The Hottest Video Games of the Year

Cars: Mater-National
Looking for the best (and safest) games? Gaming experts from the Children's Technology Review found the best systems for kids. Check out which ones made the cut.
Devon Jarvis
Devon Jarvis

Best Systems

With a growing software library, handy touch screen, and headphone jacks (for adult sanity), the Leapster tops the list for delivering a quality learning experience on the go. The system offers more than 40 game cartridges at $20 each. (Ages 3 to 12, $60.)

ClickStart: My First Computer
If you don't want your toddler playing on your computer, don't stress: This cute keyboard plugs into your TV and delivers computer-quality games for your little one to learn and play. You can customize the $20 software for up to three different kids. (Ages 3 to 6, $60.)

Nintendo DS Lite
This gaming device might be small, but it packs quite a punch with its built-in wireless messaging, voice recognition, and awesome touch screen. Kids have their choice of dozens of great games. And it comes in four cool colors: crimson, white, black, and pink. (Ages 4+, $130.)

Cool for Preschool

Puzzle Play Software: Dot-to-Dots, Hidden Pictures, and Mazes
These workbook/CD-ROM games are a lot of bang for your buck. One of the most popular activities is the dot-to-dot game, which lets your child create and then color in his own puzzles, using
either the alphabet or the traditional number line as a guide. (Ages 4+, $8 each, PC and Mac.)

Konami Kids Playground Series
Combining a floor mat (think Dance Dance Revolution for preschoolers) with educational games, this new series will keep kids' bodies -- and minds -- active. Players have to jump around to enter their answers for a number of subjects, including math, pre-reading, and logic. (Ages 2 to 5, $40 with pad, PS2.)

Smart Boy's Gameroom and Smart Girl's Playhouse
Put an entire preschool in your child's pocket! With 12 well-designed games, both titles (one for girls, one for boys) let your child do everything from recording a song (as a dog) to matching a set of car horns. And like any good pre-K game, it offers plenty of exposure to early math and reading concepts. (Ages 3+, $20 each, DS.)

Family Game Night

Mario Party 8
Is everyone tired of your dusty board games? Kids and parents will have a great time competing against each other in a variety of mini games, such as racing to shake up a cola can, rowing across the river first, or balancing the longest on a tightrope. (Ages 5+, $50, Wii.)

Carnival Games
Step right up, folks, for a test of skill and strength -- on your TV screen. This program uses the Wii's unique motion-detection controller system to simulate 25 famous carnival games, like balloon darts, alley ball, and the dunk tank, for up to four players at a time. (Ages 5+, $40, Wii.)

Get Your Groove On

PaRappa the Rappa
Hands down, this is one of the strangest -- and most fun -- musical games of the year. Through a series of rhythm-matching games, players learn how to put together a comical, G-rated rap. It starts out easy and gets very difficult. (Ages 6+, $30, PSP.)

Hannah Montana: Music Jam
Turn your Nintendo DS into an electric guitar with this rockin' game. Your children can also form their very own virtual rock band by linking to another DS, where a friend can join in on the drums or piano using the system's wireless connection. (Ages 5+, $30, DS.)

Forget American Idol! You can get your karaoke on (microphone included) in this addictive sing-and-dance game. Plus, you control your own onstage dancer with the Wii controllers, spinning and jumping along to the music. The better your moves, the better your score. (Ages 10+, $60 for Wii, $50 for PS2, $30 for DS.)

High School Musical: Sing It!
If your kid loves the Disney hit on TV, she'll go nuts for the game. She can sing her way to stardom with the two-microphone kit -- as long as she stays in key. Invite a friend over to play in duet mode. (Ages 5+, $60 for Wii, $40 for PS2.)

Action & Adventure

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Fans of the book will have a blast exploring the mazelike corridors of Hogwarts. The game is a virtual scavenger hunt that gives kids a chance to learn spells as Harry. Warning: The game is just as dark (read: scary) as the movie. (Ages 8+, $40 for Wii, $30 for PS2, PS3, PSP, and Xbox 360, $20 for DS, Game Boy Advance, and PC.)

Nancy Drew: Legend of the Crystal Skull
Hard to believe that this is the 17th title in the software series. But the programs just keep getting better and better. Players have to use their critical-thinking skills to decipher cryptic messages and solve the mystery of the hidden treasure. (Ages 10+, $20, PC.)

Playdate Picks

Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga
Do your kids always fight? There's nothing like a problem-solving game to help them work it out. They have to get along and help each other in order to defeat the dark side. Bonus: The Wii remote becomes a lightsaber in the Nintendo edition. (Ages 8+, $50 for PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii, $35 for DS.)

Super Mario Galaxy
In a fantasy world where up and down have no meaning, your kids play together to shake, tilt, and drag items on the screen. The goal is to help Mario find the missing Princess Peach. (Ages 5+, $50, Wii.)

Brain Teasers

Hot Brain
Test your wits with a collection of logic games. The program tracks your child's performance in five categories, including math problems, memory tests, and timed quizzes. Reading is required. (Ages 7+, $30, PSP.)

Big Brain Academy: Wii Degree
You'll have to put on your thinking cap to solve the fun challenges in this puzzler. There are 15 games that up to eight people can play at the same time. But the cool part is that you can play at different skill levels, which means even younger kids can join in on the fun. (Ages 6+, $50, Wii.)

Brain Age 2
Big Brain for the DS includes some really neat features that are unique to the handheld system, such as a voice-recognition version of "Rock, Paper, Scissors," where you say the answer out loud. (Ages 6+, $20, DS.)

My Word Coach
A high-tech tutor, this innovative collection of word games lets your kid race to fill in missing sentences, build words out of letters floating in alphabet soup, and much more. It's a fun way to build up your child's vocabulary. (Ages 8+, $50 for Wii, $30 for DS.)

Crafty Kids

Easy to play and full of creative options, this town-building game takes your child right inside the houses, where she can talk to the residents and help them restore their neighborhood. (Ages 5+, $50 for Wii, $30 for DS.)

Drawn to Life
What's really cool about this game is that your kids get to help create it, using the stylus to sketch parts of it themselves. As they work through the adventure, they have to draw three hero characters, 15 vehicles to drive, and much more. (Ages 6+, $30, DS.)

Thrillville: Off the Rails
Theme-park sims are hardly a new idea, but this is the first to smoothly combine virtual-life elements with the rides. Building a roller coaster is much easier, and the 100-plus missions and mini games keep things interesting. (Ages 10+, $50 for Xbox 360 and Wii, $40 for PSP, $30 for PC, and $25 for DS.)

Good Sports!

Cars: Mater-National
A great first racing game for kids, thanks to its easy steering capabilities. It features all the main characters from the hit movie and gives players the chance to drive their own monster truck in the First Annual Mater-National Race Festival. There are also more than 20 mini games included. (Ages 5+, $50 for Wii, Xbox 360, PS3, and PS2, $30 for DS and Game Boy Advance.)

Virtua Tennis 3
Tennis, anyone? Create your own player and take on the likes of Roger Federer or Venus Williams, or try your hand at one of the clever mini games like tennis bowling, in which you knock down giant pins with carefully placed serves. (Ages 8+, $60 for Xbox 360 and PS3, $40 for PSP.)

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