Looking back at my top 10 games of the year (www.mercurynews.com/video-games), I noticed there weren't many kids' games. Perhaps that's because gamers have more mature tastes or that many of the best titles tackled harsher themes such as the zombie apocalypse. Maybe tablets are where children's games now thrive.
But the land of consoles is still king, and there are some notable games for younger gamers on modern systems. I took a look at four games for the younger set. These releases are more than cheap cash-ins. They take creative tacks to connect with children.
"Wonderbook: Book of Spells": J.K. Rowling fans will flock to this title, though it's more like a toy than a game. The PlayStation 3 title requires a Move controller, PlayStation Eye and a peripheral called a Wonderbook. All these devices work together to create an augmented reality experience where players can learn to cast wizarding spells.
All the magic happens on the screen as a player's controller turns to a wand, and the Wonderbook, filled with odd symbols, comes alive. Players enter magical environments, where they'll have to cast Lumos to light a darkened room or use Wingardium Leviosa to lift objects around the book. To top it all off, it connects to Rowling's Pottermore website. It takes some work to set up, but it's the closest thing fans can get to attending Hogwarts. (PlayStation 3, starting at $44.95,
"Skylanders Giants": Activision had a surprise hit with the original "Skylanders," but the follow-up is a more polished and beautiful game. The innovative title uses a peripheral called a Portal, and players use figurines to zap the heroes into the world of "Skylanders Giants."
Older toys will work with the new entry, but the best feature is that the progress and items that fans attained in the original adventure will carry over to this one. They can even bring a toy to a friend's house and play as the same hero with the same gear.
As for the gameplay itself, "Skylanders Giants" is kid-friendly, with enough complexity to keep them playing. Keep in mind, though, that these games encourage fans to buy additional figurines to access new heroes and secrets. So players will be spending more beyond the starter set if they get into it. (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, Wii U, Nintendo 3DS, $79.99, Rated: Everyone 10+)
"Nat Geo TV: America the Wild": This is more of an educational take on video games. Players watch a documentary about bears, wolverines or mountain lions, and activities are interspersed in the footage.
It makes the experience more interactive as players learn from naturalists and are then tested on it. This is done via the Kinect, so viewers won't have a control in hand. They'll shout commands to snap photos or scream when they spot animal tracks. Tossed in to the program are a few minigames that relate to the show's topic, but they are, in fact, silly diversions. (Xbox 360, $29.99, Rated: Everyone 10+)
"Adventure Time: Hey Ice King! Why'd You Steal Our Garbage?!!": This is the most conventional of the offerings, but it's based on the Cartoon Network show of the same name. It features old-school gameplay that will remind older fans of "The Legend of Zelda II," and that works perfectly with the franchise because it is steeped in video-game culture.
Because it's reminiscent of a 1980s NES game, it's easy enough to play for the younger set. For fans, Finn and Jake's adventure will hit all the right spots. They'll get a better idea of the Land of Ooo as they try to figure out why one of their nemeses took their trash. (Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo DS, $29.95, Rated: Everyone 10+)