Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Halloween! A Few Family Friendly Holiday Game Suggestions

A lot of people start to get excited about the holidays when October hits.  Halloween kicks off cooler temperatures with costumes and candy and leads in to a lot of fun with friends, family, and food.  In talking to gamers though, one thing I have realized is not a lot of people know there are seasonal games to be played!  I try to break down what is playable for the entire family below.  A good Halloween game can get kids excited for trick-or-treating without terrifying them out of the fun or boring mom and dad in the process.

What Not to Play

One thing this write up will not suggest is playing an honest to goodness horror game.  The horror genre is alive and well in interactive media.  Classics like Resident Evil and Silent Hill are available on a lot of digital storefronts as are more recent, and terrifying, newcomers like Outlast, Amnesia, Left 4 Dead, and many others.  Just like I would never recommend that my children watch a slasher flick or a jump scare filled cinematic thriller, I would also never recommend they play these games.  I personally have played Left 4 Dead and more action oriented but Halloween appropriate games like Bayonetta and have enjoyed them.  Due to gore, suggestive themes, and a host of other reasons, they just cannot be recommended for kids.  As always, check the ESRB ratings associated with a game and use common sense.  If the game looks terrifying in screenshots and descriptions, then it probably is.

Bayonetta is a wonderful character, but our favorite Umbra Witch is not the best role model for kids.

Directly Connected Versus Loosely Connected Seasonal Games

One thing you cannot get hung up on if you want variety is whether a game is literally connected to Halloween or not.  Some are, so do not fret!  Others can be enjoyed with a Halloween point of view if you let yourself.  I will break up my suggestions based on how close to the season the game is actually tied.

Halloween Games With Direct Connections

Costume Quest 1 & 2 (ESRB Rating: E10+)

Reynold and Everett are definitely ready for trick-or-treat
These games are my personal favorites to play in October.  The original Costume Quest was released in 2010 by developer Double Fine Productions with help from publisher THQ.  THQ has sense gone under, but Midnight City helped publish Costume Quest 2 once Double Fine got the rights to the franchise back.  Costume Quest 2 was widely released Halloween week 2014, which happens to be the week this was written.  I downloaded Costume Quest 2 on Wii U about 3 hours ago, so I do not have all the details on that title yet.  I have completed the original and all of the DLC for it though, so I can speak with some authority on it.

In both games you choose to play as either Wren or Reynold, a sister and brother with their hearts set on trick-or-treating Halloween night, who are constantly finding themselves in bad situations.  With the help of their friends Everett and Lucy, the group tries to uncover plots to rid the neighborhood of candy and rescue one another as trouble keeps finding them.  The primary game mechanics include going door to door in each locale collecting candy or battling baddies you encounter.  The battles are simple, relying on precise timing of button presses, and provide variety through the different costumes you wear.  Costumes include a robot, ninja, pirate, wizard, super hero, eyeball, and candy corn among others.  Costumes also give you special abilities while exploring the world, collecting candy, stamps, and experience points to improve your character.

The games are a blast.  The costumes let you feel empowered and remind you of what Halloween is all about.  The dialog has a sense of innocence about it, really capturing what you expect kids to be thinking about and prioritizing on Halloween night.

Costume Quest is available digitally on PC, Linux, Mac, PS3, and Xbox 360, while the recently released sequel is on PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, and Wii U.

Luigi's Mansion Dark Moon (ESRB Rating: E)

Who ya gonna call? ... Luigi?
Mario's brother gets into some Halloween-centric mischief in the 2013 Nintendo 3DS release Luigi's Mansion Dark Moon.  This is actually a sequel to a Gamecube game.  Developed by Next Level Games and Nintendo, the game sees Luigi partner with an appropriately mad scientist to investigate haunted houses, capturing hostile ghosts and ghouls along the way using what is essentially a modified vacuum cleaner and flashlight.  While ghost nabbing you are also trying to figure out why the ghosts went bonkers in the first place.

Luigi's Mansion Dark Moon is a pretty great game that has seen a lot of success in the sales department.  Each of the ghosts (depicted by specific colors and shapes as seen in the picture above) have certain abilities that Luigi has to overcome with his gadgets before he is able to capture them.  In between action sequence, Luigi gets to, very timidly mind you, investigate hidden corridors, trap chambers, back alleys, and just in general creepy crawly places to find hidden items, keys, and answers.  

There is also a great multi-player mode that allows up to four friends tackle time trials in a scary skyscraper appropriately named the ScareScraper.  The best part is you only need one copy of the game to play local multi-player thanks to the game's download play feature.  Try it with a friend to get a feel for the mechanics if you are skeptical about purchasing the game yourself.

Luigi's Mansion Dark Moon is available on Nintendo 3DS via retail release or digitally on Nintendo eShop.

Games with Loose Ties to Halloween

LEGO (various games mostly rated E to E10+)

LEGO games? Here? Why not!

LEGO games are ubiquitous these days.  Every platform has them, and for the most part they are solid experiences.  The key component that connects this franchise to Halloween is the act of dressing up your character or swapping between different characters.  Want to be a super hero?  Try LEGO Marvel or LEGO Batman games.  How about a wizard in a fantasy world?  LEGO Harry Potter and LEGO The Hobbit games have you covered.  What about a construction worker or police officer or emergency responder?  LEGO City Undercover and The LEGO Movie The Video Game have you covered.

Pop in a multi-player LEGO game with your family Halloween week and try to find as many costumers as possible.  Switch characters a lot, and have fun with the custom character creator.  I recommend a LEGO Batman title if you want to cycle through Batman and Robin's many suits or LEGO City Undercover if you want to collect a ton of monster themed costumes like Werewolf or Frankenstein from LEGO's Monster Fighters brand.

Mario (various games mostly rated E)

Boo and Dry Bones give every Mario title a little Halloween spice
Mario gets a mention on the list not because he has a Halloween focused game like his brother, but instead because some of his enemies are Halloween focused.  From legacy Nintendo consoles to modern day, Boo, Dry Bones, and even masked Shy Guys have been giving Mario and friends fits.  Boos are typically featured in haunted house levels of Mario's platform outings, while Dry Bones hang out in molten lava boss stages.  Shy Guy is a more common enemy in regular stages (not pictured above).  These characters have all appeared in the Mario Kart franchise as well.

If you have a Mario game around, it is never a bad time to give it a go with your family.  On Halloween try to give it an appropriate theme by collecting all the coins or secrets on the Boo levels or using Shy Guy or Dry Bones as your racer in a Mario Kart title.

Wrap Up

Admittedly I have not played every family friendly game with a Halloween tilt.  Tales from Space: Mutant Blobs Attack! is a game from Drinkbox Studios that looks like it could fit the bill.  The same can be said for A Boy and His Blob from WayForward.  You could feasibly try answering with only Halloween themed solutions in a Scribblenauts game from 5th Cell as well.  Whatever you decide to play make sure it does not take you away from the fun of Halloween.  Enjoy trick-or-treating or your costume party safely and save some candy for your next family gaming session!

- Scott

Update: Nintendo had the same idea that I had and posted this short video with some great Halloween themed levels.  The video includes several games I mentioned above but focuses on specific elements of the games that make them Halloween related.

Not to be outdone, The Pokémon Company also posted a reminder to Facebook that there are Ghost type Pokémon in all of their games. Try to catch them all, or form a team of only Ghost types and go on an adventure!

No comments:

Post a Comment