As always, my other top-ten games lists were chock full of the violent fare that I enjoy. But family games are big in my house too, so here’s my list of the best family games of 2008:
1. Wii Fit (Nintendo Wii) Nintendo. May 2008. Yes, this game made multiple lists, but for a good reason. It’s fun. Itgot gamers off their couches and running around in circles, jumping up and down, and trying to keep their balance. Talk about a great social achievement. I love logging in and measuring just how lousy my posture is and how far short of my weight-loss goals I fall. The game came with the Wii Balance Board, an ingenious device that is nothing more than a scale with a lot of springs under it. It can measure which way you lean and thereby capture your movements in a way that no controller can. The device is flexible enough to be used for everything from yoga to step aerobics. With this innovation, Nintendo redefined video games and pioneered a new category of fitness games — an area littered with boring titles. Nintendo makes exercise fun by getting players to block soccer balls, walk a tightrope and play with a Hula Hoop. It’s no wonder that Wii Fit is on its way toward selling 10 million copies.
2. Mario Kart Wii (Nintendo Wii) Nintendo. April 2008. I don’t have a lot of sophisticated commentary about this Nintendo game featuring classic characters. It’s just a lot of fun to go racing round zany tracks, tossing banana peels or turtle shells for the other racers to trip over. In any given race, you can hear lots of cheering because there are so many little power boosts and tricks in the terrain that force frequent changes in the leader rankings. The tracks are where the game gets creative. You can race in the sky, inside volcanoes and underwater. The game makes use of the little plastic Wii Wheel peripheral, which makes it easier to drive with the Wii controller. You can play up to 12 other players and battle online using the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection.
3. Little Big Planet (PlayStation 3) Sony/Media Molecule. Sony invested heavily in this creative platform game. It’s a two-dimensional side scroller, but with a highly realistic animation style that makes it seem you are looking at Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood come to life. You team up with a group of “Sack Boy” hackey sack creatures who solve puzzles together. They ride on skate boards, somersault and do other circus-like tricks to get past obstacles. It’s also highly customizable. You can add your own content so that it shows up in the game.
4. Spore (PC) Electronic Arts/Maxis. September 2008. The most-hyped game of all time didn’t live up to the highest expectations and angered some who hated its limited digital-rights management policy. But Spore was still a fascinating and original concept. You create your own creatures and play with them on a scale that ranges from a single-cell creature to intergalactic combat. The meat of the game is in the creature, tribal and galaxy levels. You can upload videos of your critter creations to YouTube and post your creatures to the Sporepedia. In turn, they are used to populate your own single-player world and compete against a rapidly-evolving enemy. Spore has sold millions of units, but it doesn’t look like it will match its spiritual predecessor, The Sims, which has topped 100 million sold.
5. Wii Music (Nintendo Wii) Nintendo. Wii Music promised to take the burgeoning music genre to a higher level. It did so by introducing the user into active creation of music. While other games let you play back somebody else’s hit, you create your own music in this game. You use familiar melodies from Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to Every Breath You Take, and then make them your own, on your own or in a band. The Wii controller becomes your instrument. You swing the controller and its Nunchuk like drum sticks to play the drums. You strum an air guitar to play a guitar, and turn the remote sideways to play a flute. There are dozens of instruments to master, and the settings make a difference in how things sound. You can, for instance, record in an outerspace venue that creates an echo. Making music is easy. But doing it well is the challenge. Once you record a song, you can make an album cover for it and share it with others via the web.
6. Rolando (iPhone) Ngmoco/Hand Circus, December 2008. The iPhone isn’t the greatest gaming device, considering there are no buttons to mash. But its multi-touch screen and tilt-sensitive accelerometer make for some unique game mechanics. Ngmoco has exploited them in Rolando, in which you tilt the screen to make your little Rolando balls move where you want them to go. It’s a lot like Loco Roco, but the control schemes are different. You can select multiple Rolandos at once to get through a particular puzzle, or tap to use just one of them. You roll them one at a time or as bunch into different landscapes to solve puzzles and keep them moving.
7. Bloons (PC) Ninja Kiwi. This is an addictive Flash game for the web. Like Solitaire, it’s a wonderful way to while away the minutes when you’re bored. You use a little monkey to throw darts at balloons, trying to pop as many as you can. You can unlock as many as 50 different levels. Taking out many balloons with one shot is kind of an art. Who would have thought that popping balloons with darts could be this fun? This title came out as the most popular Flash game of 2008, according to a list compiled by game ad firm Mochi Media. It’s fairly primitive in terms of its interface, but the price is right — free — considering how many hours people have put into it.
8. Lips (Xbox 360) Microsoft/Microsoft Game Studios. This is a karaoke game set to some of the most popular music videos. It’s part of Microsoft’s attempt to come up with a game that can broaden the demographic reach of the Xbox 360. The Microsoft console is a hardcore gamer’s box that has reached 25 million. But to get beyond that, Microsoft needs to pull in the gamers who enjoy the social nature of the Wii. This party game is surprisingly good, considering how it’s turned my youngsters into singers, when few other animated karaoke games have succeeded. Your score is measured based on how well the sounds you make into the microphone are synched with the words that appear on screen. It’s the quality of the videos, from Duffy singing “Mercy” to Alicia Keyes belting out “No One” that keeps gamers crooning. You can also download additional songs when you run through the 40 included with the game. With the motion-sensitive microphone, you can shake it to change songs. It compares well to Sony’s SingStar series for the PS 3 and the PS 2.
9. Mario and Sonic at the Olympics (NIntendo Wii) Sega. This title from earlier in the year made wonderful use of the Wii controller to get players active to simulate a variety of Olympic sports. You can play familiar characters or insert your own Mii avatars into the game to play the various sports. Much like Wii Fit, you have to exercise to get through a lot of the games. After a session playing this game, my kids are usually winded. Their favorites include jumping on a trampoline, swimming and running races. All of them involve shaking the Wii controller as much as you can. Score another point in the cause of getting gamers off their couches and actively involved in something healthy.
10. World of Goo (Nintendo Wii, WiiWare downloadable game, PC). 2D Boy. This game is one of the indie hits of the year. It’s a puzzle game with a lot of physics-based play. You do something and it causes a chain reaction of events, helping you solve puzzles and build things. Your construction tools are little balls of goo that you use to build towers to bridge chasms and what not. The goo balls are escaping from the oppressive World of Goo Corp. The graphics are cute and the music is creative. It scored the top prize at last year’s Independent Game Festival and is the surprise hit of the year.
Please check out our link to VentureBeat’s inaugural game conference, GamesBeat 09, on March 24.
Also, see our top 20 game stories of 2008.