Friday, June 8, 2012

News from E3: Video Games for families

Wired Moms E3 recap
By Johner Riehl, Founder & Editorial Director,

There’s no doubt that the 2012 video game trade show called the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) which just concluded in Los Angeles sent a strong message about the future of video games. But it may not have been the best message for families.

Sure, the group that puts on the show, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), touted some impressive statistics about the broad demographics of gaming in a press release highlighting the show. We now know that 49% of American households own a video game console. And that 40% of parents play video games with their kids once a week. These are great facts, and are trends we’d love to see continue.

But yet, from both a family perspective and from an industry perspective, the focus at the E3 trade show on gory and violent games was striking. For parents who may already be a bit fearful of the impact of violent video games on their children, hearing about the next wave of games that involve heavy doses of torture, profanity and bloody death may make them want to invest their money on educational apps instead of game consoles.

However, we waded through gore and found a few console games that families can look forward to this year. These games are set to provide fun, wholesome and in some cases active bonding experiences, and are all perfect for playing together.

Here are the best games for families to play together that we saw at E3 2012:

Wii-U and NintendoLand – By revealing more details about their next generation Wii, Nintendo cemented their status as the trusted brand for families who play video games together. The Wii-U will feature two tablet controllers called GamePads which can be used in games like NintendoLand to allow for all-new types of cooperative and competitive gameplay, such as playing a four against one game of hide and seek, or allowing for a player to help others from their unique GamePad perspective. The games in NintendoLand are based on popular franchises like Zelda, Donkey Kong, Animal Crossing and more, and centered around a theme park setting which is great for family play. The Wii-U will be available this holiday season, with NintendoLand as one of the launch titles, and both are shaping up as absolute must-haves for families.

RabbidsLand – Ubisoft’s Rabbids franchise is long known for a sense of humor that is chock full of bodily noises, toilet jokes and three-stooges-style slapstick. Basically, it's right in the wheelhouse of any elementary-aged boys (and their dads). This new title for Wii-U will play like a board game, and pit the Rabbids against in each other in any variety of sophomoric circumstances in the virtual RabbidsLand theme park. We can’t wait to play this one at our weekly family game night when it comes out this fall.

Dance Games –The two best dance franchises for families are coming back for more this year. Just Dance 4 uses the Wii-U gamepad to let one player help select the dance moves that are coming next for up to four of their friends and family. Dance Central 3 for Kinect features celebrity choreographers like Usher teaching routines and moves that are used in real-life concerts. And there’s even Just Dance Disney Party designed for younger kids to dance around to Disney favorites from movies and the current slate of shows on the Disney Channel.

Kinect TV Games – Designed in conjunction with the real-life shows, Kinect Nat Geo TV and Kinect Sesame Street TV from Microsoft place parents and kids into the onscreen action, allowing for co-playing opportunities as well as simply co-viewing. For example, after watching a lesson from Nat Geo about how Grizzly Bears eat, you’ll need to get off the couch and swipe and chomp fish like a grizzly bear on-screen. These are the ultimate play-together experiences and are great for families with young kids. The Kinect TV games are due out this holiday.

Skylanders Giants – If you’re family hasn’t gotten into Skylanders yet, you definitely should as it’s clearly becoming one of the biggest toy and gaming crazes since Pok√©mon. Just as in the 2011 smash hit, this holiday’s Skylanders Giants from Activision allows players to take their real-life toys and place them on the portal of power to control their creatures within the video game. It’s a perfect two-player cooperative experience, figurines from the original Skylanders will work with Skylanders Giants, and there are nearly 40 new figures to collect this holiday season. Start saving now, because Skylanders Giants are bound to be THE hottest toy for the holidays yet again.

Epic Mickey 2 – This game is being published by Disney and is designed with the fact that parents will be playing with their kids in mind. That alone should be enough to convince you that this will be a great cooperative experience for families, but the improved graphics on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, along with lessons learned from last year’s darker-themed Epic Mickey, leave us with high hopes for Mickey and Oswald as they travel through classic Disney environments, applying paint or thinner as necessary to solve puzzles and defeat bad guys.

Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes – Nearly any conversation about playing games together includes a Lego game of some sort, and this year’s entry in the Lego series will definitely appeal to nearly everyone in the family. Featuring non-violent and perfectly-challenging gameplay, as well as the trademark Lego sense of humor, Lego Batman 2 will let players take control of Batman, Robin, Superman, Wonder Woman the flash and dozens more DC comic characters.

Johner Riehl is a freelance writer focusing on family technology and online safety. As founder and editorial director for, a site that provides reviews and recommendations geared towards families, he examines hundreds of family-friendly games and apps every year. He’s also been a PR rep for Nintendo, Microsoft, Midway and more. TWITTER: @FamilyTechDad & @FmlyFrndlyVdGms