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Family Gaming On The PlayStation 4

Console launches are often associated with die-hard gamers, and for good reason. Early adopters tend to be the hardest of the hardcore, plunking down hundreds of dollars on hardware that has yet to prove its value. Of course, many of these same people who have the means to spend that kind of cash on launch systems defy the lonely gamer stereotype. With that in mind, here are some family-friendly games that will be available when the PlayStation 4 launches on Friday.

Knack 

(ESRB: E10+ for fantasy violence)

Don’t let Knack’s friendly exterior fool you – if you play on the game’s normal difficulty setting, you’re in for an old-school challenge. Enemies and obstacles pack a brutal wallop, and you may have to get used to the sight of the friendly character reduced to a lifeless pile of junk. On easy, however, the difficulty is scaled back for younger players or people who haven’t spent hours on the sticks. 

There’s also a co-op mode, which allows a second player to jump in as Knack’s robotic helper. He’s clearly a supporting character – he doesn’t appear in cutscenes, and he has infinite respawns – but players who take control of the shiny fellow do more than tag along. They can heal Knack, as well as scout ahead and soften enemies up.

Since player two effectively has infinite lives, I’d say he’s a perfect character for someone with less gaming experience. If you can wrangle up a partner who knows what she’s doing, even better – you’re probably going to be an unstoppable team.

Lego Marvel Super Heroes

(ESRB: E10+ for cartoon violence)

Traveller’s Tales’ latest outing was fantastic on current-generation consoles, and it’s just as great on PlayStation 4. The changes that come with next gen are primarily related to performance, so players who make the leap won’t be getting any actual new content such as extra characters or missions. Instead, they’ll get a version that runs smoother, loads faster, and looks slightly better.

The most noticeable improvements come with loading speeds. Switching characters from the game’s meaty roster is nearly instantaneous, and while mission loading isn’t as quick, it’s noticeably shorter. The game uses higher-quality character models as well. It’s not a night and day difference, but the level of detail in characters’ hair or complex environments such as the Hydra base is noticeable. If you were waiting to see how the game fared on PS4 before picking it up on current-gen consoles, it looks like your patience is going to pay off.

Angry Birds Star Wars

(ESRB: E for comic mischief and mild cartoon violence)

Last year’s Angry Birds/Star Wars mashup is coming to the PS4 in the appropriately titled Angry Birds Star Wars. The game is undeniably fun, but it comes with a caveat: This sucker is pricy. 

First the good stuff. The game includes all of the content from the game and its updates, as well as 20 new Rovio-designed levels based in Coruscant. Players can chuck their birds using the Dualshock 4’s analog sticks, the Move controller, or the controller’s new touchscreen. I used all three inputs during my demo, and ended up settling on the analog setup. It comes down to player preference, and I appreciate the effort that went into providing as many choices to players as possible. There are some co-op and competitive modes as well, including a party mode that pits players against each other in 1, 3, or 5 random levels. It looks quite nice, and I was glad to see the restart level shortcut return from Angry Birds Trilogy.

The package is quite nice, but it’s not cheap. I don’t usually bring up price when I’m talking about a game, but it bears mention in this instance. The original Angry Birds Star Wars is available on mobile devices for a buck. It doesn’t look as crisp or feature some of the levels or modes that the PS4 version brings, but it’s a significant chunk of the same experience. The PlayStation 4 version will set you back about $50.

Skylanders: Swap Force

(ESRB: E10+ for cartoon violence)

One of the best things about Skylanders: Swap Force is that the Skylanders figurines you might already own can seamlessly make the leap to next gen. All of your characters’ levels and unlocked abilities are locked to the toy, so when you place them on the new game’s portal you aren’t starting from scratch.

The game itself looks amazing on the PlayStation 4. Some (but not all) of the game’s cutscenes are built using in-game models, as opposed to the prerendered versions that were used in current gen. The environments include little touches such as cobblestones that appear to jut out of worn paths, in contrast to the flatter versions you see on other hardware platforms. The differences are subtle, but striking; going back to older versions won’t be easy.

Players who own a Vita can play co-op using the Remote Play option. Even though you use the portable system as your own screen, you’ll still be tethered to your partner. And you’ll want to stay close to your PS4; those Skylanders aren’t going to switch positions on the portal by themselves.

Just Dance 2014

(ESRB: E10+ for lyrics and mild suggestive themes)

Ubisoft’s dance game is getting a major upgrade on the PlayStation 4. The biggest is that dancers can perform using the optional PlayStation Camera instead of using the Move controller. Players who use that input method will then have their leg movements also tracked during their dance routines instead of just their upper bodies. While there’s something to be said about sitting on your couch and faking it, this new level of accuracy makes the game significantly more fun.

Everything from Just Dance 2014 is in the game, including a mode that tracks calories burned, worldwide challenges, and the ability to share your best moves online. It also marks the first time Lady GaGa’s track “Just Dance” has been featured in the game, which seems like something that’s been a long time coming.

Need for Speed Rivals

(ESRB: E10+ for mild violence)

The latest entry in the Need for Speed series is continues the cops versus robbers theme. From what I played of Rivals, it seems like a perfect fit for players who aren’t quite old enough for something like Killzone, but would be completely embarrassed by even the concept of “family friendly” gaming. 

It’s an arcade-style racer, which means you can plow through rows of fences without coming to a disappointingly abrupt stop. You can choose to play as a police officer or racer, and either enforce the law or speed through it with reckless abandon. Either way, when you inevitably get too confident and botch a corner or are broadsided by an online player, crashes are rendered with the proper amount of crunching metal and shattering glass – but without people launching through windshields or otherwise taking onscreen damage.

Doki-Doki Universe

(ESRB: Not yet rated)

Doki-Doki Universe won’t be available at launch, but it’s coming in December. I just wanted to bring it up because it’s worth keeping an eye out for it. The downloadable title is focused on a little robot who’s been abandoned by his family. As it turns out, it’s partially because he’s a bit of a jerk. Fortunately, a little guy named Alien Jeff arrives to help QT3 (the bot) out. 

The pair travel to a variety of planets, each themed by different emotions and aspects of humanity, such as devotion, love, or, well, poop. The game is rendered with scribbly, but effective visuals. As you play, the choices you make are crunched behind the scenes to make a psychological profile of sorts about you. There are also straight up quizzes that attempt to do the same. I took a five-question one, and it was either remarkably accurate or lucky.

I point Doki-Doki Universe out because I’m always looking for games that reward empathy or spark discussion, and I think this could do both. It’s a Cross Buy game, which means you’ll get the PS3, PS4, and Vita versions of the game for $14.99 when it comes out. You can also play some of the game at no cost, so you’ll be able to see if it’s something you enjoy before buying it.

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