Fantastic Four : Rise of the Silver SurferXbox 360 logo 

My sons are 7 and 9 -- and we are routinely looking for 3-player games. 

  • We've done party games like Viva Pinata : Party Animals, as well as Fuzion Frenzy2.
  • We have games on our Nintendo GameCube and Wii.
  • And we currently do a lot of tag-teaming on 2-player games, where I play with one boy for a few levels and then play with the other.  The Lego Star Wars titles are phenomenal for this.ratingsymbol_T

But there aren't a lot of family-friendly, next-generation-console, 4-player titles out yet.  It's hard to let 7 and 9 year old boys play a rated "T" game, but you can only race candy-stuffed piñata's for so long.  It turns out that if any character whacks any other character even with a cartoon club, it counts as "Violence" to the ESRB and out goes the E-rating.  I totally applaud the ESRB system, as it makes M's easy "no's" and helps me filter "T's".

So, I picked up F4:ROTSS last week and my wife and I tried a level to understand the content and format.  And then, with mamma convinced, she and I played with our sons.  Later, she stepped out and it is now our newest game for us 3 boys (me included).

  Marvel Ultimate AllianceJustice League : Heroes -- for original Xbox

To be clear, on its own, F4:ROTSS is a good game - not a great game.  If you are a teenager or adult and want to suit up as a super hero, Marvel Ultimate Alliance is a better game all around - a wider range of heroes (including the Fantastic Four), sharper graphics, better gameplay and layout.  Although I do like the slightly larger heroes, detail and cutscenes in F4:ROTSS.

In fact, if you don't care about the achievement points, Justice League : Heroes for the original Xbox is also a good game in the superhero crawler-style genre.  My sons and I still watch the Justice League show together. 

I am sooooo glad that I was blessed to be the father of sons.  My daughter is great too, but she doesn't game yet and is still learning the superheroes' names.  :-)

As a way to introduce your pre-teen gamer to dungeon-crawling styled adventures with "family-friendly" violence - F4:ROTSS is a good place to start. 

"Dungeon-Crawling" means that your team wanders through room after room, beating up bad guys, occasionally teaming up on a big bad guy, finding special items and developing a storyline.  Its more than just "races" or "contests" like party-style games. 

By "family-friendly violence", I mean that bad guys zap with ray guns and the good guys punch them or use their special powers, with far less graphical detail than the Saturday morning cartoons that these games are based on - with no blood, language or other objectionable materials.

In our family, we have a surprisingly well-aligned Fantastic Four team:

My 7-year old is a bruiser of a gamer, always in the thick of the action -- the Thing -- he just runs in and starts pounding on stuff.

My 9-year old is learning the finer points of special powers and abilities within gaming and is often just outside of the center of the fray -- Mr. Fantastic, Reed Richards.

I am the Human Torch ... and I play him in the game, too.  :-)

And either the Xbox360 or my wife (with daughter "helping") plays the Invisible Woman.  Get it?  the fourth player isn't always visible?

 

The team-based style, including some special moves that involve two-characters simultaneously, is also a great way to teach teamwork.  The boys are learning that each character has its own unique abilities.  There are puzzles where only one character is suitable to address the issue and enable the team to move forward.  They are learning that for our team to win - each of them has to participate, has to leverage their special abilities and is appreciated for their contribution - but recognizing that they are not individually winning the game, the team is.  It's a good life lesson.

Beyond that, the gameplay is intuitive, if not somewhat repetitive for an adult gamer - but great for the family -- even if the kids have not been introduced to the Fantastic Four heroes before.

Fantastic_Four_logoSpeaking of which, I don't believe that the cartoon series is in production these days, so one can pick up the DVD's fairly cheap (especially the older series).  And soon, my wife and I will preview the F4 movies to see if they boys can watch them, too.  We've seen them for our own entertainment, but we'll watch them again through the eyes of "parents" before the boys and I have a movie night.  The more ways that we can expose them to the same characters and stories, the more they get out of each of them.  (Kind of like the Viva Piñata TV show and games - but we've covered that already).

If your pre-teen gamers are looking for the next step in their gaming development, but they aren't ready for Halo3 or more advanced crawler-style gaming like Dungeons and Dragons, check out Fantastic Four : Rise of the Silver Surfer.