With all the buzz about such violent adult fare on the gaming consoles as True Crime: Streets of LA and the Vice City series, titles aimed at children tend to get lost in the shuffle - even among those teens and preteens who probably shouldn't be playing the more violent video games.
But with an interest in giving parents alternatives - especially parents who might hear only about the worst of the worst and fear that a Microsoft Xbox is nothing more than a new way to desensitize their young ones to relatively real acts of wanton violence - we have taken a look at several children's games that not only will engage your younger teen-agers and preteens for hours, but also won't offer the level of realistic violence that is consuming the older-teen market.
Most of these games cost about what you'll pay for adult fare at $50 for Xbox and Sony PlayStation 2 games and about $40 for Nintendo GameCube editions.
Many take off from the entertainment world while others introduce kids to new imaginary worlds.
One of the unique games on the market is Activision's Disney's Extreme Skate Adventure (for the Xbox, PS2 and GameCube, rated for everyone), which is easy to play and engaging with many levels and unlockable features. Some of the previous releases mixing Disney characters and sports have been weak at best, but this game's basic look and game-play are superb.
You can play as movie characters from Tarzan, Toy Story 2 and The Lion King. Another oddity is that real-life children appear in the game, including rap star Lil' Romeo, who is an unlockable character. He also appears on the game's soundtrack.
If you played Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4, you'll recognize much of the control scheme that you see here - although the novice controls will allow any fumble-fingered child or adult to play and have fun. There aren't a lot of tricks here, but if you know how to handle combo moves, you'll have an advantage over more-novice players.
The graphics are wonderful and the colors deep and rich, so you'll enjoy looking at the game. The best console for this game as in most is the Xbox because of its graphics-rendering abilities.
If your children were fans of the original Sony game for PS2, Ratchet and Clank, they'll really enjoy the newest version, Ratchet and Clank: Going Commando. This game extends the excellent game-play and storytelling of the first. Ratchet, having rid the galaxy of evil, is off on a search for a stolen artifact. A mysterious figure shows up during that mission and shortly after Ratchet grabs the artifact, someone kidnaps Clank setting off this commando adventure.
This is a platform game that stretches the definitions of good platform gaming with wonderful worlds and great weapons and gadgets. It has more than 20 new weapons, and you can import weapons from the first game. Ratchet's commando suit is an interesting innovation that allows you to build up your defenses over game-play so that Ratchet can take large amounts of damage by the end of the game.
One of our play-testers' favorite's is the Harry Potter Quidditch World Cup game, that allows you to play a fanciful game of Quidditch. What made me happy was that it's much easier to play than as explained in the Harry Potter movies. (My wife has read all of the books, but I didn't get her opinion on the game play vs. the book explanations.) What makes this a much easier ride than, say, the explanations in the movie on how to play is the Harry Potter character helping you along the way.
In Harry Potter's world, you align with one of the four houses of Hogwarts magic school and play against one of the other houses before heading off into international play. Younger kids will find this a blast while older folk might not be enthralled for a real long time. Nevertheless, everyone in the family will want to get in on the action at some point.
This is a real find for Harry Potter fans.
THQ's SpongeBob Square Pants: The Battle for Bikini Bottom (for the Xbox, PS2, GameBoy Advance and GameCube rated for everyone) plays off of a franchise recognized by many youngsters younger than age 10 and the developers can take kudos for getting the show's graphic style into the game intact.
You can play as SpongeBob, Patrick Star or Sandy Cheeks across 10 levels doing such things as tongue boarding and underwear bungee jumping.
Plankton is the enemy who has created robots who aren't obeying him, thus he needs SpongeBob to battle his creations. This is a platform game at heart for younger children and it keeps them entertained. What's critical is that none of the levels seems redundant.
THQ's Tak and Power of JuJu ($50 for PS2 and GameCube with an everyone rating) isn't particularly original with elements from all over the gaming world, quite frankly. But its combination of fast action and imaginative places makes it a good source of fun for preteens.