Classical Geeky

My local orchestra, The Albany Symphony, has a concert series aimed at families with young children. This season they are total geeks. Harry Sonata and The Baton of Power, Star Warriors: The Opera, and The Superhero Show. Here’s a write up for the first one:

“Young Harry Sonata doesn’t want to be an ordinary wizard; he wants to become a musical wizard. But to do that, he’ll have to do battle with the evil Lord Moldywart and learn to wield the “Baton of Power.” He’ll need your help learning all about the art of conducting so he can vanquish the forces of evil and make the orchestra SING! Great music by: Tchaikovsky, Sousa, Strauss, Beethoven, and others.”

Continue reading Classical Geeky

3 Quick Games For When You Have No Time to Play

Games © FreshPlanet Inc/Twice Circled/Bethesda
Games © FreshPlanet Inc/Twice Circled/Bethesda

If I had to pick one adjective to describe moms, it would be “busy.” We’re always on the go doing something or other, usually at the the cost of our own leisure time. As a result I find it difficult to find the time to sit and play video games that require hours of game-play working through excessively long levels, or exploring open-world universes, unless I choose to sacrifice even more of my sleep. I’ve therefore become a big fan of games I can dip in and out of easily when I have a little time to spare.

I’ve rounded up three of my favorite games that can be progressed significantly when you have under five, five to 15, or 15 to 30 minutes of free time: Fallout Shelter, Rock On, and Big Pharma. Continue reading 3 Quick Games For When You Have No Time to Play

‘Lego Marvel’s Avengers’ Coming in 2016

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Image source: Lego Marvel Avengers cover art

If you’re like us, you can’t get enough of the Lego video games. Lego Dimensions comes out in September, and we just have to wait a little bit longer for the next one. Lego Marvel’s Avengers will be released on January 26, 2016 in North America and January 29, 2016 in Europe. It’s the first console game to include the stories and characters from The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron.

GameStop pre-orders will also get the Silver Centurion Iron Man minifig, also playable in the game. Pre-orders online will come with it, but if you buy in-store, it’s only available while supplies last.

Lego Marvel’s Avengers will be available on Xbox One, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, Wii U, Nintendo 3DS and Windows PC.

The game will follow the storyline of the two Avengers movies, which you can get a hint of in the peek at a few of the characters below:

Bruce Banner (Age of Ultron)
Bruce Banner, image courtesy of The Lego Group and Marvel
Hulk (Age of Ultron)
The Hulk, image courtesy of The Lego Group and Marvel
Speed, image courtesy of The Lego Group and Marvel
Ms Marvel_Kamala Khan
Ms. Marvel, image courtesy of The Lego Group and Marvel
Thor_Jane Foster
Thor, image courtesy of The Lego Group and Marvel
Unbeatable Squirrel Girl
Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, image courtesy of The Lego Group and Marvel

Unlock ‘Lego Jurassic World’: Will Bricks Find a Way?

Lego Jurassic World © Warner Bros. Interactive
Lego Jurassic World © Warner Bros. Interactive

Lego Jurassic World was my first foray back to the Lego games franchise since Lego Harry Potter: Years 5-7. Recent offerings have put me off of the games, but the lure of my favorite ever movie being given the Lego treatment was just too strong. I was incredibly hopeful I would enjoy it.

Continue reading Unlock ‘Lego Jurassic World’: Will Bricks Find a Way?

Gallery: Atari and the Videogame History Museum at GDC

All images CC-BY-SA Ruth Suehle

One of my favorite things about the Game Developers Conference the last two years has been the exhibit from the Videogame History Museum. You may also have seen their displays at other conferences, including PAX East, E3, and SXSW.

It was founded by the creators of the Classic Gaming Expo to document and preserve video game history. Growing out of the touring Classic Gaming Expo museum exhibit, the Videogame History Museum is approaching having a permanent home in Frisco, Texas, where the city has voted to finish 10,400 square feet with room for expansion.

This year’s GDC exhibit focused on the history of Atari. The Atari 2600 was my own first game system. My kids have played it, and I most recently bought a game for it last April.

The Museum’s Atari exhibit includes not just that 2600 system, but many example systems from the company, including systems like the Touch Me, a handheld game system that was the inspiration for Ralph Baer to create Simon. Other systems and games on display were never publicly released, such as Game Brain, a cartridge-based prototype system for which only five cartridges were ever made, and Atari Cosmos, the result of Atari buying many holography patents to create a hologram-based game system.

You could also have a seat on the sofa and play a few rounds on the 2600, or in another area, you could play a modified version of Adventure, the game that introduced many people to the concept of Easter eggs in video games. Because game designers weren’t getting a lot of credit for their work, Adventure designer Warren Robinett buried his name in a secret, difficult-to-reach room within the game. The version of Adventure on display simplified finding the Easter egg so that more people could have the experience firsthand.

Finally the exhibit featured cases of Atari memorabilia, including t-shirts, golf balls, stickers, Frisbees, and more.

If you weren’t able to see it in person, have a click through our gallery, and later this summer, you can visit the National Videogame Museum 1.0 when it opens in Frisco, Texas.

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Global Game Jam 2015

Image by Global Game Jam, Inc.

Innovation, experimentation, collaboration. That’s Global Game Jam. For 48 hours teams around the world will be given a theme to create video, board, and card games. For what? For fun!

It’s not a competition, and teams are formed by on-site participants (not beforehand). It’s a way to meet people who like to game, design, create, and enjoy using their imaginations. In 2014 there were 488 locations, and 72 countries that created over 4000 games! Many of these quick weekend game developments have continued to become fully realized versions afterwards.

Here are groups around the world saying hello:

Want to participate? Go here to find a location. Kids and adults are welcome to join in the fun, but you have to register; go for it!

New Nintendo 3DS XL in Stores on February 13

All images courtesy © Nintendo
All images courtesy © Nintendo

Today’s Nintendo Direct released a slew of information about upcoming games and the New Nintendo 3DS XL coming to stores this spring. The new system, available in U.S. stores February 13 at a retail price of $199.99, comes in red, black, and two designs based on The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D and Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate (GameStop exclusive).

What sets the New 3DS above the rest? From a press release from Nintendo this morning, features include:

New Nintendo 3DS XL offers a number of new enhancements designed to offer the smoothest and most engrossing portable gaming possible. New Nintendo 3DS XL features a wider range of controls with the addition of a C Stick and ZL/ZR buttons, super-stable 3D via face-tracking technology and built-in NFC functionality that allows for communication with amiibo figures.

Also on February 13, the remastered The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D hits U.S. store shelves.


Today’s Nintendo Direct also included tidbits about anticipated new releases like:

  • A new game in the Fire Emblem series
  • A line of amiibo featuring classic characters from the Super Mario series
  • The arrival of amiibo compatibility in Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS
  • Upcoming games for the DS and Wii U like Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. (March 13, 2015), Splatoon (May 2015), Kirby and the Rainbow Curse (February 20, 2015), Mario Party 10 (March 20, 2015), and more

Check out the full video for all the details, and stay tuned to GeekMom for info and reviews for these family-friendly titles!

Guinness World Records 2015: Gamer’s Edition!

Image: Guinness World Records
Image: Guinness World Records

I still have my old edition of the Guinness Book of World Records that I got as a young adult, remembering so many years of flipping through the editions at the library. Very few photos, mostly text. Thick mass market paperback volume. So much data. So many superlatives. So much geek.

Times have changed, it appears. Now there is no one volume that covers it all. Enter the Guinness World Records 2015: Gamer’s Edition! Packed full of facts, data, and obscure trivia, this version of the book series covers who the first person was to unlock all achievements in World of Warcraft, what the best-selling game was on Sega, and what the most popular game beta was.

Broken mostly down by game title of the top 50 games of all time, as rated by their readers, this tome is a video game-lover’s delight. Photos and images abound, but there is still plenty of text everywhere for those of us who like our content in a more verbal way. My beloved Guild Wars 2 is unfortunately not represented, but plenty of other favorites are. I won’t spoil it by revealing any of the rankings, but many types of video games are profiled, including intense first person shooters, platformers, kid games, MMOs, and more.

Guinness World Records 2015: Gamer’s Edition retails for $14.99 and is a great holiday gift for the game lover of any age on your shopping list. You can check out this extremely colorful and content-filled book starting on November 11th.

Note: I received this book for review purposes.

16 Ways for Twin Peaks Fans to Fill Their Time Until 2016

Twin Peaks © ABC
Twin Peaks © ABC

“Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan it. Don’t wait for it. Just let it happen.” So said Agent Dale Cooper to Sheriff Harry Truman in Twin Peaks way back in 1990. Yesterday Twin Peaks fans got a long-awaited present in the announcement of nine new episodes scheduled for 2016. But 2016 is a long way away, so how can we while away the days until we finally get to revisit the place where the owls are not what they seem? Here are 16 things for fans to do while they wait, so grab some damn fine coffee and a slice of incredible cherry pie and start making your list.

Twin Peaks on Netflix © Sophie Brown
Twin Peaks on Netflix © Sophie Brown

1. Re-watch the Show
It might seem obvious but there’s no better way to rekindle your love of a TV show than by going back to the source material itself. Twin Peaks is currently available on Netflix as well as through Hulu, Vudu, Amazon Instant Video, and iTunes. The 1992 spin-off film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me is a little trickier to locate but it is available on iTunes and on DVD/Blu-ray, speaking of which…

2. Buy the Box Set
The show was finally released on Blu-ray earlier this year as Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery. It has been upgraded to HD and the set includes a ton of special features including 90 minutes of “Missing Pieces,” the legendary lost scenes from Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. The $90/£50 price tag is pretty steep but if you want more than a basic re-watch of the episodes then it’s worth every penny.

The Salish Lodge & Spa Atop Snoqualmie Falls © Salish Lodge
The Salish Lodge & Spa Atop Snoqualmie Falls © Salish Lodge

3. Stay at the Great Northern
One of the most iconic images from Twin Peaks was the Great Northern Hotel and its beautiful location atop a waterfall. Today the hotel is known as the Salish Lodge and Spa, a luxury retreat in Snoqualmie, WA—the hotel even offers a “Romance Concierge” service. The hotel’s interior is not the same as seen on the show but if you want to take a trip to a Twin Peaks-themed location then there really is no better place to stay; you can even take your dog along too.

4. Attend a Twin Peaks Convention
Is there a better way to feel connected to other fans than to attend a convention? If you’re feeling inspired then the Twin Peaks UK Festival in London is just a few weeks away on November 15th and will be attended by Dana Ashbrook, James Marshall, and Sheryl Lee. If that’s a little too soon (or a little too far) then Twin Peaks Fest will be held July 24-27, 2015, in North Bend, Washington. The schedule already looks amazing so I suggest picking up your tickets ASAP. Something tells me that next year’s event is going to be much more popular than usual.

Gravity Falls © Disney
Gravity Falls © Disney

5. Discover Something New
Twin Peaks may have been off air for over twenty years, but many other shows have come along in its wake and built on its legacy. Most famously is The X-Files which expanded the concept of a central mythology and took the show’s strange, cinematic landscape to the masses; ideas that were built on once again in more recent offerings like Lost, Breaking Bad, and Mad Men. If you want something more family friendly, then Disney’s increasingly bizarre animated show Gravity Falls works well as an introduction to the “small town with something dark and mysterious to hide” genre—it’s as popular with adults as it is with kids. Finally, moving away from television, Welcome to Night Vale is about as close to Twin Peaks radio as you could wish for, drawing you into the small town lives of apparently normal folk who are never what they first appear to be.

6. Save the Owls
We all know that the owls are not what they seem, but one other thing we know is that many of them are in danger. If you want to use your Twin Peaks enthusiasm to do some good in the world, then why not consider making a donation to one of the countless owl conservation charities around the world? You could even combine your donation with your Christmas shopping by buying a Snowy Owl Adoption Kit from the WWF which includes a plush snowy owl—perfect for the Harry Potter fan in your life.

Fan Phenomena: Twin Peaks © Intellect
Fan Phenomena: Twin Peaks © Intellect

7. Read a Book (or Several)
As with any cult hit there are a number of books published on every aspect of Twin Peaks. From The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer—written by director David Lynch’s daughter Jennifer—to multiple volumes examining the show critically from every imaginable angle, thousands of pages are waiting out there to be turned. If you’re looking for an introduction to this sort on in-depth look then Fan Phenomena: Twin Peaks edited by Marisa C. Hayes and Franck Boulegue is a wonderful first step that will rekindle your passion as it takes a look at aspects of the show including dream logic, feminism, and Audrey’s sweater collection.

8. Buy Yourself a New Shirt
One of Coop’s suggestions to Harry for a present to himself is buying “a new shirt at the men’s store.” We might not want to buy precisely the kind of shirt our favorite FBI agent has in mind, but there are plenty of Twin Peaks-inspired shirts available on the internet these days. Etsy, Society6, and RedBubble are all good places to look and keep an eye on the t-shirt dailies websites over coming months as designs are bound to pop up there too.

Twin Peaks Soundtrack © Warner Bros.
Twin Peaks Soundtrack © Warner Bros.

9. Listen to the Soundtracks
One of the most memorable things about Twin Peaks was its score; unsettling soft jazz composed by Angelo Badalamenti that underscored everything that happened in the mysterious little town. The soundtrack and the Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me score are available from iTunes and at Amazon as both CD or digital downloads. You can find the music on YouTube as well if you’d like to have a listen through first. If you’ve already heard the soundtrack a thousand times and want something new with a similar feel, then check out Alex Baranowski’s soundtrack for the recent theatrical production of A Streetcar Named Desire in London which has a distinctly Twin Peaks feel. You can listen to the complete album for free on Soundcloud and on Bandcamp where it is available to download for £6/$9.50.

10. Cook a Meal
Food is vitally important in Twin Peaks and many of the series’ most iconic phrases and scenes revolve around it. Peaks-inspired foods include: black coffee, cherry pie, donuts, leg of lamb, baguettes with brie and butter (Rocky Mountain Woman has a recipe that will make your mouth water just from reading it), creamed corn, hard-boiled eggs, maraschino cherries, crispy bacon, and the taste sensation when maple syrup collides with ham. Just be sure there aren’t any fish in your percolator.

Twin Peaks iPhone Case © Mess via RedRubble
Twin Peaks iPhone Case © Mess via RedRubble

11. Chat to Your Very Own Diane
“Diane, I find myself confused by all the technology in Twin Peaks today. Whatever happened to a good, old fashioned tape recorder?” Who knows what Coop has been doing since we last saw him but chances are he might well have updated his personal tech since 1991, and I’m pretty certain you will have done so too. To keep some of Coop’s retro vibe going, why not convert your phone into Coop’s tape recorder using this case which is based on the original prop? The cases are available at Society6 and RedBubble and fit the iPhone and Samsung Galaxy. If you want to take it a step further, you can also take to starting every question you ask Siri with “Diane…”—she’ll still understand you!

12. Check out more Lynch Films
As I’m sure you’re aware, Twin Peaks’ creator and director David Lynch has a vast, if somewhat surreal, collection of films under his proverbial belt and 2015 seems like the perfect time to work through them. Classics include Eraserhead, The Elephant Man, Blue Velvet, and Mulholland Drive. Sadly most aren’t currently available on Netflix but check out Amazon for a good range of DVDs and instant downloads.

Black Lodge © Jak Locke
Black Lodge © Jak Locke

13. Play the Video Game
Yes, such a thing does indeed exist! Black Lodge 2600 was created in 2011 by Jak Locke in the classic Atari 2600 style and invites you to help Agent Cooper escape from The Black Lodge. It is available for free (although if you enjoy it, giving a donation to the designer would be highly appreciated) and includes a PDF also designed to look like a vintage manual. It’s also only 16Mb so you won’t need to wait hours for it to download, even if you live somewhere as disconnected as the Lodge itself.

14. Plan a Cosplay
Twin Peaks offers a huge variety of cosplay options for any gender preference and many would be easy to pull off with a small budget. The Log Lady is a fairly common choice (either with a real log or with a somewhat lighter one made from felt) as is the ever-so-stylish Audrey Horne. Some of the more creative ideas I’ve seen around include dead Laura Palmer wrapped in plastic, and Dr. Jacoby with his unforgettable sunglasses. If you need inspiration, a search for Twin Peaks cosplay on Tumblr wields some mind blowing results.

Twin Peaks Board Game © Chantal Patton
Twin Peaks Board Game © Chantal Patton

15. Play the Board Game
Not an easy thing to find, and be prepared to pay a hefty sum if you are lucky enough to do so, the Twin Peaks Murder Mystery Game was published in 1991 and features donuts as counters—what more could you want? The game also includes something called a Pentagon Deathtrap. I’m sold.

16. Visit a Cafe
As well as the filming locations around Snoqualmie and North Bend, there are a number of Twin Peaks-inspired locations all over the world. Earlier this year Flavorwire published a list of seven restaurants inspired by the show which included locations in Copenhagen, New York, and Atlanta, as well as many in the Pacific Northwest. Atlanta’s Bookhouse Pub even includes a themed cocktail menu with drinks inspired by the characters. I know where I’m stopping for a drink if I ever find myself close by.

Hopefully you’ve found a few things you’d like to do over the next year and a bit. Remember you can always make yourself a hot cup of coffee (black as midnight on a moonless night) and take a nap in your office chair and to transport yourself right back to the place pies go when they die.

Gaming for Kids: Dragon Con Kaleidoscope Track Game Tips for Families

Image credit:

Since 2011, the Kaleidoscope track at Dragon Con has added a special place for kids 9-13 and their parents at a convention that can sometimes otherwise have a more adult feel (especially at night!).

One of the best things about the track is that it offers those families a place to meet each other and talk about the great geekery that they find they don’t have in common with most of the other people on the playground or PTA meeting. This year I attended one of these, “Gaming for Kids,” which brought together Jodi Black of Beautiful Brains, dads Bryan Young and Jonathan McFarland, and 12-year-old Sam Rittwage.

The panel had a lot to say about video games, especially, of course, Minecraft. It served as a perfect example of a game to use to teach your kids about online interactions, as well as a way to give them a safe space for their first online gaming by using servers to which only they and their friends have access. Through this method, the panel encourages teaching them proper behavior in online gaming, including saying only things to one another that you would say if you were with them in person.

“If you’re the parent of a young boy, talk to them about the rules, and make sure they know,” McFarland said. “My son said something that would be common for adolescent boys, and I asked him if he knew what it meant.”

Kids easily pick up language from other players in games as well as from other kids at school, but they often don’t realize the nature or severity of the language, particularly the violent imagery often brought into online gaming chat. The panel recommended playing with your kids or first playing through the games they want to play, even if they’re not particularly appealing to you. It will give you the opportunity to both understand the content as well as to lead them in appropriate online interaction.

The range of games recommended for kids varied somewhat with age but ranged from the distinctly kid-friendly Skylanders and Disney Infinity to M-rated games like Assassin’s Creed. Young noted that he chooses games not by the rating but by the actual content. For example, slaughtering zombies is different from Grand Theft Auto, where the focus is entirely on real-life illegal activities.

In the second half of the panel’s time, they moved on to tabletop gaming, largely with a long list of recommendations for all ages and interests. Many were old favorites for us, but some where new. I suspect our family’s new favorite (which we picked up in the dealers’ room after this panel) will be Call of Catthulhu! If you’re looking for something new to try out, here are the rest of their suggestions:

For pre-readers

We all know how hard it can be to find a game that’s interesting for you but easy enough for your little ones who can’t read yet. For that problem, try:

Iota: The Great Big Game in The Teeny-Weeny Tin
Rory’s Story Cubes
Hey That’s My Fish
Tsuro: The Game of the Path

For older kids and the whole family

⚫ Get them started on RPGs. It doesn’t have to be Dungeons & Dragons. Find a game that interests them and is at the right level of complication. You could try Doctor Who Adventures in Time and Space, Toon, Buggin’, or The Secret Lives of Gingerbread Men. There’s even an older game, Fuzzy Heroes: The Game of Conflict For Stuffed Animals and Toys, that pits your kids’ stuffed animals in battle, but it can be hard to come by. Conveniently, the second edition is available at Drive-Thru RPG in PDF format. (This is also a great site to surf through for other RPG ideas!)

⚫ Cooperative games like Flash Point Fire Rescue, Pandemic, and Castle Panic. The latter also has a zombie version, Dead Panic Board Game, and a forthcoming mashup with Munchkin, Munchkin Panic.

Telestrations is a mashup of Telephone and Pictionary. (Of course, you can also play this with a notebook and your own list of words without buying the box.)

Finally, the panel had two great suggestions for your general family game play enjoyment:

⚫ Institute the 20-minute rule. You can play anything for 20 minutes. After that, check to see if everyone’s still having fun. No? Time to move on.

⚫ Make old games new again. Create your own rules. Young suggested the example of adding dice and action figures to Candyland, calling it “Siege of Candy Castle.” Make the kids figure out the mechanics and why the pieces are there, which also gives them insight into why rules exist in games and how they can change the outcome.

Mommy and Me Time With Pokemon XY

My son has all the best badges! \ Image: Dakster Sullivan
My son has all the best badges! \ Image: Dakster Sullivan

Pokemon XY reintroduced me to my love of the Pokemon world. Not to age myself, but I loved playing the original Pokemon Red on my Game Boy color when I was twelve years old. Over time though, I lost my love of Pokemon somewhere between my teenage years and my adult years. Thanks to a Nintendo 2DS and Pokemon XY, I’ve rediscovered my long-lost love of trying to “catch them all.”

In the past few months, my life has gotten not only complicated but stressful, and one day while looking for a way to relax, my younger brother brought over his old Game Boy Advance and his Pokemon games for me to play.


My love of Pokemon instantly came back to me like an old friend who had been away on vacation. I carefully changed the battery in the game console, blew it out to rid it of any dust, and then I sat down and got to work trying to catch them all.

A funny thing happened that day. Not only did I rediscover my love of Pokemon, but my 8-year-old son discovered his love as well. He was intrigued by the old Game Boy system and instantly wanted to play. Of course, he was a little disappointed when he asked if it would work with the iPad and I told him no <shaking my head>. Despite the fact that his newer Nintendo 3DS is fancier and has two back-lit screens, he was still excited to sit down and play on my old Game Boy Color and learn how to capture Pokemon of his own.

As I started to play, I remembered the fun I used to have playing video games. You see, as the years have gone by, the consoles have become more advanced and the graphics more realistic, causing me to get migraines from a few minutes of play…

With the video game trend growing in terms of graphics and realism, I was afraid I would be stuck playing my Game Boy Color for the rest of my life (or its life, whichever ended sooner). Then…I saw the light in the form of the Nintendo 2DS and Pokemon XY. With the gentle graphics in Pokemon XY and the non-3D effect of the 2DS, I’ve learned I can play for up to 45 minutes without any regret.

It didn’t take long before my son discovered my shiny new hardware and a few days later (and a lot of begging on his part), I downloaded the game onto his DS so we could play together.

I’ll admit that I was a little skittish giving my son his own Pokemon. After all, he doesn’t know the difference between the types, their unique powers, or how to level them up to defeat the gym leaders. I decided to put my fears and worries aside and let him find his own way. Turns out, that wasn’t such a bad idea, because the game pretty much taught him everything he needed to know. With the exception of choosing his first Pokemon because it was “cute,” he’s battled his way through more gym badges than I have and captured a nice array of Pokemon (in my defense, it’s my lack of time, not skill, that has allowed him to pass me in gym badges).

After playing for a few days, I realized a few differences in this Pokemon game versus the ones I grew up with.

The first difference I noticed was the ability to choose between a male or female lead character and whichever you chose to be, your companion will be the opposite. Something else I noticed was the inclusion of a few more friendly characters, mostly trainers your character’s age, to help you along the way. Each of them has a different reason for catching Pokemon, just like each player in the real world has a different reason for playing.

Pokemon XY also has a few new faces, including three new starter Pokemon. In case you’re wondering, my son chose Chespin and I chose Fennekin (whom I’ve nicknamed Fen). There’s also a wide range of game-version-specific Pokemon, and a few other features that the previous games I’ve played didn’t have, including fancy boutiques, gourmet restaurants, and five-star hotels.

The boutiques are special, because they sell a wide variety of fashions in which to dress your character up, and further personalize the game character to its real-world player. I didn’t think I would care too much about the fashions, but then I realized I could get everything from my hair cut, to contacts, to jeans, and t-shirts that reflected my own style instead of the boring default style the game developers give you.

The restaurants are also pretty neat to check out, as some of them only cater to special Pokemon types. Make sure you check them out when you run into them because some of the food provides special energy to you and your Pokemon.

Of course, no game is perfect and I found a couple of things particularly annoying.

First the gym leaders are sometimes easier to beat than the ordinary trainers you find on the paths to the city. I have four badges, and so far I have yet to lose to a gym leader in a battle. Actually, the further along I get in the game, the easier it seems to be to beat the gym leader. Kalos City is the exception, because before you can get to the gym leader you have to answer three quiz questions and beat three trainers. If you choose the wrong answer to the question, you have to retry the question and face another trainer until you get it right.

The second thing I found annoying was how many times I would talk to someone and they would say “here’s something to help you along your journey.” For players who get stuck, this is great. For those who prefer to battle their way to the top with minimum interference, this will hinder your experience. If you prefer to train your Pokemon the old fashion way, you know, through battles…talk when you want and skip around. There are times when talking to someone is required and most of the time, the game will clue you in.

In the beginning, I found the amount of cash you win from various trainers to be a little excessive. After visiting some of the boutiques for clothes, Pokemon gear, and other items, I realized the insane amounts of money you win is actually necessary if you want to purchase any of the upgrades.

There are a few other added bonuses to this game that I haven’t played with much, but seem like they would be fun for younger players. One of those features is Pokemon Amie, and it reminds me of Nintendogs for the DS. Basically this is the area where you get to play and feed your Pokemon like it was a virtual pet.

It’s been fun getting back into the Pokemon world and teaching my son everything I know about the game. And next to reading comics, it’s become one of our favorite ways to spend time together.

Overall, Pokemon XY has given me a way to relax and spend some quality time with my son. What more could a mom ask for in a game?

Pokemon XY is available for Nintendo DS consoles. Check your local game seller or Amazon for pricing and availability.

Disclaimer: GeekMom received a review sample. 

Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Super Heroes – All You Need to Know

Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Super Heroes Launch Line-Up © Disney/Marvel
Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Super Heroes Launch Line-Up © Disney/Marvel

The Walt Disney Company and Marvel Entertainment held a press conference to launch Disney Infinity 2.0: Marvel Super Heroes. Joe Quesada, John Vignocchi, Brian Michael Bendis and others, together with Agent Coulson himself, Clark Gregg, presented the latest upgrades to the popular platform and revealed the first wave of characters available from the Marvel universe.

There was a lot of information revealed during the conference (with a lot more announcements to come in the future) but here’s what you really need to know.

  • Disney Infinity 2.0 is scheduled to release Fall 2014. All current figures, power discs, and toy boxes will be compatible with the new release, as will the current base.
  • The game will be available on PS4 and XBox One at launch.
  • The new Starter Pack includes multiple figures and an Avengers playset piece. The set shown on screen contained Thor, Iron Man and Black Widow however it wasn’t stated if this was the final version or if different character combinations would be available.
  • The initial wave of Marvel figures will be: Iron Man, Hawkeye, Captain America, Black Widow, Thor and Hulk. Several characters from Guardians of The Galaxy appeared in the footage revealed during the conference so we can be pretty confident that we will be seeing those characters shortly. Over a dozen more characters are confirmed to be coming soon.
  • There will be 80 new power discs released in two waves. These will include team ups and costume changes.
  • Vehicles have been added including two wheelers like Captain America’s motorcycle. We also saw a Sky Cycle, mini Helicarrier capable of carrying multiple characters and Lola!
  • Structured game play has been added in the Toy Box. Two options discussed were clasic Tower Defense (we saw a 10-level Asgard themed game) and a Dungeon Crawler.
  • Toy Box building has been simplified to help even the youngest players create their own worlds. New brushes allow you to build basic themes such as cities, dungeons, and a racetrack quickly and easily. Builders have also been added who will walk around your Toy Box creating as they go.
  • Building interiors have also been added allowing you to create a Home. Here you can display your trophies and more. I spotted an awesome S.H.I.E.L.D. rug and several version of Iron Man’s suit on display.
  • The Marvel Manhattan world has been added and it is over four times larger than the previous biggest world on Infinity 1.0 – Metroville from The Incredibles. Many iconic buildings appear in Marvel Manhattan including, most noticeably, Avengers Tower.
  • New locomotion has been added including Forward Flight and Hover modes, the former at least includes combat abilities. Many characters have the Super Jump ability and Hulk has a special Wall Crawl.
  • Different styles of combat have been added to match the differing styles of the Marvel characters. Thor and Cap use a brawl technique, Black Widow a melee style, and Hawkeye more ranged approach. Hulk? Hulk SMASH!
  • The character level cap has been raised to 20. In addition characters now have their own unique attributes and skill trees so each character can be levelled up however the player chooses.
  • Dancing with the Stars is Hydra.

There’s so much more to learn about Disney Infinity 2.0 and I for one hope to get my hands on a copy soon so I can really see what it’s all about, but for now you can check out the launch trailer over on the Marvel UK YouTube channel.

Time To Pre-Order Trap Team, The Next Piece of The Skylanders Franchise


You may still be catching up on Swap Force characters (or Giants or even Spyro’s Adventure…), but Activision has announced the latest addition to the Skylanders franchise. Skylanders Trap Team will be released October 5.

Up until now, you’ve used the Portal of Power to take your characters to the game. In this piece of the Skylanders story, you get to trap defeated bad guys and then save them into the toy accessories. Of course, as you’ve probably already learned from each new game, you’ll have to have a new portal. This time it’s the “traptanium portal,” which has a little prison and crystals that you can save those bad guys on. The new portal also has a speaker.

In Trap Team, everyone’s favorite Skylander villain Kaos finds Cloudcracker Prison, which sounds something like the Azkaban of the Skylands. When the prisoners escape, it’s up to you to recapture them. The trap must be of the element matching the baddie you want to imprison. You can then release them into the wild, so to speak, by plugging the crystal you’ve trapped the character on and then playing it as a good guy in the game.

Trap Team will have 40+ of those trappable villains (including some version of Kaos) as well as 60 new Skylanders, including the Trap Masters, who have traptanium weapons. Like previous versions, all of the characters you already own will be playable in Trap Team as well. You can pre-order now for the platform of your choice at Toys R Us.

Watch the trailer:

Grush Crushes Cavity Creeps with Video Game Toothbrush

The Grush Brush is a toothbrush that doubles as a motion-sensing gaming wand controller. Image: Grush, Inc.

Recently, my son’s dentist installed an Xbox in the waiting room. He probably doesn’t need a few extra gaming minutes in his life, but it certainly takes the sting out of going to the dentist. (I wish my dentist did that!)

Now, one company is looking to mesh gaming with everyday dental hygiene. A start-up by the name of Grush is hoping you’ll zap those cavity creeps with the Grush Brush, the video game toothbrush.

At this point, my son has gotten too tall to stand behind him to help and typically, I need a miner’s helmet to get a good glimpse inside that mouth. The Grush Brush is designed to create better brushing habits and make tooth brushing less painful for everyone involved.

The Grush Brush combines an electronic toothbrush with motion sensing technology and an app for iOS and Android devices. The motion sensing can track where kids (and adults, yes me—I want one!) brush and how they brush. Then, all of that information is stored in the app. Parents can then check on those brushing habits, as well as share them with the family dentist via the “Grush Cloud.”

Grush was founded by two dads, who apparently share every single parent’s pain when it comes to taking care of teeth. To get the product out to the masses, the two are turning to the crowdfunding site Indiegogo. Judging by the drool my son had while watching the video below and the four times he asked, “Can we get that?,” I’d say the Grush Brush is going to be a success. To reserve your own Grush Brush, you’ll need to pledge a minimum of $30 before the campaign ends on May 18, 2014.

When the Grush Brush ships, it will come with two standard games. For instance, “Monster Chase” allows kids to brush away all of the monsters in their teeth, while “Toothy Orchestra” transforms that toothbrush into a conductor’s wand. Other games are expected to follow.

The company expects the first Grush Brushes to go out by March 2015. Oh what, you think that your kids will get better brushing habits before then?

Review: The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

What do you get when you cross The Legend of Zelda with Paper Mario? An awesome video game with a hero that obtains really cool powers.

The Legend of Zelda: Link Between Worlds is an indirect sequel to the Super Nintendo title: The Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past.  The game follows Link to save the light and dark worlds from destruction. The cool thing about the two worlds is that they’re mirrors of each other, just one has a darker aspect to it (and the people are grouchier) and the other has a happier, lighter aspect to it. To get between the two worlds, Link uses a new power that allows him to turn into a living painting to slip through portals that takes him between the worlds.

Since this is my first Zelda game, it didn’t take long for me to get a little stuck, and the first major challenge I found in the game was one of the dungeons.

Dungeons are a new aspect to the games and proved to be almost an annoying challenge. I’ve read that some veteran Zelda players didn’t like this new addition, but to me, it’s one more puzzle to get through. I only wish there were more opportunities to save in the dungeons so if you die, you don’t have to struggle through another 20-minutes of play to get back to where you were.

The other challenge I faced was getting around and figuring out how to accomplish my missions. The only thing the game tells you is “Go here and get this.” It doesn’t tell you, “Ohh by the way, this symbol means this. Before you walk 30 minutes to get there you should stop here and get this.” Once I realized I was really on my own in this game, I started to get more creative on how to get things done.

Something I really liked about the game was that every 45 minutes, the system will alert you to how long you’ve been playing with a gentle “Hey, you’ve been playing quite a while. Why don’t you take a break?”

If you’ve never played a Legend of Zelda game before, here are a few tips to help you get through it:

Health: Keep an eye out for heart pieces. You start out with only three heart containers and as you progress, you find/earn heart pieces to gain more heart containers, thus have more health. Also, purchase a jar to hold fairies and potions. If you keep a fairy in a jar, you can be revived if you die.

Sword: Once you obtain your sword, if you push and hold B (the button your sword is assigned), it will light-up and do a super spin, which is useful when destroying plants/enemies around you.

Continue or Quit: If you die, don’t use the tempting “continue game” option, because you will lose all of your rented items and have to pay for them again. It’s easier and cheaper to just quit and pick back up at your last saved spot.

Pay attention to symbols and signs: There were times I was really frustrated and I had no idea how to get around an obstacle because I didn’t read every sign I came across. At one point, I’m pretty sure the game was throwing signs in my path as a way of yelling at me to pay closer attention.

Of course, even if you’ve played a Zelda game before, this one will throw you through a loop with the new “living painting” ability Link earns after defeating the first boss. My husband, a long time Zelda player, was watching over my shoulder one night, and when he saw me merge onto a wall to avoid an enemy, he freaked like I had just performed some unexpected feat of magic.

I’ve been playing the game for 2-months now, and I haven’t gotten to the “throw it out a window” level yet, but I’ve come close. I’ll admit that I’ve had to turn to a walk-through site a few times because even my husband couldn’t help me. As someone who went from playing Pokemon XY to this, it’s quite a change to get used to. There’s a lot more thinking and puzzle figuring out than I anticipated, and while it’s frustrating when I’m trying to work through it, I know I’m a better player for sticking with it and pushing forward.

Since I haven’t played any other Legend of Zelda games, I’m not sure if this one is better than any of the others. What I can tell you though, is as a first time Legend of Zelda player, I’m loving every minute of my game-play and hope to see more titles out for the DS consoles in the future.

The Legend of Zelda: Link Between Worlds is available on Amazon or at  your local game retailer.

Disclaimer: GeekMom received a review sample. 

Monkey Around in Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

© Nintendo

The newest installment in Nintendo’s Donkey Kong franchise hits game store shelves today. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze for the Wii U might look like a simple kid’s game, but don’t be fooled. The side-scrolling platformer harkens back to the days of the SNES when you were likely to throw your controller on the floor in frustration, but you’ll have so much fun that you’ll immediately pick it up to try again.

© NintendoDonkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze opens with Donkey Kong and his family enjoying a warm tropical day, when suddenly the Snowmads attack DK Island. The island quickly freezes over, and Donkey Kong has to fight to take his home back from the icy invaders. Along the way DK can join forces with Diddy Kong, Dixie Kong, and Cranky Kong to put their valuable abilities to good use in some tight spots.

The controls are not immediately intuitive. Although there is a helpful pig in the beginning levels to explain some of the buttons (each time we played I had to re-learn what each of them did). I often found myself accidentally rolling off a platform or not remembering how to grab vines without mashing all of the buttons. Once I did, though, my daughter and I were off and running, jumping, and pounding.

The game’s challenges are tempered with multiplayer features that encourage family play-time together. The team-up between Donkey Kong and his cohorts works well, with an ability for DK to carry the other character on his back that is ideal for playing with a younger gamer. My five-year-old was ecstatic to play Dixie. Even when Donkey Kong was the one doing most of the heavy lifting (literally), she was happy to be perched on him without worrying about missing a platform or falling off the edge. And if we did get too far apart, the game transports the faraway character to the other without the loss of a life, which is always a welcome feature.

While Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze isn’t as carefree as games like Super Mario 3D World, it’s a vibrant, gratifying family game. Expect a lot of high-fives from your kids when you work together to finish a level or defeat a boss. Or, in my case, remember how to jump.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is available today for the Wii U at a retail price of $49.99.

GeekMom received a copy for review purposes.

HearthStone: Heroes of Warcraft Is a Fun & Free Beta Romp

Screenshot from game-play. image taken by: Tim Post
Screenshot from game-play. image taken by: Tim Post


There is a new online trading card game in town. HearthStone, by Blizzard Entertainment, is now in beta-testing and promises civil game play along with some of our favorite World of Warcraft classes.

I swore I would never sip the Blizzard Kool-Aid again. World of Warcraft left a bitter taste in my mouth when my husband and I were ganked off the scene almost eight years ago. We played with a circle of friends who turned out to be not very good friends-in-real-life. We were on PVP servers that they picked which seemed to be filled to the brim with players, like themselves, who found it to be more fun to kill low level characters and then camp over their corpses and wait for them to return only to immediately be killed again before being able to compose themselves. The kicker would always be the taunting and general bully attitude.

Never say never. Enter HearthStone. It’s a trading card game (TCG) that is online and free-to-play. Like so many apps and recent games, there is purchasable in-game content. So far, it doesn’t seem to be necessary to enjoy and progress in the game. The game is currently in open beta—it’s still in development, but it’s open to anyone who wants to try it.

Here is what I have seen so far…

Which area do you want to play in? Screenshot of game play: Tim Post
Which area do you want to play in? Screenshot of game play: Tim Post

-Types of Game Play-

Practice: Practice mode allows you to go up against the computer to gain experience and class specific cards as you figure out how the class abilities, mana, and other game properties work.

Regular Play: This comes in two forms: casual and ranked. Play mode places you against another player of similar skill. You gain experience and cards like in practice mode, but you are against a real person instead of the machine. Ranked mode is similar except that it gives you a ranking from 25 to 1 (being best). Each win earns you stars towards the next rank, while each loss (once you get past a certain rank) loses a star. Beyond that, I haven’t played enough to see if getting higher rankings earns you anything special, though apparently there are rankings ladder “seasons” to see who can climb to the top.

Arena: Arena is an area where you draft cards to build your deck and then go up against other people of similar ability. In the arena area, you start by paying 150 gold (we will get to ways to earn gold in a bit, and the first time you play in the arena it’s free) for an entrance fee. Then you draft your cards, and are paired with an equal-ish opponent. If you win, your treasure is increased. If you lose, you go on to the next battle until you have lost three times. After your third loss, you earn prizes (at the least a “pack” of cards). If you win any games while in the arena, you also win more cards in addition to the pack.

-Other Stuff-

No bullying!!!!: Remember why my husband and I stopped playing WOW? This game has solved that problem. My absolute favorite part of playing this so far is the chatting: Unless you are friends with the person you are playing, you can’t talk to them. Instead, by right clicking on your character, you are given several generic statements that your character can say. These include: Thank you, well played, oops, sorry, greetings, and threaten. If what you want to say doesn’t fall under those, too bad. If you don’t want to hear the other player’s emotes, you can right click on them to squelch any communication, and just play the game.

Make your deck: When you view your collection of cards, you can look at each class individually to build custom decks. Each deck must contain exactly 30 cards. You get a basic set of neutral cards that work for every class, as well as some class-specific cards. Beyond the basic cards, you can buy or win “Expert” packs and cards, which come in common, uncommon, rare, and legendary.

What is your quest? How many games have you won? What level are you with the different classes? You can see all of this information on the Quest Log screen. Screenshot of game play: Tim Post

Classes: The classes are straight out of World of Warcraft and will be familiar to anyone who has experience with the MMORPG. My favorites to play so far have been the Paladin and the Druid. There are nine classes total.

Abilities: Each class has a special ability in game that takes 2 mana but does not require a card. The ability in combination with class specific cards make playing the different classes quite a bit of fun.

Real money in game and quests: You can buy cards with real money in the game. But you don’t have to. If you complete quests, or win three games with a class in a mode other than practice, you win gold. The gold can be used to buy a pack of cards (100g) or get into arena battles (150g).

-Game Play-

In similar fashion to Magic: the Gathering (which can be played with physical cards and online, but the online premise is the same), you build up a type of energy in order to play your cards. Each turn you gain one mana (up to ten total) and draw a card. You pay the mana required on the card to play it and the card does stuff—either casting a spell, summoning a minion, or equipping an item. You can either fight the other player’s minions or attack the other player. If you get the other player from thirty health down to zero, you win. There is a bit of skill involved once you start earning better cards, but it is not difficult to learn the basics.

If you are like me, and thought Blizzard could never get back into your good graces, HearthStone has done just that with civil play of a game that is sure to catch on in all age groups. If you haven’t played any Blizzard Entertainment games before, it is worth the time to set up a login to download and play HearthStone.

The String Arcade Recreates Classic Video Game Tunes for Charity

The String Arcade includes Philip Brezina, Jason Poss, Celia Harris, Emily Onderdonk, and Robin Reynolds. Photo: Lorrie Murray

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had music from Tetris stuck in my head. One group considers that type of earworm to be a good thing—and a thing that may be able to fund a certain after-school program.

The String Arcade is getting ready to release a self-titled CD filled with all sorts of classic video game tunes. However, it isn’t just an album full of cover songs. The hook here is that it’s an album full of cover songs played by a string quartet.

The CD began as a Kickstarter project, back in August. Composer Dren McDonald successfully reached his $6,000 goal and has since delivered the finished recording to all of his backers. Now, he is offering it up to others, in an effort to help fund the Alameda Music Project, a tuition-free K-5 after-school program launching this September in Alameda, California.

The String Arcade CD.

All of the music was arranged for string quartet by McDonald and Jason Poss, who has worked on the Lord of the Rings film trilogy and World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King. Besides helping to fund the after-school project, McDonald hopes that the CD will actually inspire young musicians to pick up a violin, viola, or cello.

The String Arcade CD features 15 original arrangements, as well as two bonus tracks for CD buyers. Performed by local musicians (with a special appearance by the Boston-based Videri String Quartet), the CD includes familiar tracks from Galaga, Legend of Zelda, Sonic the Hedgehog, Minecraft, and more.

“It’s odd how familiar melodies in surprising circumstances can make you grin. But it’s less strange how to realize that beautifully arranged, spectacularly played music can transcend even its original medium and become something to be savored standalone,” says video game historian  Simon Carless, in the CD’s liner notes. “And, thanks to the String Arcade Players, we get a soundtrack album to remember—one that soars around the history of video games and creates a cohesive whole from spectacularly diverse sources.”

Interested music (and game) lovers can listen to a preview track of Plants Vs. Zombies‘ “Grasswalk.” A full digital version of The String Arcade is available for pre-order via iTunes and BandCamp. The digital and CD versions will drop on February 11, 2014.

All of the proceeds for both the $7.99 digital download and the $9.99 CD will be used to fund the aforementioned Alameda Music Project.

Watch Need For Speed Stars Get Driver Training

Dominic Cooper stars in Need For Speed. Image: Dreamworks.

Need For Speed is one of the most successful racing video game franchises ever, with over 140 million copies sold. Now, it’s coming to the big screen. The film will take you on a cross-country race, where the stakes are high and the speed limit is just a suggestion.

Just like the game, the movie is full of beautiful super-cars and outrageously over-the-top stunts that will have you holding onto the edge of your seat. One of the cars in the movie is the new 2015 Ford Mustang, which makes its on-screen debut in the film.

The Need for Speed preview. #FordNAIAS. Image: Nicole Wakelin.

Ford hosted a special 20-minute preview of the movie at the Detroit Auto Show earlier this month, and brought along the car and several of the movie’s stars to talk about the film. At the end of the preview, the cheers brought down the house and as one of the people sitting in the audience, I can tell you that gearheads are going to love this movie.

It stars Aaron Paul as good guy Tobey Marshall and Dominic Cooper as bad guy Dino Brewster. The two have a history, with Brewster setting up our hero for a crime he didn’t commit. Marshall even served time, but now he’s back, and the two are going head-to-head in a cross-country race.

A scene from Need For Speed. Image: Dreamworks.

Despite the mad driving skills of the two main characters, the actors are not so talented and both received a little driver training in advance of the movie. They’re not pulling off complicated stunts, but they got just enough training to look the part and skid across the pavement to make a grand entrance.

Check out these two videos of their driving school experiences, and then get ready to see Need for Speed on the big screen on March 14th.

Wonderbook: Book of Potions & Walking With Dinosaurs

Wonderbook Titles © SCEE
Wonderbook Titles © SCEE

It’s been a year since Sony released its Wonderbook alongside the Potter-verse centred game Book of Spells. The peripheral wasn’t quite the success they hoped for. The mixture of requiring expensive accessories (the Wonderbook requires a Playstation Move system as well as the physical book for games to work) and a distinct lack of advertising or at least advertising to the right people, kids, doomed it to failure. By January, shelves were loaded with unsold games.

Now, one year on from launch, Sony has finally provided some new titles for those of us with a Wonderbook gathering dust at home.

First up is the second in the Harry Potter range, Book of Potions. The game follows almost exactly the same premise as the original Book of Spells but there are some new features included too, such as placing the Move controller beside your book when instructed, which magically changes your wand into a wooden spoon, tongs, garden shears, or other tools you might need to brew your potions.

Once again you are given the option to link the game with an existing Pottermore account, thus bringing in your selected house and wand from the platform. If you’re not a member, you get to choose both. As the book progresses, players are gradually introduced to the character of Zygmunt Budge, an accomplished potioneer who helps you learn to brew your own potions.

My son playing Book of Potions © Sophie Brown
My son playing Book of Potions © Sophie Brown

When I looked at Book of Spells last year I was impressed with the game and Book of Potions gave me the same positive impression.

However, it is not without issues. I invited my nephew (a few weeks shy of turning seven) over to play and he found it exceedingly difficult and grew bored fast.

Creating a potion requires a large number of steps and with the slow progress of a child, there can be a lot of waiting before any potions are actually brewed. Even with three children taking turns, they all got bored of chopping the onions required for the initial potion and I ended up taking over to get them through that process and onto something new.

The new tool, switching mechanism, was also a point of frustration, even my husband and I found it difficult to position the Move controller in the exact spot on the floor required for the game to pick it up and make the transformation.

The game as a whole seems a little confused with gameplay clearly aimed at a younger audience—the potion making process reminded me of Nintendo’s Cooking Mama—but dialogue, back-story, and a level of precision aimed at those much older for whom the actual game would be a little tedious.

The second game we looked at was Walking with Dinosaurs, obviously adapted from the hit BBC series.

This was the one I was really looking forward to and the main reason for inviting my nephew over to play. As with most children of his age, he’s more than a little bit keen on dinosaurs. The book takes on the form of an illustrated encyclopedia of dinosaurs, with each page focusing on different aspects of their lives and the environment.

The mini games are far more varied than Book of Potions too. An early game requires you to sit perfectly still and quiet to stop a large gorgosaurus from finding you in the bushes. Of course, as my nephew decided instead, there’s always the option of shouting to make it come over, much to the disquiet of his four-year-old sister who was desperately trying to make him shut up! Other games included using a hammer and brush to uncover fossils, placing bones into a skeleton to form a dinosaur, and finding a selection of creatures in an animated 360 degree 3D picture.

Totally Enraptured by Walking with Dinosaurs © Sophie Brown
Totally Enraptured by Walking with Dinosaurs © Sophie Brown

Progressing through the book unlocks collectable cards, not of any interest to my four year old who was mostly enamored by the big dinosaurs stomping about in our living room, but brilliant for kids of a certain age for whom collecting cards and stickers is an obsession.

My nephew was completely enraptured by the game and didn’t want to take turns with the other kids, even when there were a few difficulties such as figuring out why a puzzle wasn’t unlocking or pointing the controller at a very specific point on the screen.

Unlike Book of Potions, Walking with Dinosaurs really knows its target audience and works at their level. The game is also being released to coincide with Walking with Dinosaurs 3D hitting movie screens, and characters from the film—Patchi, Juniper, and Gorgon—make regular appearances.

Wonderbook is still a dubious piece of technology, if only from a cost perspective. The requirement of a Move in order to play makes buying the technology cost prohibitive, and now with the release of the PS4, the PS3 is already taking its first steps toward the dusty shelf of retirement.

Are parents really going to want to fork out $50-80 (only the original Book of Spells can be bought packaged with a Move—both new games are only available standalone or with a Wonderbook) for the system? For those already in possession of the system then both games are genuinely good experiences—especially Walking with Dinosaurs if you have a dino lover in your home—at a fairly low cost.

Worth $80? Sorry Sony but no, not at this time.

GeekMom received both games for review purposes. 

Southern Maine Family Game Festival

Image: Sarah Pinault

If you are in the Northeast next weekend and looking for some people to game with, look no further than the first annual Southern Maine Family Game Festival. The brainchild of PortCon, the people who brought big time conventions to Maine, the festival is a fundraiser for the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital. Want to play games all day and all night? As my husband keeps telling me, “It’s for the kids, honey.”

There are two events. The first, held during the day, is the Family Game Festival. This is a family friendly event open to all ages. It is geared towards spreading the love of board and video games. There will be gamers on hand to teach you new games or you can join in something you already know. The overnight event is the Extra Life Marathon. Extra Life is a national gaming event to benefit children’s hospitals.

Where?: The Double Tree Hilton, 363 Maine Mall Road, South Portland, ME 04106

When?: Saturday, November 2nd, 2013. The Family Game Festival starts at 9AM and runs until 4PM. The Extra Life Video Game Marathon starts at 6PM and runs until 6AM on Sunday. See our schedule for more details.

How Much?: The Family Game Festival is $5 per person, with children under the age of 6 free! All proceeds go towards the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital.

cropped-logo6The Extra Life Video Game Marathon is for adults age 18 and above. It requires either a sponsorship of $25 or more as an individual, sponsorship plus additional money to equal $25 at the door, or simply $25 at the door. Individuals may be part of a team, but each individual must raise $25 to attend the overnight event. If you are paying through sponsorship make sure to bring ID when you arrive.

Bracelets for entry to the day event will be available at the door. No tickets will be sold in advance. Simply come, donate your admission fee, and you’ll receive your entry bracelet! Your bracelet will be good for all day activities, the vendor area, all of the game demonstrations, as well as discounts at local stores. After the event visit any of these stores to receive a discount simply by showing your bracelet.

To attend the Extra Life event individuals or teams can register online via the Extra Life site. Evening attendees will receive a separate custom silicone bracelet for attendance. As an evening attendee, please plan on bringing: your laptop computer and/or your gaming system (including a TV if needed), a power strip, video game, snacks, drinks, and any games you might be interested in playing with others. You are responsible for everything you bring during the evening. They will have tournaments running on supplied equipment during the event, but if you plan on marathoning on your own system throughout the evening you will need to supply all of your own equipment.

You can come in costume, and you can get your face painted. There will even be an artist available between 10 and 3 to draw family caricatures. This event is an all together fantastic way to spend a chilly November day in Maine.


Popcade: Real Arcade Fun

A kid experiences Popcade’s real arcade fun. Photo: Amy Kraft

I saw a ton of cool stuff at this year’s World Maker Faire New York, but the thing I most wanted to bring home with me was made by a maker friend of mine. Joshua Axelrod is the creator of Popcade, a half-scale arcade cabinet that doubles as a time machine to your childhood.

On the outside, Popcade is a reproduction of a Williams Electronics Joust cabinet, at a scale of 50%. On the inside is a Dell Pentium 4 PC running Windows XP. The computer runs MAME, an arcade game emulator. While MAME is capable of running thousands of games, Joshua has curated about 100 of exactly the ones you’d want.

Joshua Axelrod, creator of Popcade. Photo: Amy Kraft

There are some lovely details, like the fact that all games include accompanying artwork. There’s a second marquee screen that shows the name of the game when it’s loaded, a truly immersive feature.

It was funny watching some little kids play, who have no frame of reference for this style of play. The coin slot was totally lost on them. As I sat down to play, the experience took me right back to the early 80s. That’s the era of my perpetual joystick blisters. It plays beautifully, and I felt victorious as I took the Maker Faire high score in Ms. Pac-Man.

Check out that high score! Photo: Amy Kraft

I find the size of it delightful, especially as an urban dweller with limited space. Joshua will build you your own Popcade for $2,500. Are you listening, Santa?

The Flawed Ethos of In-App Purchases in Mobile Games

An inforgraphic from EEDAR's latest report. Image: EEDAR
An inforgraphic from EEDAR’s latest report. Image: EEDAR

The GeekMoms were chatting about how much we hate in-app purchases when this wonderful infographic from EEDAR, a video game research firm, showed up in my inbox.

Apparently, while women represent nearly 50% of the video game consumers, we’re not the most spendthrift bunch. We make up 65% of non-paying gamers, 47% of paying gamers, and only 34% of “whales” (the top 5% spenders).

Amongst non-paying gamers, mobile devices were the predominant platform with 57% split between phones and tablets. Amongst paying gamers, that number goes down to 50%, with consoles being the next most popular choice.

With mobile devices representing such a big—and novel—piece of the gaming market pie, I imagine the number of non-paying gamers far exceeds what we might have seen just ten years ago. While not the first of the smartphones, the immense success of the first generation iPhone in summer of 2007 forever changed the face of the video games industry. Gone were the days of gaming being exclusive to those dedicated enough to spend $400 on a console and $50 per game cartridge. Nowadays, everyone walks around with a potently powerful gaming platform in their pocket and a staggering choice of free-to-play games.

One year ago I joined a wonderful group of writers launching a new website dedicated to mobile free-to-play game news and reviews. I’m sorry to report our endeavor met an untimely end, but I can honestly say I spent my few short months as a video game journalist thinking a lot about the concept of free-to-play games.

There are three ways to finance a free-to-play game:

  • The “lite” version: The game equivalent of a free sample.
  • The ad-laden game: Seek financing from ads rather than users.
  • The in-app purchases: Sure, the game is free! As long as you don’t want to make any kind of progress in the game.

Video game developers need to make money; that’s just good business. However, in-app purchases in mobile games are getting downright despicable. The problem goes beyond casual gamers being stingy cheapskates. It also goes way beyond parents having to listen to their kids whining over permissions to purchase this special weapon and that extra power boost.

Ultimately, the real problem with in-app purchases lies with the flawed message they promote: Money can replace skill as a means of progression. In-app purchases are no longer a tip jar for games you enjoy and want to support through the occasional “yeah sure, I’ll spend $5 for a snazzy bonus.” Now the gameplay itself is designed to handicap the experience to a point where in-app purchases become necessary to progress. Gatekeepers, so to speak.

Today’s parents, such as myself, grew up on Super Mario. Back then we couldn’t fork up $5 to buy an extra life, we didn’t even have frequent save points for goodness’ sake! Sure, cheat codes existed, but at least they were appropriately labeled. Cheat codes. If you use them, you know exactly what you’re doing: cheating.

We have been conditioned since early childhood to believe that only practice, time, and dedication can help us progress in a game. Now, some twenty years later, we’re faced with a plague in the mobile games industry: the in-app purchases. They’re not called cheat codes anymore, they’re upgrades! Even the terminology makes it sound positive.

However, we’re not so easily fooled. This goes against everything we’ve been taught. It goes against a deeply-rooted intrinsic belief that transcends race and nationality: buying your way out of a challenge is proof of weak moral values and poor work ethics.

So, my message to in-app purchases is this: I’m sorry, but I won’t spend a penny on you. It’s not because I’m a woman. It’s not because I’m a casual gamer. It’s not because I’m cheap. It’s because I refuse to let the future of gaming be built upon the flawed ethos of the current mobile gaming industry.

An inforgraphic from EEDAR's latest report. Image: EEDAR
An inforgraphic from EEDAR’s latest report. Image: EEDAR

Thanks, Freddie Wong!

Image By Rocket Jump
Image By Rocket Jump

To the producers and writers of Video Game High School Season Two:

YAAAAAAAAY!!!!!! You did it! You are part of the Web Entertainment Revolution. You have a high quality filmed, action-romatic-comedy, with developing characters, in a unique fictional universe, only available on the internet.

Awhile back I sent A Plea To Freddie Wong to take a great concept, well-produced show, and take it to a better level of plot and characters. With season two of Video Game High School, there is the time (thirty minute episodes) and the writing to do just that. I’ve watched up to episode four, and have been completely entertained. The series manages to blend multiple surrealistic game worlds with the everyday life of teenagers in a very cool high school.

There was a Kickstarter for this second season that went completely over their goal, and you all have put the funds to good use. The settings, costumes, and action-sequences are great. It must be so much fun because the actors get to be in multiple places in every episode. No boring sets here.

With the very first, I was giggling. The office scene with the Benji Dolly, Ellary Porterfield, and Freddie Wong discussing homework was hilarious. 

Keep it up! I hope everyone tunes in to watch your Video Game High School Season Two.

Peace and games,

Rebecca Angel


GeekMom Plays! The Walking Dead 400 Days Episode 4

Welcome back for episode four in our GeekMom Plays! The Walking Dead:400 Days Let’s Play series. This week, my husband Tim and I play through Russell’s story.

If you haven’t seen the first three episodes a playlist can be found on the GeekMom YouTube page.

Spoilers ahead:

There are tough choices to be made in Russell’s story, similar to those in Bonnie’s. As we wrap up this game, I am a little disappointed that there haven’t been more puzzles. Though, I wouldn’t want a puzzle like the radio one in the original season.

I think Russell wants to be a good kid and make smart choices. Nate, who picks Russell up on the side of the road, tempts him—even after trying to make him a zombie snack! I will be very interested to see if Nate shows up in further seasons. Let’s just say he would add more than his fair share of jerk factor…

Next week will be our last episode of GeekMom Plays! The Walking Dead 400 Days. I am still looking for other games to play. If you have suggestions, leave them in the comments below.

GeekMom Plays: The Walking Dead 400 Days Episode 3

Welcome back for episode three in our GeekMom Plays! The Walking Dead:400 Days series. This week, my husband Tim and I play through Bonnie’s story.

If you haven’t seen the first two episodes and would like to catch up, the playlist can be found on the GeekMom YouTube page.

Spoilers Ahead:

Bonnie seems to have a murky history and shows questionable judgement when it comes to decisions she has made in her life. She may not be on drugs right now, but she is flirting with married men and associated with thieves. Questions raised in previous episodes will be answered! (What happened to the missing flashlight in Shel’s group?)

Bonnie’s story is short, but Tim and I really enjoyed the brutalness of the decisions and actions taken in the story (enjoyed might be the wrong word. Maybe we appreciated it considering the story telling we became accustomed to in the first story with Lee and Clem). We hope you will enjoy it too.

Join us again next week when GeekMom plays through another story in The Walking Dead: 400 Days.

Weekly GeekMom Video Playlist

Welcome back to another GeekMom playlist! It’s another great mix with a little something for everyone. There’s a little superhero, British history, video games, and inventive music.

This week’s list can be found here to cure all of your weekend boredom…well, at least an hour of it. If you like the weekly playlist, let us know!

Do you want to see another kid friendly list? Do you want to see a DIY list? What about a summer science list? If there is a theme you want to see, put it in the comments below!

Winners of the STEM Video Game Challenge

Fog_Noah Ratcliff and Pamela Pizarro-Ruiz (1)

Last week the sixteen junior and high school winners of the 2013 National STEM Video Game Challenge were announced. There were nearly 4,000 entries and fifteen different platforms used! Each winner will receive an AMD-powered laptop computer with game design and educational software. The individual or team sponsor’s organization will receive a cash prize of $2000.

Contestant Support
Image By E-Line Medie

There is a tremendous amount of time and effort that goes into these games. I encouraged my son and his friend to enter, but they didn’t have the motivation to get something complete on time. So kudos to the kids who did. Of course, everyone needs help. It makes sense that so many teachers were the helpers here, but I love that other programs, parents and siblings were involved too.

“Youth are natural inventors. They are increasingly shaping their own education by making things,” said Michael H. Levine, Executive Director of the Joan Ganz Cooney Center. “We are delighted by the record-breaking interest in the National STEM Video Challenge this year and congratulate all of the winners on their superb creative entries.”

The 2013 STEM Challenge is presented by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop and E-Line Media along with title sponsors the Entertainment Software Association, the AMD Foundation, Microsoft’s Xbox 360, and national community sponsors the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), and the Hive Digital Media Learning Fund in The New York Community Trust. National outreach partners are BrainPOP, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting PBS KIDS Ready To Learn Initiative, Global Kids, Learning Games Network and Edmodo.

Here are some more screenshots of the winning games:

Crystal Physics By Aaron Gaudette
Math Rocks By Nicholas Cameron
Stemville By Nicolas Badila
Little Green Planet By Janice Tran

Playing video games is entertainment, but creating them is a fun, challenging, and rewarding experience for students. Congrats to all the winners!

GeekMom Plays: The Walking Dead 400 Days Episode 2

Welcome back for episode 2 in our GeekMom Plays: The Walking Dead 400 Days series!

This week, Tim and I play through Shel’s story. Almost a year into the zombie apocalypse, Shel’s story reminds me more of  season 1 of the game. This is because of the way the game puts me into “mama-bear mode” protecting a child, and because of the hard choices that have to be made for the other characters.

There is quite a bit more action in this week’s episode, and not quite as much conversation. We hope you enjoy!

If you want to play along with us, The Walking Dead: 400 Days can be purchased for $5 (you will also need at least one episode of season 1).

If you missed last week, there is a playlist on the GeekMom YouTube channel with both episodes. See you next Tuesday!

GeekMom Plays: The Walking Dead 400 Days Episode 1

Welcome to the first episode of GeekMom Plays! In this show, my husband (Tim) and I play the new Downloadable Content (DLC) for The Walking Dead video game: Walking Dead: 400 Days.

The Walking Dead: 400 Days is a new episode in The Walking Dead video game. It is a single episode, as opposed to the first season of the game which was five episodes. 400 Days bridges the stories between season one and season two which is rumored to be released by the end of the year.

If you are unfamiliar with The Walking Dead video game, it is based on the comic book universe created by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, and Charlie Adlard. Season one of the game was released late last year to a very surprised audience. This is not your typical zombie blood-fest game. Instead, it’s a series of puzzles, conversation choices, and quick time battle events.

The way the game is designed makes players care about the characters. The writing is so abrasively compelling that sometimes you want characters to be a zombie meal, and sometimes you make the choices that make a particular character a snack for the undead. The game isn’t just about battling zombies. It has small group politics and deep characters with history. Knowing the history and choices the Non-Player Characters (NPCs) have made, makes it very difficult to make the choice if computer generated people will live or die.

Psychologists would have a field day watching people play this game.

If you want to know more about the game, watch the series Spoiler Warning has on YouTube.

My husband and I frequently watch Hank and Katherine play Wii games, more for the marital banter than Mario. We also really enjoy Spoiler Warning. The diverse group of people have surprisingly deep conversations about the PC games they play. Tim and I were inspired by these shows. We hope that our gaming experiences inspire you to play games with your significant other like these shows inspired us.

You can find new episodes of GeekMom Plays: Walking Dead: 400 Days every Tuesday for the next couple of months. If you have other games you would like GeekMom to play, leave a comment below!