Tag Archives: video games

snow, terraria, and getting into the action

Sophie: “Hey, Mom, what’s the difference between a snow man and snow woman?” Luc: “SNOW BALLS!” And he throws three of them at me.

snow 2015

Our pond, frozen enough to sit on

Down here in North Carolina, snow is rare and exciting, and today was the day, the snow of the winter.  The kids rushed out first thing, still in their jammies, coats hastily thrown on top, me hobbling out behind, afraid of falling on the slick ice.  “Mom! Mom!  IT’S SNOOOOWWWW!!!”

“Here, take this walking stick,” said Luc, skidding up to me with a board, part of a dismantled hammock.  I took it, grateful, thinking, You know, hammock weather is really more my style. 

“Too bad we don’t have shoes with cleats for you,” he added, slipping and sliding away.  “Then we could walk up cliffs!”

To which Sophie added, “Stay on this tire track, it’s softer!” as she whizzed by, Henry galloping ahead, pulling her behind like a sled.

“Be caref–” I started to say…but naaa.  She’ll be fine.  And I trudged after them, taking pictures.

For the past ten years, going out into the world with them, I’ve always been the one with more experience, more knowledge, more physical strength, more money, more power.  Not so, today.  Foreshadowing of things to come.

TerrariaIt was a strikingly familiar feeling to a couple of days ago when I sat down and played Terraria with them for the first time, starting a new character (I named her Sriracha), letting them show me the ropes of mining and monster hunting.  I gave Siri giant, spiky pink hair so I could recognize her more easily on the screen. Because I’m old and the dang characters are like, sixteen pixels high.  “How do these controls work again?”

The kids have been playing Terraria for over a year, their characters are all OP (over-powered) and they’ve got mad skilz.  While I attempted to walk/bounce up a cliff they buzzed around me, killing a goblin army, giving me weapons I couldn’t figure out how to use, crafting me armor for my safety.  “What’s this shiny stuff?” I would ask, poking the ground, while their characters jumped and darted from here to there on the screen, “Mom! Look at this! Mom, put on this meteorite armor!  Mom, here’s a spear, and eat this heart crystal!  Mom!”

Me: “Um, I think I fell in a hole again.”

They really, really loved that I was playing with them.  “You’re so adorable as Sriracha,” said Sophie.  And Luc want4r to take care of me, it was very sweet.  “I got you a rainhat, Mommy, so your hair won’t get wet.”  Meaning an in-game hat, of course.

“But that will cover my pink hair….”  And how will I know which blip is me?

Honestly, I’ve been happy in my role as tech-support all these years, but I’ve done very little actual gaming. I’m suddenly smacking my palm to my forehead about this.  I run the Minecraft server, I install games, I look-up walk-throughs, I’ve even built computers.  But actual playing…not so much.  I don’t have time.  And anyway, I get stressed out instead of have fun.  It’s just not my scene.  [whiny voice is whiny]

But they liked it sooooo much…..

I begin to see that it’s like going for a snow walk—it’s rare and the kids adore it.  It’s great when I help suit them up and have hot chocolate waiting for them when they get back, but they really love it when I’m out there with them.  And how many more years are they even going to want to play with me?  I think…I’ve just got to do it.  I’ve got to become enough of a gamer so that I’m not just tech-support.  I need to get on the field.  While I still can.  While I’m still invited.

I can do this.  I used to love gaming when I was a kid, Jump-man and text-adventures and and…Pong.  (Again with the old.)  Yeah.  I can do this.

I’m going in.

Taking a snow bath.

Taking a snow bath.

education by minecraft

The other day Luc, 7, asked me, “is booties spelled with a ‘ys’ or an ‘ies’ ?”  This level of spelling awareness blew me away because, maybe only a month or two ago Luc could spell six words: Luc, Sophie, Paul, Maya, love, and poop.  In other words, Luc had had zero interest and near zero ability in writing things down—and then BOOM.   Suddenly he’s writing all kinds of things.

What changed?

MINECRAFT.

In case you’ve been living in a gameless hole, Minecraft is an open-ended, goal-free video game that involves building things out of blocks.  Okay, that doesn’t even begin to cover it.  If you play on survival mode then you collect materials from the environment with which to build and, well, survive (for example, you have to eat, so growing crops or hunting, or you go mining for stone or iron to build weapons or tools, etc) plus you have to stay safe from the monsters (cute zombies, creepers, and assorted others) that come out at night.  Alternatively, if you play on creative mode you have unlimited resources from the get-go, plus you can fly. S0, you know, basically you’re a god and you can build anything you can imagine.  Minecraft is often called a sandbox game because it’s like playing in a big virtual sandbox.  You make up the game, the rules (if there are any) and it can be a challenge, pure creativity, a story with a goal, simple building stuff, blowing stuff up, whatever you want.

Lately, while wearing my Homeschool Administrator Hat, I’ve been quietly observing the shit-ton of stuff the kids have been learning while they play.

For example: MATH.  Like figuring out how many blocks of various resources will have to be mined/collected for any given project.  Or figuring out, if you want a wall to be x high, how many blocks will you need mine to finish it?  Or if a pyramid is going to be x across, how many total blocks will be needed for the ground floor, and how many tiers will that give you?  Or how about plotting a point on an x, y axis?  Because the location of objects in Minecraft is given by an “address” using an x,y coordinates with 0,0 being the point where you originally spawned.  So if you want to find something, you’ve got to grasp the whole x, -x, y, -y concept….

And the kids now do. Because they are seriously motivated, plus these problems have context and meaning to them.  Math is not done in a vacume in Minecraft.  There are observable stakes that matter.

But moving on.  LANGUAGE:  The kids started Minecraft on the ipads, but recently we rented a server to host an on-line version of the game so the kids could play Minecraft with their friends.  SO MUCH FUN!  I can’t even begin to tell you how cool it is for them to play together with their buds, having adventures, setting up things for each other, building stuff, killing monsters, creating elaborate plans, creative solutions, problem solving, all while safe at home, and all while chatting via short text messages on the screen.

Suddenly their motivation to write is HUGE.  Because you’ve got to be able to chat with your crew!  Sophie is well on her way to literacy but Luc, as I mentioned, has just started, but man, his brain must just have been Ready To Go because it’s like the writing/reading section has just powered ON.  He is writing all kids of things…thus the “booty” question.  It’s all super cool to watch.

But it’s not just text chatting.  There is also sign making (“No Nose picking!” “No Griefing, Ever, I am always watching you” and the ubiquitous, “Sophie is poop,” always a favorite) and naming things (“Infinity Blade of Doom” and “George the Pig” for example).  Plus there are also enchanted books that can be written, filled with, say crafting recipes, or possibly knock knock jokes.  Whatever.  It’s writing.  And Luc is doing it.

sidebar/

I really think so many kid are pushed to read too soon.  They end up feeling stupid if they aren’t ready, comparing themselves to other kids, getting judged and graded and harassed and pressured.  When does that get fun?  One of the great things about not going to school is being free to learn on one’s own, inner schedule.  No reading-instruction-related wounding!  Because here’s the thing:  I really think that, in an environment loaded with cool written-word-material (books magazines manga subtitles games web etc), when a kid’s brain is ready to read, he or she just will.  They’ll just figure it out.  It isn’t that hard.  Look, we have done zero reading instruction around here beyond spelling out any word on demand and reading anything asked for, and Sophie, 9, now reads books for her own pleasure, while Luc, 7, is texting his friends and googling Minecraft videos.   All this literacy  just happened.  Effortlessly.  Reading instruction was not necessary.

/end sidebar

Back to Minecraft.

CIVICS.  Oh man, the in-depth discussions we have ended up having about types of government, the history of governments (such as the Revolutionary War, the creation of the Constitution, the French Revolution, etc), the utility of laws, punishments to enforce laws, taxes, economics, so many more things…all because of Minecraft.

Because a Minecraft server is a community built out of the people who play there.  There is a sign now in the village that says, “No TNT in the Village!” because it was discovered that uncontrolled TNT might blow up a neighbor’s house…and so the agreement/rule/law was put into place by the kids that there was no TNT to be used in the village…and then someone broke the rule.  What to do?  Was Luc the King of the village (because he built it) or was it a cooperatively-run consensus situation?  Who would enforce the law and how would they do it?  What happens when we break the agreements of the community we live in?  ETC.

I am just scratching the surface here.  Geography, geology, chemistry, art history, all have come up repeatedly in the context of Minecraft.

Seriously, Minecraft is the bomb.

Along these lines, it blows me away when I hear so many moms talking about how they struggle with their kids over Minecraft, fighting over the arbitrary time-limits they set on their kid’s play, and also strange rules I can’t figure out like only playing in creative mode and not survival, or only playing with the monsters turned off, or not identifying with their game character…I mean how much to people need to control their kids, anyway???  No no no.  Don’t struggle with your kid about something they love.  Don’t be a roadblock your kid has to get around to get to what they love.  Embrace and support.  Bring snacks.  Set them up servers.  Spell words for them, over and over (and over and over).  Read articles to learn more.  Find them videos.  Learn to install texture packs.  HELP THEM do what they love.  Do it with them.

That’s what I think, anyway.  The crazy cool learning happens when humans are free to go nuts with the things they love.  Including Minecraft.

I was pondering all of this and then I ran across Mike Rugnetta on PBS’s The Idea Channel talking about Minecraft as a great educational tool.  Apparently I’m not the only one noticing the Minecraft Learning Effect.  I don’t really support using Minecraft to teach an externally created agenda—I prefer to see the learning that happens on its own when the kids are totally engaged and loving what they are doing.  Not that anyone is asking me what I support, haha, but hey, this is my blog right?  But still, some cool stuff in this video, well worth a gander!  I’ll leave you with Mike….

 

Crafters Unite!

a small rant about “screen time”

[Does opening stretches, jogs in place for a moment, deep breathing] Okay!

You know what annoyed me yesterday on the playground?  The term “screen time.”  It’s condescending.  It takes all my projects and all the deep feelings I experience when reading or watching or playing or learning, all my various fun times, and reduces them down to the screen through which I, or my kids (and let’s face it, people are only talking about kids when they use this word) access these things.  Books, novels, photographs, plays, movies, games, art, music, articles, jokes, talks, friends, photographs, comics, from the lowest of the low-brow to the highest in human achievement in the arts, all of that, boiled down to a…screen.  How insulting!  And silly.  As if a person who wears glasses was using “glasses time” whenever she looks out into the world—and “glasses time” should be limited because…actually I’m not clear on why screen time should be limited.  Because it interferes with homework time for school kids?

Oh, but wait, “screen time” also includes all the actively creative things a person can be doing with screen-using devices, not just experiencing the creativity of others: making art, writing novels, editing movies, communicating with others, etc. How can all of those very different activities, that use very different parts of one’s brain, be lumped together as one thing?  Make’s no sense.

Then I ran across this great quote on an unschooling list I read, written by Joyce Fetteroll, whose website is genius resource for unschoolers.  Here is Joyce saying what I’m trying to say, only much better:

“A computer, a hand held game, an iPod, these are doors that lead to a vast world of experiences. Just as your front door leads to a vast world of many different things you can do. Would you refer to all the things your family does by going through your front door — walks, shopping, visiting friends. mowing the lawn, vacations — as “door stuff”?
Stop looking at the door. See the richness that exists beyond the door.”

I read that and said, YES!

And then Sandra Dodd, another genius unschooler said, (paraphrase here) “would all the possible interactions one could have with the written word printed on paper be called “page time?”  Exactly.

Which makes me remember how often I was told as a kid to “get my nose out of that book.”

Why this need to stop people from interacting with the various creations of other people?  If it’s funny cat videos or Halo or Shakespeare, why put caps on exploration?  Why use the fact that someone might be accessing those things through a device with a screen as the excuse?  Rest your eyes a bit, get a little exercise, sure, I need reminders to do those things too, like when I’m really on a writing binge, or powering through some terrific manga, or having a Lord of the Rings marathon or something.  But arbitrary time limits?

And then there is the relationship-damage that comes from imposing limits on people’s curiosity and play…. I mean, if Paul were to say to me, “from now on you will limit your time on anything that has a screen to a cumulative X number of hours a day,” would that make me feel like, wow, our relationship just keeps getting better and better…?

No.

If it seems like one of the kids, or myself, is using tv, or computer, or games out of boredom, or anxiety (I do that), or stress (Paul does that), then I try to think up cool adventures for us to have, things to try, projects to engage in, places to go—I want life to be sparkly and fun around here as much as possible (not boring or anxious or stressful) because that is when learning is happening, when good memories are made, and when relationships prosper.

But honestly, I rarely see Sophie and Luc, who have never had any limits on their pursuits whether screen-using or not—do this.  Paul and I are much more likely.  The kids, on the other hand, see the computer, the tv, the consoles, the art supplies, the toys, the forest, etc, all as a bunch of activities, part of a long list of things they can do.  Activities aren’t segregated out by whether one one uses a screen or a piece of paper or a device or another person or a drive in the car to access them.

And if they are into something, I’m not going to be a road block between them and the thing that is exciting them.  As cruise director of this particular Love Boat, I offer lots of fun things to do so that getting out, getting exercise, seeing the world, hanging with friends, is all part of the day.  But limits…no.

More options.  Not less.

Alright, I think I’m done with this little rant.  Phew.  I’m all sweaty now.  If you’ve read this far, thank you for listening.  Now back to your regularly scheduled blog.

the jerry rigged life

After yesterday’s “poor-me” post I got several emails from people who were worried that the kids and I were wrapping our feet in rags and huddled around a candle flame to keep warm, a la The Little Match Girl (one of THE most depressing stories I ever had the misfortune of reading as a child, landed on it right in the middle of a fairy tale book, damn thing sprung on me like I had just seen a grown man kick a puppy, don’t read that story!).  But hey, listen, we’re fine!  We’re warm!  We have a ginormous propane heater that isn’t nearly as nice as the radiator but it works and plus we have down comforters and silk long underwear!  I just like to complain a lot, its a sickness, we all have our crosses to bear and I am my family’s!  Please don’t worry.  Really, we’re fine.

The red-caped…person? alien? entity?…from Journey.

Besides, we downloaded (after much swearing on my part, who designed this stupid system?!) a game on the ps3, “Journey,” which is very beautiful and interesting and we stayed up Way Too Late playing it, waiting for Paul to get home from his trip.  Which he did, finally, yay!  And he built a fire and now all is right in the yurt once again.

But see, we’ve got one of those held-together-with-spit-and-string housing situations, you know what I mean, it comes of hand-building your house a room at a time with no mortgage, boot-strapping as you go, using recycled materials and used parts and just generally making shit up.  Most houses have a few of those tricky items, like, you have to turn the hot water tap backwards, or the thermostat is broken so you have to guess the temperature, or that door knob sticks

If Kaylee could keep Serenity flying, maybe she could have helped me make the stove work.

Except we’ve got oodles of them, the way the on-demand hot water heater turns off if you don’t have enough water pressure, and the front door knob that has to be twisted the right way, and the sink faucet that is stuck, and wires that have to be switched out to go from gaming system to dvd player, and the way to prime the front burner on the stove, and the special way to hold broken handle on the dish-washer.  It’s hilarious.  Duct tape is our friend.  It’s what I imagine living on the Serenity was probably like in “Firefly.”  Kaylee was the ultimate Make Do with what you’ve got kind of gal.  You set up a work around, you fix it good enough for now.  “For now” being a range from one to ten years.

MacGyver is so cool!

And our water stove (old blog post on this crazy contraption here) is a giant heap of these little tweaks and quirks.  The fan switch is iffy so you have to unplug it to turn it off.  The temperature gauge is blackened over so you just have to know where the numbers used to be.  If you stack the wood inside just so, it will light better because of the draft from the fan hitting it, once the door is closed. The pump will trip the circuit if you don’t prop this piece of metal over it when it rains.  Etc.  I only know a few of them, to be honest.  Paul is, I’m convinced, the only human who can really run the thing, because he’s the guy who put all these work arounds in place. He is the MacGyver of wood stoves.  Without the mullet.

And THAT is why I couldn’t get a fire going.  I was doing something wrong in the intricate web of Making the Heater Work.  I didn’t have the Secret Knowledge.

But its fine.  You just have to have good cheer about these things.  Yes, I believe that some people have houses and cars that work perfectly all the time and they just get someone in to fix everything back to 100% whenever they need to.  But, barring that impossibly shiny fantasy, we smile and do whatever we do to keep the ball rolling and the plates spinning in the air a little longer.  It’s a superpower.  It’s the Kaylee-MacGyver-Paul superpower.

And now I am going to go write that scene (see previous post) or DIE TRYING.

wii games for little kids

Time for….a Wii report!

For a game to work for little kids, it has to have (1) little or no reading. (2) Little or no set-up, tutorials, or long cut-scene conversations.  No boring dialogue (especially if it has to be read), just throw them into the action.  They learn by doing, so make the game itself teach you what you need to know.  And start from few assumptions, everything is new to a little kid.  And (3) little or preferably NO time component, that is, no hurry. Little kids need to take their time.

There are many games that could work for little kids if they just gave an ‘untimed’ option.  Games could be improved for little kids by dropping the dialogue that doesn’t add anything anyway, or by having the game read the important stuff out loud.  I wish game designers knew these things, or implemented them more often.

Many games for the Nintendo DS suffer greatly from the endlessly read, unnecessary dialogue. Many casual games for the PC, and many ipod games depend on timing for their challenge.  Many games for the PS2 have lots of set up, tutorials and cut-scenes that don’t add enough.  Not to mention that the majority of the PS2 games are aimed at an older audience by content, Grand Theft Auto, et al.

So far, however, the Wii is getting these things right, more often than not, for the little kid set.  (By ‘little kids,’ I used to mean younger, but now I mean Sophie, 6, and Luc, 5.  The three things I mention are even more important to 4s and 3s.)

Okay, so, we fired up our Wii for the first time last Friday.  Set up was remarkably easy except that the tangle of cords behind our tv has reached nightmarian proportions, and to get the Wii plugged in, we had to unplug the DVD player.  I need another splitter to add to our collection.

Within a few minutes, we started with the sports games that come with the thing, and let me tell you, it is endlessly surprising to have a physical motion I make out in this world, show up in the virtual world of the game.  Throw a ball out here, and the ball ends up on the screen, knocking something down.  I know this is old news to everyone else, but we tend to wait on our game acquisitions, until the price is not so…pricey.  I love this blurring of the lines between reality and the game.

At one point, I was throwing a ‘frisbee’ to a cyber-dog and enjoying it enough that I felt guilty about ignoring my real dog who was lying patiently by the sofa.  Note to self: teach Henry to catch a frisbee.  I especially enjoyed fencing with Paul, no, actually I enjoyed virtually bashing his Mii character over and over and knocking him into the sea while giggling maniacally. It was, um, therapeutic.  And he’s such a good guy, he let me win over and over.  That’s love.

Next, Lego games.

These sound really stupid to me.  Why would you want dumb-looking blocky lego graphics when it could all be gorgeous?  Well, I still don’t know the answer to this.  But I must admit,  Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga is a terrific game.  Although to really be a saga, I say you need more Vikings.  And what do Legos have to do with Star Wars?  NOTHING.  Except that little kids love both.  And that’s enough.

Very tiny amount of reading in the beginning to get it going, no timed component, super-short cut-scenes, game starts right in the action.  Perfect.

So anyway.  You run around as any character from any of the six movies, including robots, wookies, and Princess Leia in a Lego Brass Bikini, which for some reason, I find endlessly hilarious.

From this….to this.

Or you can make your own character from interchangable parts because, they’re all legos.  You get short little cut scenes straight from the movies, only acted in lego people, and then you’re right into some acutely familiar scene, using the Force, your light saber (when I was seven and saw the first, er, I mean fourth, Star Wars movie, I thought Light Sabers were Life Savers.  I still say it makes perfect sense.), your blaster, whatever.  And you can build stuff with legos, like hover cars, or drive a pod racer…basically anything you can think of from the movies, it’s in there.  This is very cool, a little like having every Star Wars action figure there ever was and playing them around, along with realistic laser blasts and explosions. Excellent.

I especially like waving my light saber, that is, the Wii Remote, and cutting the little lego heads off aliens.  It’s very therapeutic.  I sense a theme.

Anyway, it didn’t take long for the kids to start making up their own stories within the story, playing their little people the way they might play their army dudes or barbies, enacting their own Star Wars related stories.  I think this is very cool, although it drove Paul, a type-A gamer if there ever was one, insane.

At one point he whispered to me, “I’m dying to know what those fucking sparkly blue things on the ground do, but the kids seem totally unconcerned about them.  What the hell?”

“Try to relax.  They’re playing their own way.”

So he says, in a fake curious voice, “Gee, I wonder what those blue sparkly things are?  Maybe you could use your Z button to use The Force on them?  Maybe?”

This divolved into general stalking and growling, muttering things like, “Get the goddamn canisters!”

I decided he needed to get away from it all and proposed a walk, which involved some negotiations with the kids. “You promise to communicate and not fight?” says I.

And Paul calls out, “And use the Z button more often?”

He’s so cute.

I haven’t played Lego Harry Potter, Lego Batman, or Lego Indiana Jones yet, but I’m guessing it’s the same set up, different world.  Based on the success of this one, I imagine we’ll get more Lego games as we go.

Okay, for a break from saving the galaxy from the Dark Side of the Force, we tried Endless Ocean.

The pictures on the box looked great and I loved the idea of scuba diving without hassle and expense of…scuba diving.  But, while the game is very pretty, the kids got bored pretty quickly.  You’re supposed to swim around and look at underwater things, and I was digging it—it was very reminiscent of my Hawaii snorkling experiences, but they started fidgeting.  “Mom, this is boring,” said Sophie.  “No, see, you’re swimming and it’s beautiful, look lets go feed that fish!  This is relaxing.”  “Mom, I don’t want to relax.  I want to blow things up.”  “Okay, okay.”  Too many cut-scenes, too much dialogue about characters we don’t care about, untimed, which is good, but then your missions come in the form of written emails that must be read.  Thumbs down.  No therapeutic scuba-diving for me.

So we exchanged scuba-diving for Boom Blox, through the very generous return policy of GameStop (return any used game within 7 days for full credit to get any other used game, how cool is that?). Basically, you throw balls at piles of towers and knock them down.  Endless variations like exploding blocks!  Vanishing blocks!  Chain reaction blocks!  Etc.!  Surprisingly enjoyable.  Paul got into this one.  The kids mostly wanted to throw balls at the virtual bystanders.  I love how they are so willing to play outside the stated game parameters.

Some reading at the beginning of each screen to find out what the challenge is, so a reader needs to be in the room for quick reading-support.  Untimed.  No cut-scenes. A short tutorial, but we powered through it.  Lots of giggling.

Next, we have A Boy and his Blob, a cute, friendly platformer that Luc liked a lot.

You solve puzzles by turning the blob into various things.  Pretty, 2-D graphics.  Endless lives and frequent check points, so no pressure.  You’re encouraged to experiment.  A friendly relationship between the boy and the blog.  A sweet game.  This one is relaxing to Luc.  Sophie liked this one a lot, too, and they did a fair amount of trading off when one got stuck.  No reading, no tutorial, no cut-scenes, no time limits.  A quiet winner.

And finally, of our first round of games, we have Super Mario Galaxy.

We put this one in for the first time last night.  This is a sort of 3-D platformer where the ‘platforms’ are little tiny planets you run around on.  I played a little but, at first, the constant turning upside down made me nauseous.  Paul got into it though, and it has a fun two player aspect where he and Luc were working together to beat the baddies and gather the stars.  That was sweet.  “You can do it Daddy!” says Luc.  Colorful, inventive, endlessly new.  It looks a bit boring from the outside, somehow, like I can’t understand the urgency, but when I’m actually playing it, the game is extremely compelling, and I got used to the upside down thing so it was less of an issue.  I had to extract myself with a plunger.  Sophie liked this one but couldn’t get much of a turn once Paul got into it.  She decided to paint a gorgeous painting of Henry instead.  A tiny bit of reading at the beginning of a screen, so some reading support needed.  No tutorials, cut-scenes are short, graphics are eye-popping, no timed component.

To sum up, little kids and the Wii: huge win.  Brain challenging puzzles, fun, physical motion, art, stories.  There’s no downside so far.  Except those wiinjuries when you whack your game partner with a flying wii-remote-light-saber-slash.  Watch out for those.

ipod touch games for little kids, part 3

Time for another game of What’s-On-Our-iPod!  First I’ll just say that our ipod touch remains our most beloved game platform, over the ps2, the nintendo DS, and running neck and neck with the PC only it probably wins because it has the added advantage of being mobile.  As I’ve said before, I had no idea when I bought this little thing that I was buying a gaming machine, but gaming turns out to be one of it’s primary uses in our household, for our primary gamers, Luc, almost 5, and Sophie, 6 1/2.  Here are some of the games they are most interested in these days…

(My first list of ipod/iphone games for little kids is here. My second list is here.)(Oh, and I’ve put a link when appsafari lists a certain game, if you want to look at reviews.)


Food Games

These games are so cool.  There is no winning or losing, and some people may not, as a result, even call them games.  But since the kids are clearly playing when they do these little activities, I’m calling them games, so there.  What am I talking about?

More Toast! Cupcakes!  Cakedoodle, More Sundaes! More Salads! Etc.

We have a bunch of these.  Basically, you cook something, you decorate something with a myriad of toppings, and then you eat it.  That’s it.  Sounds like something that would last a few minutes, right?  Well, it turns out that decorating and eating cupcakes or waffles or toast or tacos is endlessly interesting to little people.  These games have stayed in constant usage for months.  Sometimes they want to make the most beautiful (fanciful, gorgeous cake decorating or funny faces made out of vegetables in a salad bowl), or the most seasonally appropriate, or the most silly (sardines on your pancakes, anyone?), or the most outrageous (thirty scoops of ice cream on your Sunday, for example).  When you eat your creation, by touching the screen, there is an audible crunch crunch sound and each touch takes out a bite-shaped chunk.  The kids love this.  Highly recommended.

Plants vs. Zombies.

I’ve written before about our love of this game on the pc.  Well, it’s fun on the ipod touch, too.  This is just a terrific game.  Don’t hesitate.

Angry Birds

This is a funny game, very engrossing, where you fire bird of differing capabilities into a puzzle/maze structure to get some greedy pigs.  Sound silly?  Of course it does.  But the puzzles are cool and the solutions funny and surprising  And the kids, Luc especially, and Paul, come to think of it, can fall into this game for a quite a while, figuring out solutions and strategies.  Great game.

Pottery

This is another process over ‘the win’ game.  Basically, you make pots, that is, you draw clay on a wheel up into whatever shape you want, fire it, and glaze it.  You can see the pots to buy more and different glaze patterns, categorized by location, say, Greek vase patterns vs. Japanese or Celtic or Egyptian, etc.  Or you can keep your pots in a big collection.  No winning or losing, just this semi-meditative pot creation.  Sophie loves this game.

Pocket God

This game makes the kids giggle like maniacs, all the while they are interacting with this world, problem solving and making stuff happen.  In this game, you are an all powerful god to a group of funny little villagers.  You can be benevolent or wrathful, you can do whatever you want.  You can help the little people fish or swim or you can feed them to the sharks and strike them with lightening.  There is a TON of stuff to do on these little islands and the game is very open ended.  Slingshot villagers into the volcano!  Make a passing pelican poop on a villager’s head! Make the villager pick his nose! Cause the fish to be biting and let the villagers all get a good meal, then maybe whip up a tornado or a tsunami and wash it all away.  This may sound destructive and harsh, but, as a previous addict of the ancient game Despair…

…where the only activity was doing terrible things to a bunch of tiny stick figures (oh my god, I loved that game) I understand the appeal of all-powerful destruction.  It’s just pixels, no actual villagers are harmed in the playing of this game, and feeling powerful in a game is a great mood lifter.  It does not translate into destructive behavior, only better jokes.  That’s my experience, from myself and my kids, anyway.  Terrific game.

Some other games that have been in mild rotation lately are Yumsters 2, Ninjatown, and Fling. Some games I’ve mentioned before that are still getting played are Trace, iWriteWords (which recently added numbers, too. Luc loves this game.), and Blowfish.

Have fun playing with your kids!

playable art

We’ve been digging around the internet lately for some new games. Because, holy cow, will this cold weather ever stop? 80% chance of snow AGAIN today. We’ve been hunkered down in the yurt for what seems like forever, and immersing ourselves in the fabulous art of a new game has been a great way to get a vacation from the stir crazies. And by art, I mean ART. Some of these games are simply gorgeous.

Samorost is a regrettably short, rich, quirky, funny, surprising, flash (meaning you play it on the web for free) game. The kids and I spent an enjoyable hour or so playing it yesterday. It’s a point and click adventure game where you’re trying to change the course of one living space-ship, to keep it from plowing into another. More than the plot, however, Samorost is a mysterious and cool world with funny puzzles to solve. I see that there is a Samorost 2. Something for us to look forward to!

Samorost is by the creator of Machinarium, a more recent game that is amazing to look at. Here’s a shot from that one:

The art begs for long looks—which is good, because I tend to stay on one screen for a long time. I wouldn’t say that Machinarium is a great game to play with little kids—too hard—but it is fun to explore with them, walkthrough by one’s side. I am not above judicious use of a good walkthrough! It’s cool to see how the artist’s style carries forward and deepens in the progression of his games. Just as it is with an artist who hangs his work on a gallery wall.

Hanamushi: Flower Insects—This is another gorgeous, creepy and cute, puzzle game, that the kids and I found and spent a goodly time fooling around with. We figured out about half the puzzles on our own, but needed some hints for several of them. The quirky, weird art and creepy, but somehow friendly, characters kept us going until we all were hungry and had to pee. You know you’re engaged when you forget your bodily functions! We just really wanted to see what the next area would look like! There are also some strange-in-a-good-way youtubes from the artist you can watch, as well as an art gallery, but mostly we played the puzzles and talked about the pictures, making up explanations for their odd behavior. A great afternoon. Improved by snacks.



Sushi Cat
—Compared to the previous mentally challenging puzzlers, this game is pure fun. Basically, you drop a gelatinous fat cat from a pair of chopsticks down through a pachinko sort of arrangement of adorable sushi. The cat eats, the cat becomes fatter—what can I tell you? It’s fun! And the incredibly cute, smiling sushi, done in anime style, make me want to eat a couple of trays of the stuff.

Flow —There are a bunch of these games where you are some kind of critter and you go around in a liquid-like medium, eating everything smaller than you, and growing. Tasty Planet is a funny one. Spore is a big ticket one. Flow is a flash version with intriguingly simple, yet beautiful graphics. Fun for a bit, and when you’re done with that one try…

Osmos — This one is a combo eat-and-grow-big game and a puzzler with simply gorgeous graphics and lovely music. The big thing here, though is a complex physics that involves momentum gained through loss of self-substance…that is, the more/faster you go, the smaller you get—and the more you push things with your jet stream. But the smaller you get, the fewer pretty orb-thingies there are that you can eat. Quite a balancing act—it makes you think. Very cool to watch the kids work these screens out. (We got our copy through Steam.)

I’ve noticed that playing puzzlers has been working on our brains. They cultivate a way of thinking, a willingness to problem solve by trying any weird combination of things drawn from what you have on hand—a flexibility in the application of solutions. Sideways thinking. I hear people saying “video games rot your brain,” but I don’t think those people are actually playing them. Maybe they are still thinking of games as they were twenty years ago, pixelated blips. Today’s games teach you how to think. I really believe that.

The other day I was milking the goats and Mochi, our cat, kept bugging the goat in the milking stand—she really wanted some milk—so I asked Sophie if she could get Mochi out of there. Sophie carried Mochi out, but Mo ran back in. Sophie carried Mo out and closed the barn door. Mo darted back in under the barn door. Sophie carried Mo out, closed the barn door and put the feed container in front of the crack. Mo wiggled around it. Sophie opened the feed container, got out a handful of food, and fed it to Mochi, one piece at a time, stalling her until I could finish the milking. It worked! Level cleared! I gave Mochi some fresh milk, and Sophie and I went in to the next screen, I mean, next activity. But I was impressed with how Sophie stayed with it, trying this solution and when that didn’t work, trying another. She never got mad at Mochi, just kept trying a new solution. Maybe if you do it this way? Maybe if I use the [object] upside down? Maybe if I…?

I started my game-life playing a pixelated Jumpman on my Commodore 64.

I loved Jumpman.  I know, I’m a dinosaur!

But games have grown up, too. They’ve become beautiful, when they want to be. Art in every sense of the word.  Art that makes me think.

it’s a thrilllllleeeerrrr, thriller night!

I have written before of our love of the game Plants Vs. Zombies. Well, I recently wiped the drive on our game machine and upgraded to Windows 7, which meant reinstalling, and rediscovering, a bunch of games we hadn’t played in a while. Plants Vs Zombies in particular has gotten a lot of replay this last week. The game really has a great sense of humor. For example, one of the types of zombies that start shambling across your lawn is the Dancer Zombie, instantly recognizable as Michael Jackson. He has the power to summon Backup Dancer Zombies repeatedly, and is, therefore, a particularly dangerous zombie. He even has his own spotlight and theme song.

So, yesterday, I’m bustling about the yurt, Luc is playing the game, and Sophie starts doing a perfect version of Dancer Zombie’s dance, which is, of course, directly from Michael’s famous dance moves in the Thriller video. You know the part with the claw-hands up on each side, the march, the up-on-the-toes move, moonwalking… I was laughing so hard—she has a remarkable physical-mimicry ability. I started doing my own pitiful version and singing, “Thriller! Thriller night!” But she, having only seen the game, didn’t know the song.

What? How could she not know that song? I mean, of course she doesn’t know that song, she’s five years old, for heaven’s sake, but that song, and its video, was so HUGE when I was growing up! I was in the eighth grade and I remember looking at a friend’s copy of the album (albums! made with vinyl!) with the double spread of Michael in that white suit. Whatever happened to him later in his life/career—at that moment in time, I thought he was just terrific.

So, it simply wasn’t possible for Sophie to not know Thriller. “Girl,” I said, “I’ve got something you have to see.”

Ten seconds later, we’re youtubing “Thriller” and there is super-young Michael with the movie-within-a-movie bit, and that crazy red jacket. Sophie says, “Hey, his jacket is just like Dancer Zombie’s jacket!”

“No, dollface. Dancer Zombie’s jacket is just like Michael’s. Michael came first.” I tell her about my pre-teen friends and I singing “Thriller” and “Beat it” and doing the moves, watching the videos, making our hair big, wearing shoulder-pads…those were the days, right?

Then, on the laptop, Vincent starts his monologue and the zombies start crawling out of the graves, and at first it’s hilarious because it’s just like the game. But then, wow, I had forgotten how freaky they looked, how gross the make-up, how piercing the girl’s screams…. woops. Too late now. “Um, is this too scary?”

“No!” says Sophie, but Luc, who had come over to see what this was all about, is looking nervous.

“When this came out,” I said, “everyone was amazed at the make-up, how real and scary it looked. I wonder what it was like to be one of those actors they hired to play a zombie and to get all that weird make-up put on?” And I’m watching them, Luc particularly, to see if he’s getting too spooked. He looks fascinated, but a ten-car pile up is fascinating, too, and maybe you don’t need to see that when you’re four, right?

“But how do they make it look like blood is running out of their mouths?” says Sophie.

“I don’t know, must be something that doesn’t taste too bad to the actor.”

“I bet it’s chocolate,” says Luc, watching, thoughtful. “Chocolate looks like that if you leave it in your mouth until it melts.”

Gross. But true. “They came up with how to put on this zombie make-up and they made rubber bits and glued them onto the actor’s faces to make it look like they have those lumpy faces and they put them in old muddy clothes—”

“It’s all make-up?” says Sophie.

“Yes. The actors look like normal people when they wash it all off.”

Shocked, Luc says, “It washes off?!”

He’s so relieved! “Yep.” I figure, take the scare-power away by revealing the illusion, the man behind the curtain. Also, the pause button helps.

We all watch some more.

Then here comes the zombie who’s arm falls off, remember him? “Look! His arm fell off, just like in the game!” says Sophie.

“If there were zombies in our yard,” says Luc, “I would use a Hypnoshroom on them.” That’s a weapon from the game.

“Good,” says I. “Got to have a zombie contingency plan.”

“The zombies are slow,” says Sophie, “why don’t Michael and the girl run away? Why do they just stand there and wait for the zombies to get them?”

“Good question. You know, I think the idea of zombies is kind of scarier because they’re slow.”

Luc says, “Well, the Michael zombie seems faster. If you hypno the Michael zombie, then all his back-up zombies get hypnoed, too. I’d put them back into their graves with a hypno and then I’d put a zombie watch-dog to guard it.”

But then Michael and the dancers start doing the dance—that famous dance!—and the kids go nuts! Sophie jumps up, copying the moves, Luc is jumping up and down on the bed. “It’s the dance! It’s just like the game!”

Pause button again. This required immediate costumes.

Paul’s tie, an old t-shirt, one shoe (zombie’s always have one shoe), and of course, the claw-hand up on the side dance move.

Luc decided he would be a zombie fighter. Sophie ran to get him a helmet, “Because zombies are only interested in your brains. So that’s the thing you need to protect.”

See his Whammer Hammer? Good for whacking zombies. I love how they work out whatever they are thinking about, by playing it through. A good life strategy.

Sophie says, “I’m trying not to blink because zombies don’t need to blink because they are already dead.”

Luc says, “Sophie, I wack you in slow-motion and you die.” He wacks her. She falls slowly to the floor, and he says, “I hit you and you died. You fall down and stick your tongue out.” Sophie sticks her tongue out.

I turn the video back on and we watch the conclusion where the girl is all scared, but then, psyche! it’s all a dream…or is it?

Luc looks worried again. “Do you think he was really a zombie, Mommy? Or was it a dream?”

“I think the writers of this zombie story meant for it to be unclear. They make you feel all safe when Michael wakes the girl up and everything is normal, but then they scare you again with the freaky yellow eye thing. I guess they thought that was a better ending, more spooky.”

Now he looks thoughtful again. “I don’t think, in that zombie story, that the zombies can get on the roof.” Which they can do in the game.

“I think you’re right.”

“If I was writing a zombie story, I’d have Michael be a normal person in the end.”

How cool that he keeps giving himself power over the zombies! First by being a zombie fighter, then by killing a Sophie-zombie, then by rewriting the story so it ended the way he wanted it to end. “Sounds good,” I say. “I like that ending.”

Sophie says, “I’m not a zombie, but I am going to perform as a zombie on tv. Mom, I need make-up. And chocolate.”

And Luc says, “Can we watch it again?”

ipod touch / iphone games for little kids, part 2

A while ago, back when I first got my ipod touch (how did I ever live without it?), I wrote a post about gaming on the ipod with my kids. (ETA: for part three, go here.) At the time there seemed to be very little out there on games for little people, and few games they could play. As with everything in the ipodverse, this has completely changed. Now there are TONS of games for little kids. Clearly I was not the only one to realize how awesome a platform it is for small folk!

Anyway, I was purusing my google stats the other day and noticed that that old post gets tons of traffic from google! I thought to myself, hey, self, there are other parents out there, trying to sort through the millions of ipod apps. Lets write a follow up! So here you have it, a parent’s quick review of nineteen more games for the ipod/iphone, as enjoyed (or not so much) by a five year old and a three year old. And a thirty eight year old. Ahem.

Get ready, get set, GO!

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Blowfish —For those of you in a hurry, I’ll start with our most popular game (though the rest will not be in any particular order). Blowfish is a very simple game—you hold your finger down on the screen to create, and inflate, a puffer fish. Meanwhile, spiny sea urchins careen off the boundaries of the screen. If you’re inflating a fish when the urchin bounces into it, the fish pops. Ouch! The goal is to cover 70% of the screen with fish. Each level increases in difficulty with the addition of one more bouncing urchin. Both the kids love this game. Heck, I have a good time playing it, too. Maybe it is the funny faces the fish make, or the strategy of containing the bouncing urchins with fish bodies. Who can define fun? Thumbs up.

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Tamagotchi —This game is extremely cute. The art is funny and adorable and engaging and that makes us want to like this game. But the game design leaves something to be desired. Not an intuitive game. And hey, I’m happy to read intro’s and directions, to sit and play with the kids when a game requires it (although most of these games do not), but even reading the instructions, it is really hard to figure out what we’re supposed to do. We spend a fair amount of time poking things and trying to figure out what the games wants of us. Not good. Having said that, the game engaged us for longer than some of the very simple games that I would call a success. It’s definitely got some good parts. For example, the kids think it is hilarious that you can get the tamagotchi to poop (s/he sits holds up a newspaper, and is all happy when s/he finishes, lol). But a game should not be frustrating. Maybe future updates will fix some of this, but for the price, I’d say pass.

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Skyburger and Scoops —These are separate games but very similar: food falls from the sky and you build an increasingly high, wobbly, creation by tilting the ipod to catch it. Burgers or ice cream cones, both are enjoyable, and the tall tale of ice cream cones that reach to the sky or burgers as tall as sky scrapers, is amusing. Both the kids play these games regularly.

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Aquaglobs —This is a fairly intricate puzzle game where you draw connecting lines between like critters, while keeping different critters from running into each other. You lose a life each time there is a collision and the goal is to stay in the game as long as you can, until you’re lost all your lives. It’s too hard for Luc, but Sophie is intrigued by it. We tend to pass game along. Luc starts the screen while it is very easy. He hands it to Sophie who manages for a while. I take over when it gets too hard, so this game works for me, too. Then it gets too hard for me and I die. Game over and we start again. Sophie says this one makes her brain work. Thumbs up.

Now for a theme, three Japanese-styled games.

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iBonsai —Is a lovely ‘game’ where you grow a 3-D bonsai tree in a minute. As it grows, it grows away from wherever you put your finger, so you can direct it and shape it. Once it’s done growing, you can rotate the image to see it from any angle, zooming in and out, and shaking the ipod to make the leaves fall off. Beautiful and intriguing. When we first downloaded this one, Sophie sat and grew trees for about an hour, totally engrossed. I think it took her that long to try all the variables. She’s only picked it up a few times since then. Luc will grow a tree or two and then he’s done. Thumbs up.

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Tanzen —This is the classic tangram puzzle with an elegant interface. Luc likes it a lot. Sophie hasn’t been interested, but then Luc is my puzzle guy. He adores jigsaw puzzles, tangrams, anything where you fit pieces together. He has a bit of trouble with the interface (rotating the pieces is a two fingered maneuver that he can’t quite manage) so we tend to play this one together. I would guess that as his fingers get more agile, he’ll be more interested in this game. Thumbs up if you like tangrams.

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Zenbound —This is a very intriguing game where you wrap string around a wooden carving by rotating it in any direction using two fingers. The string puts paint on the sculpture and the goal is to cover the sculpture 80%. The art is detailed and lovely, and the controls are complex but intuitive. Sophie likes this one. She got up to a level that was too difficult and quit playing, but recently I noticed she was playing it again, starting back at the beginning. The controls are a bit much for Luc. I played this one a bit when we first got it until the spinning of the object when I rotated it made me feel a little nauseous. Paul says I have a delicate constitution, har har.

Now for some drawing programs.

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Trippingfest —This is a very cool drawing program that Luc adores. You can make all kinds of crazy patterns and effects. I recommend clicking through to peek at some screen shots to get the idea of it. Sophie, who likes to draw representational images, doesn’t care for this one as much. It’s more for abstract images, which are more up Luc’s alley. I don’t have much more to say except thumbs up.

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Cartooning for Kids —This was a great app providing two afternoons of step by step drawings of funny cartoon characters. The kids really enjoyed it. Both of them sat down and worked through the whole thing in two sessions, side by side.

Here they are, ipod between them, listening to creator Richard Galbraith’s friendly Aussie voice explaining how to make a funny snail creature.

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And here is Sophie making an angry duck.

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Mr. Galbraith has such a supportive attitude as he takes them one bit at a time into the details of making cartoon faces “come alive.” Luc, who sometimes is quite shy about how his drawings don’t come out as ‘fancy’ as Sophie’s (the cross of the younger sibling is always to compare oneself to someone who is more developed!) was really able to stay with it and do his own drawings, which I found delightful. And I’ve noticed that some of the lessons have stuck—Sophie has been using eyebrow angles and pupil sizes to put certain emotions into her drawings lately, and I think it came straight from this app. It hasn’t gotten any repeat play—I think once they went through it, they were done—but for your entertainment dollar, as terrific bargain! Many thumbs up.

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Spinart —Sophie loves this one, Luc likes it. It’s exactly like the spinning machine that you drip the paint into, except, you know, no paint. Quite fun. You can also draw with splattery paint lines without spinning it. I had a spin art thingy when I was a kid—I don’t remember getting to use it much though. I think we ran out of supplies and didn’t restock or something. Anyway, this is just about an intriguing as the live action version, not quite, but close. Thumbs up.

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Doodle kids —Finally, we have this one, a very simple drawing app that Luc likes to play with pretty regularly. It offers a black screen and when you draw with your finger, you get ‘lines’ that are made out of multi-color shapes. You shake the ipod to get a fresh screen. Luc loves to write his name in glowing shapes. “Look, Mama, L U C!” This game has the distinction of being created by the youngest ipod developer in the world, a nine year old boy in Singapore, a fact the kids like. Makes me wish he had charged .99 cents for his app, instead of offering it for free.

Now for one more theme, so called ‘educational’ games. I usually avoid these because they are often incredibly boring, pedantic, and condescending. But here are three that got some play around here.

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Cutemath —This one has a half dozen little number-related activities. Sophie played it through and has actually returned to it a couple of times. Luc just got interested in the counting games, but isn’t interested in the adding or subtracting activities. Sophie has never been forced to “do math” and so it’s all a game to her. I explained ‘plus’ and ‘minus’ in about one sentence each and showed her on my fingers, and that was enough. She went off and played for awhile, enjoying the animations that go with the math.

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iWritewords —This one has lively graphics inviting you to trace the shapes of letters to form a word. Luc really liked this for a while and still will play it when an update has provided new words to trace. After you trace all the letters, you tilt the ipod to ‘flush’ them down a whirlpool drain. He likes that part. Sophie really learned the letters from Sesame Street, but I would credit this game as the source of Luc picking them up. Thumbs up.

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Dot 2 Dot —For a while Sophie was really into dot-to-dot books, so of course I went to see if there was an app for that. There is. Dot-2-dot is basically a dot-to-dot book with about twenty patterns to solve, and a handful of colors to draw with. Once you’ve drawn them all in, you’re done. For a buck, it’s twenty minutes of entertainment and number recognition.

Okay, enough of the schooly stuff. Back to some games!

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Flyloop—This game has pretty pictures and pretty music and involves drawing a loop around like-colored butterflies. It’s fun. Too hard for Luc (those butterflies are fast!), but Sophie has played and enjoyed.

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Kooleido —This is a cool looking kaleidoscope that creates repeating image patters of your choice (hexagon, rotating, ten point start, etc) out of many beautiful photos. The best part, though, is you can use your own photos. The kids had a ball one afternoon making kaleidoscopes of their own faces. “Look, here’s one with only noses!” You get the idea.

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Topple 2 —This is like tetris with faces on the blocks. Only you don’t have to fit the pieces together, just pile them up. Only watch out, the physics of the game will cause the blocks to slips and fall, tumbling over if you don’t place them carefully. The early levels are a blast for the kids, but after about five or so, it gets too tough. Time to restart. Luc can’t do the block rotate, so he’s less interested, but Sophie gets into it every now and then. Thumbs up.

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Triazzle —This is is a really fun puzzle game, where you match the sides of triangles to each other. When you get them right, the butterflies and frogs animate. It is a beautiful game to look at, and you can dial the puzzles in to the exact level of difficulty you want. Including very simple for kiddos. Sophie loves this game. I get into this game, too, in that way that solving a puzzle can be relaxing and challenging at the same time. Definitely recommended.

Some games we’ve tried that went bust for us are Frogger (too hard, too fast), Wild West Pinball (too hard to figure out when to flip the flippers, too static, maybe), Mazes (if you could draw the solution, this would have worked, but tilting the ball was too hard), iGlow (nice idea, but they were done with it in about a minute), Colorama (too hard to get the colors where you want them), Toki Tori (I’m not sure why this one didn’t catch on, it looks cute enough. Sophie says it was boring.) and Puzzlings (boring, boring).

Well, there you have it! Happy app hunting!  (See more of our ipod touch game reviews here.)

plants vs. zombies eats our brains

The time has come to reveal that lately, here at the yurt, we have a secret identity, a secret purpose, one we take very, very seriously.

We kill zombies.

I know I previously commented on a lack of zombie action here in yurtsville, but all that has changed in the last few weeks. Here is why.

[Dun dun DA!]

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That’s right. Plants vs. Zombies! Betcha didn’t know you could protect your lawn from zombies with horticulture. Well, we’re here to tell you: YOU CAN. And it is crazy fun! Because, when I say that Plants vs. Zombie’s has eaten our brains, I mean that in best possible way. Here look.

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See the pea shooters to the left?     And the zombies approaching from the right? We’ve got a bunch of cone-heads, a few bucket-heads, a scuba zombie, a javelin zombie, that guy in the ice machine is a zomboni. Up top you can see the flag zombie, leading the charge—see his little flag with the brain on it?

Aren’t they adorable?

How can zombies, animated, rotting corpses that want to eat your brains, how can they be adorable? That’s just weird.

But it’s only part of mystery that makes this relatively simple game—the goal is to plant a good defensive line of sunflowers, shooters, chompers, squash, etc. (eventually you collect twenty or thirty different kinds of plants) to stave off wave after wave of zombies—so freaking SATISFYINGLY FUN. Is it watching the zombies fall apart as the trundle across the lawn? Is it watching them turn to blackened ash when you explode them with a good cherry bomb? Is it the ever expanding roster of funny zombies and plants? Because the game is nothing if it isn’t amusing. Amusing CRACK.

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Here is a nighttime scene where you have to use various kinds of mushrooms (no sunlight in the night) to defend the lawn. Looking at this screen, my mouse hand itches to plant! It’s silly, challenging, and makes you forego sleep to keep playing. I’m telling you, Popcap hit the formula for playability just exactly right when they made this game. The kids play, Paul plays, I play, we cheer each other on, shout strategy from the sidelines, groan when the zombies break through our line and eat our brains—its just hours and hours of zombie killing fun! And it impresses the heck out of me that the game’s creators have managed to make something that is equally compelling to the three and five year old kids in the house, as well as their late thirty year old parents. That’s not easy to do! And they knocked it out of the park!

You should have heard us screaming in exultation the other night when the kids and I (I was driving the mouse for this one) beat the Zombot! We were all up dancing with the zombies, let me tell you, singing along with the break away pop hit “There’s a Zombie on your Lawn.”

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Good times! Highly recommended game. And just think how prepared we’ll be when the zombies come for us! I can just see us out there, arranging all the junk into zombie killing traps. Because everyone needs a Zombie Contingency Plan.

You know I’m right.