Gaming in a Winter Wonderland

A guide to the best video games of 2012

By Adam Shaw

Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) — As parents flock to the stores to search for those longed-for gifts that will make their little tot’s eyes light up on Christmas morn, the neighborhood video game shop can seem like an alien and confusing environment.

(CNS photo illustration)

(CNS photo illustration)

No need to fear. For those who freeze at the sight of a Gamestop or don’t know their Wii U from their Xbox, here is Catholic News Service’s guide to the year’s best video games for children and adolescents:

“Kid Icarus: Uprising” (Nintendo)

In only his third outing since his franchise’s debut in 1986, the sprightly angelic protagonist of the title, also known as Pit, serves Palutena, the goddess of light. Pit aids Palutena in her struggle, on behalf of the forces of good, against the evil Medusa and the troops of the underworld. Though the entire game is replete with references to Greek mythology, the cartoonish, jocular way in which this material is presented signals that it need not be taken seriously. In fact, once the mythological patina is stripped away, many positive messages for youngsters emerge. These include the sanctity of life, the beauty of faith and devotion, and the rejection of a hard-line environmentalist attitude that sees humanity’s presence on the Earth as a scourge instead of a blessing. Predictably for a Nintendo product, the presentation is flawless, with colorful sweeping landscapes and a delightful soundtrack. In design terms, however, the title is marred by what must be one of the most burdensome, least serviceable control mechanisms in gaming history. Frequent action violence, pagan mythological themes, a few instances of mild sexual and scatological humor. Available for Nintendo 3DS. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Entertainment Software Rating Board rating is E10+ — Everyone 10 and older.

“The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword” (Nintendo)

A mostly worthy — and enjoyable — addition to the celebrated franchise that dates back 25-plus years. In this origin story, the recurring protagonist Link embarks on his earliest journey yet, according to the series’ chronology, to save the perpetually imperiled Princess Zelda after she’s kidnapped by an evil self-proclaimed Demon Lord. As with previous installments, the story draws extensively on a made-up but fairly complex polytheistic mythology. Some parents may see potential harm in this, others may appreciate various characters’ recognition that they need help from a power beyond themselves — however imperfectly understood. Together with an increase in the vividness of the combat, however, these metaphysical elements make the game unsuitable for the youngest players. Scenes of violence, pagan overtones. Available for Nintendo Wii. The Catholic News Service classification is A-II — adults and adolescents. The Entertainment Software Ratings Board rating is E-10 — for ages 10 and up.

“Lego Batman 2: DC Super Heroes” (Warner Bros, Interactive Entertainment)

In this sequel to 2008’s “Lego Batman: the Videogame,” the popular Danish children’s toy and the ubiquitous Caped Crusader reunite to produce a fun-filled romp in the DC universe. The enjoyable puzzle-based gameplay benefits from an efficient and humorous story. When two infamous villains team up in order to wreak havoc on the perpetually bullied Gotham City, the dynamic duo must respond, aided by a collection of their ultra-powered friends. Despite bouts of repetitive fisticuffs, the solid action, mixed with a surprising amount of extra content and a multiplayer mode allowing gamers to cooperate with each other, all combine to make this a fresh addition to the dual dynasty — one that will be especially welcomed by any family out to play games together. Cartoon action violence and some frightening situations. Available for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Wii, PlayStation Vita, Nintendo DS and Mac OS X. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. The Entertainment Software Rating Board rating is E10+ — everyone 10 and older.

“Lumines Electronic Symphony” (Ubisoft)

Simple yet in-depth “Tetris”-like puzzle game — made exclusively for the PlayStation Vita — that challenges players to create single-colored squares from multicolored falling blocks before the screen fills up. Although its trendy styles and banging beats are clearly aimed at adults, this latest iteration of the “Lumines” franchise contains absolutely nothing that would prevent parents from comfortably including it in their children’s consoles. Too demanding, perhaps, for the very young, the gameplay has that ineffable “just one more try” aspect to it that so many titles seek, while the vibrant graphics glow with charm. Altogether, an extraordinary addition to the roster of contemporary puzzle games. Available on PlayStation Vita. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. The Entertainment Software Ratings Board rating is E — Everyone.

“Super Mario 3D Land” (Nintendo)

The iconic Italian plumber is back for another polished installment of the vastly successful “Mario” series in which the titular character must clamber through fantasy worlds in order to rescue his beloved Princess Peach from the clutches of his lizard nemesis, Bowser. The 3-D feature adds a new depth to the familiar run-and-jump platforming fare that has been a staple of the series since its inception in the 1980s. Taking to heart the proverb “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” the game’s developers have crafted this newest iteration to improve on what their franchise has always done well, and the result involves intuitive controls, stunning environments, and thoroughly addictive action. Family-friendly, and suitable for virtually all abilities thanks to a gentle learning curve, this is another wholesome outing that can be recommended for young and old alike. Mild cartoon violence. Available on Nintendo 3DS. The Catholic News Service classification is A-I — general patronage. The Entertainment Software Ratings Board rating is E — Everyone.

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Shaw is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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