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The Under-Eight Set: Good Games To Play With Your Kids

There are a whole host of computer games specifically geared for young children, and many of them are entertaining, easy for little hands to use, and teach the alphabet and basic math at the same time. My boys were especially fond of the Blues' Clues CDs, Reader Rabbit, and I Spy Junior. You can find lots of great children's games like that at any toy store, and that's not what I'm talking about in this section. No, I'm talking about which of your old games might be fun to share with your child, or which new game might be of interest to both of you.

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I'm telling you now, you are not going to want to spend hours playing Reader Rabbit with your three-year-old over and over again, and neither are you going to want to play Quake with a toddler on your lap. If you and your child want to play a computer game together, you'll need something that's interesting and attractive to both adult gamers and their children, is easily pausable and easy to start and stop, has few bugs, doesn't have inappropriate images or anything too scary in it, and is preferably on the customizable side. A few of the classic-style computer adventure and roleplaying games fit this bill admirably--the fed-ex style quests are just delightful to a five-year-old, who will remember exactly which sorceress is looking for the magic tiara the team just found. Hey, it makes a nice change-up from Blue's Clues.

Might and Magic 4&5:
Worlds of Xeen

Full Xeen Review
Xeen Hints and Walkthrough
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This is a great game for small children. The colorful, cartoonish 2D monsters look cool to them without being too scary. There's no gore, there's no sex, there's no bad language, and most of the quests are comprehensible even to toddlers. The only real drawback to playing this game with kids is that there's no way to customize the characters--even with a hex editor, you can't give them 1000 hit points apiece, for example, so they may die on you periodically, especially if you have a preschooler with no patience for inventory-juggling and pre-combat spellcasting. Luckily, death in Xeen isn't graphic and can be easily rectified. These days you can buy Worlds of Xeen bundled together with its sequels MM6 and 7, which are safe and fun for kids but a lot harder to navigate around with them due to more complex controls and increased use of realtime.

Wizardry Gold

Full WizGold Review
WizGold Hints and Walkthrough
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Young children probably won't be able to follow the plot in this game, but the wandering around town and countryside fighting monsters and opening chests is fun for them. There's no gore, bad language, or sex, though there's one female NPC at the end of the game who sure isn't wearing much. What makes Wizardry Gold especially nice for kids is how customizable it is. Not only can you adjust the characters' stats so they won't die, you can also change their portraits and all of the game sounds. (The screenshot to the right is from a game I played with my four-year-old, and you can see we imported favorite cartoon characters of his for the portraits. We also set Superman's battle cry to "This looks like a job for... SUPERMAN!", and Dora the Explorer's to "Vamanos!") These days Wizardry Gold comes bundled together with a bunch of older Wizardry titles, none of which is likely to be very interesting to modern kids... but if you're old enough to have kids, you may enjoy them for their nostalgia value. :-D

Wizardry 8

Full Wizardry 8 Review
Wizardry 8 Hints and Walkthrough
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This newer, flashier game is a lot more difficult to play with kids than the other two I've listed, due to its realtime elements and combats which last longer than young children's attention spans. However, I'm including it on my list because my two-year-old loved to watch me play it--both because he liked the monster animations and funny voices, and because when I turned on the hit-point graphical display, big numbers would float across the screen every time we hit a monster. There's one gratuitous and silly piece of blatant sexual innuendo about two thirds of the way through this game (see my walkthrough if you want to know exactly where it is so you can do that part when the kids aren't around), and the Aggressive Female voicesets and all four Chaotic voicesets occasionally say words like "crap" and "dammit," so you may want to avoid choosing those personalities for your characters if that's going to bother you.


Full Myst Review
Myst Hints and Walkthrough
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This classic puzzle adventure game is a lot of fun for preschoolers whose parents played it ten years ago. What I mean by that is that the exploration and gadget-manipulating is absolutely mesmerizing for them, but they won't have the patience for the long-winded exposition sequences in this game, many of which are necessary for the game to make any sense to the adult at the controls. A few of the puzzles are also rather frustrating and/or rely on trial and error; you can be doing the right thing in the slightly wrong way and you'll have no clue why it's not working. If you've never played this game before, you'll probably need a cheats page to play it with your kids without frustrating them. There's no sex, violence, or bad language in this game, nothing too scary, and your character cannot die. The sequels, Riven and Exile, are also good for playing with your children, but you need to be careful in the endgames of those two games, since bad choices can cause you or a friend of yours to be killed (in non-graphic but scary fashion). Myst 4: Revelation is similar, but parents of younger kids may want to avoid it because of frightening kidnapping scenes and the unavoidable death of a friend.


Full Syberia Review
Syberia Hints and Walkthrough
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This modern graphic adventure was a big hit with my young sons. Its flaws--excessive linearity, a bland plot in which little happens, and easy puzzles--only served to make the story more accessible to children, and its strengths--absorbing mood, gorgeous graphics, and glitch-free operation--kept gameplay fun on my end. There's no sex or violence and nothing bad can happen to the main character, Kate. She does say "damn" and "hell" a few times in passing. Parents of little girls may especially appreciate the fact that the adventuress protagonist is a woman, and also that she does not wear skimpy clothing or possess unnatural anatomy. Unfortunately, you'll probably want to avoid the sequel, Syberia 2; a beloved NPC dies in that game, an unavoidable turn of events, which will probably be too upsetting for most youngsters.


Full Review
Physicus Walkthrough
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Physicus isn't an especially exciting adventure game. It's one of dozens, if not hundreds, of 90's-era Myst clones, and it hasn't got much of a plot to help distinguish itself. This game has a twist, though: it's educational. Physicus takes advantage of a science fiction motif to teach real-world physics. The sheer moxie of that compels me to add it to this list. Physicus is aimed at an older audience (10-15), but if you don't mind playing it with them, younger kids (particularly bright ones) can enjoy this game too. My hints page should help you minimize the dull parts of this game if you're playing with your kids, without giving away any puzzle solutions.


Full Review
Chemicus Walkthrough
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The sequel to Physicus, Chemicus doesn't offer much in the way of plot either, but its puzzles are logical and realistic, and, best of all, offer lots of educational explosions and things dropping into vats of acid. If your child has ever watched Mr. Science and lamented the lack of dry ice and magnesium strips around your house, this may be a fun way for him or her to virtually take on the more dangerous/messy experiments. Chemicus is aimed at an older audience (10-15) but will hold a younger child's attention if you're willing to help them with some of the tougher puzzles. My hints page should help you minimize the dull parts of this game if you're playing with your kids, without giving away any puzzle solutions.

Mystery of the Mummy

Full Mummy Review
Mummy Hints and Walkthrough
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I didn't care much for this Sherlock Holmes mystery adventure game, frankly; but my children loved it, and it even got one of them interested in ancient Egypt. The game is creepy without being gory, the plot twists are irrelevant and therefore easy to ignore, and the kids were able to figure out the easier puzzles all by themselves. There's one scary cutscene in which a villain threatens to kill Sherlock Holmes, then is shot and killed by the 'mummy' instead. It's not graphic, but did scare my five-year-old somewhat. You can skip it by pressing the "escape" key as soon as the villain comes in with his gun. You can also lose this game in several ways, including failing one of several annoying timed challenges. My walkthrough should help you tackle the timed sequences if you like. Don't play this game with your kids unless you know how to solve slider puzzles, either, or they'll get frustrated with you. This wasn't an easy game to play with children on my lap, to be honest, but they enjoyed it so much, I couldn't help but include it here. There was no sex and minimal violence.

The Omega Stone

Full Review
Omega Stone Walkthrough
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This is a borderline one. Unlike its predecessor, Riddle of the Sphinx, The Omega Stone is not a bad game, and it's not objectionable for kids. It is possible to die in this game, but it isn't graphic or scary at all. On the other hand, the game isn't as educational as it looks at first blush (the plot allows you to virtually explore five real archaeological sites, but accurate material about the ancient ruins is interspersed with fiction and rumors, so you'll need to debrief your kids yourself if you want them to learn from playing). And several of the puzzle solutions rely on reading through copious and seriously boring background material (not even history texts, either, things like some paranoid scientist's rambly journal about black helicopters and a really bad romance novel). My kids had no patience for this. They really loved the cool-looking ruins, though, and my older son is better at pixel-hunting than I am, so it was fun to entrust him with the mouse during those parts of the game. It could have been a lot better but bottom line, we enjoyed it. My hints page should help you minimize the dull parts of this game if you're playing with your kids, without giving away any puzzle solutions.

Katamari Damacy

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This is neither a CRPG nor an adventure game. It's not even available for PC; the only reason I know about it at all is that I played it on a friend's Playstation 2 (the only machine it runs on). It's one of the most innovative games to come along in years--the concept, completely new to gaming, has to do with rolling up junk into a great, big wad, and making that wad bigger, and bigger, and bigger. It sounds really lame, but it's not; it's the most addictive thing I've played since SimCity. I only relinquished the controls because my friend's three-year-old wanted them back, and then I just sat and watched him play. The CGI is really something in this game-- the ball rolls realistically differently when there's something irregularly shaped stuck to it, and since there are thousands of different objects in this game, watching it go does not get boring. Kids love the bright colors, accessible gameplay, and vivid music even more than adults do. I personally found the stupid "all your bases are belong to us!" intentionally mistranslated Japanese camp in this game painfully unfunny, but somehow still found myself wishing I had a Playstation to buy this for. If it ever comes out for PC, I'm all over it.

If you're wondering whether another popular game might be suitable to play in front of your child, please feel free to check out my CRPG and adventure game pages for more reviews--I've written age-appropriateness blurbs for each of the games reviewed there. To save you some time, though, here is a list of all the games I've reviewed that I didn't consider appropriate for playing with my young children around, and the reasons why:

7th Guest (mild horror, sexual innuendo, too buggy, ending is too scary)
Arcanum (sexual content, villains who get away with evil no matter what you do)
Baldur's Gate 2: Shadows of Amn (death of a friend, sexual innuendo, too scary)
Black and White (impossible controls for children or parents with children on their laps)
The Black Mirror (horror, gory murders, dark ending, way too scary)
Daggerfall (nudity, too many bugs)
Fallout 1 and 2 (violence, mature themes, too scary)
Gabriel Knight 1, 2, and 3 (horror, violence, too scary, inappropriate religious material in GK3)
Myst 4: Revelation (scary kidnapping scenes, death of a friend)
The Longest Journey (lots of F-words, death of a friend)
Phantasmagoria (horror, gory murders, sex, way too scary)
Planescape: Torment (horror and mature themes, too scary)
Riddle of the Sphinx (requires far too much patience, contains scary curses and some inappropriate religious material)
Sanitarium (horror, some gore, death of a child, too scary)
Syberia 2 (death of a friend)
Ultima VII (some gore, scary villain)

As always, use your own best judgment, of course. (-: Happy gaming!

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Laura Redish
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