A Little Peace and Quiet

With the start of summer right around the corner and hot days already popping up in various parts of the country, you know there are bound to be a few days where it’s just too hot to go outside. There will also be times when, despite your promise to never use technology as a babysitter, you’ll need the kids to chill out quietly. For those crazy hot days and 5-hour flights, check out these new games for the kids—and yourself.

Rediscovering the Nintendo 3DS
A lot of people own a 3DS, but very few really know it inside and out. Take the StreetPass Mii Plaza. Of course you’ve visited—who hasn’t’?—but if you haven’t been for a while, it’s worth another trip because it recently expanded. Now, when you’re out and about with your 3DS in your pocket or bag and you meet someone else who also has StreetPass on their 3DS, you can play mini games and solve puzzles that earn you accessories for your Mii (which, for the uninitiated, are avatars that users create). There are eight mini games that can be played with other Miis. Two are free: Find Mii, which is a light-hearted RPG (role playing game) with some tough villains, and Puzzle Swap, where players can share pieces with others. With characters from various Nintendo games and videos (like Pikmin, Link from Zelda, and Mario Brothers) appearing on the pieces, everyone will feel right at home. There are also a few premium games in the eShop. Prices vary.

xenoblade chroniclesXenoblade Chronicles (Nintendo)
Unless you’re a big fan of role play games (RPGs) on Nintendo’s systems, you may not know about Xenoblade. But you should. Xenoblade almost didn’t get released in the U.S., but when it finally did, it quickly became a big hit with RPG buffs. The basic story is that Shulk and his buddies are on a quest to find an elusive sword (named Mondao) and to rid their homeland of a nasty bunch of killer robots called Mechon.  Xenoblade Chronicles is the latest spinoff and can be played on the Wii U. There’s also a 3D version that’s playable only on the new 3DS XL. What’s especially cool about the new DS XL is its face-tracking technology, which minimizes all the setting and resetting that had to be done with previous 3D systems.  It also makes the game play feel more intents and it’s a lot easier to get drawn in—and stay there. There’s tons of drama, action, and excitement. The game itself retails for $39.99. The 3DS XL console, if you don’t already have one, is $199.99.

puzzle and dragons zPuzzle & Dragons Super Mario Brothers Edition (Nintendo)
Puzzle & Dragons Z (Nintendo)
Nintendo’s new Puzzle & Dragons has got something for pretty everyone—combining elements of a collectible card game, puzzles, and RPG. In fact, there’s so much here that they made it into two separate games (but packed them into one cartridge).



puzzles and dragons super marioThe Mario Brothers version is a little easier and is filled with familiar characters and settings, like the Princess, Bowser, and the Mushroom Kingdom. The puzzle part is pretty easy too: just line up same-color orbs and build on to your cluster. The bigger the cluster, the higher your score—and the more damage you do to your enemies. Puzzles & Dragons Z also features puzzle play, but it’s has some nice anime styling, a deeper story, and the option to get further into the RPG aspects of the game. The single cartridge with both games retails for $29.99 pretty much everywhere games are sold.

We’ve Come a Long Way Since Pong…

The video game world has come a long way since Atari came out with Pong, Asteroids, and Frogger—a really long way. And that’s a good  thing. Here are a few of our 21
st century favorites.

Nintendo Wii U
Nintendo has a long history of making big leaps in digital home entertainment. Some were great successes, like the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), and Wii. Others have been just as innovative but never really took off, like the Virtual Boy. But one thing that’s consistent across all of their consoles is innovation and quality. We recently found a 28-year old NES, blew the dust off, plugged it in, and it fired right up. Best of all, the games were still fun!

wii u parents@playNintendo’s latest leap forward in the video game world is the Wii U, which features sharp textures, clear sound, and characters  who look like they’ll hop right out of the screen. Speaking of screens, the Wii U’s controller (officially called the GamePad) sports a large touch-screen in addition to all the usual Wii buttons. The system can be used solo, cooperatively, or competitively (we, of course, prefer the latter two options). Parents and kids will have a blast bonding—and the kids will have a great opportunity to improve their hand -eye and direction-following skills.

wii u parents@playThe Wii U comes in two flavors. The basic is white, has 8GB of internal storage, the GamePad, stylus, Sensor Bar, AC adapters for both the game pad and the console, and as an HDMI cable. Retail is $299. For $50 more, the Deluxe includes all that, plus four times the storage (32GB), a charging cradle, and a number of other accessories.   http://www.nintendo.com/wiiu


Nintendo 3DS
nintendo 3ds parents@playDo you remember all those vacation memories growing up that started with a long car ride? These car rides would drag when we were younger, and would often produce angry parents and uppity children. Fast forward a few decades, and now we have kids. For long car rides, Nintendo’s 3DS can’t be beat. Sleek and brightly colored, the 3DS has two screens and a stylus. And now, instead of having to carry around a case of cards, you can download a dizzying array of games directly onto your unit through the Nintendo eShop. http://www.nintendo.com/3ds/downloads/

Several great options include HarmoKnight (from Game Freak, developers of Pokemon) , a music/rhythm action adventure game that follows a little boy named Tempo and his friend Tappy the rabbit as they try to vanquish the evil Gargan and the Noizoids who are invading. Although easy to catch on to, each level gets more complex—and more rewarding when you get through it. $14.99.

Dillon’s Rolling Western: The Last Ranger is another action-adventure game. Using a stylus, players control Dillon, an armadillo who protects a local village of herders from rock monsters, helping him earn better gear, build better towers, and acquire super rock-bashing skills (and in the real world, it can improve kids’ writing and motor skills, perception, and memory.  $10.99.

VTech’s  Innotab 2 Baby
vtech innotab parents@playVTech’s latest addition to their line of tablets offers a lot of features of a full-fledged tablet, but geared toward kids. Brightly colored and is able to take a beating (a really big beating–without so much as a scratch), it has a touch screen, basic sign language dictionary, protective gel skin, and a grow-with-me library of downloads.  Little kids will love the camera, which allows them to make videos of themselves and others around and then show them off. Great example of an educational toy that will grow with a child. $89.00. http://www.vtechkids.com/

vtech innotab parents@play

I’m Only Going to Say This 100 More Times…

Dear Mr. Dad: We’ve tried to stress the importance of study habits to our 12-year-old son. But no matter what we do or say, he seems to end up playing video games instead of doing his homework. What can we do to make him start taking studying seriously?

A: Whoa. Before we get to the homework thing, we need to talk about the real issue: What can you do to get your son to start taking YOU seriously? The simplest approach (although, I admit that it’s not going to be easy) is to take away the video games. Whether it’s confiscating his DS or tablet, locking up his game controllers, or activating the parental controls on his computer, you need to take some firm steps right now. Your son is still young, but if he doesn’t start taking schoolwork more seriously soon, his grades may interfere with his post-high-school education and, eventually, his choice of career.

If possible, get your son involved in the discussion—have him suggest ways he can earn back his gaming time. The more the rules come from him, the greater the chance that he’ll follow them. But make sure he’s got things in the right order. Schoolwork first, then games. No exceptions.

Okay, back to homework—but again, we have to start with a different question: When did this behavior start? If he’s never had any interest in studying, that’s one thing (and we’ll get to that in a minute). But if this is a relatively new development, you need to figure out what’s going on.

Has anything in your son’s life changed recently? Did you just move to a new neighborhood? Could he be having a problem with a teacher? Is there any possibility that he’s being bullied at school? Have you and your spouse been fighting a lot or are you getting divorced? Any of these can cause significant—but usually temporary—changes in study habits.

Your assignment is to get answers to these and other similar questions that could be influencing your son’s schoolwork. This is going to involve spending more one-on-one time with your son and learning about his life and how he feels about things.

The temptation is to sit him down and start grilling him, face to face. Don’t. It’s hard for a teen to interpret that kind of approach as anything but hostile. Instead, start by asking him general questions about school, friends, music and other non-explosive topics. And do this while you’re driving. There’s something about not having to look at each other that can remove some of the barrier to communication. If you listen carefully and resist the urge to lecture, you may get the answers to your questions without actually having to come right out and ask them. And in the process, you’ll be strengthening your relationship with each other.

Now, what if he’s ever been interested in studying? Is it possible that he’s not getting enough intellectual stimulation? This is big. A child who finds schoolwork to be boring may simply tune out.

If it’s not that, communicating with your son will still be the goal, but there’s a twist. In this case, you’ll try to find ways to build on his natural interests. For example, if he loves sports or mechanics or cooking or whatever, start there. And then find ways to introduce math or science or language arts principles through those interests. Showing him that what he’s learning has some actual real-world applications will make it a lot more interesting—and worth working on.