Owen Sound Sun Times (On)
Saturday, August 4th, 2007
Are you someone who’s never played a video game before? Do you think you might like to know what it’s all about? Seen some kids playing some games? Wanna be hip with the youngsters, but don’t know where to start?
Let’s delve into “gateway” games and consoles and see what can make games intimidating. What makes games inaccessible?
Two main things stop potential gamers from starting out; the controller and the theme of the game. Most game consoles have a pretty steep learning curve. If you sit down in front of a game, chances a pretty good you’ll see one or two joysticks and a bunch of buttons, or worse, a whole keyboard and a mouse! Things aren’t labeled, and they change from game to game. I’ve been playing games for about 15 years and I still have trouble with the controls for some.
The other big hurdle is the content. Even as an avid gamer you have to dig through a huge library of games to find interesting ideas. There are lots of good games, but without any research you’ll find yourself in a sea of WWII games, bad extreme sports games and copies of game ideas from 20 years ago. That being said, not everyone still is going to want to play a huge fantasy role-playing game, or sneak around as a super spy.
So what’s out there that’s fun, and easy to get into?
In my opinion, entry level gamers can’t go wrong with Nintendo. Both the DS and the Wii are very easy to get into. Nintendo has largely avoided the controller learning curve with both consoles and aims a portion of its game library at casual gamers.
If you can hold onto things you can play the DS or the Wii. The DS has conventional buttons though, so as a beginner you need to look for games that use the stylus. Unique to the DS, the stylus is held like a small pen, and you tap the screen, or drag the stylus across it, or do whatever the game tells you.
Many DS games are geared for the casual gamer. Nintendo has a line of games called “Touch Generations” Any game carrying that label is suitable for, if not geared towards, casual gamers. Many of these games are puzzle games, and often simple to play, but challenging and addictive.
Many involve stacking blocks or breaking blocks, some are crossword puzzles, all made much easier by the stylus. Rather than figuring out which button to press, you use the stylus to move blocks, or write the letter in the crossword squares.
Most of these games sound kind of simplistic but they go deeper than that, for the most part. Many games that target casual gamers have daily portions, where it will give you one puzzle, or one game per day, and keep track of scores over time.
These games often also have online components. It’s quite common for you to be able to connect to a wireless internet hotspot and play whatever game you happen to have with people around the world.
I have three specific recommendations for casual gamers looking at the DS. All are completely controlled with the stylus, should be easy enough to pick up, and have received very good reviews:
1: Brain Training: This game comes from Japan and was designed by a Japanese doctor. The game gives you reading, writing and arithmetic related games and keeps track of your progress. The idea is to keep your mind active and reach the ideal “brain age” of 20 through various tests. It stresses daily training It’s very easy to get into, and can be played in as few as about 5 minutes at a time, but be warned, it does contain some MATH!
2. Clubhouse Games: This is a collection of 30 games, ranging from various card games to darts, billiards and bowling. The games themselves are simple, but the attraction lies in the number of games and the ability to create a username and go online to compete with other real people around the world.
3. Animal Crossing: Wild World: Also Japanese, and a bit of a departure from the other two, but fun for casual and serious gamers alike. In Animal Crossing you are a cute little animal who moves into a town of other animals. The whole game works on a real-time clock, so the real time is mirrored in the game. The game goes through all the seasons at regular speed. There is no real goal other than collecting things. You jump into the game, talk to the people in your town, maybe go fishing, look for fossils, see if there are any events coming up. It gets boring if you play for very long in one sitting, but there are so many things that happen over time that about 30 minutes a day will keep you hooked for months, maybe years. Animal Crossing also allows you to go online and visit other peoples’ towns and write letters over the Internet, even receive the occasional virtual gift from Nintendo.
Next console is the Wii.
The controller for the Wii is very impressive. It’s full of sensors, so it can be used to point at the TV and click things. It also senses where it is in relation to the TV, and if it’s upside down, right side up, etc. The Wii came out in November 2006, whereas the DS came two years before that, so the Wii doesn’t have as many games to offer casual gamers, but it definitely will. Like the DS that’s a large part of its target market.
Here are a few notable Wii games that casual gamers should check out.
1. Excite Truck: This is a ridiculous racing game with off-road trucks. Trucks careen off mountains, smash over lines of trees and race all over the world. The game is controlled by holding the Wii controller like handle bars and turning it to turn the truck. This is very disconcerting at first as there is no resistance unlike a real vehicle, but after a few minutes of smashing up a truck driving feels very natural and very fun. The game works very well because the forgiving physics make driving easier, letting you race around at break neck speed without worrying about things like brakes.
2. Wii Sports: This is arguably the most user friendly video game ever. It includes simplified versions of golf, tennis, boxing, bowling and baseball. To play the game you wave the remote around like you were actually playing the given sport, swing it like a golf club in golf, you’re golfing, swing it like a baseball bat, you’re hitting homers! It’s not perfect, but it works remarkably well, and it is great fun to play four-player bowling (which can be done by passing around a single controller). This game is fun for everyone, casual and serious gamers alike. Best of all, if you buy a Wii, it comes with Wii Sports, free.
I hope that helps some newcomers to gaming get their feet wet. If any reader wants more information, other game suggestions or has any comments at all drop me an email
Calen Henry is a fourth year student of Japanese Studies and Multimedia at McMaster University. He grew up in Owen Sound, has been a gamer since childhood and is also interested in music and film.
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