“Hi Alice. I want to get my kid a portable gaming console. What should I get? A PSP?”
I can’t even tell you the number of times I get asked this question. When it’s time for kids to move beyond Leapfrog, there are only two options out there – Nintendo or Sony, PlayStation Vita or something from the 2DS/3DS/3DS XL shelf. You could get a tablet, of course, but I think that an actual portable gaming console where your child can’t access things you don’t want them to, or accidentally buy apps using your credit card, is a better option.
My first pick is a Nintendo gaming console and to be honest, it doesn’t make a difference which one you decide on, as long as it on the newer side of the spectrum so the latest games will work… so 3DS, 2DS, 3DS XL, etc.
One of the best things about Nintendo is that the portable consoles are backwards compatible, so the original DS games work as well. If you buy a bigger SD memory card, you can also download games and demoes from the Nintendo eShop. That includes classics like the original Mario game.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a big PlayStation fan, especially when it comes to the crazy titles that come out of the Sony Japan studios like Katamari, but I think that Nintendo offers a better selection of family-friendly titles that will really make kids think. Here are my top picks:
Sometimes games limit you, but Scribblenauts is not one of them. Not every puzzle has one solution. In fact, whatever you can imagine can come to life in this title. So for example, if the main character (Max) needs to reach a key and you want to use a ladder, or jetpack, or flying dragon wearing a harness to get there, all you need to do is write in the word that comes to mind to solve the puzzle and it will appear on screen. How cool is that?
Also play: Dr Kawashima’s Devilish Brain Training: Can You Stay Focused?, Luigi’s Mansion 2.
Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright
Layton is like Sherlock Holmes, Wright is a lawyer, and together in this game you get to experience the best of two, very-different gameplay genres. Layton walks around solving puzzles to eventually work out exciting mysteries, while Wright must interrogate suspects and present evidence to win cases. Both parts of the game take a lot of problem-solving to work out. It’s fun and frustrating with a good story in-between.
Also play: Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask, Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy, Word Wizard 3D.
Animal Crossing: New Leaf
Animal Crossing is a charming game that could easily be categorised as “kiddie” when you first see its colourful graphics and cute characters. But it’s so much more – you are the mayor of a small town and pretty much everything around you is something to do. You can pick the trees, plant the fruit, catch fish and bugs, dig for fossils, design clothes, befriend villagers, spend your hard-earned Bells kitting out your dream house, send gifts and then some. Oh, and it all happens in real time. So when it’s night, it is night. Summer is sunny. Unique things happen on different days of the week. Content is seasonal, exciting and there’s always something new to do.
Also play: Anything from the Harvest Moon series, Tomodachi Life.
nintendogs + cats
A virtual kitten or puppy is a pretty cool thing – especially when you can use the built-in mic of the gaming console to teach your new pet tricks, respond to their name and more. You pick the game depending on your dog breed preference, so if you would prefer a Toy Poodle to a Golden Labrador or a French Bulldog, that’s up to you. Whatever route you go, nintendogs will teach your child that pets need constant love and attention. But don’t worry, nintendogs do not die or run away, they just look unkept when ignored.
Also play: Outback Pet Rescue 3D, Me & My Pets 3D, I Love My Pets.
Never mind the fact that this is a running, jumping, 2D side-scrolling kind of game. Rayman Origins is a musical feast for the ears. Every jump is a different note and the soundtrack is brilliant. Oh, and it is also really pretty to look at. But that’s not even what makes the game – Rayman Origins has 60+ levels that have all sorts of secrets to discover, and the funniest in-game characters ever (think giant pink monster with hundreds of eyes to a carnivorous daisy) it is truly the type of game that will make your child laugh out loud as they play.
Also play: Mario (obviously!), Donkey Kong Country Returns.