[dropcap size=big]W[/dropcap]ith the holiday season quickly approaching wise shoppers are already on the lookout for perfect gifts to give their friends and family. Those with kids in their lives know how difficult it can sometimes be to find age-appropriate and – more importantly – quality products to give to young ones. For those tough occasions, our friends at Bender/Helper Impact are here to help. Along with well-known partners, such as Konami, Tomy and Sony, B/HI invited Working Author to check out the latest in online entertainment, video games and physical toys that will inspire young minds and engage the entire family.
Like most media today, the Internet can be a pretty unfriendly place for kids. Thankfully, there are a few havens where children can be online and interact with other kids their age in a safe environment. One such place is Moshi Monsters where kids not only get to socialize and play games, but also learn and develop skills that will come in handy later in life. The concept of Moshi Monsters is simple and will instantly appeal to children. The child enters the free-to-play virtual world and creates a pet monster – called Moshis – that must be cared for, like a real pet. While there are no permanent consequences for neglect, the Moshi will definitely let its feelings be known. The pet lives in its own home in the monster community and the home can be decorated with furniture and other accoutrements that can be purchased online using the in-game currency called Rox. Members earn Rox by completing any of the educational-style mini-games. One of the games demonstrated at the event required the player to correctly identify the flags of as many countries as possible within a certain time limit. For a modest subscription fee, the game world expands dramatically, giving players extra capabilities, like adding rooms to their Moshi’s home, gaining access to an exclusive club and much more. Parents looking for a safe, fun and educational place for their children to spend their time online will find it in Moshi Monsters.
Imagine a toy system that combined the modularity and expandability of Legos with the durability and style of Hot Wheels. Tomy has already created that hybrid, which they call Tomica. At its core, Tomica is an automobile and train system that allows children to create winding train tracks in and around thriving metropolises composed of everyday buildings, like gas stations, pizza shops, car dealerships and more. Kids will enjoy expanding on the city, building new roads and creating complex mass-transit lines. Most of the individual modules are interactive and feature a button (or buttons) that trigger some kind of action – cars launch from parking spaces, car lifts rise, etc. Modules are also typically packaged with a figurine, like a mechanic, salesman and more to give the toy city a bit of life. Unfortunately, the little figures don’t feature arms or legs that articulate independently, but the Tomica figurines still do a wonderful job in eliminating the need for children to substitute their fingers as people. Tomica has been enjoyed by many children in Japan for 40 years. This October the popular toy will make its North American debut exclusively at Toys “R” Us.
Fans of the animated series will find a very happy home with Sony Online Entertainment’s Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures online community. Players create an avatar and live out their own adventures within the Clone Wars universe, socializing with and competing against other players in a bevy of mini-games that range from aerial attacks straight from the show to daring lightsaber duels against principal characters and everything in between. The games are simple enough that very young children can enjoy them – only the mouse or a few keys are necessary to play – but also offer enough challenge to attract older kids. For example, while a flight mini-game may be on rails, it takes timing and skill to gain the proper multipliers to achieve high scores. Players can compete with friends when online together or asynchronously; friends will be alerted to new high scores when they log in next. Best of all, the game world is constantly being updated and subscribers will find new content that follows new developments in the series in a timely manner. Parents will appreciate the aggressive moderation of communication within the game world as well. Rather than having a list of banned words that gamers can’t use, Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures has a list of words that gamers can use to ensure the cleanest language and conversation. Moreover, suspicious chat that passes the White List is flagged and investigated for extra protection. While the game is free to play, there is an option to upgrade a membership for a small monthly fee, offering access to more games and exclusive content. The demo shown at the event had an avatar wearing slick Mandalorian armor and a customizable astromech droid like R2D2. Finally, it’s worth noting that a lifetime membership is available for a one-time fee that’s equivalent to the price of an average console game. In just one week of its release, one million subscribers signed up for Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures so joining today, will put players in very good company.
Dominating one corner of the event was Konami making a strong showing with a slew of fun titles. The whole family will enjoy showing off their dance skills – or lack thereof – while playing DanceDanceRevolution PS3 for the PlayStation 3 Move and DanceMasters for the Xbox 360 Kinect. Check out Working Author’s previous coverage. If dancing is out of the question, then perhaps singing is the better solution. Karaoke Revolution Glee will let players belt their lungs out with their favorite characters from the hit show Glee on FOX. The playlist features an impressive 35 tracks – all from the first season of the show. Players can sing duets and even improve their singing talent with the built-in pitch and rhythm detector. For something a little more sports oriented, Adrenaline Misfits is a crossboarding game that takes full advantage of the Kinect system for Xbox 360. Players take control of one of the goofy characters, jump onto a board and start racing on one of the varied tracks. While there are plenty of modes to enjoy, such as time attacks, mini-games, aerial challenges and more, what’s most impressive is how natural the gameplay looks and feels. The days of using unresponsive (and costly) peripherals to mimic a board may well be over. Gamers will now be able to indulge their urge to jump in real life without the fear of breaking whatever they land on.
As any parent who’s had to sponge crayon off walls will attest to, children love to draw. Game company THQ is harnessing that raw creative energy and allowing bourgeoning artists to express themselves on the Nintendo Wii with the new Game Tablet. This remarkable device comes bundled with the uDraw Studio, giving young artists access to robust tools similar to those found in professional image editing software. Best of all, the mechanics are presented in a familiar pencil-and-paper format that young minds and hands will quickly adapt to. There’s even a coloring book mode for kids who might feel intimidated by all the blank space and tools at their disposal. Another title that will be available at launch is Pictionary, which seems like a natural fit. For some extra challenge and a new take on the traditional game, some modes force players to draw only with straight lines or while the screen is rotating, which is sure to get everyone laughing during family night.
Whether your family enjoys playing with physical toys, on the Internet or on video game consoles, you’ll have plenty of choices this holiday season. Look for Working Author’s reviews in the upcoming weeks.