If you’re looking for a kid-friendly game for the PS3, this should be top of your list. Rated E, it provides classic 2D platform game action rendered with state-of-the-art 3D graphics. The ragdoll physics and ability to grab objects are interesting game tweaks, though the automatic switching between layers on the Z axis can be a little frustrating at times. Mostly it’s not a problem with the story levels, because of careful level design.
The plot is like a fairy tale, and unfolds gradually. You catch glimpses of what’s going on while playing the levels, and then when it’s revealed that someone is abducting characters and imprisoning them, it’s up to you to free them. Even the bad guy turns out just to have been lonely and desperate for friends.
One great thing about LittleBigPlanet is that it has a full level editor, capable of building levels as good as the ones in the game. The artwork is fabulous, a real visual feast with levels inspired by (amongst other things) Day of the Dead, Indian art, and African crafts. Levels can be shared online with friends, or publically; there are over 1,000,000 user-created levels out there. Sony and MediaMolecule seem to be doing a pretty good job of making sure they’re kid-safe.
(PS3, Xbox 360, Windows)
My experience is that all young boys love cars. The only thing better than playing at racing cars, is playing at crashing cars. The Burnout games understand this–unlike serious racing simulations like Gran Turismo, Burnout rewards you for dangerous driving, and rewards you with detailed action replays of your crashes. Glass smashes, sparks fly, bodywork crumples.
The open world design lets you drive around and explore the city; each intersection of streets has some kind of challenge you can choose to start by pulling up and hitting a button. There are straight races, stunt jump challenges, stock car style survival modes, and contests where you have to cause as much vehicular carnage as possible in the time limit.
The online mode allows for contests between players, but also has social modes where you join up with friends to compete challenges together, or just hang out driving around and chatting and doing whatever you want.
Rated E, as there’s no blood–it’s all A-Team crashes. Obviously, online modes may expose your offspring to rude words spoken by other players, if you allow play with unknown strangers.
It’s also available as a downloadable from PlayStation Network.
(PS3 only, but earlier Katamari games are available for Xbox 360 and PS2)
When the original Katamari Damacy was launched on the PS2, the game mechanic was something completely new to video games–roll a ball of stuff (the “katamari”) using tank-like controls, making it larger and larger as more and more stuff sticks to it. As the katamari grows, it can roll over larger objects–but it also has more momentum, and becomes harder to maneuver.
The game consists of variations on that basic theme. The King of the Cosmos tasks you with making a nice big katamari, sets you a time limit before he’ll lose patience, places you somewhere on earth, and off you go. Sometimes the challenge is a little different–for example, maybe the katamari is on fire, and you need to roll up hot and burning stuff, and avoid cold or wet things.
It’s all very cute. If your katamari is big enough, you can roll over people–but although they scream, they just stick into the katamari, they’re not killed. The game therefore gets an E rating.
Katamari Forever basically gives you all the levels from all the previous Katamari games. Graphically, it’s not a whole lot better than the PS2 versions, but it’s such a charming game that the graphics don’t really matter. However, the lack of anything really new meant that it suffered in review scores.
If you don’t mind guns and epic battles of cartoon violence, the Ratchet and Clank series offers E10-rated action adventure platformers that I personally think are the best around. In Tools of Destruction, it’s insectoid monsters who are on the receiving end of the violence this time: they’re an invading army ruled by a crazy emperor who has ordered them to lay seige to the galaxy. It might not be the most socially conscious message, but at least it’s anti-imperialist, right?
The genius of the Ratchet and Clank games is that their difficulty level is self-adjusting. Smashing enemies and scenery releases metal in the form of bolts, which are apparently the currency of engineers. You can spend the bolts to get ever more powerful (and ridiculous and fun) weapon upgrades. Hence, if a particular part of the game keeps defeating you, each time you try you gain more bolts. Before long you can afford a better weapon that’ll give you the edge against the enemy and let you succeed.
The weapons are varied, and allow for different styles of game play. You can stand back and pick off roachlike enemies from a safe distance, or you can (say) launch the Groovitron to make them all break out in disco dancing, and then whack them with a wrench while they’re occupied.
This long-running game series had numerous outings on the PS2 as well. My personal favorite was Ratchet & Clank Going Commando.