Can Educational Video Games Be Enough for Wii-Hungry Kids?

One way in which this year is no different from the last few: Nintendo still has a stranglehold on many kids’ holiday wish lists. If it’s not the motion-controlled Wii they want plugged into their flat-screen TVs, it’s the uber-popular Nintendo DS handheld unit. But many parents of younger kids are reluctant to get their wee ones started so early on a lifetime of Super Mario, Guitar Hero or -- heaven forbid -- Grand Theft Auto. There are fantastic educational alternatives out there, like the Leapster and the V-Smile, but there’s always the question of whether or not the kids will accept obviously good-for-you fare as video games.

For kids five and under, I think the happy answer is yes. Today’s educational video games are not the poorly animated, action-free tedium you may have seen a few years ago. Companies like Leap Frog and V-Tech have pulled out the bells and whistles in full force. Kids mesmerized by the active-play potential of the Wii can go wireless and movement-controlled with the V-Smile Motion console. And the new Leap Frog Zippity was created as an active-play system – it’s controlled by a floor mat and a tall, standing handlebar, making it impossible to play while sitting down.

Kindergarteners looking for the take-it-anywhere freedom of the Nintendo DS can be appeased with the new Leapster 2, which can connect to the Internet (via USB cable) and download new characters and items for use in games. And the V-Smile Cyber Pocket has a stylus-controlled touchscreen just like the big-kid DS. Loads of licensed-character games add to the allure.

So, that’s the good news. It becomes a lot iffier when you’re talking about kids who are in the numbered grades. And we have good old peer pressure to thank for that. Once a kid has been adventuring with Star Wars: Republic Heroes on his best friends DS, getting him to be excited about Jedi Math is a battle I wouldn’t want to fight.

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