viva Piñata would be at the top of my wish list (along with Fight Night Round 3 for after the kids go to bed).

...and the Fammy goes to...Viva Piñata!




Hidden Gem Award
Nominees: Elebits, Thrillville

This is somewhat similar to the Best New IP Award, but where games like Spore, Viva Pinata and LocoRoco had a lot of pre-E3 hype, Thrillville was only just announced during E3, and Elebits flew completely under the radar, at least under my radar. Thrillville is basically a deeper, lower-maintenance, more kid-friendly version of Roller Coaster Tycoon, and in fact, Chris Sawyer is involved in the development of Thrillville. I love the fact that it's much easier to create your own coaster than in RCT2. The game also has many (24+) fun mini-games, including midway-style games like go-karts, mini-golf, trampoline jumping, bumper car soccer, and Saucer Sumo (think Crash Bash or Monkey Fight from Super Monkey Ball), and classic arcade-style games as well, including boss fights. Elebits has Katamari-like potential, what with its pick-up-things-with-a-Half-Life-2-Gravity-Gun-esque ability to control objects, and the thrill of the hunt...at least the thrill of the scavenger hunt. You have to find the Elebits, which look like the love child of Pikmin and Boobah, so that they can restore power to your world and once again have the ability to marvel at the wonder that is a plugged-in lava lamp.

...and the Fammy goes to...Elebits! & Thrillville!




Woorth the Waiit Awaard
Nomiinees: Duke Nukem Forever, Infinium Phantom, Nintendo Wii, Sony PlayStation 3

So whether iit's one of the two yet-to-be-released Biig 3 next-gen consoles (Wii, PS3), or fabled gamiing vaporware (Duke Nukem, Phantom), we've been waiitiing for these nomiinees for a good long tiime. Who truly deliivered on theiir promiise? Come on, now. Thiis one's a chiip shot.

...and the Fammy goes to...Nintendo Wii!




Best Next-Gen Sports Franchise
Nominees: Madden NFL 07 for Wii, Tony Hawk's Project 8

As a big fan of sports games, I saw a lot of great-looking next-gen sports titles at E3 this year. When it comes to the kiddies, though, many of the control schemes on the most popular games are just too complex, especially with all the fast-twitch button-mashing. So games like Madden NFL 07 for PS3 & 360, NBA Live 07, NHL 2K7, NBA 2K7, Winning Eleven: Pro Evolution Soccer 2007, etc. look great, but they're out of the running, at least until my kids grow up a bit. Tony Hawk's Project 8 looks truly next-gen, and they give you the option of ditching your balancing HUD in favor of more realistic bodily cues (a la Fight Night Round 3). The question is how well the PS3 version incorporates the gyroscopic controls. As I wrote above, Madden NFL 07 for Wii incorporates the Wiimote into its hiking, passing and kicking functions. While I didn't get to play it personally, the guy who did seemed to pick it up pretty quickly, and said that it felt very intuitive.

...and the Fammy goes to...Madden NFL 07 for Wii!




Best Racing Game
Nominees: Cars, Pac-Man World Rally

I realize that older kids will enjoy games like Forza Motorsport 2 and Gran Turismo for the PS3. But for younger kids, this is a 2 horse race. If you want cartoony, then choose Pac-Man World Rally. If you want a game that plays more like a NASCAR game, then go with Cars. Either way, you can't go wrong.

...and the Fammy goes to...Cars! & Pac-Man World Rally!




Best DS Game
Nominees: Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass, Lego Star Wars II, New Super Mario Bros., Yoshi's Island 2

There are many great-looking DS games from E3, I only had enough time to play a few of them. And while I enjoyed the stylus integration in Phantom Hourglass, I can't bring myself to vote against Mario. Your kids will definitely enjoy it, and if you yearn to go back to the days of Ferris Beuller's Day Off and Top Gun (both released almost exactly 20 years ago - crap, I'm old), you will, too.

...and the Fammy goes to...New Super Mario Bros.!




Best PSP Game
Nominees: LocoRoco, Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters, Lego Star Wars II

In my 2005 Holiday Gift Guide, I mentioned that it was tough to find kid-friendly games for the PSP. These days, things are looking up a bit. The recent releases of Me & My Katamari and Daxter got the ball rolling nicely (pun unintended, yet left in the column for some reason), and the three nominees pick up where the first two left off. When I played LocoRoco at GDC, I was frustrated by the controls, but with a little more time to play (and a little explanation from an SCEA producer), it's better than it first seemed, though there is definitely a learning curve. So that was nice to see. In other news, the Lego Star Wars franchise kicks ass. But my fave is Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters. Although I miss not having a right analog stick on the PSP, the game stays true to the original, pre-Deadlocked spirit of Ratchet & Clank. PS2-quality graphics? Less armor? More Clank? Me likey!

...and the Fammy goes to...Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters!




So Close, Yet So Far Away Award
Nominees: Snoopy vs. Red Baron

First, the disclaimer. Snoopy vs. Red Baron looks great, is fun to play, incorporates several characters from the Peanuts world, and does stay true to Snoopy's WWI-combat-centric dream world (as well as to the Schultz family's wishes). So it seems to deliver exactly what it promises. I just think it would be amazing to be able to explore the Peanuts world and interact with all the classic characters in an open-ended, freeform way. That's not what this game claims to be, and not what it is, so I can't really fault it for that. I just hope that the game I really want is around the corner.

...and the Fammy goes to...Snoopy vs. Red Baron!




High Self-Esteem Award
Nominee: Kim Possible: What's The Switch?

It ain't that this game is so amazing, though it looked pretty good. I just like the fact that the Kim Possible franchise gives young girls a strong, capable, non-booth-babe-esque (I'm talkin' to you, Ms. Croft) female role model who can solve her own problems (and solve other people's as well) with a combination of physical ability and brains.

...and the Fammy goes to...Kim Possible: What's The Switch?!




Low Self-Esteem Award
Nominee: Bratz: Forever Diamondz

I realize that cartoons aren't supposed to be drawn to scale. I get that. Really, I do. But Bratz is a franchise for young girls that already focuses way too much on the superficial and materialistic. So I was less than thrilled to see that the Bratz girls looked like living lollipops, with large heads and, dare I say, cartoonishly thin bodies. I'm not saying that playing this game will necessarily lead to your daughters developing eating disorders (Anobratzia Nervosa), but it can't be helping them form a positive, realistic body image. I realize that people have been making similar arguments about Barbie for years, but it's the unique combination of body type, materialism, and the trash-talking attitude of the Bratz that disappoints me so. And above all, the point that needs to be stressed is that while Barbie may be sexualized, she is an adult, but Bratz are sexualized girls (sorry, girlz). It's just plain wrong. Stay away.

...and the Fammy goes to...Bratz: Forever Diamondz!



EDIT: I just noticed that there are many similarities between the 2 photos above. Both Kim Possible and the Bratz girl have impossibly thin proportions and bare midriffs. However, that's where the similarities end. 1) their attitudes are simply miles apart, 2) while most of the Kim Possible focus is on her abilities and overcoming challenges, most of the Bratz focus is on her appearance and overcoming wardrobe malfunctions, and 3) where Kim Possible looks street-smart, the Bratz girl looks like a streetwalker. I calls 'em as I sees 'em.


Holy Crap! Award
Nominee: Spore

Will Wright demoed the game personally, which only added to the mind-blowingness (blowingtude?) of the experience. My chin hurts from slamming into the floor so many times. The scope of this game is truly awesome, and I don't use the word as a generic term for "cool". Rather, I am trying to say that Spore is truly inspiring and worthy of gaming awe. The fact that you can go from the origin of a species and progress all the way to millions of interactive planets (when you include user-created content) is amazing, but what kids should love most is creature creation. The real-time cause-and-effect customization is a thing of beauty, even if the species that Mr. Wright created was not. :) You can choose 2 legs or 4 (or 12, I suppose), and depending on the number, size, shape and location of those legs, you can immediately see how it affects the way your creature moves. The size, shape and location of the body, head and mouth affect voice/roar pitch, etc. You get the idea. It's like interactive PlayDoh with biological, ergonomic, ecosystem, planetary, etc. consequences. Oh yeah, and you can kidnap a species from one planet, and plop it down on another, just to see what happens (I was gonna write that you could do the species-plopping thing just for shits & giggles, but then I remembered that this is a family column............D'OH!). Age level is TBD, as there was some shooting and creature-on-creature violence.

...and the Fammy goes to...Spore!

EDIT: Here's some more in-depth info on Will Wright's Spore demo, by Chris Buffa of GameDAILY.




That's it. I'm spent. That's my last game award. But we do have one more Fammy rattling around back here somewhere. For the final award of the evening...


Best Schwag Award
Nominees: LucasArts (Lego Star Wars II pieces), Namco Mobile (assorted Pac-Man collectibles), Nintendo (DS Lite case, Wii pin), Sega (Sonic comic book, Yakuza temporary tattoos, FullAuto 2 sticker), Sony (PlayStation-logo-emblazoned Ogio bag)

If this award were based on sheer schwagular volume, Namco Mobile would have won going away. If it were based on which my wife and I liked best, Sony would have taken home the coveted prize. But while my kids like their little Pac-Man tchotchkes, there is one thing they still haven't stopped playing with since I returned home from E3 - their interchangeable Lego Star Wars II characters. My son wanted to take one of the characters he made to bed with him the first night. It doesn't get any better than that.

...and the Fammy goes to...LucasArts!





Thanks for coming everyone!
See you next year!
Drive home safely.

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