Between the upcoming launch of the Xbox One (on November 22) and Christmas, the Xbox One will receive a mix of next-generation titles and recent hits like Call of Duty: Ghosts and Assassin’s Creed IV for new owners to savor.
Fortunately for families, it won’t all be shooters and mature titles. In fact, the Xbox One will have a good number of family-friendly options in the early going, featuring quite a few familiar names and faces. Microsoft held a media preview event in Toronto on November 5th, and I had the chance to get some hands-on time with a number of the family-friendly titles coming to the Xbox One this holiday season (and a couple of the non-kid friendly ones as well!).
At this point, it’s impossible to say how good the Xbox One will be as a gaming system for the whole family, but looking at the track record of the Xbox 360 (the popularity of Minecraft on the 360, plenty of kid-friendly Kinect titles, etc.) and the early titles on display, I feel optimistic that Microsoft can continue to push Nintendo for the title of best system for the whole family.
It seems like the original Peggle came out an eternity ago (it was actually 2007), but since then an onslaught of hugely addictive casual games like Angry Birds, Plants vs. Zombies, Candy Crush Saga, etc. have pushed Peggle into the background. That’s about to end, as Peggle 2 leads the casual game march for the Xbox One as a download-only title available by the end of the year.
Peggle 2 looks to keep everything that worked in the insanely addictive first version of the game, while adding a few welcome wrinkles. Gameplay still involves launching balls that ricochet through each level eliminating pegs, but with 120 challenges and trials, 180 objectives, new masters, and a family-friendly four-player party mode, it should feel like a refreshed experience.
While the Kinect controls weren’t on display, the final version of the game will let you aim and fire using gestures, which I think will definitely add to the fun, and make perfect sense. The $11.99 price tag will also make it a welcome bargain once you’ve spent $500 on the console, and are looking at $60 game prices.
Kinect Sports Rivals
The full six-sport version of Kinect Sports Rivals won’t be out until Spring 2014, but the game will have a Day One demo that’s definitely worth downloading. The demo features jet skiing and really gives a sneak peek at the potential for the new Kinect sensor. In this game, you steer with your hands (no surprise there!), but you also control your speed by “squeezing” one of the handles, because Kinect 2.0 can now detect finer movements than before. The first generation of Kinect games featured a lot of broader gestures and no fine control, so it was quite interesting to try out the capability of the new Kinect in a very simple way.
That said, fine controls are great, but it’s still a fast-moving Kinect game, which means you’ll need to lots of practice to figure out the steering while slamming into boats, rocks, and exploding mines.
What I love (and have been waiting for years for developers to start doing) is that this demo is more than just a one-off chance to check out the gameplay. The demo will take advantage of the Xbox One’s cloud connection to update between launch and the release of the game, and encourage players to check back in for prizes to be won, like in-game items and avatar rewards. It’s a small thing, but it makes this demo something that can be a regular part of your family’s Xbox One game rotation until the full version comes out next year.
The long running Zoo Tycoon series will be a launch title for the Xbox One, letting gamers create, populate, and manage their own zoos.
The game will feature a freeplay mode with unlimited funds and complete freedom to design and experiment, as well as different scenarios taking you around the world, but the core gameplay remains the same as you build exhibits, add animals, and look after their needs as you make your park successful.
Grown-up fans of Tycoon or SimCity type games are the most likely audience, but it’s a game that families can definitely play together, as children can certainly help to design their ideal zoo, travel around the park watching the animals, or even clean up their poop!
Skylanders Swap Force
Not much to say about Skylanders Swap Force that wasn’t already covered in our review, other than to say it looks fantastic on the Xbox One. I don’t think there’s any reason to pick up the Xbox One version if you’ve already bought it for another system, but if you haven’t, I would definitely recommend going with the Xbox One (or PS4) version for the gorgeous visuals alone.
Just Dance 2014
Similar to Skylanders Swap Force, Just Dance 14 looks better and may play a little better with the improved Kinect sensor, but is otherwise basically the same game Jeff and his family had a great time with. If you don’t already own the game, it will be a great choice for the new console, with broad appeal for the whole family. Plus, it’s a great way to get the whole family active and dancing!
Forza Motorsport 5
Forza 5, Microsoft’s ultra-detailed car simulator isn’t a family title for most families, but it is for car-loving families. As a racing sim, it’s aiming to be as realistic a driving game as possible, and that may prove too much of a challenge for a lot of kids, but the developers have tried to make the game as accessible as possible. It’s not going to be for every kid, but for kids who share a love of cars with their parents, Forza 5 could be a great title for families to play together.
Forza 5 was also, hands down, the best looking game on display.The game is flat-out gorgeous, with a spectacularly rendered city of Prague to race around in and incredibly detailed car models (pristine and race-damaged).
Equally impressive is Forza 5’s lineup of 200 cars, with monthly releases to follow. While they aren’t expecting most players to own even a fraction of the available vehicles, they are aiming to give every driver the chance to own their dream vehicle, and possibly even the car they are driving today. No word on whether there will be a family-friendly minivan package.
Ryse: Son of Rome
Even though I was focused on the family-friendly games, I had to check out Ryse: Son of Rome, the Xbox One-exclusive swords-and-sandals action epic, filled with hacking and slashing and impaling and dismembering and non-stop bloodshed and violence. Putting you in the tunic of Roman General Marcus Titus, Ryse is a mature title in every sense of the word, with the demo suggesting a very visceral thrill for grown ups. Once the kids have gone to bed, of course.