Kid favorites back with fun twists

The Washington PostNovember 29, 2013 

Screen image from Skylanders SWAP Force


Pokemon X/Y

One of Nintendo’s most beloved properties, Pokemon is back with some tweaks in its latest versions, X and Y. The biggest change has been to the series’ graphics, which have gone to a 3-D effect. It brings the series slightly more in line with the times, and the game designers have even opted to use the true 3-D effect of the Nintendo 3DS to punctuate particularly exciting battles or scenes of the game.

Of course, the changes are more than just skin deep. Players are treated to special battles, including aerial ones – in which players can use only flying Pokemon – or horde encounters in which players have to fight a group of wild Pokemon on their own. But while there are some other adjustments to the games, such as the decision to dispense with the protagonist’s rival character, the game overall feels much the same as its predecessors. Which, in the end, is exactly what longtime fans on a quest to collect all of the world’s little monsters really want.

Get it: If you like long-term projects

Skip it: If you’re not that interested in “catching them all”

Price: $39.95, for the Nintendo 3DS and 2DS

Mario and Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games

Apart from getting the prize for what may be the longest name in video games this holiday season, this one also stands out as being a good family game that requires players to get up off the couch. The game is a collection of smaller games consisting of several events such as snowboarding or even pairs figure skating. With plenty of help from the Wii U’s motion controllers, of course, you can set players on the path to gold right in your living room – and maybe even work up a bit of a sweat doing it.

Mario, Sonic and plenty of other familiar characters are on hand, of course, to act out on-screen what’s going on in your living room. But much of the fun stems from working together with other people in the room to play the team games, compete and try out all kinds of events.

Get it: If you like to move while you play

Skip it: If you prefer to play alone

Price: $49.99, for the Nintendo Wii U

Skylanders SWAP Force

One of the most popular franchises out there, Skylanders is back with a twist – players can now swap the tops and bottoms of their characters to create creatures with powers. The game encourages players to not only play online but also with real-life figurines. The figurines you buy can be placed into a port that hooks into your game console, and the new action figures allow players to upgrade each half of their characters separately to create unique and powerful combinations.

While it can certainly be a drawback for parents who have to keep buying the Skylanders action figures to keep the game fresh, the designers have clearly put more thought into the real/digital world interaction than just a cash grab. Each figure really does bring unique elements to the game and can have a real impact on how you end up playing through it.

Get it: If you like real-world play as much as digital play

Skip it: If you’re not into buying add-ons

Price: From $74.99, for Microsoft Xbox 360 and Xbox One; Sony PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4; and Nintendo Wii U, Wii and 3DS

Disney Infinity

Similar to Skylanders, Disney Infinity also relies on a mix of real-world and digital toys to fill out the game play, with packs of toys that feature characters such as Jack Sparrow and Sully from “Monsters Inc.” Each pack comes with its own setting and story challenges, as well, which should be enjoyable for Disney fans of all ages.

The really fun part, of course, is the “Toy Box” mode, which lets kids exercise their imaginations by creating open worlds that incorporate any number of characters into their own adventures. This can be a little overwhelming for very young players, who may not understand how to work the in-game editor, but it shouldn’t be difficult for parents and children to work together. The game, as it currently is, has its share of bugs and little lags, but they don’t detract much from the play overall. The game developers will iron those out with updates over time – though it may take some patience.

Get it: If you’re super nostalgic for Disney characters

Skip it: If you have little patience for bugs

Price: From $59.99, for Microsoft Xbox 360, Sony PlayStation 3 and the Nintendo Wii U, Wii and 3DS

NBA 2K14

“NBA 2K14” certainly isn’t only for children – kids aren’t even its target market – but it does offer plenty of competitive fun for basketball fans as they stand in for their favorite players on the hardwood. New controls this year give the on-screen players a little more fluidity, though they may be a bit baffling to veterans of the franchise.

As with previous years, 2K14 revolves a lot around its cover athlete. This year’s focus, LeBron James, not only picked the music but is also the star of the game’s speculative story mode, which lets players imagine how the rest of this superstar’s career may go. The story mode takes players through imagined injuries, upstart rival players and new alliances with old competitors. This mode is a nice little spin on an otherwise classic sports video game, and one that makes “NBA 2K14” worth picking up.

Get it: If you like sports games, with a little twist

Skip it: If you don’t have any idea who LeBron James is

Price: $59.99, for Microsoft Xbox 360 and Xbox One; Sony PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4; and PC.

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