18 top game picks: The DOs and DON'Ts of games for kids
It can be intimidating to shop for video games. The title your 8-year-old kid might be begging for might be packed full of blood and guts and simply unacceptable content. Here are nine games you can count on for your child, and nine you should shy away from (or keep for yourself). They're all very good titles, but some simply aren't appropriate for children. The "Do" games are all rated E for Everyone or E10+ for Everyone 10 and up, while the "Don't" games are all rated M for Mature by the ESRB. If you see a game that's not on this list, look at the rating on the corner of the box.
The premise: The universe is shaken up and the stars are out of whack. As the cute, cylinder-headed Prince of the Cosmos, you must rebuild the stars by rolling together objects into giant balls.
The good: Bright colors, cute characters, and completely nonviolent gameplay make this ball-rolling fest great for any age. Even your littlest ones can have fun as the Prince of the Cosmos, pushing around his ball and rolling various objects into it to make it bigger.
The bad: Could encourage children to try to stick household pets and furniture to their favorite ball.
The premise: A plane crash sends you into an underwater dystopia founded by Ayn Rand analog Andrew Ryan. Deal with the crazed citizens of the now-ruined city and perform genetic experiments on yourself to survive.
The good: Little girls play a prominent role in the game.
The bad: You have to decide whether to save them or harvest their bodies for genetic material. If that's not bad enough, the game's full of crazed, murderous mutants you must slaughter to survive.
The premise: Bowser has kidnapped Princess Peach again, and Mario must save her. This time, he must search the entire universe for the power stars he needs to find the princess.
The good: Bright, colorful worlds and excellent gameplay make Mario's latest adventure a great choice for kids. Parents can help by using a second remote to help them in their gameplay.
The bad: Can give kids an extremely skewed view of gravity.
The premise: Armored supersoldier Master Chief must fight both the zealous Covenant and the zombified Flood to save the universe from total destruction.
The good: Alien vehicles and weapons look like they're made by Mattel or Hasbro.
The bad: The gameplay itself is pretty violent, but the biggest concern is the utterly foulmouthed online community teaching your kids a few words they probably shouldn't learn yet.
The premise: Young wannabe pirate Zack and his monkey pal Wiki search for treasure and adventure.
The good: Clever puzzles encourage problem-solving skills. Bright, cartoony character design makes the game accessible to kids.
The bad: Might make your kid act like a pirate.
The premise: As the fanatical assassin Altair, you must run, sneak, and stab your way through the cities of Jerusalem, Damascus, and Acre to kill nine influential targets at the height of the Crusades.
The good: Historical fiction can get your kid interested in learning about the Crusades. Creeds can help encourage strong work ethics.
The bad: The main character is a professional killer who had his finger cut off so he could fit a spring-loaded knife on his arm. He isn't exactly one of the Wiggles.
The premise: Mario, Luigi, Peach, Bowser, and all the other Mario characters get together to play a variety of minigames in a colorful board-game environment.
The good: Fun, simple minigames invite other children to play together with their DSes.
The bad: Not as much fun to play alone.
The premise: The galaxy is at stake as a rogue galactic special agent searches across the stars for ancient, powerful technology. You must weigh civility against necessity as you struggle to bring him to justice.
The good: Aliens from different worlds can teach tolerance and understanding.
The bad: Sex scenes, cybernetic zombies, and multiple opportunities for genocide make this a no-go for children.
The premise: Play through all six Star Wars movies in Lego form. Lightsabers, blasters, and hundreds of little plastic bricks are your tools as you see the movie series rendered in Lego.
The good: Takes the entire Star Wars series and gives it a cute, blood-free makeover. Colorful, simple, and fun gameplay can have your kids enjoying Star Wars just like you used to.
The bad: Lego characters can promote an unhealthy (and biologically impossible) body image.
The premise: A small European village holds a dark and bloody secret that its zombie-like villagers will kill to protect.
The good: Might help your kid learn a bit of conversational Spanish.
The bad: Bloody shotgun fights with mind-controlled murderers. Encourages kids to buy things from strangers with long coats.
The premise: Draw your own characters and guide them through colorful, cartoony levels.
The good: Offers a lot of opportunity for creativity and interaction.
The bad: You have to pretend you like what they draw, no matter what.
The premise: An escaped asylum inmate must kill his way through warehouses and strip clubs as he tries to find out exactly what happened to him.
The good: Some of the insane murderers wear colorful masks.
The bad: They're still insane murderers. The only way to get around them is to off them yourself, making you at the very least a dubiously sane killer.
The premise: Shake, rock, swing, and wave the Wii remote through dozens of cartoonish minigames.
The good: Plenty of different minigames encourage shape recognition, balance, and physical activity. Multiplayer lets your child's friends have fun together with it.
The bad: Your kid might try to solve all problems by tipping from side to side or jumping up and down. Of course, you might not notice the change.
The premise: A Marine Force Recon unit and an S.A.S. squad search for a terrorist ring leader and the Russian strongman who's backing him.
The good: Teaches children that terrorists are bad.
The bad: Also teaches children that you should shoot those who don't display their name in bright green.
The premise: Raise and play with your own puppy inside your DS, training it with the DS microphone and petting it with the stylus.
The good: Can teach your kid about the responsibilities of pet care. Might get him to stop bugging you about getting him a real dog.
The bad: Might make him want a real dog more.
The premise: Valve compiles first-person shooters Half-Life 2, HL2 Episodes 1 and 2, and Team Fortress 2, and first-person puzzler Portal into a single disc.
The good: Portal offers clever puzzles and Team Fortress 2 features colorful, cartoonish design.
The bad: Both games, along with Half-Life 2 and both its additional episodes, are still really violent.
The premise: Explore Pinata Island and interact with its dozens of colorful, eponymous characters.
The good: Bright, colorful, nonthreatening. Encourages both gardening and socializing.
The bad: Might encourage your kid to destroy your garden.
The premise: This simple headset plugs into your Xbox 360 controller and enables voice chat over Xbox Live and compatible games.
The good: Lets your kids talk to other people over Xbox Live.
The bad: Lets your kids talk to other people over Xbox Live.