Friday, November 11, 2005

Games for the kids

My kids are going to be computer geeks. There is no doubt in my mind.

They've been able to use a mouse and keyboard since before they could walk. My wife used to hold our son in one arm while guiding her Sims character through its daily routine with the other, and as he got older he graduated up to helping her kill monsters in Neverwinter Nights. My daughter is too young to remember the days when we didn't have a computer on the floor next to the TV, especially for the kids. They started with an old Macintosh with the one-button mouse, moved up to a Pentium 200 Mhz system with a two-button serial mouse, and have most recently been given the use of the first computer I ever purchased -- a P2 400 Mhz.

So of course they can play their own games. Shoot, they can probably even install their own games. It's in their blood.

We've tried a lot of different titles with them. Most have been 'edu-tainment' of one sort or another, usually focusing on math, reading, or logic. For replay value alone, the best of the lot would have to be those published by Humongous Entertainment, may they rest in peace. Humongous is no longer among us -- they were absorbed by Atari Kids -- but if you can find any of their older series (Putt-Putt, Pajama Sam, Freddi Fish), pay the price and take them home. Your kids will love them.

These games are all in the 'graphic adventure' genre. You know the type -- before you can go through the gate, you have to get past the guards. The guards only allow gourds to go through, so you have to find a pumpkin. To get the pumpkin you have to do something about the weeds in the garden. And so on. It's a familiar drill. But the really great thing is that no matter where you click on the screen, something cool happens. And usually, several 'something cools' happen. Try unrolling the paper on the wall -- it may show a treasure map, a poster of Pajama Sam's hero Pajama Man, or a hint on how to proceed with the game. And these sorts of things are scattered all over. Add to that the fact that the quests are cycled for each game. Finish it once, and you can play through it again because you'll get entirely new puzzles. It stays fresh, and the kids keep going back to it to find something new.

The quests themselves can be a little tough at times. We've actually had to use an online walkthrough once or twice, but maybe we just aren't as sharp as our kids. That's a minor quibble, though, and when you factor in the violence level (almost non-existent) and the character lessons (helping others, eating a balanced diet, etc.), it's easy to overlook a few tough puzzles.

If you have kids, these games are an excellent addition to your library. Just keep an eye on the age category -- a game that your kids aren't quite old enough for can lead to frustration. And the kids might get upset, too.

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