Whether to relieve your children’s boredom, to reward them for good grades, or just to give your kids something to do so you can relax for a bit, you find yourself heading down to your local game retailer of choice to pick up a new video game. Whatever the reason, you find yourself sifting through a sea of blockbuster sequels, rehashes, and shovelware. There’s little room for innovation in today’s games market, and that makes it difficult to find game that your kids will enjoy, or a game that is worth the price of admission. There’s a reason for why good games (especially for kids) are getting increasingly more difficult to find, but the solution to this problem comes from understanding exactly what that problem is.
You see, the deck is stacked against us before we even enter the store. Every year marks the release of multiple new blockbuster sequels in the world of video games. Major video game studios caught on to this formula early; produce games of a certain type that sell extremely well, then churn out follow-up games yearly that make minor changes, and consumers will continue to buy them. Whether or not you subscribe to this ideology doesn’t concern these development houses, because frankly, it works. They know they can keep making these games, because there is a massive demographic that will continue buying them. The problem arises when you want games that your kids will enjoy, but these constant sequels are either not appropriate, or simply not fun for them.
To combat this trend, a somewhat recent resurgence of independent game developers have been making quality video games over the last five (or so) years. These development teams are usually made up of a few people, so they aren’t tethered to a mega-corporation’s whims. These creators are often people who grew up playing the games that we played in our youth, and they often channel that experience when designing their own games. Maybe it’s nostalgia talking, but when I was growing up, it felt like companies put more heart into the games that they made. Games of that era enraptured us in a way that recent big-name games can’t easily replicate, and playing indie games can bring us back to that time. It’s a time worth going back to, and one that’s worth sharing with your family, so they can enjoy it, too.
What this means for you, is that there are people out there making games that you know you and your kids can enjoy. You don’t have to rely on going to major retail chains and checking ratings online to know if these games are going to be appropriate and fun. Here are a few of the best ones to get you started, but there’s always more, if you’re willing to look around a bit:
Braid is a platforming/puzzle game with a unique twist, and an amazing (but subtle) story line Everyman Tim must use the power of time reversal to solve puzzles and chase after the woman he loves. The puzzle design and mechanics of this game are genius and great fun, but the real treat is a moving story that doesn’t quite show off its true colors until you give it a more detailed second look. A mind-bending , self-exploratory creation, Braid is worth every penny, and can be purchased on Steam, XboxLIVE and PSN.
Continuing our list of excellent, story-driven games, Bastion is an action-platformer with quite the unique setting. You might start Bastion praising its excellent action game play mechanics, its tight controls, and fantastic art and level design, but you’ll stay for the unique, evolving narrative. The story of a nameless boy is played out as he fights against monsters to restore the former glory of his home, but all is not what it seems. A fantastic game for both you and your kids, Bastion can be purchased on Steam, XboxLIVE, PSN, and various App stores.
Gomez is a two-dimensional creature who enjoys his carefree lifestyle in his bright and cheerful two-dimensional village. This all changes when Gomez finds a magical fez. Upon placing the Fez on his head, Gomez suddenly sees his world in 3D, and everything changes. Fez is a light-hearted, relaxing puzzle-platformer that incorporates both 2D and 3D elements, allowing Gomez to jump and climb his way to saving his home. Fez is currently only available on XboxLIVE.
Super Meat Boy
Super Meat Boy is a story about a boy made of meat, and his girlfriend, who is made of bandages. While it may seem a tad disgusting at first, Super Meat Boy is also an amazingly well-designed and fun platforming game. Unlike some of the other games on this list, SMB can be maddeningly challenging at times, but it’s never unfairly so. It’s an excellent choice for someone looking to pass on the legacy of hyper-challenging games like Ninja Gaiden and Battletoads to their kids. It is available on Steam, XboxLIVE, and PSN.
One of the first indie games to succeed and usher in a new era of independent game development, Cave Story follows a boy robot who has lost his memory, but ends up fighting to save his floating world. Made by a single person as a tribute to games of old (like Metroid and Castlevania), Cave Story is a fun platforming shooter game with a touching story of friendship that anyone can enjoy. It is available as freeware on PC, or as an enhanced paid title on Steam and the Nintendo 3DS.
In case that isn’t quite enough, there are plenty more indie titles for both you and your kids to enjoy. Also check out: Castle Crashers, Journey, LIMBO, World of Goo, Terraria, Dungeon Defenders, VVVVVV, Trine 2, Spacechem, and (the not-quite-so-indie, but still awesome) Plants vs. Zombies.