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Dear Kaos Trap,

You elude me.  I follow sites and refresh Amazon daily, hoping to encounter your translucent black countenance, and yet you continue to mock me. I can almost hear your odd cadence as you call me “Sky-loser” while I enter yet another Target, disappointed at the empty space meant for you.

I swim through endless piles of water traps and live through the disappointment of a growing inventory of life traps. I do all of this in the vain hope that I’ll encounter you one day. All to no avail. My daughter begs me to find you, to keep looking, and my hopes are constantly crushed as I find your limited inventory (2 per box of traps) with your price skyrocketing faster than a prisoner escaping Cloud Cracker Prison.

You mock me relentlessly, and haunt my dreams with a cruelness that Dreamcatcher could never fathom. Someday I will find you, and with $5.99 you will belong to me. Then with a squeal of joy you will be mine, er, OURS forever.

Always,

Tuff Luck Mom

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One of the more exciting premiers to come out of the 2014 Game Awards was King’s Quest: Your Legacy Awaits. Activision announced that it was returning earlier this year as part of their re-launch of the Sierra brand as an indie publisher. It is being developed by a company called The Odd Gentlemen, a small company whose previous work includes the quirky puzzle game called The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom.

They have taken on a huge responsibility with this project as the King’s Quest series is one of the most iconic franchises in he history of gaming. This is similar to the pressure on Christopher Nolan when he took on directing the Batman series. Failure is just not an option with so many fans waiting.

The good news is that it appears they are up to the challenge. The game looks amazing so far. All of the art and animation assets we have seen so far look as though they were pulled directly from the pages of a storybook.

They plan to maintain the adventure game roots, but have changed up the controls. Historically, games in the franchise have been point and click adventure games. This entry will be a puzzle based platforming game. It is an odd choice when you consider the recent resurgence of point and click adventure games like Broken Age chapter 1 and the Telltale games series. I am willing to reserve judgment because it looks so beautiful, but I am hoping that the platforming doesn’t get in the way of anything.

I’m looking forward to being able to share this game with my children. What do you think? Sound off in the comments.

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Publisher: Upper One Games

ESRB Rating: T for Teen

This game was reviewed on Xbox One, also available for PS4 and Windows PC.

 

Overall Review

Anyone who enjoys games already knows they’re a creative medium like any other, with the potential for meaningful expression beyond entertainment. But Never Alone asks an ambitious question: can video games share and preserve cultural legacies?

Never Alone  Screen shot

Never Alone is absolutely gorgeous!

Developed in partnership with the Alaskan Native community, Never Alone takes an Iñupiaq myth and recasts it as the adventure of a young girl named Nuna and her companion, an arctic fox. As a relentless blizzard threatens her village, Nuna and Fox journey to find the source of the storm. As they encounter a variety of friends and foes, it’s clear that nature can be helpful, hostile, and even mischievously neutral. But with patience and perseverance they press on.

No type of game embodies the themes of perseverance and patience better than the puzzle-platformer. Gameplay is part detective work, as the player (or players–two people can play the full game together) figures out how to overcome the level’s obstacles; and play’s part pure coordination, as they alternately control Nuna and Fox to climb, jump, and swing the solution to success. Each level represents one of the myth’s chapters, and the influence of indigenous art styles is deliberately present in the level design. It’s worth emphasizing how gorgeous and distinct each level looks. It’s more than just ice and snow.

This isn’t a staid museum piece. The Iñupiat and their traditions play a living part in our world today– a world that has video games– and these games can be used as a viable storytelling technique. That’s an important point to bring home: this isn’t interactive homework, trying to “trick” kids into learning about another culture when they think they’re playing a game. Rather, it’s the bold idea that the game itself is a legitimate way to tell an Iñupiaq tale.

It works. This is a bonafide video game. Is it educational? Even a little political? Yes. Throughout the game, players discover and watch short interviews with members of the Iñpuiaq community that explain the cultural and historical meaning behind various gameplay elements. These videos tell an engaging narrative of their own and are immediately relevant, providing context and depth to the game itself.

Aptly named, the game tells a story that prizes connectedness, cooperation, and community. The young girl’s individual bravery brings her against the ravages of the blizzard, but it’s the survival of her village that urges her onward. Without the help of Fox, she could not prevail. Even then, they rely on more than their friendship, turning to the helpfulness of spirits and the environment itself. Ultimately, as one interviewee puts it, “You’re not the biggest force in the world.”

Never Alone screen shot

The windblown snow results in some beautiful on screen effects.

This translates beautifully into the gameplay, creating a game that’s truly cooperative. Each puzzle’s solution requires the active participation of both characters and their unique abilities. Nuna smashes the walls of ice that stand in their way, while Fox scrambles to otherwise unreachable heights. No one becomes a frustrating tag-along, meaning co-op mode may actually be the better experience. For any parent interested in games to play with their kids, Never Alone definitely deserves a look.

Family Gaming Assessment

Never Alone earns its teen rating: there’s no blood or gore, but the player confronts frightening situations of destruction and violence. One scene in particular even startled me. That said, none of this is glorified. Quite the opposite: there’s a strong message that courage and cooperation overcome greed and cruelty.

Playability Assessment

Like any platformer, the game requires precise coordination. Players will spend more time trying to achieve the correct timing than they’ll spend actually working out the puzzles. However, the ratio of frustration to challenge is fair. A parent-child team, especially, will find little trouble progressing at a reasonable pace.

Conclusion

Never Alone delivers on its promise. Without feeling patronizing or gimmicky, it succeeds at being many things at once: educational, artistic, challenging, and inspiring. But, most importantly, it’s a fun little game. Anybody can appreciate that.

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We know that “nothing is off limits” in regards to the Disney properties that could appear in Kingdom Hearts 3. This means we might see members of the Avengers, Jedi Knights, or maybe even Elsa from Frozen in the next adventure.

I’ve spent some time thinking about what I would like to see. Below is my top five list!

5. Spider Man

Spider Man - Miles Morales

This is the Miles Morales version of Spider Man. I’d be fine with this guy too!

There isn’t another character in the Marvel universe that would fit into the silly premise of Kingdom Hearts more than our friendly neighborhood Spider Man. He, when well written, is among the most entertaining superheroes in the business and his witty comments would be a nice counterpoint to the more “realistic” and serious Manhattan.

4. A Bug’s Life

Bugs Life Disney Pixar

Imagine these guys in Kingdom Hearts? It’d be great!

Look. If nothing is off limits then Pixar is on the table also. Flik, the main character, won the day using an array of interesting gadgets and inventions. This could be an interesting mechanic for a supporting character in the game.

3. The Silver Surfer

The Silver Surfer Marvel comics super hero

The Silver Surfer and his power cosmic are a great fit!

The Silver Surfer would be a perfect addition to the Kingdom Hearts lore. His ability to fly between worlds would be a great fit and the power cosmic would give him some flashy powers to use in combat.

2. Galactus

Galactus marvel comics super villain

Galactus and the easy chair of DOOM!

If we include the Silver Surfer, then it stands to reason that we need to include Galactus as well. He literally devours worlds so having Galactus find a new source of worlds to consume in the various Disney worlds would have frightening results. His massive scale would also allow for a very cool encounter.

1. Frozen

Disney's Frozen: Elsa

Elsa would be a BEAST!

You can go ahead and call my opinion tainted here. I do have a two year old daughter. But, hear me out on this one. Elsa is insanely powerful. She created life… by accident… twice. She also created a massive ice castle while signing and dancing. She is a great pick to be a supporting character because there are plenty of options for over the top special moves and magic powers.

Also, Frozen is the highest grossing animated feature of all time. It’s inclusion will undoubtedly be a draw and will add to the success of the game.

Who would you like to see? Sound off in the comments!

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By: Andy Robertson of FamilyGamerTV

The Crew Guide

Our friends over at FamilyGamerTV who a parent’s guide to The Crew. It covers what makes this game great to what to watch out for. The video is the ultimate two minute guide!

Genre and story

The Crew is a racing game set in an open world version of the United States. In the  campaign you work through the ranks of an illegal street racing gang, with missions you can carry out alone or with other players. Beyond that, it’s a “living world” with lots more for players to do and explore.

As you drive around this open world version of the US, which lets you drive from coast to coast (albeit much more quickly than you would be able to in real life) you encounter different challenges.

For example, Follow gives you a racing line to follow that gets thinner the longer you manage to stay on it, and Precision gives you a succession of smaller and smaller gates to pass through. The game will record your attempts so that you can try to beat them or let your friends see if they can do better.

You can also create your own crew made up of yourself and other players, and challenge other crews to races and other challenges. The game requires an internet connection even if you decide to play alone. There’s no local multiplayer.

Throughout the game you have the opportunity to drive a wide range of cars from different manufacturers, from Ford to Ferrari.

Developer

The Crew is the first game from French studio Ivory Tower, which includes developers who worked on games like Need for Speed, V-Rally, and Test Drive Unlimited.

Format

It’s available for PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Xbox 360, but not for PS3. An app for iOS and Android lets players build cars for the game.

Cost

For PS4 and Xbox One, The Crew costs £54.99/$59.99. For PC, the game costs £49.99/$59.99. On Amazon, the 360 version costs around £40/$55. A season pass, which gets you two exclusive vehicles and four car packs to be released monthly, costs £19.99/$24.99.

You’ll need PlayStation Plus or Xbox Live Gold for some of the online features.

Duration

The campaign is around 20 hours long, but because of The Crew’s open world, side missions, and online multiplayer, players will spend much more time with the game than that.

UK and Europe – PEGI rating and additional consumer information

In the UK and Europe, PEGI rates The Crew as only appropriate for those aged 12 and older, with content descriptors for mild bad language and violence causing minor injury only. PEGI also mentions that the game “allows the player to interact with other players online”.

The Games Rating Authority expands on its PEGI rating by expanding on the violence and language, stating that “there are some cinematic sequences containing minor violence, one of which shows a man trying to attack another using a wrench”. While the scene is described as “very realistic”, “both men are unhurt”, which means it’s only “considered as minor assault”. As for language, “mild language occurs frequently throughout the game and includes words such as ‘asshole’, ‘bastard’, ‘bitch’, and ‘shit’.”

US – ESRB

In the US, the ESRB rates The Crew as T for Teen, with content descriptors for language, mild blood, mild suggestive themes, and violence, also mentioning “online features that may expose players to unrated user-generated content”.

Some of the violence is in the game itself, e.g. in Takedown missions that “prompt players to ram into other vehicles, eventually causing targets to crash”, while “cutscenes depict more dramatic instances of violence: a man fatally shot; a bloodstain on his shirt is briefly depicted”.

The ESRB is also concerned about “suggestive material” such as the protagonist “watching a woman in a short skirt; the camera briefly lingers on her posterior as she walks by”, as well as dialogue like “You hitting that? Mind if I take a run at it?””

Common Sense Media

No yet rated.

Themes

While the focus is on driving, the campaign is set up like an action adventure game, and the focus is around gangs, crime, and violence.

Why people play

Since the best thing about owning a vehicle is the freedom it gives the owner to go wherever they want, an open world racing game in which players can pick and choose missions at their will makes a lot of sense. Naturally, the game couldn’t represent the entire United States, but the fact that it has created a relatively big representation for players to drive across lends the game a sense of realism.

Given that driving games rarely have a particularly interesting campaign, it’s a positive that The Crew has several hours of story. But as the name of the game suggests, multiplayer is the focus, and will be what keeps players coming back to that open world again and again.

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2014 was great for family gamers. There were a whole bunch of great games that came out, but 2015 is looking like it might be even better! Below are five of the games I am looking forward to playing this year!

 

The Legend of Zelda

The Legend of Zelda Wii U

The Legend of Zelda for Wii U is my most anticipated game of 2015!

The release of a Legend of Zelda game is an event. The upcoming release later this year will not only be the first Zelda game on the Wii U, but it will be the first time that a Zelda game will feature an open world. The Wii U gamepad offers a lot of design space for new items so it will be great to see what Nintendo puts into the game by the time it is released.

There is still some doubt that Nintendo will delay it and move it into 2016, but I have faith that it will come out this year.

Mario Maker

mario maker wii u

Making levels for and with my children will be awesome!
Bring it on kids… Daddy’s pretty good at platformers!

2015 is the 30th anniversary of the release of Super Mario Bros. There are been dozens of games in the series, but Nintendo has always been in the drivers seat on game design. Mario Maker changes things up by giving players the keys and letting them design their own Mario levels using the design aesthetics from multiple Mario games.

The biggest reason I am excited? I canʼt wait to try and run through levels created by my children. That will be a treat.

Final Fantasy XV

Final Fantasy XV

It’s not confirmed yet… but a man can hope. Right?!?!

We may not have an official release date yet, but Square Enix has been releasing information at such a rapid pace recently that I am very hopeful that we will see a release this year.

We also do not have a rating, but Final Fantasy games have had sections that were good to share with your kids in the past. I have great memories of playing some of critter heavy sections of Final Fantasy XIII with my sons. I am hoping that Iʼll be able to do the same with this one.

Xenoblade Chronicles X

Xenoblade Chronicles X for Wii U

Ok.. they are mechs as opposed to robots. But, I love them anyway!

Xenoblade Chronicles was a masterpiece for the Wii. It had one significant flaw though: It looked out of place without HD graphics. The sequel for the Wii U looks like it will fix that.

I also love giant robots and the trailers we have seen so far look like they will bring me a lot of them.

My only concern is that we don’t have a confirmed release date and we still haven’t heard one voice in english. It is only January so Nintendo has a lot of time left to go, but we need to hear something about this one soon or this might end being on my list of games for 2016 instead.

 

Ori and the Blind Forest

ori and the blind forest for Xbox One

This looks like it will be tough, but is beautiful enough for us to push through!

Ori and the Blind Forest was originally supposed to launch in 2014 but was delayed into early 2015. Meaning that is is ALMOST HERE! The launch trailer at last yearʼs E3 was stunning and I cannot wait to share this game with my kids (even if it means we are going to cry together).

Some of the gameplay trailers have led me to believe that this will have some incredibly challenging platforming segments, but I am sure that my boys and I will push through it together.

 

What are you and your family looking to play in 2015? Sound off in the comments!

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Kingdom Hearts III is coming.  It is coming slowly, but there is no denying that its slow glacial journey towards release is impacting the entire industry. Every scrap of information is analyzed frame by frame. Every interview is pulled apart word for word by every website and podcast that even thinks about video games.

It has been a very long time since the release of Kingdom Hearts 2. It has been so long, in fact, that many parents with young children might not have any idea what the game is all about.

Sora Donald Goofy Kingdom Hearts III

Sora, Donald, and Goofy will be at it again… someday!

For those in need of a definition: Kingdom Hearts is a franchise built around the unlikely pairing of Disney characters like Mickey Mouse, Aladdin, and Donald Duck alongside characters from the Final Fantasy series like Cloud, Squall, and Auron. These characters embark on a quest that takes them through multiple worlds all themed after different Disney films.

Each game in the series has brought with it new experiences themed after different Disney properties. We battled evil with Steamboat Willie. We helped solve problems in the Hundred Acre Wood. We even hunted for treasure with Aladdin. But, things are a little different now. Disney has gone on a significant spending spree in the last handful of years. The recent purchases if Marvel and Lucafilm properties provides fans with a lot of possibilities for new adventures, heroes, and villains.

This has caused a lot of speculation regarding the potential inclusion of Marvel superheroes and Star Wars characters in the series. All of this speculation reached a high point recently when Tai Yasue, the game’s director, was quoted as saying “nothing is off limits” by Kotaku UK.

The possibility of visiting Tattooine, Manhattan, or Asgard is pretty awesome. Many of these characters would fit very well in a story about multiple worlds besieged by an evil force. It wouldn’t even be that hard to bolt the Kingdom Hearts fiction onto the Marvel interpretation of the Yggdrasil World Tree myth.

 

Personally though, I have a feeling that the most impactful addition to the game is going to be the all but guaranteed inclusion of the world of Frozen. Anna and Elsa are characters that seem like they were almost for this type of adventure. Also, Elsa is arguably the most powerful character in Disney history. A showdown between Elsa and Maleficent in a Kingdom Hearts game would be quite the sight. It would probably end up being the fantasy battle of the century (at least for me) and the increased power of the PS4 and Xbox One would result in a very pretty fight to watch.

Disney's Frozen: Elsa

She’s as COOL as ICE!

 

 

 

Maleficent

Maleficent is a bad, bad sorceress!

 

 

VS.

 

 

 

 

What about you? What worlds would you like to see make an appearance? Sound off in the comments!

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ESRB rating: E
Publisher: Sierra Entertainment
Reviewed on Xbox One, also available on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox 360

Overall Review:

Video games first rose to prominence as arcade machines. People gathered in dark smoke-filled arcades to chase high scores in games like Pac Man, Galaga, and Donkey Kong. This was, arguably, the heyday of video game and every once in a while it is a good idea to go back for a visit. Geometry Wars 3 is exactly the sort of brief visit to those bygone days that we need. It is clean, bright, and very exciting.

The elevator pitch for Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions is simple.

“Fly a neon-colored spaceship around maps of various sizes and shapes shooting at other moving objects and collecting the things that they drop to raise your score.”

I’d like to say that I could spend another thousand words explaining it better, but that minimalist description is all but perfect. The reality is that Geometry Wars cuts all of the fluff and leaves us with a neon rendered ball of insanity that is hard to stop playing. The compulsion to play just “one more game” will be hard to ignore.

The game may be a score chase, but you will have to adapt to various game modes to progress in the game. This includes a pacifism level where you have no weapons and have to weave around enemies and dodge them. The only way to score points is to pass through small gates that blow up everything around you.

All in all, this is a small game that will sit on your consoles hard drive and find regular play. This is especially true if you are in a competitive family. Chasing that next high score will be something you just can’t resist!

Geometry Wars 3 Dimensions Screensho

Geometry Wars 3 Dimensions is all kinds of neon.

Family Gaming Assessment:

The title “Geometry Wars” might sound concerning, but ultimately the game play is more akin to Asteroids and Space Invaders than Call of Duty. There is nothing to worry about here.

Playability Assessment:

Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions is not a simple game. Success depends on the players ability to remember the movement patterns of the different enemies and attack them in the correct sequence.

The controls are straight forward. It is a “twin stick shooter” so the left stick on the controller is used for moving the spaceship around the playing field. The right stick, on the other hand, controls which direction the ship shoots in. This makes it possible, for example, top move to the left while firing to the right.

Players will fail a lot. This  requires a lot of practice. If your children are easily frustrated then Geometry Wars might not be for them.

If your family enjoys passing the controller back and forth while chasing high scores then this is a great game to add to the collection.

Full Disclosure: A code of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. 

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Overall Review

The Avatar series has been a mainstay on Nickelodeon for years now. Unfortunately, it has not translated very well to other forms of media. The movie was atrocious, and the video games have been slightly better, but more so because the movie was just that bad.

It was with all of that in mind that I came into my experience with the Legend of Korra with very low expectations. I knew that the story and characters lent themselves very well to the action game game. I also knew that the developer, Platinum games, were experts at crafting stylish action games. But, I knew above all else that licensed games are fighting an uphill battle from the minute they begin development.

They had a good chance to defy my expectations, and they did in some small ways, but I canʼt say that Legend of Korra was a “good” game.

Platinum games is known for their contributions to the stylish action genre and that is the one lonely area where Legend of Korra shines. I have long dreamt of knowing even a little bit of what it is like to be a fully realized avatar. Platinum has managed to get me as close to that as I will ever feel. Combat is relatively simple on its face. You use one of two face buttons on the controller to initiate quick and strong attacks. The bumpers on the controller are used to rotate between the four different elements of bending (air, water, earth, and fire). Rotating between them creates some insane combos that mix the four elements in visually astonishing ways. The different elements each serve different purposes (water is used to attack enemies at range, earth is good against armored opponents, etc). The mechanics of the combat are sound. Korra was not the most agile of characters I have played as in these genres, but all of her moves were deliberate and strong. It suited Korra very well.

The problem with all of that is that I was robbed of the ability to experience all four of the elements together in concert until the very end of the game. Platinum accomplished this through the narrative by having the antagonist rob Korra of her bending powers at the very beginning of the game. I spent so long plodding through the game trying to earn it all back that I likely would have given up if I were not playing it for review.

The blessing in all of this is that Legend of Korra is a very short game. It is a bite sized experience that could be beaten within a few days of play. This helps keep its repetitive nature less of a flaw. It feels more like a walk up a steep hill than a trudge through a miles-long swamp.

Family Gaming Assessment

All of the conflict resolution in The Legend of Korra is completed through combat. She unleashes powerful kicks and punches against her enemies in fierce combinations. She also uses her bending to use each of the four elements against her opponents.

In the end, the action in the game is no more intense than that of the Nickelodeon cartoon. If you would let your child watch the show, then there should be no real concern here.

Playability Assessment

The Legend of Korra is not a simple game. Controlling Korra and all of her bending powers requires a the use of multiple different face buttons on the controller as well as the bumpers on the shoulders. This will make the game challenging for younger children with small hands all on its own.

The complex control scheme is only made worse by arbitrary spikes in difficulty at different parts of the story. There are times where even experienced players will need to retry encounters because enemies are just doing far more damage than they feel like they should be.

Overall

I want to recommend this title because I am such a huge fan of the show, but it is hard to recommend this game to anyone who is not really hungry for Avatar content.

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2014 has been a GREAT year for family friendly video games. We have seen new editions of Minecraft. The Toys to Life category is exploding thanks to new editions of Skylanders and Disney Infinity and more competition in the form of Angry Birds Transformers and Nintendo’s amiibo line. Most importantly we have spent the year bearing witness to the phoenix-like resurgence of Nintendo who have slowly started to right the ship with the once maligned WiiU console.

Below is a list of five games for the Microsoft Xbox One  that are great for families and will be great gifts even if they aren’t number one of your child’s list. (And you know what… YOU might even enjoy them too!)

1. Forza Horizons 2

The Forza Motorsports series is a simulation racer. This makes it very difficult for younger players to play. Fortunately Forza Horizons 2 is designed to be more of an arcade racer. Players don’t have to pay as much attention to driving mechanics and can, instead, focus on driving fast cars through beautiful scenery.

2. Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare

PopCap knew they had a hit on their hands when Plants Vs Zombies started dominating the PC gaming world several years ago. We knew that more was coming, but no one would have ever guessed that it would have morphed into a team based online shooter.

The best part is that said online team-based shooter is also really good!

3. Minecraft

OK. So I’ll keep it simple here. If you have a child old enough to play video games then you have probably heard more about Minecraft than you will ever want to know. The good news is that Minecraft is budget priced so if you are a bit strapped after shelling out for a new console this is a great addition that won’t break the bank.

4. LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham

It’s LEGO Batman. ‘Nuff said.

Seriously though, Traveler’s Tales has been doing an amazing job with their LEGO titles recently. Last year’s LEGO Marvel Super Heroes was amazing and this looks like it will be a similar experience with a DC comics spin.

5. Fantasia: Music Evolved

Fantasia: Music Evolved is difficult to describe. Suffice it to say that it is a fascinating Kinect enabled, musical experience. The Fantasia license should say it all. This game is buolt around bringing music to life in wonderful ways.

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