Yes, we at the Magic Dog House know that it’s too early to start celebrating Christmas. I mean, we’ve still got skulls and femurs in the flowerbeds, and the teddy bears are still “hanged by the neck until dead,” and horrifying the neighborhood parents. The neighborhood children love us, but I digress.
Thing is, Christmas is coming, and many of us are looking around for ways of celebrating that won’t break the bank. Well, look no further. From now until Christmas, we’re going to be profiling an assortment of gifts that your kid and your wallet will both love. In order to keep from disappointing your kid too badly we’ll try to assign age ranges where appropriate.
Before we get too specific, though (that will come later) here’s a quick overview of ideas.
Video Games. Yes, they can be very, very expensive, if you buy them new. If, however, you have a young one just starting out Amazon and the used game stores are full of wonderful, engaging games that kids have been loving since the days of Atari. And here’s the kicker–many of the modern game systems like the Wii will play the old GameCube games. And GameCube games can often be had for a song. So you’ve got a kid. You’ve got a Wii. I’ve chosen these based on a fairly stringent standard. First, they need to be games that small children can play without succumbing to nightmares.Every child is different, but these games generally have funny, engaging, and non-threatening bad guys. Second, I’m not a big fan of parking small children in front of video games solo. These are games that, in most cases, you can play with your child, and children of very different skill levels can still play and enjoy. Most are games that allow for either focused play, which will allow you to win the game, or aimless wandering, ideal when you’ve got a toddler in the house who wants a turn but doesn’t have the skills to actually do much.
The Legend of Zelda. You can’t go wrong with Zelda. A great starter game is the Ocarina of Time. It’s been re-mastered and re-issued a couple of times, so it’s possible to get some of the old GameCube versions for virtually nothing, but watch out–some of those old games are Collector’s Editions, and priced accordingly. Twilight Princess is another great game, and I just found it on Amazon for $10.
What makes Zelda games so great for new players? They allow for endless exploration. We got our first GameCube when The Boy was about six. Ocarina of Time came with the starter pack. It took him years to play his way through the game, because a) we didn’t know about walkthroughs, and b) you can get on Epona the horse and ride and ride and ride. Forever.
Another thing that makes the games great is that you can go onto the Zelda site online and get hints for how to solve some of the puzzles. You can, of course, also buy a used guide. They often look pretty ratty, but if your kid isn’t critical, why should you be? You might want to disinfect the thing, but your kid will be reading before you know it.
If you choose to download your walkthroughs start at http://www.gamefaqs.com. They provide a lot of good walkthroughs. Some of my fondest memories are of The Boy and I scavenging the internet for walkthroughs, then curling up on his bed, him with the game controller, me with the instructions, and working our way through the game together.
So, Zelda games are great. Here are some other names to look for. These games are suitable for small children–the characters are fun and engaging, and the enemies aren’t scary.
Tak 1, 2, and 3–these games are probably some of your best game deals online today. The graphics are hilarious, the characters likewise. All of the games have at least some options that allow for multiple players. The dialog is amusing for kids and adults alike. Challenges are challenging, but not so very challenging that young children can’t enjoy them. And these games can be yours for under $5 each. I found some for sale for 50 cents. Yes. Two bits. You just can’t go wrong at that rate.
Donkey Konga–This is a wonderful game for anybody. Here’s the deal. The game comes with a set of bongo drums (make sure the game you order has the drums with it), and you beat on the bongo drums in time to the music. If you manage to keep time, you get points and unlock more songs. If you don’t, well you still get to make a lot of noise, so there’s really no downside. This is a game even a two-year-old can play. And you can get the game and the bongos for under $15.
Ty the Tasmanian Tiger 1, 2, and 3. The first two games are the best, but the third’s all right. Again, these are adventure games that allow little ones to wander aimlessly forever, pick up jewels, and feel like they’re accomplishing something. If you actually want to advance through the game, of course, there’s more to it than wandering aimlessly, so this is a game that grows with the kids. The basic plot is that Ty must outwit his archenemy Boss Cass using nothing but a pretty spiffy collection of boomerangs. Ty is fun. He talks with a thick Aussie drawl. And he can be yours for between $1 and $5.
Crash Tag Team Racing. Crash Bandicoot has a lot of games. The Boy loved him, but as far as I was concerned he failed to grip, EXCEPT for tag team racing. You build your car. You drive off stuff. You get points for doing flips, rolls, and spins. And you can do it for under $5.
Mario. It’s hard to go wrong with Mario games, but if you’re shopping for small children the best would probably be Super Mario Sunshine, another game that provides entertainment for children who play at a wide range of levels. It can be had for under $15.
Super Smash Brothers Melee. Most of the games on this list are rated E, for Everyone. Super Smash Brothers is, for some obscure reason, rated T, for Teens. I tend to take ratings seriously, but this is one you can safely disregard. Kids of all ages love Super Smash Brothers. Again, it’s a game that all skill levels and ages can play (up to four kids at a time), and the game can be set up to handicap the more skillful players to give the less skillful players a chance.
The folks who put this game out have done it in three versions: Super Smash Brothers (that’s the first one) Super Smash Brothers Melee (that’s the GameCube version) and Super Smash Brothers Brawl (that’s the actual Wii version). Though we got Brawl for the Wii, we generally find ourselves going back and playing our old Melee version. For one thing, some of the character attributes are better. Take Princess Peach, for instance. In Melee her special power is this very cool hip slam. I usually play as Peach, and so the hip slam is important to me. In Brawl I believe it’s either gone or modified into some lame thing with hearts. Brawl has a fun feature where you can build your own levels, but play on those levels is fairly limited. SSB Melee is a huge game, lots of levels, lots of characters, lots of options for each character. We’ve had this game for going on ten years now, and The Boy and his friends STILL pull it out and play it. You can get it for under $15.
Enough–we’ll do this again. The nice thing about these games is that they’re all old enough that your young player will feel like he’s discovering something new–and you’ll be able to look like Santa.