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The State of Family Gaming

I really have no problem with the mature games of today. There are some real quality titles out there that are for the more mature audience. For example, Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, Halo, Dark Souls, my personal favorite Red Dead Redemption(please make a sequal Rockstar!) and the list goes on. I have played and enjoyed these games and many more. However, I really miss the days when I could pickup a controller and spend hours exploring color full, beautiful worlds filled with magical creatures and brave heroes trying to save lost princesses. I have been playing games since Pong and I remember being blown away by the first Mario on the NES. You could tell that Mario had facial features, clearly he had an eye and a mustache. The platforming in this game was sublime. My love for this type of game only grew stronger as I got older and technology grew.

I spent way too much time trying to complete Crash Bandicoot, Spyro the Dragon, Banjo Kazoiee and many other platformers. Then I received a copy of Zelda Ocarina of Time. I spent a ridiculous amount of hours trying to get all the golden skulltullas, beating the dungeons and just running around the field. There was this amazing sense of freedom. There was also a feeling of innocence to many of the characters and worlds.

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Other Third party games

The PS2 came along and with it came Ratchet and Clank, the incredibly underrated Maximo, and Sly Cooper.

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The worlds got bigger and more detailed. We also got the Gamecube and the amazing Zelda game, Windwaker, Super Mario Sunshine and many more great platformers. Let’s not forget the birth of the Animal Crossing franchise. I wasted way too much time diggin holes and trying to pay off my house. (Wouldn’t it be great to be able to actually pay off a house by selling fruit, that constantly respawned from the same tree?) Who could forget Mario Kart, which is still played and loved today. There are debates on which version of Mario Kart is better, but personally I think they were all class. I could go on and on about the many hours of family friendly gaming I enjoyed with these consoles.

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So what happened?

How did we get to a place where gaming is mostly dominated by mature shooters and third-person brutality? My personal opinion . . . the Xbox happened.

I remember going down to the games shop and playing this little game called Halo during my lunch hours. Combat had evolved, indeed! I beat the game before I even bought an Xbox. I spent many nights playing multiplayer with my friends, and played the campaign over and over again on co-op.

This wasn’t the first time I played and enjoyed a mature game. I am certainly not saying the Xbox ushered in the mature game. I believe Resident Evil on the PS1 was the first mature game I played. This was just the first time that mature games became a console’s bread and butter. The Xbox was mostly mature shooters and when it did throw a platformer, or something else family friendly, on the big black box, it was either multi-platform or not great, with the exception of the two Oddworld games. They were both fantastic.

It also started the whole multiplayer scene on consoles.

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The XB360 showed up and mostly continued the trend of mature titles. The PS3 was a bit more varied. We got Sly, a couple of good Ratchet games and Little Big Planet to name a few. Despite it having more family friendly titles, the XB360 outsold the PS3.

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Of course, I have yet to mention the Wii. This was a family gaming machine. It was underpowered and sold a boatload of consoles. Everyone from little Jimmie to Grandma could find something they liked, and they could all play together. This little console sold more than the XB360 and PS3 combined. Obviously people still wanted to play family type games. Both Super Mario Galaxy games were great and Zelda Skyward Sword was also fantastic. There are too many family friendly games on this console to mention.

So, you might be thinking at this point that people still had a passion for family friendly games. Well, sort of. Most people bought the Wii for Wii Sports and games like it. There were quite a few good games, but also a whole lot of garbage. Games like Halo and Call of Duty became the huge sellers. If a game didn’t have multiplayer, a lot of gamers were not interested.

So here we are 2016.

A new generation of consoles are upon us which are capable of rendering amazing life-like worlds. Worlds that seem to go on forever.

So how are we doing when it comes to the non mature family friendly game? Actually not bad. First there is the Wii U, Nintendo’s first HD console. Sales wise it’s not doing great. Honestly, it’s a severely underrated console. The marketing didn’t help. I was surprised at the number of customers who I talked to at my old job at a game retailer who didn’t know what it was. Is it an attachment to the Wii or its own console?

Never the less, it has some really great games on it. There was the Zelda Windwaker remake, the new Super Mario Bros, Super Mario 3d World and many others. Still family friendly and in HD!

The Xbox One has a lot more variety, but is still mostly mature. The PS4 on the other hand has quite a few really good family friendly games. Tear Away Unfolded, Ratchet and Clank and Chariot are great, just to name a few.

So, at this point I have only mentioned the console exclusives. The family fun options are really strong once the third party games come into play.

Along comes a Skylander.

Just to be clear, the Toys to Life craze started on last gen consoles(WII,360,PS3). I remember when Skylanders was announced. I thought to myself, “Cool a new Spyro Game!” Then they announced it was going to be a whole lot of characters that came to life via these toys they were going to sell. I thought they had lost their minds. . . until I played it. Say what you like about the franchise, but I find the games to be a blast. Trap Team stands out as my favorite. A lot of parents have told me about how they used the figures as rewards for good behavior and grades. I just thought the game was so much fun! I played many hours with my kids and wife. This is a well thought out game and they try to improve it every game. I could go on about it but I will leave that for an actual review.

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Disney decided to get into the Toys to Life game with their infinity franchise. Again, I rolled my eyes until I played it. The first was really fun, especially the Pirates of the Caribbean level. The second disappointed me. I love the Marvel characters, but the gameplay just felt bland to me.

When they announced Infinity 3.0 and it was Star Wars, I could not wait. This one did not disappoint. It doesn’t hurt that I am a huge Star Wars fan. The combat was actually quite good, the worlds were huge and side missions fun. The user created stuff was icing on the cake. It’s just a great package, over all.

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Some people think that the best in the Toys to Life genre is Lego Dimensions. Personally, I am not sure. I have been playing it and it’s fun. It just feels like a Lego game, which I have been playing since PS2 days. Still I definitely recommend it. I just had more fun with the other games in the Toys to Life genre.
From Rayman to Peggle to the Lego games, there are a ton of great other third party family-friendly games.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Minecraft, which is a brilliant game. I have played it on all the consoles and PC. It’s a lot of fun and endlessly entertaining. There are many more family-friendly games coming down the line. Personally, I’m really looking forward to the new Zelda. I will also be reviewing the new PS4 version of Ratchet and Clank.

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What about Dreamcast?
The Dreamcast was a great system that was sorely under-appreciated when it came out. I logged too many hours on Phantasy Star Online. Sonic absolutely blew my mind. Chu Chu Rocket was a blast to play and Rayman was gorgeous and fun. There was also one of my favorite games on the system, Crazy Taxi. We got an arcade perfect version of one of most replayable arcade style driving games. It was an amazing system that had way to short of a shelf life.

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The Handhelds
I could not complete this article without mentioning gaming-on-the-go. Nintendo really owns this category. Sony got closest with their very respectable PSP. You could play Ratchet and Clank, Daxter, Crazy Taxi and a ton of great family friendly games. It just had a lot of variety whatever style of gaming you were looking for.

Although I really like the PSVita, it was very disappointing, when compared to its predecessor. Sly Cooper was great on it. You could get Little Big Planet and a few other family oriented games, including all the Lego Handheld games. The support just wasn’t there.

The Nintendo Handhelds have always dominated for one simple reason. It had some of the best handheld E rated games on any system. You had Super Mario, Donkey Kong, both N64 Zelda games (amazing remakes), numerous quality Pokemon games, Skylanders, the Lego games, I could go on but it would take much to long. I personally think the 3DS is the best Handheld that has ever been released when it comes to quality family games on the go.

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The Verdict
I truly believe that family friendly games are making a comeback, with Ratchet and Clank on PS4 selling out as of this writing and the incredible sales of Toys to Life and Lego games. Nintendo franchise games are selling quite well. Family gaming isn’t going anywhere anytime soon and I couldn’t be happier about it.

 

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