Wading through the multitude of game titles for children can be daunting. Every year I struggle to find games for my nieces and nephews that are both age appropriate and challenging. Here are five games that encourage children (and their parents) to be creative:
1. Katamari Forever (rated E for everyone)
If you’ve never played a Katamari title, be prepared for a zany, rainbow-filled good time. You play as the Prince of All Cosmos, a tiny alien with a strangely shaped head and an overbearing father. You are sent to Earth with a sticky, rolling ball called a Katamari and your goal is simple: roll things up! Objects in the world will stick to the Katamari. As you roll more objects up, the Katamari gets larger, and you can roll up even larger objects. You start off in a kitchen rolling up food and eventually progress to rolling up planets. All the games in the Katamari series are wonderful, but I recommend Katamari Forever for the PlayStation 3 because of its co-op system, which allows children and their parents, siblings, or friends to work together to roll up everything from melons to giant squid. There is no right or wrong way to play Katamari, which allows your children to invent their own way of rolling up the universe. The simple controls make Katamari Forever ideal for young gamers, though the levels are timed and can be challenging, so make sure your child is old enough to exercise patience.
2. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (rated E for everyone)
Fans of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past will find this game familiar. The world of The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds for the Nintendo 3DS is almost identical to that of A Link to the Past, but the story is very different. In this installment of The Legend of Zelda series, your child plays as a boy named Link who must rescue citizens of Hyrule from an evil wizard who would turn them into paintings. Along the way, Link gains the ability to temporarily transform into a drawing and walk on walls. Combining this newfound power with items he finds along his journey, Link must solve puzzles and defeat bosses to save the kingdom of Hyrule once again. The enduring themes of courage and teamwork in The Legend of Zelda series make A Link Between Worlds a winner for kids. The puzzles and mechanics in this game are simpler than other The Legend of Zelda titles and the penalty for dying is less severe, making it ideal for young gamers.
3. Super Scribblenauts (rated E 10+ for everyone 10 and older)
In the Scribblenauts series, your child plays as Maxwell, a boy with a magic notebook that has the power to make drawings come to life. The Scribblenauts games are puzzle-oriented, with a twist. Each level presents Maxwell with a problem (rescuing a kitten trapped in a tree, for example) that can be solved in countless ways. Solutions range from obvious to ridiculous and are limited only by your child’s imagination. Though I love every game in the Scribblenauts series, I recommend Super Scribblenauts for the Nintendo DS because of its challenge mode. Once your child beats the game he or she has the option of going back to beat each of the levels again three times in a row using different words each time. Scribblenauts will challenge your child’s creativity and leave both of you laughing out loud. The base game is simple and works well for a wide range of ages, but the optional challenge mode can be challenging and may be best suited to older gamers.
4. Adventure Time: Hey Ice King! Why’d You Steal Our Garbage?! (rated E 10+ for everyone 10 and older)
Adventure Time: Hey Ice King! Why’d You Steal Our Garbage?! for the Nintendo DS and 3DS combines the humor of Adventure Time with classic side-scrolling RPG gameplay. Your child plays as a boy named Finn who goes on a quest to discover why the bumbling Ice King has stolen his garbage. The game features powers and items that make your child think critically about their usefulness. The item-crafting systems allow kids to craft items that can either replenish or harm their health. For example, combining ice cream with jam replenishes health while combining it with ketchup (gross!) does not. Your child will have a blast exploring the Land of Ooo, fighting battles, and solving puzzles with Finn and his canine brother Jake. This game features everything you might find in the Adventure Time TV show, including minimal amounts of cartoon blood. Depending on your child and your parenting style, this game may not work for all ages.
5. Shadow of the Colossus (rated T for teen)
Shadow of the Colossus for the PlayStation 2 takes traditional real-time combat and turns it on its head. You play as a boy named Wander who must defeat 16 impossibly large colossi to restore the life of a mysterious girl named Mono. Since Wander is dwarfed in comparison to the colossi, he must use his wits rather than his strength to defeat them. Each battle is a puzzle and your child must figure out how to reach weak points on each of the colossi, such as finding a way to break the hard outer shell of an armored colossus. Shadow of the Colossus features an open world your child can explore and boss battles that challenge them to come up with unorthodox solutions. The colossi can be scary and there is a fair bit of blood, so this game is recommended for older children. Finding the PlayStation 2 title may be difficult, but a collection of Shadow of the Colossus and its predecessor Ico is available for the PlayStation 3.