Let me rephrase that. These are things some 6-10 year old boys who are into games and storytelling might want, based on what my kid wants. Your mileage WILL vary.
1. Super Mario Galaxy for the Wii
OK, assuming you have a Wii, you probably know all about Super Mario Galaxy. This is not your ordinary Mario platformer. It's more like Mario 64 than Paper Mario or the Super Marios. 64 was the last great Mario I felt totally immersed in for long periods of time. The new Paper Mario for the Wii and New Super Mario Brothers are equally immersive, but this may be the successor to 64 in terms of providing you that similar experience.
Mario Galaxy is a 3D game that takes Mario's adventures to space, where the hero is attempting to save Peach who has once again been abducted by Bowser. What does he expect to get from her anyway? Mario flies from planet to planet in search of our heroine, and on the way, you'll experience shifting perspectives and slew of new enemies.
I demoed this game last month and had a lot of fun playing it, but when my son tried it out at a friend's house it was a bit of a challenge. Things are little different, so it might take some time getting used to the new environment. When I demoed it, I got to try out the new collaborative mode where a second player can use a Wiimote to pin down enemies while the primary player ground pounds them. That's a welcome feature for younger players who are learning the ropes. I'm sure we'll have a ball after this one gets unwrapped.
2. Ugly Dolls
OK, you know what? Chuckanucka, that's what.
In case you haven't seen them, UglyDolls are everywhere. If your kid has a passion for storytelling, these little plush dolls are just waiting for their little hands to animate them and give them life. Character cards help you understand who they are. This is Chuckanucka's
Chuckanucka worries about pretty much everything under the sun: What if the phone rings when I go out? What if the mail man tries to deliver my Deluxe Ugly Earmuffs when I'm in the bathroom? Hey, I don't remember leaving the closet door open just a crack like that! What if I can't ever stop thinking about my name over and over? Chuckanucka has a pretty strange way of looking at life. Sometimes he wonders if this is all just a hologram, and on other days he wonders what's going to happen if they stop making CD players... How will I play my favorite CDs??? I have over nine of them!!! Poor Chuckanucka. Lucky Chuckanucka.
He worries a little much, obviously. Kids love to use stuffed animals and dolls to talk through all of the stuff that goes on in their heads, and having an array of characters who look as different as all of the emotions they may feel is more valuable than you can imagine. Gotta get some aggression out? Gotta talk about something scary? Don't worry, it's safe if you do it through the Babo. Oh, he's the one who loves cookies, by the way. They all love hugs.
There's a whole movement among craftsers around creating softies--alternative plush dolls that are not at all like the rag dolls you might have made or been given as a kid. Ugly Dolls are one very successfull example of a product line of softies being sold commercially in toy and comic book stores. The softie phenomenon picks up the momentum of edgy plush and vinyl characters imported from Japanese toys, anime and comics. But you don't have to buy them. If you're handy with a sewing machine or hand stitching, you might be interested in the book, Softies: Simple Instructions for 25 Plush Pals, which includes patterns for making a few little creatures.
3. Microbe Softies
What, you say? Those things are too babyish for my kid. Then maybe your kid wants something along the grosser side of the tracks. Then maybe the Microbe Plush Dolls at ThinkGeek are for your kid. Sure, when magnified 1,000,000 times, these things are pretty darned cute, but a Black Plague microbe might be just the thing you need to wipe out a colony of Ugly Dolls. So go ahead. Don't be afraid to give your kid head lice (seen at right). It may be just the thing they want this Christmas.
4. Lava lamps
Last year it was a rotating disco light that was added to the kid bedroom. This year, it's a lavalamp. There's going to be some dramatic lighting in that room this year.
What kid isn't fascinated by thick viscous lava-like wax gurgling and bubbling in a glass vessel? These things are timeless. I've always wanted one and this year, I get to live vicariously. We ordered ours while shopping for science toys at Edmunds Scientific, but you can get yours at Amazon as well for about $20.
5. Drawn to life for the DS
The slightest innovation in a game can often make up for big difference in experience. Customization is one of those small things that make a game like Drawn to Life unique.
Drawn to Life is an adventure game that lets your little guy draw the character he'll be using. Whatever they draw becomes animated and walks through the screen. Throughout the game, they'll also be asked to draw lots of objects that are also used as objects, platforms, etc.
6. Flip Video Ultra
How times have changed. I always hated camcorders--the idea of lugging around a handheld video camcorder to capture every moment always makes me think of dads at parties or entire families walking through Times Square. Yuck. But the constraints of digital cameras' video modes have changed a lot of the movie capture we do. If you look at the vast majority of user generated content on YouTube, you see that the younger generations are more comfortable with short clips rather than long, expository videos.
This clip culture is completely embraced by the little hands who are eager to grab your digicam away from you to shoot 30 seconds of them making faces and strange sounds, or to document something they've created. What? You say you're 6 year old has become a camera hog? Maybe it's time to get them their own.
If you don't want to shell out the dough for a full-on digicam or camcorder, this little champ might do the trick. The Flip Video Ultra Series Camcorder holds 60 minutes on its 2GB internal memory. The sturdy looking camcorder is held vertically so it should be fairly easy for little hands to manipulate. Lets you preview audio/video on it's LCD, works with Windows or Mac and costs about $120.
7. Lego Star Wars for the Wii
Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga is really the 2 games for the GameCube that have been ported to the Wii--Episodes 1-3 and 4-6. Some new features and levels have been added, but expect this to play like the original. There's no Wiimote sword swinging functionality like you would get from a game like Zelda.You can play through all episodes in one disk here.
The thing we love about this game is the cooperative game play. 2 players work together to accomplish goals here. This is like a little introduction to multiplayer game play, but in cooperative mode you share the screen so if one person wants to move in one direction, the other has to come along. Sounds tricky, but it's loads of fun to play this way, and this is the main reason I would recommend the Star Wars Lego games. Oh, that and there's lots of fun Star Wars humor to be enjoyed as you uncover the easter eggs along the way.
8. Markers for budding comic book artists
If you're in NYC, you make the trip to Pearl Paint or Kinokuniya for the finest ink and paper on which to imprint your masterpiece. But, really, any markers will do, even the Crayola kind. But if you can, find a Staples and spring for better non-permanent markers or to your arts and crafts store where you'll find a wider array of Prismacolor markers for every color imaginable, and Microns for finer ink lines.
We've got loads of markers gifted to us through the years that continue to last, but we like to buy a special color from Kinokuniya, the Japanese mega bookstore near Rock Center. We also get our A4 binders and drawing paper there to keep tje comic books we make.
Little tip for you parents out there.... when the colors start to fade, try a couple of drops of water on the point and let them sit overnight. That resurrects some markers when they dry out.
9. Pokemon, YuGiOh, Digimon
Depending on how your kid rolls, he may be interested in these card games. Pokemon play still happens around this house. Digimon is desirable apparently because it's a bit more rare.
10. Sonic and Mario at the Olympic Games
Mario and Sonic sharing the same screen! What more could you ask for? We love the sports games on GameCube and Wii. Favorites have included Mario Strikers and Strikers Charged, Mario Tennis, and Mario Baseball. With the Olympics upon us, this game brings the characters from Mario and Sonic to compete in such Summer Olympics events as swimming, track and field, table tennis, fencing, and trampoline. I didn't know trampoline was an Olympic Sport.
To be fair, we already have this game. At first blush, this game seemed OK, but the more you play it, the more fun it gets. I'm at that point now where it's getting really hard to compete with my son. I don't throw games anymore because it's hard enough to win on my own merit! Anyway, we have a lot of fun playing these kinds of competitive individual sports games, learning about sportsmanship, and talking about the history of the Olympics and stuff. What, don't you do that kind of thing when you play video games?
Of course, this is no where near as fun as the real sports. It would have been nice if there were some winter events too. Since it's winter here, we've been really having a lot of fun skating lately, so would've been cool to have speed skating or hockey.
That's the kid's list for this Christmas. My list includes nothing involving consumer electronics, computers, or anything of the sort. I'll be happy with a quiet walk in the park on Christmas day.