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By: Brian Ziegenhagen

Staff Writer

Not all gaming has to be restricted to home consoles like the Playstation 3 or the Xbox 360. PC gaming has made a resurgence in recent years thanks in large part to the digital distribution platform called “Steam.” One of my contributors, a new father named Brian, is so much of a fan that he was more than excited to share his thoughts on the subject with us. Here they are:

For a family on a gaming budget, Steam provides a lot of ways to save a buck and still have a good online and offline gaming experience. There is a bit of chatter from some gaming parents about potentially adding a parental control system within Steam. In the meantime, people seem to be very happy with a program called GameNanny (http://www.steamnanny.com/index.php) It has an excellent feature where you can have multiple settings for multiple users on a single Steam account.

Steam also keeps a log of play time which is handy in making sure your kids aren’t over doing it. (Editors note: For sake of information the American Association of Pediatrics recommends that children have no more than 2 hours a day of screen time.) While I’ve no need for it with my five week old boys, there are ways to work a time limit into Windows. It just takes a quick google search and a little knowledge.

I’ve pulled together a list of pros and cons for to give you an idea of ewhat the service has to offer if you haven’t already joined the Steam Community.

Pro:

Gaming on a budget is my primary concern and Steam has no membership fees. So, this is an important feature for me. They also have sales every day and will run massive site wide sales every3-4 months. This can be dangerous to your bank account if you don’t have the willpower to not buy all the discounted games. If you catch a big Steam sale, which happen fairly often, you can grab yourself a few big budget, high price games sometimes as low as 75% off. When is the last time you’ve seen a 75% off sale at your local game shop? They just don’t happen.

Windows or Mac fanboys, here is some equal ground. Steam is basically George Takei. Stay with me people. Finally, Mac(trekkies) gaming fanboys (those are a thing?) and PC (Star Wars junkies) gaming fanboys can hold hands and play together. You are both welcome in the steam community. On top of that, you can access and play your games purchased on Steam through a Mac or a PC. Purchasing a game gives you download access to both versions of the game. Your cloud saves translate between all computer types as well, which is really nice. Thank you for accepting my forced analogy. With limited hard drive space, a nice feature for me is that you can download a purchased game as many times as you want. Don’t worry about your saves or your DLCs, Steam has it covered. No need to backup files at all.

Bug reporting is fairly quick and easy. Steam is always moving forward fixing general bugs and improving their online framework. Steam still provides the leaderboards, avatars, friends lists, achievements, text chat, voice chat and forums. Steamworks is a champ at online community gaming. It casts a huge net allowing for easy to distribute user generated mods and helps with multiplayer matching. With such a wide net being cast you can catch some undesirables, like cheaters. Steam’s cheat detection bans offenders from dedicated servers.

Cons:

These were a little tougher to come up with. They all feel like small gripes that aren’t really an issue but I’m going to list them in the interest of fairness.

First, You need a Steam account to play your game. It is, however, quick and easy so I don’t really see an issue. You have to sign off on their TOS and UELA which don’t have anything irregular in them.

The Steam client, which is required, is 1.5 MB and has some updates over time that will take up a little more room. The Steam client DOES need to be running in order to play a game on your Steam account which eats up roughly 10MB of memory resources. Though you can access your Steam account through any computer, you can only be online with your account with one computer at a time. Meaning multiple people cant play the same individual game from separate computers online. Lets be real, this isn’t so much a con as a reality. It’s a licensing issue. A big one which I understand completely is one that people see as a bit of a gamble. Should Steam’s company Valve ever go under they will no longer support the games through their application. Though, Valve has said they will unlock all games that wont be supported. So long as they keep their word this wont be an issue.

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By: Lara Murray

Staff Writer

 

Ni no Kuni is the collective project of developer and producer Level-5, of the Professor Layton games, and the Japanese animation company Studio Ghibli, whose notable movies include Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and My Neighbor Totoro. Ni no Kuni tells the story of thirteen year old Oliver, who sets off to restore the life of his late mother by rescuing her soulmate in an alternative world filled with magic and monsters. Along the way he visits multiple kingdoms and befriends many people, whom come to rely on him as not just a destined hero but for his genuinely good intentions to help those whose broken hearts must be mended.

The 3-D, cell-shaded graphics are as brightly colorful as a Disney film, and at pivotal plot moments there are animated cut scenes the help move the story along. All the characters and the creatures in the game have a fun stylization that makes them cute or cool, but not scary. The music is beautifully orchestrated and most scenes, whether animated or computer graphics, have voiced dialogue that makes the story fun and easy to follow.

The theme heavily focuses on family and friendship, and consults issues like death and running away from life’s problems. It may be too much for younger children to understand without an adult there to explain the concepts, but older kids can grasp the ideas presented in the game. Violence is conceived in a bloodless manner where characters faint from exhaustion if their health drops to zero, or monsters simply disappear in a puff of smoke when defeated. There is no sexual content or suggestive language, but there are several times where the word “damn” is dropped in conversation by an adult character.

Ni no Kuni offers only two modes of difficulty for players: “Easy” and “Normal”. Once a new game is started, it’s easy to switch between modes if the game proves to be too easy or too hard. At first it starts off with just Oliver and a familiar, but as the game progresses more party members are brought in and the ability to capture creatures and train them as familiars (similar to the Pokemon series) is gained. Players can switch between party members and control them or their equipped familiars, and when they’re not under the player’s control these party members will act independently based on the commands players chooses from a separate menu.

The battle system is designed on executing your moves at the right time to cancel an enemy’s attack or block significant damage, and by pulling off these counters will cause “glims” to appear, which will either restore health, magic, or more rarely, unleash a super charged move. More battle commands become available at a staggered rate throughout the entire game, but a child has to be able to read and understand complex instruction. Kids who have already played a few role-playing games shouldn’t have much difficulty picking up the battle system, and worst case scenario, it’s very feasible for a player to patiently force their way to victory through any battle by using the same character to run in circles and use normal attacks.

Ni no Kuni is a great game with a lot to offer, but younger children will be better off watching on the sidelines as an adult or an order sibling plays through the game, or to avoid altogether if they’re too young to understand the more mature themes. There’s enough content, from concluding the story to the aspect of collecting all the familiars to the completion of the many sidequests and secrets tucked into the game, that will keep most members of the family engaged.

 

Overall score: 8.5

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By: Lara Murray

Staff Writer

Nintendo struck gold when they released the Wii in November of 2006. A revolutionary system that used motion controls in its games, it became a success due to the simple fact that anyone could enjoy it, regardless of gender, age or experience in gaming. Following its success, Nintendo launched the Wii U in November 2012 to similar acclaim.

If a family doesn’t own the Wii, then the Wii U is a gaming must. Keeping with its predecessor by inheriting the motion control feature, the Wii U also introduced a separate handheld gamepad that functions similar to a tablet. The game pad works like an interface for controlling the Wii U’s menu, but it can also control the television while the system is on. The game pad also works like a second monitor, making it possible to switch the display of certain games from the television to the gamepad. Play can then be resumed, freeing up the television for family use. Multiple user accounts can exist on the same system, but game save data is shared among all accessible accounts.

Unlike the Playstion 3 or the X Box 360, the Wii U cannot play DVDs or Blu-Rays, but it has access to stream media from Netflix. Parental controls on the Wii U allow concerned moms and dads to restrict certain content from children’s accounts like games based on their ratings as well as other modes of entertainment like the aforementioned Netflix and YouTube, purchasing software from the Shop Channel, posting or accessing the MiiVerse (a social media outlet where Wii U users can comment on their favorite games), and overall Internet access.

The Wii U is backwards compatible with Wii games, meaning that a family can play any Wii game on their Wii U system in addition to the games available for the Wii U, but Wii U games cannot be played on a Wii console. The Wii U’s catalog of exclusive games is small at this time, as is the case with any new console, but over the next few years it’s expected that game releases will fade out on the Wii in favor of exclusive releases on the Wii U. The Wii U also has a “Virtual Console”, which is an emulator that plays classic games from former Nintendo systems and some Sega systems after they are purchased from the Shop Channel.

At a price of ~$350 for the deluxe bundle packaged with goodies like a 32GB hard drive and the game Nintendoland, or ~$300 for the just the system with an 8GB hard drive, parents on a budget may opt to fill a home’s console vacancy with an original Wii, which retails at about half the price of the Wii U but comes with the cost of missing out on worthwhile exclusives, specifically Nintendoland and New Super Mario Bros. U which are both available now. With a reputable back catalog, the Wii U is a favorable option for a family looking for a next-generation gaming console with something everyone in the family can enjoy.

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