Until your kids reach high school (and let’s admit it, even for those of us who are kids at heart and long beyond high school), the real purpose of the family computer is to play games. Sure, it’s nice to have the Internet available for research on a school paper … but when it’s all said and done, is there anything kids like more than to get all involved in a computer game?
The problem is cost. Looking at an aisle of computer games would make most people run away screaming. If that first initial shock doesn’t dissuade you, then looking at the system requirements might. Most of the games available today are so system-intensive that you have to have the best sound card, video card, and RAM just to play a game. Which, of course, costs even more money.
One alternative to the high-cost computer game are online games. Most of these, though, are just demo versions that only let you play for a specified amount of time or to a specific level before asking you to shell out some money to continue. And if you’re anything like me, you probably do it – after all, these games are a fraction of the cost, and it was fun enough to hook me during the demo. Within hours or – in the rare case – days of my shiny new digital purchase, though, I no longer open the thing. It’s just not fun anymore.
If there’s one good thing to be said about my obsession with computer games, it’s this: I’ve learned where to get some of the best games out there. You know – the games that challenge just enough that you have to continue on. The ones with cool little bells and whistles that make the purchase worth it – and that are actually appropriate for my child to play, or at least sit by my side and root me through the play.
Each of these games are also ready to download, and won’t cost you a full twenty bucks – each of the games below cost $19.95 as I write this. Not only can you blame me (I can take it) if you don’t like the game, but you’ve spent a fraction of what you would have on a game from the store.
PopCap Games comes out with some of the least system-intensive software out there, and their games are actually entertaining. One of the first games I ever downloaded, it’s also the longest-running. Although I’ve beaten the game (which isn’t as easy as you’d think), my 6-yr-old daughter continues to play and love it.
The object of Insaniquarium is to advance through levels (three levels in each tank) by growing fish and collecting the coins they drop. By collecting the coins, you’re able to purchase more fish, better food, and pieces of an egg. To finish a level, you must purchase all three pieces of an egg – and you’ve got to defend your tank against alien invaders.
Insaniquarium’s graphics are lively and bright, but won’t slow your computer down. You can adjust the levels of music and sound effects, create a number of different players (each of your kids can play their “own” game), and save your progress. Included in the game are two types of play – the levels, and a “timed” version which is more intensive but doesn’t help you progress through levels. There is also a virtual tank where players can grow special fish, and this virtual tank can be used as a screensaver.
Anyone that can maneuver a mouse and learn where to grab food and fish can easily play this game. My daughter started playing it when she wasn’t quite five, and caught on right away. So it’s kid-friendly, but it’s entertaining enough for adults as well.
You can download Insaniquarium from Flying Bear Entertainment at http://www.popcap.com/launchpage.php?theGame=insaniquarium&src=flyingbear. The game will open with a nag screen that asks if you’d like to purchase – you can decide for yourself after playing the demo.
Yup, I must admit that I seem to have an affinity for fish games … but this one couldn’t be more different from Insaniquarium.
Produced by Big Fish Games and available at their site, http://www.bigfishgames.com/downloads/fishtycoon/index.html?src=bfg12y09eng1fty&gclid=CIq4-bL_t4YCFVA5Igod-DQ_Ow, this game requires a really good grip on reading before it can be played. In other words, I don’t recommend it for kids below 3rd grade because some of the terms are beyond younger children.
The object of Fish Tycoon is to breed specialty fish. You are playing as the owner of a fish store, and must figure out what breeds of fish will produce the genetic qualities of rare fish – which earn you a lot more money. With your money, you are able to purchase better food, tank decorations, research fish habitats, research advertising, purchase fish medications, and purchase fish eggs.
With the rare fish you breed, you run across several varieties of “magic” fish. Once you have bred all 7 magic fish, you win the game … however, in the three months I’ve happily played, I’ve yet to discover all of them.
Fish Tycoon runs in real-time, so your fish age slowly and you can run the game in the background, feeding them once or twice a day and checking on their progress.
Download the demo at Big Fish Games and you can purchase it – if you like it – right from the download version. If you do that, any progress you’ve made is automatically saved.
So Insaniquarium is perfect for the youngest of kids, and Fish Tycoon for older kids through adults. Fate is a game that you probably won’t want to let children younger than fourteen or so play – it does have some understated violence.
The object of Fate is to progress through levels of a dungeon in a magic world that resembles nothing so much as a digital Dungeons & Dragons, complete with magical creatures like Wyvern, Swamp Sorceresses, Orcs, and Imps. Your goal is to complete quests for citizens of the town, which involve navigating the maze-like levels of the dungeon, defending yourself and your pet against the magical creatures out to get you, and picking up a variety of objects (magical and ordinary) which you can turn around and sell.
When you start the game, you choose what gender you want to play as and how you want your character to look. You also get to choose the type of sidekick you want to drag along – a dog or a cat. As you progress, you get to learn magical spells, fish in the underground dungeon pools, amass a series of protective items (everything from magically enhanced jewelry to helmets and what weapons you want to carry), and get some cool titles along the way. I’m currently “Lolaness the Respected” – woohoo!
Download and try out the demo of Fate from WildTangent’s site, www.playfate.com. They’ve even loaded the page with some great videos of the game, a screenshot gallery, and more. If you get hooked, you can purchase the game right from the download.