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Family-friendly video game gift guide

Published: Saturday, Aug. 1 2015 4:07 a.m. MDT

"Transformers Prime" (Activision)

SALT LAKE CITY — Video games have long been a hot item for holiday gift giving. But the recent debut of Nintendo’s new Wii U console — combined with new releases from popular game franchises such as "Call of Duty," "FIFA Soccer," "Halo," "Just Dance" and "Madden NFL" — have collectively injected new enthusiasm into an already-popular medium.

We’ve been thinking about gift giving and what might be a hit on your list, from the just-introduced Wii U to new titles on the other gaming consoles. This year, we’re focusing our video game gift guide on family-friendly titles, rated E (for everyone), E+ (10 and up) and T, for teens.

We didn't play all the consoles and games, but we played a lot of them. And we scoured the store shelves and online reviews to help round out our list — a grouping that’s arranged alphabetically within each rating category, not by preference.

"Just Dance 4" (Ubisoft)

We’re not recommending the games for mature audiences in this list, but at the end of our guide, we will include a little guidance on how some of the most popular M titles earned that rating, to help parents decide whether they want to put one in a Christmas stocking. “Mature” could mean blood, violence, sex or combinations of the above.

The hardware

Wii U by Nintendo: The Nov. 18 release of the Wii U precipitated a rare phenomenon indeed. Despite being a Sunday morning in the middle of winter, zealous gamers waited in line at Walmarts and outside Targets to get their hands on Nintendo’s long-awaited new gaming platform.

Nintendo launched a 23-title lineup for the Wii U, which features a touch-screen GamePad controller and high-definition graphics. Some of those titles are already available and others will come out between now and the end of March. Besides regular video gaming, the system can download video games if it’s connected to the Internet or players can join Miiverse and interact with other gamers online.

"Angry Birds" (Activision)

For those who wonder what’s being said about Wii U, here’s the Washington Post take: “The new console — Nintendo’s first in six years — has … potential,” the newspaper said. “But it’s not living up to it quite yet. … Some of the console’s most compelling features — letting users access streaming video services, comment on television programs and see supplementary information while watching TV — have yet to see the light of day. In some ways, any review of the console now is premature.”

The Wall Street Journal’s Digits blog reported, “The reaction so far among reviewers for the Wii U seems positive, but has a bit of a ‘wait and see’ vibe. The software isn’t fully baked yet and while there’s a decent line-up of games, all the pieces aren’t quite there, according to some reviewers.”

"NBA 2K13" (2K Sports)

Expect to pay a premium price in order to obtain a Wii U console this holiday season. Most major retailers can’t keep the Wii U basic console (MSRP: $299) or deluxe console (MSRP: $399) in stock, so you can anticipate paying a 15-20 percent premium above the retail price to obtain a Wii U from a third-party seller.

If you already own the older Wii, hold onto your controllers, accessories and games, as they are compatible with the new Wii U.

Xbox Kinect: The obsolescence of the old Wii console, limited supply of newer Wii U systems and lower prices for the Microsoft Xbox 360 console combine to anoint XBox’s Kinect motion-sensing technology as the best value for get-out-of-your-chair gaming. Depending on the day, a Kinect bundle (including an Xbox 360 console and a couple games) can be purchased for as low as $249 on the Amazon or Microsoft websites.

"Angry Birds Trilogy" (Activision)

As you make your list and check it twice, here are some games to consider.

E for everyone

"E for Angry Birds Trilogy" (Activision), Xbox 360, PS3, 3DS. The three cellphone games that made the catapult-friendly fowl famous — "Angry Birds," "Angry Birds Seasons" and "Angry Birds Rio" — have been spruced up for gaming consoles with higher resolution and jazzier graphics. In the Star Wars version, you can even use a light saber. May the force be with you.

"Brave" (Disney Interactive), Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, PC, DS. Scottish princess Merida is no swooning damsel. This heroine — Pixar’s first female lead — is spunky and confident as you battle her way to break a curse that has turned her mom into a bear. It’s third-person action with a chance to earn coins, acquire weapons and use your wits to put things right.

"Sonic All Stars Racing Transformed" (Sega)

"Disney Epic Mickey 2: The Power of 2" (Disney Interactive), Xbox 360, PS3, WiiU, Wii, PC, PSP, 3DS. Whereas the 2010 hit “Epic Mickey” was released exclusively to the Nintendo Wii, this new sequel expands its reach to include other platforms such as Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and Sony’s PlayStation 3. The gameplay here is similar to that of “Epic Mickey” — you throw a lot of paint at an imaginary world full of Disney relics — except this time players can choose between controlling Mickey Mouse or Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Walt Disney’s first-ever star cartoon character.

"FIFA Soccer 13" (Electronic Arts) Xbox 360, PS3, WiiU, Wii, PSP, 3DS, PS Vita. Gone is the “FIFA 12” cover that featured three players, replaced instead by one man’s visage: diminutive Argentine striker Lionel Messi from the club team FC Barcelona. (In fact, this is the first time since 2003 that the North American cover of FIFA Soccer features only one player.) G4 TV’s Miguel Concepcion wrote, “By playing it safe, FIFA Soccer 13 lacks innovation but this latest installment has helped keep the series at the forefront of video realism that you’re pretty darn close to watching a live match, which is something you can’t say about other sporting video games.”

"FIFA Soccer 13" (Electronic Arts)

"Just Dance: Disney Party" (Ubisoft), Xbox 360, Wii. The backdrop is the sound of 25 popular Disney songs, from Mary Poppins’ "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" to A.N.T. Farm’s “Calling All the Monsters” and “Everything Is Not as It Seems” from Wizards of Waverly Place. As many as four players can dance while the lyrics work their way across the screen in a good time that’s aerobic and charming simultaneously.

"Madden NFL 13" (Electronic Arts) Xbox 360, PS3, WiiU, Wii, PS Vita. Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson graces the cover of the annual release from the Madden franchise, which celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2012. USA Today’s Brett Molina reported, “The biggest change on the field is with tackling, highlighted by new physics technology called the Infinity Engine, which is supposed to generate more realistic impacts between players when contact is made. For the most part, it works well.”

"Brave" (Disney Interactive)

"NBA 2K13" (2K Sports), Xbox 360, PS3, WiiU, Wii, PC, PSP. On this latest edition of the NBA 2K series, the “classic teams” of yesteryear are automatically unlocked (past NBA 2K iterations required completion of historical challenges). So right out of the box, "NBA 2K13" allows players to (virtually) settle the debate over which U.S. men’s basketball Olympic squad is the best ever: the 1992 “Dream Team” featuring Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, or the 2012 squad led by Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. Blake Griffin, Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose are featured on the game’s cover.

"NCAA Football 13" (Electronic Arts), Xbox 360, PS3. The new Heisman Challenge feature allows players to try and re-create the glory seasons of 10 past Heisman winners — including Robert Griffin III (2011) and Barry Sanders (1988), the two players on the game’s cover.

"Disney Epic Mickey 2" (Disney Interactive)

"New Super Mario Bros. U" (Nintendo), WiiU. When Bowser interrupts dinner at Princess Peach’s castle, things are going to get tricky. This adventure can be played by a single player or in multiplayer mode. Familiar power-ups are back, but there’s something new, as well: “Super acorn” is a flying squirrel suit that enables gliding.This side-scrolling adventure has gotten some great reviews, especially for the graphics.

"New Super Mario Bros. 2," "Paper Mario: Sticker Star," "Pokemon Black Version 2," "Pokemon White Version 2" (Nintendo), 3DS. These newer releases — two each from the Super Mario and Pokemon franchises — combine to comprise some of the fastest-selling titles for Nintendo’s portable 3DS system. The entire quartet was produced in-house by Nintendo; the Pokemon games are also available for older DS devices.

"Epic Mickey" (Disney Interactive)

Everyone 10 plus

"Just Dance 4" (Ubisoft), Xbox 360, PS3, WiiU, Wii. Think 40 songs, from classic to funky. Players can compete in a dance off, dance as a “crew” with individual choreography spotlighting each of them or just work out for the joy of a hard-pumping heart. There are also quests to earn rewards.

"LEGO Lord of the Rings" (Warner Bros. Games), Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, PC, DS, 3DS, PS Vita. Play this one alone or with a pal as you venture into Hobbit territory. It’s a funny, clever continuation of a series that has previously included Star Wars and Harry Potter, among others.

"New Super Mario Bros. 2" (Nintendo)

"Nintendo Land" (Nintendo), WiiU. It’s a game within a game as this “theme park” takes the best of some of Nintendo’s favorites and turns them each into theme park attractions. Zelda, Donkey Kong, Animal Crossing and Mario are just some of the choices. Nintendo built it so the adventure varies, depending on methodology: a Wii control yields a different experience than the Wii U gamepad.

"Scribblenauts Unlimited" (Warner Bros), WiiU, 3DS, PC. A game full of puzzle solving that builds on previous Scribblenauts releases and projects the franchise onto the newest gaming technologies. Gaming website GamesRadar gushed, “Scribblenauts Unlimited is easily the best entry in the series to date, thanks to its family-friendly nature coupled with creative, wide-open gameplay. A clever toy or a focused open world adventure depending on how you want to enjoy the game.”

"Skylanders Giants Starter Kit" (Activision), Xbox 360, PS3, WiiU, Wii, 3DS. Video game meets character figurine. In this sequel to last year’s dynamo, parents and kids can share not only the joy of the gaming adventure, but the hunt for the characters that are not sold with the game. It doesn’t take different toys for different consoles. Action and adventure.

"Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed" (SEGA), Xbox 360, PS3, WiiU, 3DS, PS Vita. Favorite characters are back and you get to choose. Each comes with a unique vehicle that can change to handle air, land or sea travel in this race around the world, complete with Grand Prix and arena battle. You earn the power-ups and fight for honor. Online, up to eight can race.

"Transformers Prime" (Activision), WiiU, Wii, DS, 3DS. You can play as your favorite Autobot as you figure out how to best the Decepticons using what its creators and marketers call "brawler-style combat and diverse driving sequences." You have human help in the form of Jack, Miko and Raf, but you'll need it because Megatron is a nasty foe.

T for Teens

"Batman: Arkham City" (Warner Bros), Xbox 360, PSP3, Wii U. Arkham City’s the place where bad guys are exiled, captive in a walled, heavily controlled area that still teems with plots and traps. Various iterations have emerged across the gaming consoles, which is why it still made this year’s list, though it’s been around in some form for a bit. A mix of new and old characters, good and evil, battling for control.

"PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale" (Sony), PS3, PS Vita. This one also hearkens back to previous popular PS characters, including "God of War’s Kratos" and "Parappa the Rappa," among others. And though it’s a battle, you can play alone or with up to three friends, on the console or online. Popular with reviewers is the fact that you can take your gains with you between consoles, PS3 to Vita.

"Sound Shapes" (Queasy Games), PS3, PS Vita. Straight-forward action, a simple, almost minimalist look that varies greatly because each level was designed by someone different. IGN’s Colin Moriarity gave it a 9 out of 10 with this praise: “Connection problems and online funkiness aside, Sound Shapes absolutely floored me. Just about everything it does — and with its grand aesthetic taken as a whole — will blow you away.” “New and different” was his conclusion.

"WWE ’13" (THQ), Xbox 360, PS3, Wii. Builds off of the sweeping changes designer THQ implemented last year with "WWE ’12." Regarding this newest edition, IGN Entertainment wrote, “Of particular note is the game’s superb single-player experience, which should serve as the foundation for all future endeavors.”

Why an M rating?

"Assassins Creed III" (Ubisoft), Xbox 360, PS3, WiiU, PC, PS Vita. M for blood, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language. "Borderlands 2" (2K Games/Gearbox), M for blood and gore, intense violence, language, sexual themes, use of alcohol. "Call of Duty: Black Ops 2" (Activision), Xbox 360, PS3, WiiU, PC. M for blood and gore, intense violence, strong language, suggestive themes, use of drugs. "Halo 4," (Microsoft), Xbox 360. Blood and violence. "Hitman: Absolution" (Square Enix), Xbox 360, PS3, PC. Blood and gore, intense violence, partial nudity, sexual themes, strong language, use of drugs. "Mass Effect 3" (Electronic Arts), Xbox 360, PSP3, WiiU, PC, download. Blood, partial nudity, sexual content, strong language, violence. "Walking Dead" (Telltale Games), Xbox 360, PS3, PC. Blood and gore, intense violence, strong language. "ZombiU" (Ubisoft), WiiU. M for blood and gore, intense violence, strong language.

EMAIL: lois@desnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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