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August “Games with Gold” Lineup Announced

The lineup of free games coming to the Games With Gold program for August 2017 has been announced. Its a mixed bag this month. Half of the games are great for families, and the other half… not so much.

Take a look below to see if any of the games are to your liking. Keep in mind that these games are free to anyone with an active Xbox Live Gold subscription that costs $60 per year.

Games

Descriptions

Slime Rancher

Rated E for Everyone

For Beatrix LeBeau, being a rancher can be tough. Especially when she moves a thousand light years away for her job! Add to that, she’s not wrangling cattle, she’s wrangling slimes. A lot of slimes! But there’s money to be made in slime science. Careful though, it’s a risky business when vacpacs and jetpacks are your tools.

Trials Fusion

Rated E 10+


Powered by a top-notch physics system, Trials Fusion is packed with a wide variety of challenging levels encouraging you to pull off countless tricks and stunts. Prepare to show off in ways you never imagined with Trials‘ intuitive and addictive gameplay.

Bayonetta

Rated M for Mature

Stylish, over-the-top finishing moves and epic set pieces push the limits of the action genre in Bayonetta. As a witch with magical powers and deadly weapons, you’ll flow gracefully in battle from one angelic enemy to the next in this critically acclaimed game.

Red Faction: Armageddon

Rated M for Mature

Save Mars from an ancient evil (that you accidentally unleashed) in Red Faction: Armageddon. After a half-century of peace on Mars, the Red Faction resistance is called upon to save Mars from destruction. Survive hordes of enemies with friends in co-op or battle across the red planet in an epic solo campaign.

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What’s New With Minecraft 1.11?

A Minecraft update was released recently and added several new features to the game. The update adds a few new gameplay elements which encourage players to expand their horizons and travel to different places. These changes have seen 1.11 dubbed the Exploration Update, and it’s one of the biggest additions we’ve seen in recent times.

The additions include a few mobs, new items and a cool new location which contains treasure and various other interesting goodies. This is alongside the usual bug fixes and tweaks we’ve come to expect from the regular updates.

New Items

Arguably the most interesting new item is the Treasure Map, which can be acquired from the Cartographer Villager (also a recent addition). It can be used to help find important locations which are likely to contain loot, such as monuments, dungeons and Woodland Mansions.

There are now more item storage options available for players, with the shells dropped by Shulkers able to be turned into inventory boxes. The advantage is that these Shulker Boxes will keep their inventory even if they are broken.

The last major item addition is the Observer Block, which will output and update a redstone signal. There have already been some interesting creative uses for this item, including things like automated self-harvesting farms, elevators and flying machines.

New Mobs

There are a handful of new mobs in the 1.11 update to help make it a little easier for you to explore. Firstly, the aforementioned Cartographer Villager will sell you his treasure maps in exchange for some emeralds. Given the treasure available at some of the locations, this is more than a fair trade.

Another friendly mob which has been added is the llama, which can be used as transportation and as item storage. While they can’t be controlled when riding them, putting them on a leash will mean other nearby llamas will follow you and form a caravan. With each having a 6 slot inventory it can be a really useful way of transporting items over distance.

Finally, there are a few new hostile mobs added to the game. Illagers are a new enemy which can be found in the Woodland Mansions, and these outcasts will attack the other villagers as well as the player. There are two kinds of illagers in the mansion – Evokers and Vindicators. Evokers have different abilities to Vindicators and can summon Vex, a flying mob which will attack the player during a summon attack. They are surprisingly tough to defeat, so make sure you prepare before you take them on!

New Locations

The new Woodland Mansions are a really interesting addition to the game, and can be found in the Dark Oak Forest biomes. It’s unlikely to be something the player will stumble across accidentally, as it’s typically quite a distance from the spawn point and they’re fairly rare in the game. The most likely way of finding them is to purchase the Treasure Map from the Cartographer Villager and hope there’s one in your world. If there is, it’s well worth visiting as they contain lots of useful items and pre-built rooms (more than 70 types) which makes it an excellent base if you can clear out the hostile mobs.

While it won’t fundamentally change the way play the game, it’s yet another update where enough improvements have been made to keep things interesting for long-time players. Microsoft has stepped up its game over the last year or so and there have been several innovative updates for gamers to enjoy.

While it will be a challenge for them to keep up with the various mods and plugins which have helped make the game so popular, it’s good to see the basic gameplay being updated after all this time. It will be interesting to see where they take the game over the next couple of years, and if they can tempt those who left to come back to the vanilla version of the game.

Playing version 1.11 is as simple as opening your existing launching and changing your profile to the 1.11 version.

Stuart works with Apex Minecraft Hosting, who offer reliable Minecraft servers to players around the world.

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Family Video Game Review – Batman: The Telltale Series

By: William Gibbs

Overall Review

If there is one thing that must be stressed it is the following: Batman: The Telltale Series is not for children. A security guard is graphically shot in the head in the first 30 seconds of episode 1 and it maintains this level of graphic violence and profane language periodically as the episodes go on. This is not a comment on the quality of the game (it’s quite good) but it is under no circumstances a game for family members who are not at least in their mid to late teens. Batman does not always mean child friendly.

That said, Batman: The Telltale Series is really good. Without giving anything away, the story focuses on the early years of Batman’s career and asks the player to make many choices balancing the social and political problems Bruce Wayne faces as a result of his double life as the Caped Crusader. The story is solid and paced in such a way as to make you want to keep going. There are five episodes and each is about 2 hours long and the story was gripping enough that I played through nearly all five episodes in rapid succession. The only problem is that the game is, well, barely a game. Telltale markets all their games as “Graphic Adventures” and Batman: The Telltale Series plays out like a 3d graphic novel on your screen crossed with a “choose your own adventure” storytelling system. More on that in a bit.

Telltale brings their signature cell shaded graphics engine (revamped for this game) to bear in excellent ways. Every shot does not just look like it was hand drawn, but the overall game has the look of a comic book. This works very well. The soundtrack compliments the story and the atmosphere of the dark, seedy alleys of Gotham. Troy Baker’s Bruce Wayne/ Batman is very well acted and while he sounds a bit younger than most depictions of Batman it works given the early days timeline at play.

Gameplay is extremely linear and broken into three types of interaction. First there are dialog choices. This makes up the lion’s share of the game. As Bruce Wayne and Batman work through the story the player get to choose the overwhelming majority of Bruce’s dialog from a selection. Different situations have different time limits to make your choice. The more urgent or heated the situation the less time you have to choose what to say. The game remembers your choices and how you respond to situation influences the flow of the story and changes how characters react to you. It’s all very seamless and well executed.

Second are sequences where Batman investigates crime scenes and the player must examine and link evidence to recreate the crime. Each chapter has one of these sections and while they are interesting they are extremely simple. It is just a matter of push the button, advance the game.

Finally there are the action sequences of which there are many. These are accomplished entirely by way of quick time events (scripted sequences where the game will ask you to push a specific button at specific times and missing results in failure). These sections are very well done and look great but the quick time events almost take away from the action. I found myself focusing so hard on not missing the button cues that I didn’t fully appreciate the scope of the action.

Family Gaming Assessment

This game is not for kids. Graphic violence, gore, profanity, overt sexual themes, and drug use are all right up front and center. The game unfolds more like an interactive movie than a traditional game but that movie is clearly earning an R Rating. Batman: The Telltale Series is a single player narrative experience so there is not much to speak of in terms of group play. Gotham City is presented as a crime ridden den of corruption. Dirty cops, corrupt politicians, vile gangsters, and deranged lunatics populate the game and hold little back. In terms of specific age rage, it depends on what you think is acceptable for your teen. Ask yourself if you are comfortable with them watching a violent, gritty rated R crime drama because that is basically what is on display here only you have control over the actions. Will Batman show mercy or beat this mercenary within an inch of his life? The choice is up to the player and you might want to ask yourself before allowing a 15 year old to play this not if it is appropriate for them to witness the violence, but is it ok for them to be an active participant in the violence because of their choices?

Playability Assessment

Batman: The Telltale Series, while very well done and compelling, is only technically a game. It is effectively on rails, moving forward at nearly all times with only the minimal interaction by the player mostly by way of dialog selection and quick time events. All of this is very simple and requires no previous experience with video games. Just about anyone could pick this up and succeed which I imagine is the point. The core of this series is the narrative. It’s like watching a comic book movie where you get to choose how the main character responds to situations and those choices change the flow of your movie. It’s fun and has replay value because you can make different choices and see how the story changes. If you are looking for intense action packed gameplay this isn’t that kind of game.

Conclusion

Batman: The Telltale Series is an excellent example of storytelling and interactive narrative gameplay but bucks the traditional trappings of a “video game” in favor of providing a streamlined movie like experience. Experienced gamers will find the interactive sections very simple so if you’re not interested in the story, then there is basically nothing here for you. The whole game is the story.

Parents: Not everything Batman is kid friendly and Batman: The Telltale Series is a perfect example of this. Bloody graphic violence and consistent use of profanity pepper every episode. Batman has the option to, at the player’s call, utilize brutality to get the answers he wants placing the player in direct control of the violence. Villains do not hesitate to murder innocent people on stage and in graphic detail. Crime scenes of vicious murders are depicted in gory detail for Batman to gather evidence. This game is not suitable for young teens. ESRB has rated it M for “Mature Audiences” for violence, blood and gore, sexual themes, language, and use of drugs.

Review based on the PC version of the game.  

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Overwatch-Characters

The time has come to bid farewell to one heck of a bad year. 2016 wasn’t very good for much, but we did get some amazing video games. We had a lot of options for our game of the year, because we played a lot of very cool video games. But, at the end of it all there is only one game that stands out as “the best” and that is Overwatch.

overwatch-teamwork

 

Overwatch – PC, PS4, Xbox One

Overwatch is a brilliantly designed game that is possessed of a level of polish that is rarely seen in games today. Every minute detail in that glorious game is treated with care. You can feel the energy that went into development just like you can feel the excitement in a match rise naturally as it reaches its crescendo.

It isn’t just the details that make the difference though. Overwatch has managed to prove that an online multiplayer shooter with no single player campaign to speak of can be successful. And it achieved this goal by having an amazing set of characters that are well balanced against each other and all but forcing players to learn to play all of them in order to excel at the game. In most multiplayer games players are expected to select a “main.” This is the character you focus all of your effort into learning. With Overwatch the game forces you to learn all of them the same way you would learn the nuances of different weapons in other shooters. This would be bothersome if it weren’t for the fact that all of the characters in this game just so freaking COOL!

Speaking of characters – The world is a scary place and there are a lot of people who are more scared by people who are different from them. Overwatch doesn’t do that. It celebrates a cast of characters that celebrate diversity more than just about any game to have come before. If you have doubts, then look at the character select screen and take a look at all the different nationalities, body types, and genders represented. Its impressive, but what makes it better is that nothing feels forced. All of the characters are complete and well rounded. No one is the “token” anything. This is a great feeling when it feels like the celebration of diversity is being squelched elsewhere.

These are just a few of the reasons that Overwatch is a must play game. But, it wasn’t the only great game we played this year. Take a look below for out other favorites!

Pokemon Go – Mobile

Pokemon Go Logo

Pokemon Go doesn’t really have a lot of “game” built into it. You don’t really have a lot of meaningful decisions to make. It doesn’t look terribly good. But, none of that matters when you take into account the impact this game had on the world as a whole.

It felt like the entire world was on their feet and moving around more starting the day after Go’s release. There are videos from all over the world showing massive crowds of people playing together in spite of the fact that they were all playing on their phones.

I covered it in an EFG show awhile back, but at one point towards the end of last year Pokemon Go players has collectively walked the equivalent distance between Earth and Neptune!

There is no question that Pokemon Go has declined in popularity, but we couldn’t leave it off our games of the year list because of that. Its cultural impact was just too great.

NBA 2k17 – PC, PS4, Xbox One

nba-2k17-logo

NBA 2K17 is one of our games of the year because it is, quietly, three very good games in one package.

Players looking for a near perfect simulation of the sport of professional basketball certainly get their wish here. Gameplay is fluid and the developers spent a lot of time giving skilled players the ability to create magic moments on the court.

That isn’t all the game has up its sleeve though. NBA 2k17 is also an amazing management sim. Players can take on the role of GM for their favorite franchise or create an entire new one as they chase greatness. You get to make all sorts of interesting decisions in this mode. So many, in fact, that you might not even have time for the games themselves (But, don’t worry. You can play those too.)

NBA 2k17 is also one of the best role playing experiences around right now. The single player story mode is a straight-up rpg. Players take on the role of Prez, a young player entering his NBA career. You don’t just play his games though. You control his entire schedule. This includes when (and whether) he practices, who he hangs out with, and how he interacts with some of his teammates. It is an unprecedented level of control and it gives a very accurate representation of the NBA lifestyle.

I can’t recommend this game enough for people who are even tangentially interested in the NBA.

Final Fantasy XV – PS4, Xbox One

Final Fantasy XV

How do I even begin with this one? I have been waiting for this game almost as long as I have been a parent. While I have to admit that Final Fantasy XV didn’t exceed any of my expectations and completely blow my mind… it was still an awesome game.

For starters, the game is absolutely gorgeous. Every time I passed over the crest of a hill or rounded a corner I was greeting by some of the most gorgeous vistas I have ever seen. I was endlessly astonished.

It did not hurt that the action was always intense when I got to my destination. XV passed on the turn based combat that has been a franchise mainstay for three decades. Instead, this game features a combat system that is much more action focused. The best analogy I can come to  is that it will feel immediately familiar to anyone who has played a Kingdom Hearts game in the past.

This is a must play for even lapsed fans in the series, because Square has done everything they could to bring the series back from the brink and I think they succeeded.

Stardew Valley – PC, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch

stardew-valley-logo

Stardew Valley is one of the surprise indie hits of the year. It is an incredibly deep farming, dating, fishing, life simulator that is playing using graphics that look like they could have run on a Super Nintendo.

The simple graphics are just a smokescreen though. This game does everything and does it well. It also has a very slick gameplay loop that gives you just enough time during each game day to do about three quarters of the things you wanted to do. This might sound like a trap, but it just gives that much more motivation to make your next day that much more efficient.

This is a great game that is available on consoles, but it is really best on PC and will run on some of the most antiquated machines. Do yourself a favor and pick this one up. You’ll like it.

Pokemon Sun/Moon – Nintendo 3DS

Pokemon sun and moon box art

Pokemon certainly had a big year in 2016. It celebrated its 20th anniversary as a franchise. They released the aforementioned Pokemon Go. They also capped the year off with the release of the 7th generation in the mainline Pokemon titles in Pokemon Sun and Moon.

These games did just about everything right. They provided the most accessible entree to the franchisee in years. They simplified (and reduced some of the grinding) involved in Pokemon breeding. And they rode the wave of success from Pokemon Go into being some of the fastest selling video games in Nintendo history.

If you are a Pokemon fan and don’t already own one (or both) of these games, then I would seriously consider it. These are excellent games that are worthy of your attention.

Super Mario Run – iOS (Android 2017)

super-mario-run-logo

This game only came out a few weeks ago, but it left a very strong impression on me. Super Mario Run is the first in an oncoming wave of mobile games being developed by Nintendo exclusively for mobile devices and it is a great start.

It plays very similarly to  standard Mario games at its core. But, there is one exception. Mario almost never stops running. The only level of control that players have is tapping on their screen to make Mario jump. This game is all about timing your jumps perfectly as you try to collect a set of five special coins.

I have enjoyed all of the time I sent with this one so far, and I think that it bodes well the the games that Nintendo will release in the future.

Street Fighter V – PS4

street fighter V

My love for the Street Fighter franchise is well documented. I’m terrible at it, but I love it. Street Fighter V is the newest entry in the franchise and it brings back all of the wild action that I have loved from the past and it looks very pretty doing it.

The game has not had the best start, but Capcom has continued to support the game with DLC characters, competitive fixes, and other updates. This is one game that will look very different over the next few years. I can’t wait to see it all.

Ratchet and Clank – PS4

ratchet-clank-prev

One of the questionable trends over the last handful of years has been the tendency of companies to remaster their content and repackage it for sale to earn a quick buck. Ratchet and Clank looks like it might have been a part of that trend to the untrained eye, but it is anything but.

The key difference is that Ratchet and Clank is a frame for frame, point for point remake of the original game in the long standing franchise using a new engine, significantly improved graphics, and modern game design sensibilities. It also happens to be a TON of fun.

Do not sleep on this game folks. If you own a PS4, then this is a must own.

Skylanders Imaginators – PS4, Xbox One, Wii U

imaginators_keyart

Sure. I get it. This is  a games of the year list on a family gaming site. Of course Im going to include the Skylanders game right? I’ll admit it. That was more than likely, but Imaginators is something special,

In my opinion Skylanders Imaginators is the best game in the Skylanders series so far, bar none. My reasoning here is simple. We’ve been used to getting a new batch of interesting Skylanders each year, but there was something special about being able to create and continuously improve my own character. This made me much more invested in everything that happened throughout the game.

LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens PS4, Xbox One, Wii U, PS3, Xbox 360

lego-star-wars-the-force-awakens-logo

I would have thought that LEGO Star Wars series was dead in the water after Disney purchased the Star Wars franchise and Electronic Arts signed a 10 year license to create Star Wars games. But, lo and behold, the franchise isn’t just alive. It is thriving.

This entry follows the plot of episode VII very closely and even includes some plot points that were hinted at in the movies but never explicitly discussed like C-3PO’s red arm. They even included *that* seen and managed to handle it tastefully while still holding true to their typical humor.

They also managed to, somehow, include several new gameplay modes including cover based shooting and aerial dogfighting. This works out great because the added level variety helped keep the game interesting.

Dragon Quest Builders – PS4, PSVita

dragonquest_builders_new

When I first say this game I thought it would be a cheap Minecraft ripoff. I never expected it to be one of the biggest, and most pleasant, surprises of the year.

It is undeniable that Builders takes some of its design cues from Minecraft. Players travel around a map gathering materials by defeating enemies and breaking cubes. They then use those materials to build things.

The difference here is that unlike Minecraft, this isn’t a pure sandbox game. Players are placed in gameplay scenarios and tasked with building up and defending a settlement. This is a significant change, and one that really appeals to me because I enjoy the more focused gameplay experience.

It doesn’t hurt that the game also features the charming Dragon Quest art style.

I feel comfortable recommending this game to anyone who is looking for a change of pace from Minecraft.

Unravel – PC, Xbox One

unravel

unravel

Unravel was a captivating experience for our family when it came out earlier this year. It was one of the most gorgeous games we had ever seen to that point. The story it told resonated with us very strongly. And the puzzle platforming elements brought us all together as we worked together to solve them.

We loved the short time we spent with Unravel. This is a great game for your family if you are looking for a game to work through together.

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Engaged Family Gaming Holiday

The holidays have arrive and the EFG staff has combed through the games released over the last year to find the very best gift ideas. Take a look below!

Overwatch

What can I say? Overwatch will likely be my game of the year this year.

Overwatch is a shooter, so parents who aren’t interested in that kind of experience should avoid it for now. But, if you are looking for a way to scratch your kids shooter itch without buying them an ultraviolent Call of Duty or Battlefield game, then this is a great option.

You can take a look at our Overwatch review here

Pokemon Sun/ Pokemon Moon

I am pretty sure that I am contractually obligated to include a Pokemon game on all of my holiday gift lists. But, I would regardless because they are immensely popular, relatively inexpensive, and awesome experiences. This year is unique because we have two brand new Pokemon games in Sun and Moon, but even older games like X and Y, or Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire are acceptable too if you are buying for younger players.

NBA 2k17

NBA2k17 is not just an amazing sports title. It is also one of the more interesting roleplaying game experiences that I have had in years.

The single player campaign mode puts players in control of a baller named Prez as he enters the NBA and develops his skills. The control you have over his social media presence, his peer relationships, his schedule, and even his workouts are astonishing. This is an experience NBA fans can’t afford to miss.

You can check out our NBA 2k17 review here!

Skylanders Imaginators

Disney Infinity is gone and LEGO Dimensions is focusing on releasing adventure packs this year. This leaves Skylanders to stand atop the heap with the only major Toys to Life release this year. Players are given the power to create their own dream character in this installment of the , now, venerable franchise.

You can take a look at our Skylanders Imaginators review here!

LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens

This year’s LEGO Star Wars game was excellent and it is a great way to help experience some of the great moments from The Force Awakens as we get ever closer to episode XIII.

My favorite part of LEGO Star Wars: TFA is that it tells stories that weren’t in the original film. For example, it includes a story about how C-3PO ended up with a red arm.

Ratchet and Clank

This is a shot by shot remake of the PS2 era game of the same name. The difference is that this iteration has been built form the ground up using modern graphics and is all the more gorgeous because of it.

Dragon Quest: Builders

Dragon Quest is a storied RPG franchise from Japan. That made it all the more odd to see them mix up the Dragon Quest world and art style with Minecraft style block-building gameplay. It, honestly, felt like a bizarre cash grab when it was announced, but that has all changed since the game was released.

Dragon Quest: Builders is the real deal and is a light RPG that features building mechanics that will be immediately familiar to anyone who has played Minecraft at all.

Minecraft

No. Really. If you are buying gifts for a child in your life and they don’t own Minecraft, then this is almost a no brainer. It is available on just about every system imaginable now. I know that this isn’t exactly a “new” game, but it is all but a slam dunk for people looking for a gift for a younger kid just getting into gaming.

 

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Family Video Game Review: Skylanders Imaginators

Skylanders Imaginators proves that sometimes good things come when gamers are patient. Toys for Bob have a hit on its hands with the Skylanders franchise and Imaginators is hands down the best version of the game that I have played to date.

Every game in the franchise, save the first one, has had some sort of gimmick that added a new twist or dimension to the series. This time around Toys for Bob has given players the chance to create their own character and customize them using near limitless combinations of parts. The characters that you create are called Imaginators and they are, obviously, central to both the gameplay mechanics and the story of the game.

It is impossible to talk about the game without first discussing the character creation and customization systems. So let’s start there.

Creation

Creation Crystals have replaced the standard $9.99 figures from previous sets. These are blank canvases upon which young gaming artists can create. Placing one of these crystals on the portal of power for the first time will bring up a menu that will force them to assign a single Battle Class to the crystal. These are character archetypes that will represent what kinds of moves the Imaginator  will have access to.

It is VERY important to note that this is a one-time choice and cannot be reversed on a given crystal. So kids should be encouraged to choose carefully.

There are ten Battle Classes to choose from. Some of them are melee (up close) fighters while other focus on ranged attacks.

Customization

Creation may be limited to one time per crystal, but once you choose a Battle Class you can customize the rest of the character endlessly using a collection of parts (heads, arms, legs, armor, etc) at the push of a button. You start with a rather straight forward collection of pieces that look thematically appropriate for Skylanders. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if a number of those parts were taken from Skylanders that were being designed, but never made the cut.

The collection of parts you start with grows very quickly from there. Just about every challenge you complete and level you finish will give you an Imaginite chest. Opening these chests will unlock new items that come in four different rarities: common, rare, epic, and ultimate. The items include cosmetic things like body parts, but also armor and weapons that you can use to equip your Imaginator to suit your playstyle. What I love about this is that you are constantly earning Imaginite chests. There was almost always a chest to open as I was playing through the game.

The story, while not a masterpiece, is serviceable. Kaos is looking to take over the Skylands again and is trying to use the Mind Magic of the Ancients to do it. What sets this game apart is that it finally includes a large cast of the original Skylanders as the characters driving the story alongside the player. This felt like a great idea especially when we consider that the new Skylanders cartoon is available on Netflix as we speak and features some of these same characters.

 

Is This a Kids’ Game?

Yes. Skylanders: Imaginators is one of the best kids games on the market this year. It is rated E 10+ because it features some cartoon violence. But, if you have been comfortable letting your kids play previous games in the series, then this should not pose any problems.

 

Can Kids Play it?

Fans of earlier games in the series should not fear too much change though. You may be able to create and power up your own Skylanders, but the rest of the game operates very similarly to previous games. Kids will be able to transfer all of their knowledge from previous games right into this one without a problem

That said, the game does feature a fair amount of platforming so it is important to make sure your kids know how to jump and navigate 3d spaces. The good news is that falling off of the world doesn’t actually cost you anything other than time as characters immediately respawn on solid ground.

 

Conclusion

This is a must purchase for fans of the series. I also recommend this as a great starting point for anyone who is interested in playing .

We played the game on Xbox One, but it is also available on Xbox 360, PS4, PS3, and Wii U.

Note: The Xbox One version of Skylanders Imaginators was provided to EFG for review purpose.

 

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Family Video Game Review: NBA2K17

Note: This review originally appeared on Pixelkin.org.

NBA2k17, simply put, a masterpiece that can easily be placed alongside some of the best games in this generation. Yeah. I know what you’re saying.”But, Steve… its JUST a sports game. How can you possibly do that?” The answer is simple. NBA 2k17 is just that good. In fact, I think it is good enough to justify attention from people who don’t even considering themselves hardcore NBA fans.

kyrie-irving-nba-2k17

The NBA lifestyle is complicated. Players have to balance family, social media, practices, endorsements, and inter-team politics in order to succeed. 2K17 heavily features a MyCareer mode that highlights those challenges as players are thrust into the role of “Prez” a young, brash, and extremely talented high school basketball prospect. A brief stint in college leads to you being drafted somewhere in the first round of the NBA draft. From there you are introduced to Justice Young, voiced by the amazing Michael B. Jordan. Justice was drafted after you and has a chip on his shoulder. Nothing in his life has come easy for him and he sets out to challenge you. That sets the stage for what could be either a rivalry or a great friendship. And you know what? This is where things get cool.

The MyCareer mode plays out from there like an RPG. You have to  balance your schedule to make sure you attend practices, games, and social events with your fellow players. You can even keep track of the state of the game using text messages and an in-game version of Twitter. All of these activities help earn you points that can be spent on skill upgrades.

That may have been my favorite game mode it is far from the only one. There is a full suite of game modes that range from quick play, and online games all the way to a Franchise mode that goes so far as to let you create your own expansion team.

All of these game modes are built on solid basketball mechanics that make it easy for even the most inexperienced games to take their favorite players and execute some amazing moves. 2k Games has been making these games for a while and it shows. They have clearly done their research and tried to create a very accessible control scheme.

Is it a kids’ game?

NBA2k17 is rated E for everyone by the ESRB. According to the rating summary, “This is a basketball simulation game in which players can select teams from real NBA rosters, compete in tournaments, and play through regular seasons. Players can also manage individual franchises and control the careers of their customized athletes. The word “hell” appears in the dialogue.” It is worth noting that the game does feature online gameplay modes and those online interactions are not rated by the ESRB. With that said though, this is not a game that suffers if you don’t take the action online. There is a LOT of game here.

Conclusion

My conclusion shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. This is an absolute must buy for any NBA fans. I also strongly believe that anyone looking for a unique take on the RPG genre should look into this one too.

(Note: This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game. It is also available on the PlayStation 4. There is also a version available for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, but they are not as feature rich. This is intended to be a next-gen experience.)

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Family Video Game Review: Madden NFL 17

Editor’s Note: This review was originally published on Pixelkin.org.

The Madden NFL series has been more consistent than the tide for more than a decade. Unfortunately for us, this consistency has led to a loot of mediocre games over that span of time. Madden NFL 17 changes all of that and sets things right. It is a reward to dedicated fans who have been waiting for an entry in the series that feels like more than a glorified roster update.

The last handful of years have seen upgrades to the game’s passing and defensive systems. They were adequate changes and matched the direction that the actual NFL was taking, but those changes pale in comparison to the updates to the running game implemented this year. Controlling a runner in the open field will trigger button prompts as would be tacklers approach you. Hitting the button as the right time will trigger spin moves, jukes, and other authentic techniques. This allows skilled runners like LeVeon Bell dominate defenders as they would in real life as opposed to collapsing in a heap and being ignored as the passing game racks up the stats.

Living the Moments

Another significant upgrade was given to the Franchise Mode. In previous years, finishing a season in Franchise Mode was a slog that required hours upon hours of play. Now? Everything moves much faster thanks to the addition of the new Play the Moments feature. This is a simulation mode that only puts you in control at important moments like 3rd downs and red zone drives. This eliminates some of the tedious elements of the actual games and leave players more time to focus on he other aspects of the game like developing players and even playing through skill drills at practice to earn bonus EXP. I found myself playing “just one more game” several times during the review process even against my better judgement and need for sleep.

This isn’t a required feature, as players can choose to play every snap, run the offense, or pilot the defense. This gives players the opportunity to tailor their game experience to be exactly how they want it.

madden nfl 17

Defense!

One gameplay update that was more than welcome was the addition of gap assignments on defense. Pressing right or left on the right hand stick will show you the gap in the offensive line that each player on the defensive front is responsible for. Properly selecting your player and moving quickly into your assigned gap can give you a chance to disrupt every single snap.. This makes playing defense an exciting prospect and helpedme overcome the creeping dread that I had on every defensive series in previous games.

Its Not All Sunshine and Rainbows

Madden 17 isn’t without some flaws though. The game features “color commentary” by Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis. I put that in quotes because it was depressingly bad at best and infuriating at worst. I can’t remember a game passing without some commentary string pulling me out of the experience because it made no sense within the contact of the game. One time, I was taking the field late in the game to kneel down and finish off a win. The commentators then said something to the effect of “Lets see what the offense is able to pull off here.” I don’t really know how to improve the system as there are only so many lines that the voice actor’s could write and record. With that said, the commentary is a big enough part of the experience that they should just keep trying.

Is it a kids’ game?

Madden NFL 17 is no more problematic for kids than an Sunday afternoon of NFL football is. It is a violent sport and this game does accurately depict that violence. It doesn’t have any of the unpredictability of a live sporting event though.

ESRB Rating: E for Everyone

Rating Description: “This is a football simulation game in which players can select teams from real NFL rosters, create and run plays, arrange playbooks, improve skills, and create/manage a franchise. Football games are presented with extensive player statistics and commentary from professional broadcasters.”

Madden NFL 17 is game that can be played online. Any time you play a game like this online you risk exposing yourself, and your kids, to the dredges of the internet. Do so with care (or at least turn off voice chat).

Can my kids play it?

Madden games have never been “easy.” They are games that are intended to closely simulate the NFL experience. Madden NFL 17 is really no different. Success in this game requires better than average understanding of the rules of football. The game also uses just about every button on the controller at one point or another. I wouldn’t recommend giving this game to younger kids who don’t have experience with both of those things.

Conclusion

Madden NFL 17 is the best game in the series for over a decade. This is a must buy for NFL fans that may have stopped buying the annual release.

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mighty no. 9 logo

Mighty No. 9 is a game that had more potential than it had any right to. But, all of that potential was left squandered in an experience that felt hollow at its best and annoying the rest of the time.

Keiji Inafune just about set the world on fire with his Kickstarter campaign a few years back. His promise was simple: recreate the magic of the original Mega Man series on modern consoles. He promised a character and premise that was “legally distinct” from Mega Man, but close enough that anyone paying attention would know exactly what he was doing.

Mighty No. 9 is a game where players take control of a robot named Beck as he fights several different robots, called Mighty Numbers, and takes their powers for his own when he defeats them. If that sounds familiar to you, then you can congratulate yourself for recognizing the basic structure of the Mega Man series.

The fact that Mighty No. 9 all but steals Mega Man’s thunder isn’t really a negative at all. Capcom had been squandering the property for years and it was far past time for a return for the franchise. The thing that brought this game down for me was that it felt like it was being slapped together haphazardly and with no regard for making anything other than an homage to an old game.

Is it a Family Game?

Mighty No. 9 features futuristic combat between cartoon robots. There is nothing to be concerned about here if you let your kids watch pretty much ANY kind of cartoon.

Playability Assessment

Mighty No. 9 is not as difficult as Mega Man games, but it is still going to be very challenging for younger players who are not very experienced with platforming games.

Conclusion

I desperately wanted to like Mighty No. 9 even if only to serve as an introduction to this style of games for my kids. At the end of the day, though, parents would definitely be better served spending the money on a copy of the Mega Man Legacy Collection to serve that purpose. It will be more challenging, but the reward will be far sweeter.

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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan Screenshot

Developer: Platinum Games

Released on PS4, Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan is about fun: simplistic character traits, colorful characters, comical antics, and no significant weight behind the story. You can replay any level, raise the difficulty, or connect with some folks online for multiplayer action. All of these options are available to you from the start and add a sense of instant gratification.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan Screenshot

Donatello and Raphael mean business!

The story is very straightforward. The Turtles spend the game trying to keep Manhattan safe from the combined efforts of Krang and Shredder. It is not clear what the villains are up to at the beginning of the game, but as the Turtles continue to thwart their efforts, their evil plans become clearer.

You have to ask yourself some questions though. Is this adventure worth your time? Are these turtles a beloved rendition of your favorite teenage team, or just another reminder of a Michael Bay monstrosity?

First thing is first: I love the look of this game. The cell shaded style may not be new to video games, but it is new to TMNT, and it was a pleasant take on the comic book style. The Turtles were bright and boastful, while enemies like Bebop and Rocksteady were successfully recreated as exaggeratedly burly and powerful, while not feeling too menacing.

 

The gameplay was what was to be expected from a Turtles game: a repetitive action beat-em-up. You’ll go up against many familiar faces like hordes of foot clan, rock soldiers, and Krangs. There is even some exciting boss battles against some of the series’ favorite villains.  While in combat, there are fast and strong attacks, as well as various ways to combo those moves. There is also a dodge mechanic that includes a parry ability, but the parry is difficult to time correctly. I also want to make sure to call out the traversal in this game, which is very smooth. Climb walls, grind rails or float from building to building with your para-shell. Getting around the semi open world levels never got in the way, and honestly felt better than most open-world traversal has in other games of that genre. You never felt limited to only one or two paths to a destination.
Separate from the basic commands, the Turtles a have the ability to unlock new special moves that are on cooldowns.(Editor’s Note: Cooldowns, in games, are a period of time between which a special move cannot be used. This is often used for balance purposes and to force players to use diverse moves.)  These moves can be used by any of the four Turtles. Upgrading one skill would improve it for all the Turtles. It was a little disappointing that there were not skills specific for each of them, but the included abilities led to some exciting moments.
There have been some conversations post launch about the fact there there is no local split-screen co-op. This was a staple of turtle games for some time,  so I can understand why it is frustrating. I do wish to point out, though, that most Platinum developed games are normally single player experiences. I connected to a handful of multiplayer games and work with strangers to rid the city of vermin, and I found that to be an entertaining experience.

Family Gaming Assessment

Rated T for Teen
Description:”This is an action game in which players assume the roles of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as they fight to defend New York from villains. From a third-person perspective, players traverse an urban landscape and battle soldiers, aliens, and various mutant boss characters. The turtles use swords, staffs, punches, and kicks to defeat enemies in frenetic combat. Some characters use blaster-like guns; one boss uses a chainsaw and blaster; a soldier uses electrified prods to attack the turtles. Combat is fast-paced, with frequent explosions, laser/gun-fire, combo moves, and grunts/cries of pain.” ~ ESRB

Conclusion

Overall, I found the combat in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan to be enjoyable, and deep enough to warrant replaying levels to improve my score and my timing with combos. I found the style to be very fitting for the turtles, and the story to be a perfectly ridiculous. Even after beating the game, I will continue to go back to replay my favorite levels so I can spend a little more quality time with Leo, Raph, Mikey and Donny.

~ Stephen Haberman The Geeky Husband on Twitter
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