You're a parent with preteen kids, and you'd like to spend some time together playing video games. Good idea. (I hope you're also reading and playing with them outside).
But you have a problem. You don't want a game with violent or mature content because your kids are too young. You don't want a numbers and alphabet game because your kids are too old. They're bored with Wii Sports and Wii Play, and you simply refuse to put yourself through another iteration of Mario Party. What to do?
Here's a short list of recent games that may be helpful. They all manage to strike the right balance of challenge and accessibility, making them fun for both you and your kids. Each is suitable for all ages (one contains "cartoon violence"), and they comprise a varied set of experiences from puzzle solving to platforming to...well, brawling.
AudioSurf (PC) - "Ride your music." Audiosurf is a music-adapting puzzle racer where you use your own music to create your own experience. The shape, the speed, and the mood of each ride is determined by the song you choose. You can race to your favorite tunes, and your kids can race to theirs. Better yet, challenge them to find a piece of music that will make dear old Dad crash. This is a terrific game that can be customized to suit everyone's musical tastes.
Professor Layton and the Curious Village (Nintendo DS) - An adventure game full of exploration, puzzles, and mini-games. St. Mystere is brimming with hidden puzzles. Tap your surroundings to find them, inspect items and talk to people. The brain teasers are fun to solve and many provide quite a challenge. Though the game is designed as a single-player experience, it's more fun to work together to solve the puzzles. A beautiful and well-crafted game.
Zack and Wiki (Wii) - Another single-player game that's more fun with helpers, Zack and Wiki is a puzzle adventure game that proves Nintendo isn't the only developer that understands how to integrate the Wii-mote into clever gesture-based gameplay. This game is HARD (in a fun way, trust me), and you'll be grateful for the additional brainpower of your family. I recommend passing the Wiimote to a new person for each level.
Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga (Wii, PS3, Xbox360, DS) - Play through all six Star Wars movies in one
game - with Lego characters! This game features a terrific co-op mode, enabling two players to take on all the challenges together. Don't be put off by the Lego branding. This is a well-made game with high production values and a wry sense of humor about the Star Wars universe.
Super Smash Bros. Brawl (Wii) - I'm recommending a game I haven't yet played (it arrives in North America on March 9), but from all accounts this is likely to be the must-have multiplayer game of 2008. Featuring a full roster of Nintendo characters, Brawl is a fighting game with no kills, only knockouts and ring-outs. Up to four players can play at once (the more the better), and even button mashers can win. The game highlights music and levels from Nintendo games dating all the way back to the original NES. The family that Brawls together stays together, right?