Video game suggestions for a preschooler who loves Braid
December 1, 2009 9:16 AM   Subscribe

Beautiful, open world platformers for the pre-school set? Does such a thing exist? Also open to general video game recommendations for the 5-7 age range.

My 5 year old son spotted me playing Braid and was immediately drawn into the world of this game. He has a budget of "screen time" with various elements of reward and negotiation but I like him to have a decent amount of control over how he spends that time as long as he stays within our set boundaries of content. He's wanted to play Braid a lot but he's pretty much wrung all the pleasure he can out of it.

The thing is, what he seems to like best about Braid is the art, exploring the worlds, and the characters that pop up. Though he took to the platformer mechanics very naturally, he can't negotiate difficult jumps and such, too much enemy danger frustrates him, and of course the time manipulation puzzles are beyond him. Since the focus in Braid is the puzzles rather than the worlds themselves there is not much to explore: the worlds are pretty small and brief.

It made me wish there could be a more open-world sort of platformer game that was focused on exploration and discovery rather than stomping enemies and making tricky jumps. Natural as this sounds to me it seems to be a tall order of the game design world but I figured it couldn't hurt to ask.

I'm generally finding it tough to find good games for him at this age. He is becoming bored with the super-simple point and click and scroller fodder we've found at websites like PBS Kids or for his increasingly dust-gathering Leapster 2 handheld. Too-high difficulty curves and too violent content are my main problems with the next level up. I don't mind a game requiring my assistance (reading, explaining, helping on difficult moments) but he gets satisfaction out of self-motivated success and when the game is too difficult, confusing or text heavy it tends to end up with him sitting in my lap watching me play. I'd really like things with a fair bit of content that aren't so crush-enemies or get-to-the-end-goal-oriented.

In addition to the Leapster 2 (which I've been kind of underwhelmed by the software for, which tends to combine too-easy and somewhat buggy games with too-advanced and pasted-on-feeling educational content) we have a newer iMac, a Wii and a Nintendo DS (which I plan to give him when I upgrade to the DSi by and by). I don't want to buy any more platforms or computers. Suggestions of good games for the younger player on these platforms are welcome.
posted by nanojath to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
"A Boy and His Blob (Wii)" looks gorgeous and has been getting good reviews. From the review linked:

Unlike the NES game, Blob is pleasantly forgiving: there are no lives, there's no need for continues, and you need never fear running out of jellybeans. Checkpoints are frequent, and when you die you rarely lose much progress.


There's very little need for manual dexterity, even in the toughest boss battles; it's a game designed for absolutely anyone to play, provided they're a quick thinker.

I have yet to play it, but I am looking forward to it.
posted by 2bucksplus at 9:51 AM on December 1, 2009

The first thing that comes to mind is almost any Mario game, but especially Super Mario Galaxy and New Super Mario Bros Wii, both for the Wii. Any game with Mario is going to be completely non-violent (jumping on enemies to dispatch them causes them to disappear in a poof). While they are certainly goal-oriented, Mario games are paradigms of beautiful, engaging world design in which wandering around can be just as fun as completing the designated goals.

Mario Galaxy is 3D, which might take some getting used to but makes exploration more exciting. New Super Mario Bros Wii is a retro 2D platformer that can be played by multiple players simultaneously, which might be a lot of fun for both of you. Both games increase in difficulty pretty dramatically from the first easy levels to the final stages, but I think a 5 year old could get the hang of it pretty quickly, and progress far enough in the game to enjoy the variety.

You can also purchase older Mario games through the Wii Shop, including Super Mario 64, which is a beautiful 3D platformer offering tons of freeform exploration. It's a little more freeform than Mario Galaxy, which can be a little linear and goal-oriented in that you can't always go backwards through the level.

While it isn't a platformer, I think Animal Crossing: City Folk might be an appropriate game for a kid of that age. Similarly, Endless Ocean stresses open-ended exploration, but isn't a platformer either. Both are for the Wii.
posted by oulipian at 9:56 AM on December 1, 2009

These are not platformers, but games my 6 year old enjoys.

Animal Crossing for DS (newer Wii version available, but I haven't played).
Crayon Physics (PC, maybe other versions).
Pokemon Platinum DS.

Animal Crossing is great for this age. It motivates them to read (there a little text), and teaches some concepts about money, time, fossils, bugs.
posted by stchang at 9:58 AM on December 1, 2009

How about Learning with the PooYoos?
posted by jbickers at 10:16 AM on December 1, 2009

It's not really pure exploration but William and Sly is really cute and has an open-world feel. It's not violent at all, very beautiful, the ony thing is that the ending is a bit challenging.
posted by SageLeVoid at 10:27 AM on December 1, 2009

You said you didn't want a new console, but Katamari Damacy is a pretty amazing exploration game with very simple controls. You can pick up a used PS2 pretty cheaply...
posted by gregr at 11:09 AM on December 1, 2009

Be warned about Super Mario Brothers Wii - it's relentlessly difficult. It's quite possible a 12 year old boy would be better at it than I am, but a 5 year old would probably not make it very far.

You could check out De Blob for the Wii (note: different than "The Boy and His Blob" mentioned above). It's a colour-based platformer, where you paint a black and white town to defeat aliens. There are a few places where jumping is required but a lot of the game is just rolling around spreading colour. A very joyous mechanic compared to a lot of other games.
posted by Gortuk at 11:17 AM on December 1, 2009

I heartily second Endless Ocean (Wii) - in the process of exploring he'll learn a lot about sea life - and Animal Crossing (DS/Wii/etc). Harvest Moon might be a title to look at if he's okay with repetitive things like farming, but I haven't played any recent incarnations.

I'd also recommend Aquaria (PC) for its gorgeous underwater scenery and easy of movement. Later on, there are some dark spots (you have a lantern around you) and some spots that require some jumping, but I seem to remember that dying was trivial. Plus, I liked cooking concoctions and exploring. There are boss battles that aren't too difficult. There's a demo available to try out.

Perhaps he'd like Spore? It's exploratory, interesting, and rewards players for both peaceful and aggressive styles. It's not that hard to get the control scheme and it's got a lot of room for designing.
posted by bookdragoness at 11:27 AM on December 1, 2009

My 4-year-old son likes the exact same sort of open-ended exploration. You would think there would be more games that cater to that market. There's only so much Flash coloring and matching the boy can handle.

I'll 2nd Super Mario Galaxy. That's probably his favorite, and he enjoys watching it as well as playing it and walking around the home world (where you can't fall off).

He also enjoyed The Munchables, although more to watch than to's a little beyond his skill level.

And on the PC, we enjoy doing all the Aminita Design games together. His all time favorite to play around with is The Pantry.
posted by Otis at 11:41 AM on December 1, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for all the suggestions, lots to research.
posted by nanojath at 5:11 PM on December 1, 2009

My eldest loves point and click puzzle physical games like Machinarium and Windowsill.
posted by pharm at 2:49 AM on December 3, 2009

Seconding Machinarium. Came in here solely to recommend that. Steam has a demo. Beautiful art style.
posted by Precision at 9:35 AM on December 26, 2009

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