Ah, parenting in the 21st century. While my dad and I used to bond over fishing, my five-year-old son and me bond while playing on the GameCube. OK, as the years go by, we'll ski together, play basketball and, yes, drop a line or two, but a little computer gaming has its place, too. We have rules about when we can play, and, yes, playing on the GameCube has become another chit in the elaborate system of rewards used to modify his behavior. I'm sure some parents may not think highly of playing video games, but I enjoy it, he enjoys it, and last time I checked, childhood was supposed to be fun.
Growing up, we had Pong, then Mattel's Intellivision; going from those to a modern system like Playstation 2, GameCube or Xbox, is like going from a horse-drawn buggy to a Lamborghini. Games today are clever, immersive and great to look at.
So along with Marty Demarest's game reviews, I'll be chipping in from a kid's perspective. First up is Kirby AirRide (Rated: E), a racing game that seems to have been designed especially for young kids. The key here is you only steer and push one button -- you can't fall off the track, so lack of skill isn't an obsacle to enjoyment. But there are advanced tricks to master, so the game can stay fresh for young and old.
Kirby is a little pink blob guy, and he rides on a variety of levitating scooter-type vehicles. One to four players can race, and when I'm playing with my son, I can crank down my speed setting to keep the match close (he really likes to win). There are three race tracks: one is just a city that you race around in, unlocking surprises and mini races; the next is a series of tracks viewed from above; and the best are the 3-D tracks. These racetracks are in wild and beautiful settings, from hot lava beds (my son's favorite) to cities in the sky.
The racing is fast and furious, but the twist is that Kirby swallows characters that come along, giving him new powers, like being able to fly or whack other racers. (Playing with kids, it's rare that you're right next to one other, so whacking opportunities are few. But while playing with friends, this feature would make for lots of fun.) My son loves trying out the different vehicles, but he doesn't stick with this game for long. He seems to prefer the story-based games, like Scooby Doo or Luigi's Mansion. Still, even if it's only in the GameCube for short stretches, Kirby AirRide has become a favorite at our house.
Publication date: 11/06/03