Monday, December 20, 2010

Wii Party

If you like your video game experience to be more social than solitary and you are looking for a family-friendly game that all ages can play, I would like to suggest Wii Party to you.

I had a chance to try out Wii Party a few months ago as part of my work with Nintendo as a brand enthusiast. They sent me the game (and a disco ball, which was kind of weird, but, if you are my kids, AWESOME) to try out and to use at a party I was to host with some of my friends. More on that later. First, the game.

Naturally, I didn't wait for the party to bust out the game, but popped it into my Wii one afternoon, gave my kids remotes, and started to play. The whole concept of Wii Party is that there are a multitude of social games for you to choose from, and each of those games is made up of smaller "mini-games" you play along the way.

For example, Board Game Island is basically a roll-the-dice and move-forward-that-many-spaces game that you play on the Wii. However, before each round, you play a mini-game (which is chosen seemingly at random) with all the players to see who gets to roll first and with how many dice. Many of the squares your Mii lands on are interactive and lead to further fun. My seven-year-old is obsessed with Board Game Island.

My favorite is Balance Boat. Unlike many of the other games on the disc, Balance Boat has you work cooperatively with a partner to balance Miis on the mast of a ship. Within the game, you play cooperative mini-games to determine what size Mii you each place.

Honestly, talking (or writing) about this game doesn't do it justice. Here are my main points about why I like this game and wholeheartedly recommend it:

• It is absolutely family friendly. There is no violence. Yes, there is some competition, but it is adorable, funny, and silly.

• It is social. There are single player options, but the most fun with this game comes from playing with one to four players. You're going to laugh when you play it. Promise.

• You know how if you have kids, someone always gets upset that they don't win? Each game here is made up of the game itself and a multitude of mini-games. Each player is going to be able to win some and lose some.

• There are endless options of how to play the game. There are many game options and dozens of mini-game options. You won't get bored.

The only negatives that I see in this game is that sometimes the games can last a little too long—45 minutes to an hour (although there are 5, 15, and 30 minute options for games as well). Every once in a while you will get caught in a game of Board Game Island or Spin Off that just lasts a leetle bit tooo long.

Also, there is one mini-game where you are supposed to "rock" your remote to get the on-screen baby to stop crying. It's fairly horrible. I don't go to my Wii for screaming babies. That's three minutes that I wish they had cut from the game. 

Seriously though, if you're looking for a fun Wii game that the whole family can play, go to the Wii Party website and look at all the different ways you can play this game. It is a tremendous amount of fun. I might even suggest that if you have difficult visitors coming to your house this holiday season, this might be a good way to kill a few hours with them. The game is easy to learn and would be fun for pretty much everyone.

List price for Wii Party is $49.99.

Okay, commercial over. Obviously I like the game. I play with my kids in the afternoons sometimes and my husband and I like to play Balance Boat together in the evenings. But I also really enjoyed having a Wii Party with Wii Party and inviting some of my friends over to play the game with me.

These are the people I invited.

Knowing I was going to have to stuff all of these people into my tiny TV room, I was a little agitated about the guest list. I hate narrowing the list down. I ended up inviting mostly people who lived extremely close to me. Except for Canape, who came all the way from North Carolina to come to the party. Although I can't take full (or any) credit for that. She was in town visiting WhyMommy, so we forced her to come.

I put out some pizza, some candy, some margaritas, and my disco ball and we had a blast.

I purposely invited people from a variety of sources: neighbors, "real life" friends, and bloggers. Wii Party made it easy for everyone to get to know each other and relax. It was a fun excuse to get some people together for a pre-holiday party. Thanks to everyone who came!

Honesty Clause: I am a Nintendo Brand Enthusiast. I got a copy of Wii Party, a (blue!) Wii remote, a gift card for pizza, and a disco ball at no charge for hosting the party. I bought all the booze myself. :)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Coloring Outside Autism's Lines by Susan Walton

When you have a child with autism, there is always a lot to do. There is speech therapy, occupational therapy, social skills group, ABA, special education law research, and so much more. The thing that gets forgotten sometimes is fun.

Susan Walton reminds us right in the introduction to her book, Coloring Outside Autism's Lines: 50+ Activities, Adventures, and Celebrations for Families with Children with Autism, that all our kids need to have fun. We can incorporate learning and therapy into that fun or we can just have fun. Walton uses the pages in this book to give parents of children with autism a plethora of ideas on how to to do that with their kids.

Walton offers tips from how to generally prep for an outing to specific ideas for places to go. As the parent of a child with autism (plus two more), Walton has covered this territory in her own life and can offer advice based on experience.

A lot of this advice is common sense information that you might have already thought of and incorporated in your own life, but you are sure to find something new to do with your kids in this book. Walton's ideas range from the simple (set a goal of visiting every park in your area) to out of the box (if you pass landscapers cutting down a tree, stop and grab some stumps to create circle games, such as stepping stones, hot potato, and more).

There were a couple of sections that really grabbed my attention. One of them was the section on managing playdates. For my son with autism, playdates are a wonderful way to practice social skills in a controlled but real life environment. That said, it can be excruciating to facilitate those playdates, especially if the other child also has special needs. Walton offers some wonderful and specific ideas for these playdates.

I also really loved the section offering suggestions to grandparents and other relatives for how to connect to a child with autism. If you, as a parent to a child with autism, have a relative who doesn't quite know what to do with your children, this section is a must-read.

Full of resources and featuring an appendix of helpful websites, this book has plenty of ideas and pointers for relaxing and having fun with your kiddos!

Honesty Clause: I received a review copy of this book at no charge. List price for the book is $14.99.

Friday, December 10, 2010

ZipBin: Boxes, Bins, and Backpacks

Here's a question for you: When was the last time you walked through your kid's room and stepped on a Lego, rending you unable to stand (without cursing) for several minutes?

The Lego City ZipBin Toy Box and Playmat may not eliminate this hazard, but it might help a little. Basically, the ZipBin is a playmat (which comes in MANY styles) that zips into a storage box when your kid is finished. This means they don't have to pick up their Legos (or cars, or dolls, or whatever), but can just zip up the sides of their ZipBin and be done.

Basically you can go from this:

To this:

(But with toys inside.)

I think the best application for the ZipBin is travel. If you're headed out of town this Christmas, this would be a great way to take along some toys for the road.

There are several Lego City ZipBins to choose from, but they also come decorated with dinosaurs, space, cars, aquariums, zoos, farms, a house, unicorns, and more. They are really cute. ZipBin also offers regular playmats as well as backpacks and bags that double as racetracks, barns, and dollhouses, like the Doll House Back Pack PlayPack seen below.

I think this is a really clever idea. The backpacks in particular would be great for plane trips. So many kids I know have plenty of toys. Why not buy them something instead that looks like a toy, but is really an organizational system? Pretty sneaky, no?

For about $20, which is about how much most of these cost, it's a great gift idea. If I did a holiday gift guide, ZipBins would definitely be on it.

Honesty Clause: I received review samples of the Lego City ZipBin Toy Box and Playmat as well as the Doll House Back Pack PlayPack.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Team Stimey's Top Ten Wii Games

My family is made up of gamers. My friends know this and will frequently ask me for recommendations for Wii games for their kids. I've decided to share my advice with all of you in the form of a Top Ten list. Without further ado...

Team Stimey's Top 10 Wii Games:

1. and 2. Super Mario Bros. Wii and Donkey Kong Country Returns: Both of these side scrolling action games are super fun, have minimal cartoon violence, and are simple enough for kids to play. That said, they are challenging enough to be fun. (Sometimes my kids have to help me pass a level.) I like that even if you complete the levels, you can still go back to collect all the extras (coins in Super Mario and puzzles pieces in Donkey Kong) to make the game last longer and to unlock other features.

3. (and 3b.) Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Galaxy 2: I've never played these games, but my kids love them. They didn't look as fun to me as Super Mario Bros. Wii, but my kids (ages 5, 7, and then 8) were obsessed with them for a long time. My five-year-old even spent his birthday money on the second one.

4. Wii Party: LOVE this one. Think family games on the computer. There are board-style games, bingo games, cooperative games, competing games, and dozens of mini-games to choose from. It's a little hard to explain this one, but I think it's really fun (my husband and I play it at night sometimes—our favorite is Balance Boat) and my kids adore it. My seven-year-old particularly loves Board Game Island, which is basically a video game version of a board game with lots of interactivity and a set of mini-games each round to keep it exciting. Because you get to compete in many mini-games, hopefully the kids who don't win the whole game will be less upset if they've had small victories along the way.

5. Wii Fit Plus: This one is an oldie (from last year), but a goodie. I use it to exercise because it lets me choose what parts of my body I want to work on, and it will vary my workout every time so I don't get bored, not to mention that some of the silly exercises (skateboarding, hula hooping, flapping your "wings") really are quite a workout. Plus, I often do the Free Step or Free Run option, which cues me with audio from my remote while I watch TV on another channel. You don't just have to use Wii Fit Plus to exercise, however. There are many fun games for you and your kids to play that get you up off of your couch and moving without making you realize that you're exercising. My kids have a lot of fun with this game. (You will need the Wii Balance Board.)

6. Animal Crossing: City Folk: This game is a ton of fun. It is not as fast-paced as some of the others here, but it is extremely fun. You get an avatar, a house, a mortgage, and have to set about picking fruit, fishing, collecting, and otherwise futzing around town in order to make money and keep your town humming along. And, yes, you do have to pay your mortgage if you want a bigger house. It doesn't sound like something that would be great fun, but it is. I especially recommend this for kids who are a little older, maybe seven and above. I like this game too. You can while away many a lazy hour fishing in the streams of your town. Use your internet connection and Wii Speak to visit a friend's town and steal some of their fruit. Trust me, if your town only has apple trees, your buddy's peaches are going to sell at your store for a lot more!

7. Endless Ocean: Blue World: This is a lovely calming game for older kids and adults wherein you scuba dive in various locations around the world, identifying sea creatures, salvaging treasure, and solving a mystery. I really like this game because it is not violent at all, it is soothing, and my kids learn about sea life. Endless Ocean is proof that you don't need a game to be action packed to be exciting.

8. EA Sports Active: I love to work out with my Wii, and of all the games I've used, my favorite is EA Sports Active. The workout is varied enough that you don't get bored, but tough enough that you work hard. Occasionally the Wii struggles to follow your motions with the remote, but for the most part it does a really good job. New this year is EA Sports Active 2, which I haven't tried yet.

9. Epic Mickey: I was going to put Mario Kart or Wii Play here, because those are both good, solid games that kids love, but I have heard nothing but good things about this Epic Mickey game. Even though I've not played it, seen it played, or know the contents of it, I heard a story about it on NPR and was intrigued enough to list it here. If I had to guess, this will be the new hot Wii game this year, especially if your family is into Disney.

10. Bonus DSi Section! There are several games that we play on our DSi that are a lot of fun, most of which are also available for the Wii, which is why I am calling this number 10. My kids have really enjoyed Drawn to Life, Lego Harry Potter (or any of the Lego games—Batman, Star Wars, Indiana Jones), and the Zelda games. As an adult who enjoys puzzles, I like the Professor Layton games.

Disclosure: I am a Nintendo Brand Enthusiast. I received copies of the following games at no charge: Donkey Kong Country Returns, Super Mario Galaxy 2, Wii Party, Endless Ocean: Blue World.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

127 Hours

Stimey is watching 127 Hours. That was an intense movie. I thought my movie-going companion was going to jump out of her skin and abandon me in the theater. James Franco is a great actor. If you see this movie, I recommend Pineapple Express as a palate cleanser afterward.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Jillian Michaels: Fitness Ultimatum 2011 (for the Wii)

I love working out with my Wii, so I was really excited to try out Jillian Michaels: Fitness Ultimatum 2011, a new workout game that includes not just a training element, but a mission mode to make the work out fun.

I ended up with mixed emotions about the game. On the plus side, the exercises were challenging and made me work hard. I could really feel my body working while I was doing them, and after doing the game for three days, I was so sore it hurt to sit down. I consider that to be a success.

Fitness Ultimatum has a Wii MotionPlus and Wii Balance Board option, although you don't need to have that equipment to use the game.

However, the thing that was most frustrating for me was that the interface was hard to work with. It was hard to tell if it was tracking my movements, even though there is an onscreen green/yellow/red tracker that is supposed to show how well you are keeping your form. It didn't seem to really correspond to what I was doing.

This was not so bad in the training section of the game—where you can choose circuits or individual exercises to work out to. Missing a few reps, or having the game not recognize your movements didn't make much of a difference. As long as you kept at, you could do your workout and be fine. (Although if that's how you're going to do it, you might as well do Michaels' 30-Day Shred exercise video instead. That will also make you sore. Trust me.)

There are five built in training circuits: two whole body and three that focus on upper body, lower body, or abs. There are also five slots where you can create your own circuit. They were good circuits, but one of the reasons I like to work out with my Wii is because it varies the exercise regimen without me having to program it. I like workout games that will switch up the exercises for you, so you don't get bored doing the same circuits over and over.

What I was excited about was the mission mode. In mission mode, your avatar is out to defeat the evil Cureall Corporation, which produces fast food out of one side of the factory and medicine to treat obesity-caused illnesses out of the other. I was hopeful that this would be a fast moving and fun way to make me exercise without realizing I was exercising.

There are ten missions, which you can unlock in sequential order. The first couple, which is as far as I've gotten thus far, are recon missions, meaning that Jillian Michaels has tricked me into doing a circuit training workout mixed in with stretches of running in between.

Very sneaky, Ms. Michaels.

It's actually a great workout, but here's where I got frustrated. In mission mode, if you don't do the reps fast enough, you will fail the mission and have to start over from the beginning. That's all fine and good if you can't do it fast enough, but the problem comes when the game doesn't "see" that you are doing the exercises. For example, when you do 30 jumping jacks or 18 squats and the game only recognizes three of them and then says you failed your mission, it gets really annoying.

There were times that I spent more energy trying to position the remote correctly than do the exercise correctly, which is not a good way to prevent injury and get the most out of your exercise.

Honestly, when it worked, it was really fun and I loved the missions. The interval-style training is great for your body and really keeps you moving. When it didn't work, I wanted to break my television.

Considering that every time the game uses the balance board or the Wii MotionPlus, it makes you recalibrate (only a few seconds, but still a little bit annoying), it seems like it should be better at tracking your movements.

One other thing that bothered me a little bit about the game in both training and workout mode is that there were no audio prompts for doing the movements. This meant that when I was doing an exercise, I had to make sure I could see my TV to make sure the timing was right, especially on the mission mode. For some exercises, craning to see the TV is awkward and not conducive to the exercise.

Things that I liked about the game, other than the fact that it is a great workout, is that you can choose your intensity level, plus as you unlock the missions, you also unlock fitness, wellness, and diet tips.

So. I guess my final assessment of the game is that it is a fantastic idea and I love Jillian Michaels' workouts, but I wish the execution were better. I will probably still mix this game in with my other Wii workouts, but will do my main exercising with my standbys, like EA Sports Active, which is still my favorite Wii workout game.

Honesty Clause: I received a review copy of this game at no charge. List price is $39.99.