We’ve Come a Long Way Since Pong…


The video game world has come a long way since Atari came out with Pong, Asteroids, and Frogger—a really long way. And that’s a good  thing. Here are a few of our 21
st century favorites.

Nintendo Wii U
Nintendo has a long history of making big leaps in digital home entertainment. Some were great successes, like the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), and Wii. Others have been just as innovative but never really took off, like the Virtual Boy. But one thing that’s consistent across all of their consoles is innovation and quality. We recently found a 28-year old NES, blew the dust off, plugged it in, and it fired right up. Best of all, the games were still fun!

wii u parents@playNintendo’s latest leap forward in the video game world is the Wii U, which features sharp textures, clear sound, and characters  who look like they’ll hop right out of the screen. Speaking of screens, the Wii U’s controller (officially called the GamePad) sports a large touch-screen in addition to all the usual Wii buttons. The system can be used solo, cooperatively, or competitively (we, of course, prefer the latter two options). Parents and kids will have a blast bonding—and the kids will have a great opportunity to improve their hand -eye and direction-following skills.

wii u parents@playThe Wii U comes in two flavors. The basic is white, has 8GB of internal storage, the GamePad, stylus, Sensor Bar, AC adapters for both the game pad and the console, and as an HDMI cable. Retail is $299. For $50 more, the Deluxe includes all that, plus four times the storage (32GB), a charging cradle, and a number of other accessories.   http://www.nintendo.com/wiiu

 

Nintendo 3DS
nintendo 3ds parents@playDo you remember all those vacation memories growing up that started with a long car ride? These car rides would drag when we were younger, and would often produce angry parents and uppity children. Fast forward a few decades, and now we have kids. For long car rides, Nintendo’s 3DS can’t be beat. Sleek and brightly colored, the 3DS has two screens and a stylus. And now, instead of having to carry around a case of cards, you can download a dizzying array of games directly onto your unit through the Nintendo eShop. http://www.nintendo.com/3ds/downloads/

Several great options include HarmoKnight (from Game Freak, developers of Pokemon) , a music/rhythm action adventure game that follows a little boy named Tempo and his friend Tappy the rabbit as they try to vanquish the evil Gargan and the Noizoids who are invading. Although easy to catch on to, each level gets more complex—and more rewarding when you get through it. $14.99.

Dillon’s Rolling Western: The Last Ranger is another action-adventure game. Using a stylus, players control Dillon, an armadillo who protects a local village of herders from rock monsters, helping him earn better gear, build better towers, and acquire super rock-bashing skills (and in the real world, it can improve kids’ writing and motor skills, perception, and memory.  $10.99.

VTech’s  Innotab 2 Baby
vtech innotab parents@playVTech’s latest addition to their line of tablets offers a lot of features of a full-fledged tablet, but geared toward kids. Brightly colored and is able to take a beating (a really big beating–without so much as a scratch), it has a touch screen, basic sign language dictionary, protective gel skin, and a grow-with-me library of downloads.  Little kids will love the camera, which allows them to make videos of themselves and others around and then show them off. Great example of an educational toy that will grow with a child. $89.00. http://www.vtechkids.com/

vtech innotab parents@play

More Screen Time Could Help Fight Obesity

video games can help reduce obesity

It seems that whenever people talk about obesity, the topic of kids’ screen time comes up. And while it’s certainly possible that there’s a connection between a child’s weight and how much time he or she spends watching TV and playing video games, some fascinating research is finding that technology—as long as it’s the right kind—might also help kids combat obesity and better manage their weight. If you’ve ever played one of the sports games on XBox/Kinect, you know just how sweaty video games can get you. Here are three examples of how this works:
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Excuse Me, Teacher, after We Chew Gum, Can We Play a Video Game?

chewing gum and video games improve memory, concentration, and reaction time

chewing gum and video games improve memory, concentration, and reaction timeLooking for the latest miracle drug? Well, you might not have to go any further than your neighborhood grocery store. And it shouldn’t cost any more than a pack of gum. Oh, wait. That miracle drug actually is gum, according to a team of Japanese researchers. And in Italy, a team of researchers found that dyslexic kids did better on reading tests after they’d played action video games.

[Read more...]

Electronic Toys That Aren’t Video Games

With the constant barrage of ads for video games and game consoles (Xbox, Wii, and the like), it’s sometimes easy to forget that there are a ton of other cool, imagination-capturing electronic toys that don’t have a screen at all—and don’t need one either. Here are a few of our favorites.

slot cars from carerraSlot car sets. If you haven’t driven a slot car since you were about 10, you’re long overdue. Today’s cars are made with digital switches, meaning you can have more than two on a 2-lane track. Our set from Carrera (carrera-toys.com) accommodated up to six, each with its own controller. With digital, the cars move from lane to lane at different switching points allowing for passing and intense action while speeding around the track. Expect to pay around $300 for a good set that includes two cars. But you and your kids will have so much fun that on an hourly basis, the purchase price isn’t all that bad. Be prepared for some serious squabbles over who gets the “best” cars.

Pinball. When bowling became cool again a few years ago, it was only a matter of time before pinball followed. For about $500 you can pick up a vintage game that’s fun to play and makes a great piece of modern art. Games that might have lasted only a few years in a smoky bar (or bowling alley), can last a lifetime in your rec room. Pinballs aren’t maintenance free, but they won’t break you, since the games themselves are simple collections of wires, switches, and cheap bulbs—simple enough to also provide years of lessons in basic circuitry and great joint, dad-kid projects.remote control helicopter from swann

Remote control helicopters. These have been on the market for five or six years and boy, has the technology evolved. The earliest ones had rotors that usually snapped during the first flight, ruining any hope for quality time—and making parents wince every time junior took the controls because of the repair costs. New choppers, like the Military Thunder by Swann (swann.com/helicopters), use multiple flexible rotors that make flying a breeze, right out of the box. Apparently, it’s all about the “twin counter-rotating coaxial rotors.” You’d never find that technology in a real helicopter, but it makes the scale models a lot more stable and increases lift. The only downside that we can see (aside from knocking Ming vases off shelves), is that you get only 5-10 minutes of flight time per charge.

Remote-control boats. If you’re near a toy-boat-friendly lake or pond, remote-control boats, like the Balaenoptera Musculus, are great fun. But be sure to spend time researching battery life. You don’t want to schlepp all the way to the park for a 5-minute boat ride and then have to head home to recharge.

lazer stunt chasersLazer Stunt Chasers (lazerstuntchaser.com). A new—and very unique—entry in the burgeoning remote-control toy market is the Lazer Stunt Chaser, which you can steer by pointing a laser beam where you want the car to go. The cars are two-sided so, with the included flip ramp, they’re up and moving whichever way they land—at scale speeds up to 300 MPH. At a 1:32 scale, Stunt Chasers are a comfortable size. Unfortunately, at about $65, they’re a little pricey, but still a ton of fun for dads and kids.

Electronic Toys That Aren’t Video Games

With the constant barrage of ads for video games and game consoles (Xbox, Wii, and the like), it’s sometimes easy to forget that there are a ton of other cool, imagination-capturing electronic toys that don’t have a screen at all—and don’t need one either. Here are a few of our favorites.

Slot car sets
slot cars from carerraIf you haven’t driven a slot car since you were about 10, you’re long overdue. Today’s cars are made with digital switches, meaning you can have more than two on a 2-lane track. Our set from Carrera (carrera-toys.com) accommodated up to six, each with its own controller. With digital, the cars move from lane to lane at different switching points allowing for passing and intense action while speeding around the track. Expect to pay around $300 for a good set that includes two cars. But you and your kids will have so much fun that on an hourly basis, the purchase price isn’t all that bad. Be prepared for some serious squabbles over who gets the “best” cars.

Pinball
When bowling became cool again a few years ago, it was only a matter of time before pinball followed. For about $500 you can pick up a vintage game that’s fun to play and makes a great piece of modern art. Games that might have lasted only a few years in a smoky bar (or bowling alley), can last a lifetime in your rec room. Pinballs aren’t maintenance free, but they won’t break you, since the games themselves are simple collections of wires, switches, and cheap bulbs—simple enough to also provide years of lessons in basic circuitry and great joint, dad-kid projects.

>Remote control helicopters
remote control helicopter from swannThese have been on the market for five or six years and boy, has the technology evolved. The earliest ones had rotors that usually snapped during the first flight, ruining any hope for quality time—and making parents wince every time junior took the controls because of the repair costs. New choppers, like the Military Thunder by Swann (swann.com/helicopters), use multiple flexible rotors that make flying a breeze, right out of the box. Apparently, it’s all about the “twin counter-rotating coaxial rotors.” You’d never find that technology in a real helicopter, but it makes the scale models a lot more stable and increases lift. The only downside that we can see (aside from knocking Ming vases off shelves), is that you get only 5-10 minutes of flight time per charge.

Remote-control boats
If you’re near a toy-boat-friendly lake or pond, remote-control boats, like the Balaenoptera Musculus, are great fun. But be sure to spend time researching battery life. You don’t want to schlepp all the way to the park for a 5-minute boat ride and then have to head home to recharge.

Lazer Stunt Chasers (lazerstuntchaser.com)
lazer stunt chasersA new—and very unique—entry in the burgeoning remote-control toy market is the Lazer Stunt Chaser, which you can steer by pointing a laser beam where you want the car to go. The cars are two-sided so, with the included flip ramp, they’re up and moving whichever way they land—at scale speeds up to 300 MPH. At a 1:32 scale, Stunt Chasers are a comfortable size. Unfortunately, at about $65, they’re a little pricey, but still a ton of fun for dads and kids.