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July 10th will mark the 5th birthday of the iTunes App Store. Yep. That’s right. The App Store will be old enough to go to Kindergarten on Wednesday. It’s crazy. It’s even crazier than in the last 5 years 50 BILLION apps have been downloaded.

Apple has a lot to celebrate. They have made a ton of money (and helped a lot of people make money) and they are celebrating by giving away some of their best apps and games.

This is a great value for families and it shouldn’t be missed. Here are some of the highlights:

Badlands:

Rated 9+

If you have a child who loves a challenge in their touch based games, then this is the app for them. You control a shadowy floating monster and navigate through a world that is falling apart. The levels start off easy enough, but they get VERY hard VERY fast. The developers also update the game constantly by adding levels and achievements.

Tiny Wings:

Rated 4+

This is a deceptively difficult game that kids will love. This is another touch based game that involves controlling a bird and helping it take off from ramps and fly across islands while racing computer controlled opponents. My 4 year old figured it out quickly and was showing us all how to make it work by the end of the day. Being told how to play a game by your preschooler is a humbling, yet awesome, experience. I recommend it to everyone.

Where’s My Water: 

Rated 4+

Disney hasn’t been known for releasing amazing games since the 8 and 16 bit era (we’ll talk about those games soon). But, they have a hit on their hands here. Where’s My Water is a puzzle game where players need to wipe away dirt in order to guide water to help a friendly Gator take a shower. The puzzles start out easy, but eventually get maddeningly difficult. The good news is that starting over is easy, and sometimes failing has hilarious results. You’ll have a blast sitting around the iPad testing out potential solutions. Trust me on this one. It’s worth the full price, so getting the game for free is just a miracle.

Infinity Blade II: 

Rated 9+

Infinity Blade II is a timing based sci-fi/fantasy combat game. The story can be difficult to follow, but older kids and teenagers will love exploring this insane world and gearing up their guy with all manner of armor and weapons. There is some violence, so I wouldn’t play this with young kids. For a comparison, a night watching Monday Night Raw will be more intense.

If you are an old school gamer and have been dreaming of letting your kid play an updated version of Punch Out then this is your chance.

 

Barefoot World Atlas:

Rated 4+

This isn’t a game per se, but it is a very neat app. It is a touch controlled globe that lets kids explore the world and discover interesting facts from all around the world. I recommend it for any family with lots of curious kids.

The only real challenge is that the narrator is VERY British so you might have to help explain some words to kids that aren’t familiar with the Queen’s English.

 

There are a few other apps on the list that might be of value to you so make sure to check out the full list. Whatever you do, make sure to do it fast because these apps won’t be free forever.

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Those of us who were waiting patiently for the long-awaited follow up to Plants Vs Zombies will have to wait just a little bit longer. PopCap Games confirmed via the franchise’s official Twitter account that the game is being delayed until later on this summer. The title was originally slated for release on iOS on July 16th.

This is definitely a disappointment as it was one of my family’s most anticipated games, but a few more weeks are a small price to pay if this means the game will end up being more polished by the time they release it.

We don’t know a whole heck of a lot else about the game so far. But we have been able to find a few interesting bits of information.  

First, and most important, is that the game will follow a free-to-play formula. They have indicated that you will be able to play every level and earn every plant without spending a dime. Now, before any of you cheer too wildly, you have to remember that free-to-play games often have features hidden behind a paywall. In this case, I’ll bet that unlocking different plants will require spending coins that you find on the field with the option to just spend cash to unlock them faster. This is actually a great system. Those people who don’t want to pay anything will be able to play through the game that way. Everyone else will be able to pick and choose their purchases.

Second, we’ve been able to confirm that the game will involve time travel this time around. We don’t really know what that means yet since they have been very cagey with the details. But, we can assume that this will result in a wider variety of zombie opponents to deal with like knights, cowboys, etc.

This game looks like it could be one of the highlights of the summer. How excited are you for this one? Sound off in the comments section!

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The internet exploded this afternoon as Microsoft announced that they were reversing their DRM decisions for the Xbox One.

Experienced gamers bombarded social media as they shared their numerous opinions on Facebook and Twitter.

This was followed by intense discussions between teen gamers, leaving their parents confused and in the dark.   If you’re like a lot of parents, you have no real idea of what this whole mess is about yet. I’m going to take this opportunity to fill everyone in that might be wondering.

Let’s get started; shall we?

First, I want to explain what DRM means. It stands for Digital Rights Management. These are the systems that hardware companies put in place to prevent people from misusing or inappropriately distributing software. (The keys that you enter whenever you install a version of MS Office are a form of DRM.)

Rumors had been flying for more than a year that the next generation of game consoles was going to be very restrictive when it came to used games and offline play. We heard reports from “reliable sources” throughout the process that confirmed all of this, but we didn’t know the details until Microsoft came out two weeks ago and announced their stance.

They put up a post on their blog that indicated that the Xbox One would require that the console be connected to the internet at least once every 24 hours and that the transfer of games from one account to another would require an undisclosed process and a potential fee. The announcement of this process limited the viability of sharing games with friends and family and could have crippled the used market.

Sony responded by announcing that they were making no such changes to the DRM for their games during their 2013 E3 press event. This prompted a massive spike in pre-orders of their Playstation 4 compared to the Xbox One.

Fans, media outlets, and bloggers shouted from their proverbial rooftops about how tone deaf Microsoft was with regards to the needs and desires of their potential customers. The feedback was so loud and so persistent that Microsoft was backed into a corner.

Today, they responded to the public outcry by walking back all of their DRM statements and confirming in a blog post that the game licensing will work for the Xbox One the same way that it does on their current product, the best-selling Xbox 360. People can purchase games, sell them to stores, share them with friends, etc.

This change in plans means a change in the overall market for the consoles.

Both systems being on similar footing in regards to DRM is a good thing right now. The two of them may not be separated by much from a competition standpoint, but this will help consumers (and especially non-gaming parents) make decisions based on what matters: the games.

This has been a very basic breakdown of the timeline for the DRM debacle that has impacted the beginning of this console generation. Check back later this week for further comparisons regarding these two systems and my initial recommendations.

In the meantime, sound off in the comments. I would love to hear what your thoughts are on the topic.

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… and it may, in fact, be the best movie ever assembled.

Lego games have been entertaining our kids for years. But, it appears that the entertainment factor will be taken to the next level in 2014 with a feature length movie that ties all of the LEGO properties together. It even goes so far as to include the voice talents of Will Farrell and … wait for it…. Morgan “my voice sells a million tickets” Freeman.

Make sure to check out the trailer to see the hilarity that is coming our way on April 3rd of next year.

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EA opened their press briefing at E3 2013 with a huge surprise. PopCap Games came on stage and announced a spin-off title for their immensely popular Plants vs. Zombies series: The third-person class based shooter Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare.

I’ll be honest with all of you. I missed the gag in there until my oldest son started giggling. “Dad, its like Modern Warfare…. but in a Garden.” (Well played PopCap. Well played.)

They only showed a brief trailer of a co-op “horde mode” that would be part of the game. Four players controlled each of the different plant classes that were available and fought against waves of zombies while trying to plant a garden. The casual grid-based strategy gameplay was stripped away in favor of fast-paced action. The four plant classes shown were as follows:

Peashooter: This plant appears to be an all-around character. He has a reasonable long range attack and could plant other peashooter drones to lay down cover fire.

Sunflower: This was a healer/medic class. They didn’t get into to many details about what this class can do, but I can say that parents of younger kids wanting to play this game should get used to the idea of playing this support class. (I’m wicked excited!)

Piranha Plant: This was a close range brawler. What adds some challenge to this class is that, just like in the original title, whenever the piranha plant eats a zombie it can’t attack again for a while. This requires a lot of advancing and retreating in order to stay safe.

Cactus: The cactus is a sniper. One thing that I liked the most is that each of the snipers shots leave a red trail of dust. This might seem insignificant, but when playing a team based level like that the ability to know where your lone sniper is feels pretty useful.

We don’t have a confirmed release date yet, but PopCaps website has confirmed that the game will release for Xbox360, Xbox One, and PC sometime in early 2014.

If you happen to be one of the many people who just can’t wait that long for more PvZ action, then you are definitely in luck as the official sequel Plants vs Zombies 2: It’s About Time will be released on July 18th.

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Nintendo did not hold a press briefing at E3 2013. Instead they posted a 38 minute Nintendo Direct video on their E3 website showing off the new titles that are on the way.

They showed a number of new and exciting titles, but things didn’t really pick up steam until the end of the presentation where they closed with game play details for Super Smash Brothers.

Smash Brothers is a fighting game that pits iconic Nintendo characters against each other in 4-player battles has been on of the most successful franchises Nintendo has to offer. It really couldn’t be coming at a better time as the Nintendo WiiU has been struggling on account of a lack of killer games. The reality is that Smash Brothers might be just what the doctor ordered.

They confirmed the return of several longstanding characters like Mario, Pikachu, Samus Aran, Link and Donkey Kong. They also have announce three new characters so far at E3.

The first new character was “The Villager” from Animal Crossing. He appears to be an interesting character with a lot of defensive moves. For example he can dig holes to prevent opponents from charging in on him. He can also catch projectiles in mid air and pocket them.

The second character announced is quite possibly the biggest news of the entire event (Yes. I mean all of E3… ALL OF IT). Capcom’s Mega Man will be making a guest appearance in Smash Brothers this time around complete with mega-buster, a whole pile of robot master weapons, and his trusty dog Rush. This is a huge deal because Mega Man is among the most popular characters in video games and has, sadly, been left out of the spotlight in recent years.

The third character was announce after the Nintendo Direct presentation went off the air. The “Wii Fit Trainer” is going to be stomping all over some Nintendo characters with her yoga moves.

We, sadly, don’t have a release date for this game right now, but Nintendo indicated that it would be releasing for the 3DS and Nintendo WiiU in 2014. I expect that we will have a lot more character announcements between now and then.

Stay tuned!

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This announcement right here is in contention for being the most exciting announcement to come out of the entire show. (It is really only competing with Mega Man being playable in Smash Brothers.) Square Enix announced during the Sony press briefing that the long awaited Kingdom Hearts 3 is “in development.”

Kingdom Hearts is a mash-up of intellectual properties that should never have worked. It takes characters from, and inspired by, the Final Fantasy worlds of the past and jams them into a fictional universe that includes Mickey, Donald, Goofy, and just about every other Disney property imaginable. I am a huge fan of both Final Fantasy and Disney and even I was skeptical to begin with. But, despite all of those challenges these games have been massively successful.

The only real problem fans have had has it that we have been waiting for a true sequel since Kingdom Hearts II released back in 2006. There have been any number of games released on handheld titles in the meantime, and they have all been great, but fans of the series have been wondering when Square Enix would pull the trigger.

We have almost no details aside from knowing that it will release on both PS4 and Xbox one and very nice looking trailer where the protagonist Sora runs around a cityscape while preparing to fight some heartless. Take a look at the trailer from the Kingdom Hearts 3 website and see what I mean.

I’ll be sure to keep everyone posted as more details emerge.

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Nintendo opted out of holding a premiere press event at this year’s E3 event. Instead, they posted a new Nintendo Direct video on their E3 website.

One of their more significant announcements was for Mario Kart 8 which will be released for the WiiU in 2014.

Mario Kart games are always exciting because each iteration of the game includes a new game play feature. This time around the game features magnetic wheels that are built into each cart to allow tracks to send players up walls and upside down. This should lead to some amazing tracks with some crazy shortcuts.

Take a look at the trailer and sound off in the comments and let us know what you think!

 

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Final Fantasy Tactics is older than many of our kids at this point, but it is, without question, one of the best role playing games ever released. The game was brought into the modern era with an update entitled Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions that was initially released for the Playstation Portable (PSP) which was then upgraded to HD a and adapted for touch controls on the iOS. 

The game looks amazing. It includes hand drawn cut scenes, voice acting, and, sadly, a high price tag. But, that is less of an issue until June 12th because it is currently 50% off. It still comes in higher than most of the more popular iOS games, but it is well worth it for the experience. 

Frankly, If you have a kid who is into role playing games, then this is all but required reading. Part of that is because this is one of the best stories to be released as a video game in the short history of the medium. But also because there aren’t very many chances to  play turn based strategy games that have fueled the development of an entire genre. 

To be clear, this game isn’t for “kids.” Final Fantasy Tactics: War of the Lions is a war game at its core. There may not be blood, but there it certainly violence. With that said, death in this game does often come with consequences. In many games dying is simple to fix with a potion or a feather. Final Fantasy Tactics doesn’t pull its punches. If one of your units dies in a fight and you don’t heal them, then they are gone for good. This might not make a difference for many people, but I think it is significant in a world were video games are often looked down upon for promoting death with no consequences.

The bottom line here is that if you have a teenager who is interested in role playing games then I would grab this game as quickly as possible. This is the best deal you are going to get. 

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E3 is something you’ll be hearing a lot about in the very near future. If you’re anything like most parents (or my wife), you’ve probably never heard of it.

However, if you’re a gamer, it’s a HUGE deal.

So, what is it? It is the Electronic Entertainment Expo, commonly known as E3. It’s an annual trade fair for the computer and video game industry created by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA). It is used by many video game publishers and accessory manufacturers to preview their upcoming games and game-related merchandise.

Most of you will never attend the show. Many of you will not even be a tiny bit interested in attending. But, the media coverage of E3 will be extremely useful to many of you. Why? Well, it gives you 3 valuable benefits. New gaming console previews, new gaming title previews, and buying advice. This is THE source for gaming news to prepare you for the upcoming holiday shopping season.

Typically each of the 3 major video game console manufacturers and several of the major game publishers have a media conference. During these televised and streaming conferences, they introduce any new hardware (a console or handheld system) and launch titles for their most popular games. They are basically hour long infomercials. They’re filled with lots of information that is often difficult to disseminate. But, that’s our job.

You can log in to EFG all week for our continuous coverage of E3 that is applicable to family friendly gaming. We will give you the information you need to ENGAGE with your child and the newest games and systems.

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