It’s only May, but we’re already staring at summer vacation. If you have trips planned for the summer, it’s time to start thinking about what you can do to fill those lost hours in the back of the car or in the cabin of a plane. Here’s five new games for your phone or Nintendo 3DS that will not only keep kids and teens busy, but are also worth the time of grown-up gamers.
POCKET CARD JOCKEY
Nintendo 3DS, $6.99, rated E10+
WHAT IT IS: “Pocket Card Jockey” is one of those weirdo mash-ups that only make sense inside the bizarre world of video games: you’re tasked with leading a horse race empire, but to win races you have to be really good at playing Solitaire. It’s a simpler version of the classic card game (you only worry about the card’s numerical rank, not the color or suit), but it requires speed and efficiency to inspire your horse to do its best. Between races, you can breed horses, earn Solitaire-focused abilities or buy power-ups with your race winnings.
WHY IT’S GOOD: The Solitaire core is easy to understand, but the layers of gaming surrounding it add complexity and context. “Pocket Card Jockey” is a great example of a game starting with something familiar and slathering it in goofiness to create something charming.
HIDDEN EXPENSE: None! For the cheap price, “Card Jockey” is a great buy.
DISNEY CROSSY ROAD
iOS/Android, free, rated E
WHAT IT IS: The original “Crossy Road” is a genuine mobile gaming phenom, so it was only a matter of time before the Big Corporate Licensors started calling. “Disney Crossy Road” is an officially licensed repaint of a phone hit that is a modernized “Frogger”: you hop across busy highways and log-filled rivers to see how far you get before you die. It’s actually a bit surprising that Disney would go for a game that features Mickey Mouse getting hit by a car.
WHY IT’S GOOD: “Crossy Road” is a solid challenge, and this Disney version goes deep into the fan service while enhancing the original’s basics. Unlockable characters are grouped into themes – like “Toy Story” or “Haunted Mansion” – with each theme offering slightly changed-up gameplay. The “Lion King” board, for example, periodically makes you frantically hop ahead of a wildebeest stampede, and the “Inside Out” level has you collecting memory orbs (while still avoiding traffic) to beef up your score.
HIDDEN EXPENSE: New characters are awarded via a randomized lottery that is activated by spending in-game coins, but if you absolutely have to own a specific character, you can buy them for anywhere from $1 to $3. A $5 piggy bank option (yes, it’s Hamm) lets you earn those in-game coins faster. If you’re not picky about who you play, you can spend nothing and just unlock new characters as you can.
UNCHARTED: FORTUNE HUNTER
iOS/Android, free, rated T
WHAT IT IS: Spinning out from the “Uncharted” franchise on PlayStation, “Uncharted: Fortune Hunter” turns the high-def action blockbuster series into a mind-bending puzzle game. Striking very close to previous video game-to-mobile game transfers like “Lara Croft GO” and “Hitman GO,” “Uncharted: Fortune Hunter” challenges you to get from point A to point B while avoiding dungeon traps.
WHY IT’S GOOD: “Fortune Hunter” is an expansive collection of brain-teasers, elevating it from being just another cross-platform advertisement. In addition to simply reaching the treasure, each puzzle has a par goal so you can try to solve in as few moves as possible, requiring a deep understanding of how best to tackle each mix of dart-throwing statues and falling block traps.
HIDDEN EXPENSE: You can spend $1 to reveal the location of the game’s many treasures, which is not a bad investment. Less intriguing is the app’s buckets of “orbs” (priced from $2 to $10), which can then be spent to make levels easier. You’re going to earn free orbs anyway while playing.
DISNEY ART ACADEMY
Nintendo 3DS, $29.99, rated E
WHAT IT IS: Use your 3DS to draw dozens of Disney characters, in a series of guided lessons. The lessons start out easy but quickly arc into teaching the basics of character design, including a discussion of symmetry, shadow and other techniques. There are also plenty of “free draw” options, in which you look at a character on the top screen while doing your best to duplicate on the bottom screen, plus you can save your artwork to your device’s SD card.
WHY IT’S GOOD: “Disney Art Academy” is part of a series of 3DS releases that work to make art instruction easy and fun. Your lessons are framed as if you’re working with other new artists on filling a Disney art gallery, giving the curriculum a cute ongoing narrative. One highlight is seeing the work of the game’s partner characters, which is adorably off-model as if having been created by a second grader.
HIDDEN EXPENSE: None, but if you like the concept, there’s a “Pokémon Art Academy” version available separately that is exactly the same thing, except with “Pokémon” characters.
FIRE EMBLEM FATES
Nintendo 3DS, $39.99, rated T
WHAT IT IS: “Fire Emblem Fates” is a turn-based tactical game where you move soldiers around on various battlefields to rout enemy forces. The trick is that each soldier is unique, able to be customized with specific weapons and gear, and open to developing relationships with fellow soldiers that will increase their prowess. Over enough battles, some of these relationships can extend beyond the war zone and become outright marriages, leading to time-travelling children who can also join your army.
WHY IT’S GOOD: Both halves of the game – strategic Chess-like battling and anime relationship builder – are engrossing, and the way each portion interacts with the other adds to the game’s personalized appeal.
HIDDEN EXPENSE: This one is complicated. “Fire Emblem Fates” is split into two versions (subtitled “Birthright” and “Conquest”), each retailing for $40. After buying one, you have the option to buy and download the other version for $20. There is a third story called “Revelation” that is available for another $20, plus piles of extra maps and whatnot, all priced separately. This extra content is for the fan who REALLY likes “Fire Emblem”; no one will judge you if you’re okay with buying only the original $40 game.