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This article was originally published on Pixelkin.org. They are a site with similar goals to our own, but with a specific focus on teenagers  and the challenges involved in being a part of their gaming lives.

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By: Courtney Holmes

  Costume Quest 2 the sequel to Double Fine’s 2010 Halloween RPG Costume Quest, made me laugh out loud, many times. It’s a kid-centric Halloween romp through time and space, and while aspects of it were far from perfect, overall I had a really fun experience. The game is rated E10+ for fantasy violence, and it’s available for PC, Mac, and Linux (and soon, for Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, and Wii U). It was developed by Double Fine Productions and published by Midnight City.

Monsters

Story

Wren and Reynold are just two ordinary twins who love costumes and candy. One Halloween, they spot the dentist Orel White cavorting with a time wizard. With the wizard’s help, White uses time travel to steal a magical talisman and eventually become supreme dental overlord of the world, outlawing candy and costumes. The twins must use time travel (and magical Halloween costumes that transform them into awesome fighters) to take down White and rescue Halloween.

Like its predecessor, Costume Quest 2 is a very kid-centric story, and the enemies tend to be adults. But it’s not just another kids-versus-adults storyline. Many of the grownups in the game are allies to the kids. Costume Quest 2 is full of adults who treat children with respect, and not condescension, which I love. The children are confident and smart, and generally behave in ways that are very emotionally mature. Overall, this strikes a really good tone. And the humor, for the most part, is spot on. I regularly found myself retelling jokes out loud to my coworkers, which I’m sure got annoying fast. But they were just so funny!

There are two things in the story, though, that make me uncomfortable. The first is that the game champions candy, but makes no mention of health or oral hygiene in a positive light. The game doesn’t make all dentists into the enemy—Orel White, specifically, has a developed character and some solid motivations for hating Halloween. However, I would really have appreciated a couple of positive notes about dental care in the game. Going to the dentist is a scary enough process, even for some adults, that it really doesn’t need to be vilified any more for kids.

tourist

The second thing that bothers me are the rare yet undeniable fat jokes, thrown in throughout the course of the story. Specifically, the people being made fun of are tourists and the very wealthy (see photos), but I found these jokes totally unnecessary. Considering that candy is an enormous part of the game, and that healthy methods of moderation are not mentioned at all, this makes me feel like Costume Quest 2 is sending some mixed signals.

rich

These aspects of the game are a huge bummer, because there are so many other things about it that I just love. Positive messages about teamwork and friendship and creativity are rife. I love Halloween costumes, I love what they can do for kids’ imagination and mental health, and Costume Quest 2 clearly gets it.

feel like myself Costume Quest 2

Overall, Costume Quest 2 does a really good job of crafting self-confident young people who know what they want and how to get it. They are respected and trusted by adults and by each other, and they are savvy about the world around them. Plus, there is a ton of great race and gender representation. This game features multiple interracial couples, and zero aspects of the story hinge on gender or race. You can choose to play as either Wren or Reynold at the beginning of the game, but the actual effect this has on your gameplay is nonexistent.

costume fight

Gameplay

There are two main aspects to Costume Quest 2’s gameplay: exploration and turn-based fighting. The game is broken up into numerous areas to explore, and in each you are tasked with going door-to-door collecting candy. At some doors, bad guys are waiting to attack you, which will launch a fight scene. Each area also has secret chests, clever missions, and hidden caches of candy to discover. The goodies were enough to keep me invested in each map and mission, and I really enjoyed looking for all of the hidden tidbits and talking to all of the people in each area, in case one of them had something special to offer me.

The fight scenes were also pretty entertaining, if somewhat tedious. When a fight starts, the kids are transformed into whatever they’re dressed up as at the time, and each costume has associated attacks that are delightfully humorous to watch. Thomas Jefferson’s special attack is particularly awesome, but they were all entertaining in their own right.

Thomas Jefferson

Plus, because the experience points are tied to the kids and not the costumes, you can feel free to try fighting with lots of different costumes, without having to put yourself at a major disadvantage.

In an attempt to make each fight have a meaningful impact, Costume Quest 2 initially made it so that you did not heal automatically after fights. Therefore, if you entered two fights back-to-back without going to a water fountain to heal up, you would be put at an enormous disadvantage. The creators have announced that they’re updating this with a patch after receiving complaints from players who were tired of constantly backtracking to find a fountain. I agree, it got annoying, though I appreciate them attempting to make the fights meaningful in a wider context. Hopefully the patch will be able to strike a balance.

A final note: if you can, play this game with a controller, instead of your keyboard. It will make moving around much easier.

Thanks, Monty!

The Takeaway

Costume Quest 2 is hilarious, satisfying, and refreshing. It’s got jokes and a plot that is entertaining for kids at multiple ages, and it’s a great way to get excited about Halloween. I loved playing as a confident, sassy kid with awesome abilities and a kind heart. That said, the story did not always stick the landing (some jokes were questionable and some opportunities for positive messages were missed).  A family discussion about this game’s content could be a good idea.

I’d still recommend giving this game a shot, whether or not you’ve played the original Costume Quest. If you’ve played the game, be sure to let me know your thoughts in the comments.

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This article was originally published on Pixelkin.org. They are a site with similar goals to our own, but with a specific focus on teenagers  and the challenges involved in being a part of their gaming lives.

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By: Courtney Holmes

Hyrule Warriors, Nintendo’s new game that marries The Legend of Zelda series with Dynasty Warriors, pits the player against massive hoards of enemies in a frantic fight to reclaim territory. When I say massive, I mean massive. It takes only a few minutes to defeat upwards of 500 baddies by yourself. This is a game that is more about brute force than clever puzzles, so if you are expecting another regular installment in the Zelda series, think again. The story may star Zelda cast members, but the gameplay is all Dynasty Warriors.

Some things worked for me, and other things didn’t. Teens who enjoy anime and mashing buttons might have fun with this game.

Hyrule Warriors is rated T for Teen for fantasy violence and suggestive themes. There is an enormous amount of fighting in this game, but there is no blood or gore. Instead of deaths, the game counts “KOs” (knock outs). When enemies are knocked out, they vanish in a puff of smoke, sometimes replaced by piles of money or other goods. When an ally is defeated, they are described as “fleeing” the battlefield. As for suggestive themes, some of the costumes are very revealing (see below).

Cia

Story

When Hyrule Castle comes under attack from dark forces, Princess Zelda, Link, and Impa team up to reclaim their homeland. This involves the team traveling across Hyrule and picking up allies as they go, in an attempt to defeat the evil sorceress Cia and her manipulator, the Demon King Ganondorf. The two are attempting to take over the world by stealing the all-powerful Triforce, a magical MacGuffin of power, wisdom, and courage that plays a leading role in every Zelda game.

It’s a fairly straightforward plot (good vs. evil) with a little bit of time travel thrown in partway through. However, the story still manages to feel complex and bogged down with heavy-handed details. This isn’t helped by the fact that most of the story is unfolded in voice-over exposition, which is extremely dull.

Hyrule Warriors

That said, some good things come out of this game. For one, there are lots of playable female characters. Zelda, Impa, Lana, Agitha, Fi, and Midna are all able to lead military campaigns without ever having their strength or ability come into question.

More than anything else, Hyrule Warriors feels like a heartfelt, if bizarre, love letter to the original Zelda series. It takes the player on a lot of walks down memory lane, which were fun for me because I really like The Legend of Zelda. If I were not a huge Zelda fan, though, these details would have made the story incredibly inaccessible.

Hyrule Warriors makes constant references to situations and events from past games without stopping to explain what is going on. So, people who don’t know that The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask has a giant moon falling out of the sky, or thatMidna is the former queen of the Twilight Realm who was usurped by the evil Zant will probably spend the entire game playing catch-up.

The part of the story that bothered me the most, however, was the sorceress Cia (a new character created just for this game). Although Cia was once good, she became evil after falling in love with Link and becoming insanely jealous. This allowed Ganondorf to manipulate her to his own ends.

No matter how you cut it, her role in the game is entirely dependent on men, and it’s really disappointing. Considering the huge number of playable female characters, I am frustrated that this central plot point is so lacking in meaningful female agency.

battlefield map

Gameplay

Hyrule Warriors has lots of different ways to play, which is pretty awesome. The player can follow the main story with Legend Mode, or try to accomplish smaller goals in Challenge Mode and Adventure Mode. Every mode can be played co-op (max two players), which I loved. Co-op never felt like a competition, but rather an exercise in teamwork. My friend and I gave each other advice and hints and regularly came to one another’s rescue for the good of the mission. I also really liked how the game doesn’t use split-screen. Instead, player one uses the Wii U’s gamepad as his or her sole screen. It’s nice to see the gamepad getting some use, since it’s such a big feature of the Wii U.

The biggest thing missing, easily, was a tutorial mode. If players want to learn what button does what, they have to read a series of written instructions. I would havemuch preferred if the game had included a level or two to ease me into the fighting style. Even an optional tutorial would have been welcome. Players can expect to flounder around for a while before they get the hang of things.

Once I figured out what I was doing, the fighting itself was okay, but not particularly addicting or satisfying. This game is definitely a button-masher. While there are special combo moves for each character, I usually found myself using them because I was bored with hitting B rather than because it was necessary. That said, the graphics were great, and every time I found a new combo move, I did get a little excited to watch it unfold on the screen.

Lana fighting

Players can do a lot to customize their characters, which is nice motivation to collect stuff on the battlefield. Materials they pick up can be sold at the Bazaar in exchange for upgraded attacks, defenses, or assists. Plus, they can customize their weapons and buy experience points to upgrade their characters. Spending time in Adventure Mode is a good way to get upgrades they can use later in Legend Mode.

So, for the thorough gamer, there is certainly a lot of content in this game. Each level will take players between half an hour and an hour to complete, possibly longer if they repeatedly face defeat and have to start over from the last checkpoint. For teens having trouble tearing themselves away, you could try restricting them to one or two levels. These break up the plot nicely, like chapters in a book. And with a game this action-intense, it’s important to take breaks.

Lastly, several levels force the player to fight as Ganondorf, battling against the side of good. Playing as the bad guy is not unusual for Dynasty Warriors games, but it made me feel really uncomfortable to have to strike down armies of Gorons, who are really friendly and love to dance. Ganondorf was a fun avatar, but I would have much preferred playing with him in other play modes, attempting random challenges rather than fighting through the main story.

Impa

Takeaway

Hyrule Warriors is far from perfect. It takes the parts of Zelda that I like the least and leaves behind the parts I love the most. But it takes the Zelda franchise and attempts something new, which is certainly a welcome change. Players who have never played a Legend of Zelda game will probably have trouble understanding what’s going on. But if they love frantic battle sequences and mashing buttons on their controller, they probably won’t care anyway. If your kids do play this game, be sure to ask them what they think about the female playable characters and how they feel when they play as the antagonist. And if you’re not too scared, try picking up the Wii remote and playing with them. You’ll probably only really need one button anyway.

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This article was originally published on Pixelkin.org. They are a site with similar goals to our own, but with a specific focus on teenagers  and the challenges involved in being a part of their gaming lives.

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By: Keezy Young

When I was a kid, my siblings and I would enthusiastically gather around my dad’s computer to watch him kill orcs in Warcraft I. We would cheer him on, give him advice, and point out treasures he’d missed. When I was a little older, he taught me how to play, and I was defeating armies of slime by age 8. We played together through Warcraft II, III, and the expansion packs, and finally started in on World of Warcraft, the MMORPG (massively multi-player online role-playing game). As a teenager, I didn’t connect with my dad on a lot of subjects, but gaming was one of them.

If I could go back, I admit I would’ve tried harder to communicate with my dad, especially on the subject of gaming; I loved it, he loved it, and I wish we’d played together more often. But teens are notoriously bad at that type of communication—the “spend more time with me” communication—so here are some tips for parents who want to game with their teens, but don’t know where to begin.

1. Meet them where they are. Most teens play games, whether it’s PC games, video games, or simply the Angry Birds app on their phones.

2. Pick an age-appropriate game. It can be hard to connect with teens. They don’t want to play Monster Attack in the backyard anymore; they want a more mature relationship with you, and they’re usually put off by adults treating them as if they’re still little kids. The thing is (as much as it may not seem like it at times), they have matured, and so has their play. That doesn’t mean you can’t play with them, just that you need to find a game that matches their age level—you can battle monsters in a video game as easily as you can battle them in your backyard. Gaming can also be a fantastic way to connect with your kids if they live far away if for any reason you’re separated for an extended period.

3. Take the initiative. Some teens have a hard time communicating, especially when they’re feeling lonely or unloved. They want people to notice their moods, and don’t understand why they suddenly have to speak up. (After all, their parents were easily able to figure out their needs when they were younger.) Teenagers might be dying to ask you to play, but not know the words to show it. They also might feel that you won’t be interested. If you’re the one to approach them, you might get an enthusiastic response. You never know!

4. Don’t shy away from gaming with girls! All kids might have to face foul language when gaming online, but women face the brunt of it, and you can act as your daughter’s backup if the need arises. If you are a woman yourself, you can act in solidarity with her. On that note, try not to make any assumptions about the kind of game your daughter wants to play. Ask her what she’d like before choosing a game, and whether she picks Gears of War or Fashion Designer, make an effort to try it out with her.

5. Don’t denigrate the gameAnd try not to judge character based on a favorite game. You may be uncomfortable with an aspect of the game—intense violence, for example—but you can’t assume that the violence is why kids like the game. In fact, they might be just as uncomfortable as you are. Use these moments as opportunities to listen, learn, and give feedback. Find out why they are okay with playing the game despite unsavory factors. If they do seem to enjoy the shadier aspects of the game, talk to them about why this is and how it makes them feel, and give real-life examples of why that content isn’t okay with you. Finally, don’t let them use “but it’s just a game” as an excuse to avoid talking about it—media matters, and even if your kid fully understands the difference between real life and gaming, everyone in the family should participate in an ongoing discussion about how media impacts our views in subtle, but meaningful, ways.

6. Be a guardian. Studies show that gaming with kids is the best way to deal with some of the controversial aspects of gaming.

7. Don’t underestimate your abilities. Games take some time to learn, just like all activities. Don’t expect it to come easy, but don’t assume that it comes easy to your kids either—chances are they’ve had a lot more practice, and that’s the only reason they seem to pick it up faster. Of course the older you get, you may notice slower reflexes, but don’t let this stop you. The key is to get your kids to help you—teens love teaching, and they might jump at the chance to show you their favorite pastime.

8. Try to find games you can all enjoy. Don’t force yourself to play something you despise. You might never find true common ground, but if you’re hating every minute of it—or your kids are—it will be clear to all parties involved. There are many, many types of games out there. Social games on mobile apps might be more in line with your interests. There are party games, light-hearted MMORPGs for PC gamers, and plenty of intense video games that don’t involve violence or rapid-action reflexes.

9. Don’t assume you’ll hate gaming. You never know what you might get out of it—maybe just the joy of hanging out with your teenager for extended periods will make it worthwhile! (We can only hope, right?) On that note, even if you do find yourself hating gaming, that’s okay. Not everyone is going to have the same interests no matter how you look at it. However, it’s important to accept gaming if it’s something your kid enjoys, even if you aren’t an active participant—after all, chances are you’ve sat through dance recitals, Little League games, and musicals to support your kids’ passions. Why should gaming be any different?

10. Just have fun. Relax. Enjoy yourself! You’re allowed to like whatever aspect of gaming you want, even if that means gathering flowers while your teen wanders off to kill monsters. Learn how to make potions with the flowers and hand off your bounty so your kid always has a full stock of health and magic. If you don’t want to play the game yourself, watch and ask them questions. You can help from the sidelines, just like my brother and sister and I did when with my dad when we were kids. Most of all, don’t think of gaming as the enemy. Get to know it, and you might find yourself enjoying a hobby you never imagined you’d like.

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The video game universe is immense. There is always more to read, more to watch, more to play, and more to understand.

If you’re a parent, you know most kids play video games of one kind or another. And you know it’s important to stay informed about video games. What games are available out there? Which ones are popular? What should you watch out for? And which games are good for your particular family and your particular kids? It’s not always easy to sort it out.

Engaged Family Gaming is teaming up with our family-gaming colleagues at Pixelkin.org to offer you a little assistance. It’s a free e-book, “Get Connected: A Pixelkin Guide to Family Gaming.” It has everything you need to get started in the world of video games. It’s well-researched, it’s easy to skim, and it’s super pretty. Oh, yeah, it’s also free.

Moving forward we will be cross-posting amazing articles and reviews from the great writers over at Pixelkin.org every Tuesday!

Stay Tuned!

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