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The Legend of Spyro (Trilogy)

[Click here to watch the A New Beginning Trailer]

[Click here to watch the The Eternal Night Trailer]

[Click here to watch the Dawn of the Dragon Trailer]

Titles: 1.) The Legend of Spyro: A New Beginning 2.) The Legend of Spyro: The Eternal Night 3.) The Legend of Spyro: Dawn of the Dragon

Genre: Fantasy Action

Rating: E10+ (Everyone 10+)

Consoles: Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS, GameCube, Xbox, PlayStation 2 (<<<A New Beginning), Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS, PlayStation 2, Wii (<<<The Eternal Night), Nintendo DS, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii (<<<Dawn of the Dragon)

Game Description:

The Legend of Spyro trilogy is a relatively newer branch of the classic Spyro games, of which there are many. This particular trilogy has newer graphics and a separate, dramatic story-line, and it also acts as the prequels to the popular Skylanders games. You play as a young dragon raised in a pleasant swamp. When you meet another dragon for the first time, you learn that you are a special dragon among the dragon species, and that it is your destiny to save the world from the Dark Master.

A New Beginning and The Eternal Night are quite similar to one another, though the second has numerous small improvements, including more varied levels. You travel through decorated fantasy lands fighting evil apes and other creatures with your claws, teeth, and draconic powers you learn throughout the span of the game, including fire, electricity, ice, earth, and eventually, time. Most of the game consists of fighting and puzzle-solving your way through levels. Flying is limited, unfortunately, and these two games are single-player only.

Dawn of the Dragon is the final installment of the trilogy. It has different animation and style than the first two, because the series was taken by new developers. This game takes place a couple of years after the first two. Since Spyro and his sister (who you meet in the previous games) are older, they can fly without limitation. This game is the only one of the three to provide multi-player. One player plays as Spyro and the other plays as his sister (who has her own, separate set of powers, including poison, fear, shadow, and wind). This game has slightly more difficult fighting and puzzle-solving. I personally found this game disappointing in comparison to the other two, and wouldn’t have played it at all if it hadn’t been for multi-player and the fantastic new flying function. Regardless, I don’t think kids will mind the differences quite as much as I do.

Skills Recommended and Required:

  • Good understanding of a controller – REQUIRED
  • Ability to use complex controls – REQUIRED
  • Problem-solving skills – REQUIRED
  • Puzzle-solving skills – HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
  • Patience – RECOMMENDED

General Difficulty:

These games are meant for kids, so they aren’t particularly difficult, but they aren’t easy either. They have slightly complicated fighting controls, and a lot of the game is fighting. The rest is puzzle-solving, which can be frustrating at times, especially in the third game. It is just hard enough that it will push a child to think outside the box at times, as all good puzzles do, but not so difficult that the kid declares hatred for the game forever (though there are points where a kid could get stuck for a while without help).

Level of Violence:

As mentioned before, a lot of the game is fighting. None of the violence is very graphic, however, but, as a dragon, you do possess the ability to set your enemies on fire (none of which are human). There is quite a bit of destruction, though none of it is much different than what a kid might see in an action show for kids. The fighting and destruction look cool, but are never severe, disturbing, or bloody. There are some bigger, scarier, more destructive monsters in the third game though, but again, the violence is kept down to an appropriate level for kids.

Use of Bad Language:

There is no bad language in these games.

Presence of a Story:

These games are very story-centered. Like a movie, they are involved and dramatic, aiming toward a young, particularly male, audience. The story-line spans across all three games, with the same action, adventure, humor, suspense, and occasional sadness you would find in a kids’ show or movie. The story is an essential part of the game, but there are plenty of cool powers and other game mechanics to make the game more than just a story.

Presence of a Message:

Like any story, there are lessons to be learned and themes throughout, such as mercy, forgiveness, bravery, perseverance, and friendship. While there is tension and negativity from certain characters, the most impressionable characters are good by nature.

Entertainment Value:

This is an appealing game to kids (especially boys) who love fantasy and action because of the awesome powers and fighting styles you possess. And, naturally, dragons are always an attracting force in games, shows, or movies for kids. The story is fit for children, simple enough to keep their attention and prevent confusion, but thought out enough to be interesting to them. There are also many stars that voice the characters of these games, including Elijah Wood, Gary Oldman, and David Spade. I should mention here that the handheld versions of the games (for the Game Boy, DS, and phones) have totally different graphics and style. I never desired playing them because they looked bad in comparison to the normal versions of the games.

Age Range Recommendation:

The age recommendation for these games are 10 and up, but, 7, 8, and 9 year-olds would probably play them well enough (though they might have a difficult time with later, more complicated puzzles). My brother played the multi-player third game with me when he was 4 – he learned quickly and wasn’t perturbed by the scarier parts of the game, but would have had a hard time with the puzzles without my help.

Usual Cost:

The games’ costs are all over the place, depending on the console you’re buying the game for, where you’re buying the game from, and whether you’re buying a new or used game. I see them on sale anywhere from $7 to $70. Make sure you can’t get the game for a lower price before buying it. I wouldn’t pay any higher than $30, maybe $40 for one of these games. Your best bet is probably buying a used game on Amazon.

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“The Art of Video Games” Exhibition at Smithsonian

 

The Art of Video Games is one of the first exhibitions to explore the forty-year evolution of video games as an artistic medium, with a focus on striking visual effects and the creative use of new technologies. It features some of the most influential artists and designers during five eras of game technology, from early pioneers to contemporary designers. The exhibition focuses on the interplay of graphics, technology and storytelling through some of the best games for twenty gaming systems ranging from the Atari VCS to the PlayStation 3.”

Click here to learn more about “The Art of Video Games” exhibit at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Click here to watch a trailer for the exhibit.

 
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Posted by on April 17, 2013 in Related Material, Video Games

 

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Kids’ Favorite Game Systems

 
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Posted by on April 3, 2013 in Polls, Video Games

 

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Wild Earth: African Safari

[Click here to watch the Wild Earth: African Safari Trailer]

Title: Wild Earth: African Safari

Genre: Educational Adventure Simulation

Rating: E (for Everyone)

Consoles: Wii

Game Description: 

In this game, you play as a photographer whose mission it is to take pictures of specific animals displaying specific behaviors in specific areas, and it is your job to find these shots in the environment you are told to search in. Usually you travel during the day by foot, but sometimes you take shots during the night or in vehicles, such as a car or helicopter. The animals and scenarios you need to take pictures of are scattered throughout each level, and can be missed or overlooked if you don’t search the right areas or capture the events in time.

This is a pretty straightforward, first-person “shooter” (which does not mean you are shooting anything – this is a video game term for games that you play through the eyes of your character). It is educational and entertaining, which is always a good combination. Animal lovers are sure to enjoy it. You simply take pictures while you are taught (through narration) about African animals, their behavior, their environment, and so forth, while having fun getting pictures of whatever you like. One interesting feature, however, is that animals behave like animals should. So if you get too close to a pride of lions or an agitated elephant, they will attack you. The game also includes some limited forms of multiplayer, such as cooperative multiplayer, where one person drives a jeep on safari and the other three take pictures from the jeep. There are also quite a few lighthearted mini-games.

Skills Required and Recommended:

  • Basic understanding of a Wiimote – REQUIRED
  • Ability to use somewhat complex controls – REQUIRED
  • Ability to read – REQUIRED
  • Problem-solving skills – RECOMMENDED

General Difficulty:

The game isn’t exactly simple, especially with the nunchuck functioning as your legs and the Wiimote functioning as your camera, but it’s not exactly difficult either. Once you understand how to use the camera, all you have to do is find your way around the level, and all the following levels tend to work the same way. Being able to read the tasks your partners ask of you and find your way around the environment are important.

Level of Violence:

This game is for kids, so it isn’t really violent, but kids will see animals behaving as animals do – hunting, eating prey, and attacking you if you come too close to them or their offspring. This might be scary to sensitive children, but isn’t graphic or otherwise intimidating. It’s simply a nuisance that is pretty easy to avoid, as you are given a warning when an animal is agitated by your presence.

Use of Bad Language:

There is no bad language in this game.

Presence of a Story:

There is a small story-line the game follows, in which you tag along with a pair of researchers that travel to different safaris in search of different animals to write articles about. You play as their designated photographer. Otherwise there is very little plot or characterization, which is normal for a simulation game like this.

Presence of a Message:

Since the focus of this game is getting photos of wildlife, the only big message this game promotes is respect and appreciation of wild animals in their natural habitats and capturing their actions through photography.

Entertainment Value:

This isn’t a big adventure story, and it’s relatively short for a video game, but it still has good entertainment quality. It’s fun taking pictures, setting up different zooms and angles to get a good shot of what you are required to get shots of and anything else you want to photograph on the way. There are also mini-games that younger children will appreciate, especially since you play as lots of favorite animals in them.

Age Range Recommendation:

As long as your child can read (or you plan on being there to read for them), they’ll be fine playing this game. Even if your child can’t read, the game is still technically playable, though they might not succeed because they are unable to read what shots their partners expect them to take. What’s nice is that older children and teens tend to find it just as fun as a younger kid would, maybe even more than a younger kid would. If your child likes taking pictures, then this game will be fun for them.

Usual Cost:

I’ve seen used versions of these games sold for around $5, especially on sites like Amazon, but it can also be up to $10-$15 brand new, and in some cases, $20. It isn’t too hard to find this game cheap, though, especially if you buy a used version online.

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2013 in Video Games, Wii

 

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Endless Ocean and Endless Ocean: Blue World

 

[Click here to watch the Endless Ocean Trailer]

[Click here to watch the Endless Ocean: Blue World Trailer]

Titles: Endless Ocean and Endless Ocean: Blue World

Genre: Educational Adventure Simulation

Rating: E (Everyone) for Endless Ocean and E10+ (Everyone 10+) for Endless Ocean: Blue World

Consoles: Wii

Game Description: 

Endless Ocean is a Japanese game (known in Japan as Forever Blue) in which you play as a customizable scuba diver who has been newly recruited to discover the mystery of the “Ancient Mother” in Manoa Lai, a local ocean region. You can follow the main story-line or you can explore, filling up the map of Manoa Lai as you venture through more and more of it, including reefs, underwater ruins, sunken ships, and even an abyss. You are able to find, name, and train dolphin partners who will swim with you wherever you go, take photos of marine wildlife (for fun or on assignments), guide novice scuba divers who wish to see various parts of Manoa Lai, and eventually customize an aquarium tank that can hold any of the aquatic species you have already discovered. An encyclopedia on board the ship you live in keeps track of which creatures you have identified and which you have yet to discover.

Endless Ocean: Blue World (known in Japan as Endless Ocean 2: Adventures of the Deep), the more advanced sequel to Endless Ocean, allows you to venture across the world, from tropical atolls to rainforest rivers to arctic waters. Like the first game, you are able to take on animal partners, take photos, maintain an aquarium, track your discoveries in an encyclopedia, and so forth. What’s better is that there are more characters, a stronger story-line, more diverse locations, more tools, more realistic scenarios (including danger), and little connection to the first game, which makes anyone able to play the second with no knowledge of the first. It still has a mystical element to it, just as the first game did, but is otherwise better all around. If you want to buy one of these games for your child, buy the second.

Both games have soothing soundtracks and very educational material. All of the hundreds of sea animals (common or uncommon) you will encounter are real, and you are provided with accessible information on each, should you grow curious. As you discover more animals you are given more information about them, their habits, their environment… all knowledge that is given to you while you’re having fun. These games are educational games with an adventure appeal that makes them fun to play, something that isn’t easy to achieve.

Skills Required and Recommended:

  • Basic understanding of a motion controller (specifically, a Wiimote) – REQUIRED
  • Ability to navigate a menu and save – REQUIRED
  • Ability to read – HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
  • Basic problem-solving abilities – RECOMMENDED

General Difficulty: 

Besides the ability to use complex controls (movement, menu navigation, etc.), these games are not particularly difficult. As long as you know how a Wii remote works (with its use of motion controls) and can follow instructions (given to you by the other characters), you shouldn’t have much trouble playing the games. There are no levels, bosses, or anything else found in most adventure games, and you have the freedom to explore (with more and more freedom given as you progress through the story).

Level of Violence:

There is no violence in the first game – even sharks usually leave you alone (though some “aggressive” sharks will whip their tails at you). In the second game, danger is added. Sharks and other aggressive sea creatures will attempt to bite you if you get too close, but you are given a tool called a “pulsar,” which emits an electric shock designed to heal sick animals or calm aggressive animals. There is also some fighting between sea creatures (ex. a giant squid and a sperm whale fight with one another in the deep at one point). There is no blood though, and you do not see sea creatures ripping apart and eating other sea creatures.

Use of Language:

There is no bad language in this game.

Presence of a Story:

Both games have story-lines that progress when you choose to progress them. The second game has a slightly more interesting story-line that involves more characters, places, and an even more mystical objective. You are not bound to the story, however, and can choose to explore or do other things rather than embark on your next quest (though you cannot do much at the beginning of both games without progressing the story a bit).

Presence of a Message:

There are few suggestive themes in either game, but they do try to raise awareness and appreciation of the ocean and marine life. With the mystical subjects of both games, you might also find messages of believing in the unexplained and having the courage to follow your dreams and desires. The messages these games offer are harmless, even positive.

Entertainment Value:

While this is not an action-packed thrill ride of an adventure game, it has enough features (the freedom to explore, tame and train dolphins, take pictures, manage an aquarium, etc.) to keep a child absorbed, even after they’ve finished the story-line of either game.

Age Range Recommendation:

Anyone old enough to use a Wii controller can play the first game, even if they need some help reading or understanding the next objective, and mostly anyone can play the second game as long as they will not be frightened by charging sharks. The ocean itself may also intimidate some children (I know I was afraid of swimming into deep ocean, particularly the abyss of the first game, but that abyss later became my favorite place). Otherwise these are both pretty harmless games, and inspire curiosity and wonder in their players, who come out knowing a quite a bit about the ocean and its inhabitants.

Usual Cost:

The cost of Endless Ocean varies widely depending on where you’re attempting to buy it from (a store, an online store, Amazon, etc.) and whether or not it is used or new. Sometimes it is priced at $10, other times it is priced at $30. You will have to search multiple places and compare prices. Endless Ocean: Blue World generally costs $20 to $30.

 
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Posted by on March 9, 2013 in Video Games, Wii

 

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Journey, Flower, and Flow

[Click here to watch the Journey Trailer]

[Click here to watch the Flower Trailer]

[Click here to watch the Flow Trailer]

Titles: 1.) Journey 2.) Flower 3.) Flow (“flOw”)

Genre: Artistic (and Adventure, in Journey’s case)

Rating:  E (Everyone)

Consoles: PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable (for Flow)

Game Description:

Journey, Flower, and Flow are three separate, short games made by an independent game company called “thatgamecompany,” which designs games around the emotions they want their players to feel, while most game companies design games around a mechanic. There is currently a “bundle” available for purchase that includes all three games on one disc for the PlayStation 3.

Flow is thatgamecompany’s first game, and is the most simple of the three. There is a free, online version of the game, but this version is the original Flash version of Flow, before it was given new playable creatures, multi-player mode for up to four players, enhanced graphics, music, and other features found on the PS3 version. As explained on Wikipedia, you play as “an aquatic microorganism that evolves by consuming other microorganisms.” You can sink or rise to different planes in the two-dimensional aquatic environment, where you can find different sources of consumption, some of which might fight back. The concept of the game is based on the psychological concept of mental immersion, or “flow.”

Flower is thatgamecompany’s second game, often described as poetry in the form of a game. It is also quite simple, but is enhanced with a 3-D environment. In this game, you play as the wind, blowing flower petals through the air and bringing color to deadened land, passing through various beautiful landscapes. Like Flow, the game is intended to relax you rather than provide a thrill that most video games attempt to offer. There is a subtle narrative arc, but no dialogue in the game. The game, and the music that accompanies it, are designed to invoke positive feelings in the player. Like Flow, it is meant to touch your emotions.

Journey is thatgamecompany’s latest, award-winning game. It was groundbreaking for the video game industry. It is slightly more complicated than Flow or Flower but just as relaxing. There is no dialogue, no instructions, and no rules. You are shown a destination,  and throughout the game, you make your way towards that destination. It encourages players to ponder life and the meaning of companionship, while also providing an interpretive back story.

An Internet connection for online multi-player is important for this game. Before you start to worry about your child playing with some stranger from around the world, this randomly selected stranger is not identified and has no ability to talk to or identify your child. The only form of communication between you and whoever the game matches you with is a button that allows you to emit a soft “ping” from the body of your character. This noise is your only form of communication. The relationship and cooperation between you and this mysterious stranger is imperative to the meaning of the game. Upon finishing the game, after the credits, you will be able to see the username of the player (or players) you encountered on your “journey.”

Skills Required and Recommended:

  • Basic understanding of a controller – REQUIRED

General Difficulty:

These games are about as simple as games can be. You have to know how to move, using a controller. Journey requires you to activate shrines, but this is done with the click of a button.

Level of Violence:

There is no violence in either of the three games. Towards the middle and end of Journey, you will encounter long, large creatures that will attack you, but since there is no health meter in the game, you are under no real threat.

Use of Bad Language:

There is no dialogue in any of these three games.

Presence of a Story:

As artistic games that are focused on invoking emotions, there is little story. Flower has a subtle narrative arc, and Journey has an interpretive story, but it is never explained.

Presence of a Message:

Despite the lack of a solid story, there are messages to be found in these games, especially in Journey. What you take from these games will vary for every person, but people have claimed that they have experienced “epiphanies” after finishing Journey for the first time.

Entertainment Value:

All three of these games are mesmerizing, but children whose attention span can only be attracted to thrills might not enjoy these games (with the exception, perhaps, of Journey, which is also an adventure game, however relaxing it is). If your child wants to play them, consider this a blessing. These games are great at relaxing people, even kids. They are, however, short games, but games that can still have replay value.

Age Range Recommendation:

I don’t see why an age limit would be needed for any of these games, and apparently ESRB thinks the same. You must be able to understand the functions of a controller, but this is imperative for any game. Otherwise, in Journey, you are also expected to wander in the general direction of an obvious destination shown to you at the beginning of the game.

Usual Cost:

On their own, Journey costs $15, Flower costs ,$7 and Flow costs $5.59. If you buy the Journey Collector’s Edition, for $28 to $29, you get all three games plus some minor mini-games, behind the scenes videos, commentaries, and a collection of imagery and music from all three games. You can download the games on the PlayStation Network or buy the bundle disc.

 

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Minecraft

[Click here to watch the Minecraft Trailer.]

Title: Minecraft

Genre: Sandbox

Rating: E10+ (Everyone 10+) *Excludes online interaction

Consoles: PC, X-Box 360 *Also has “pocket editions” for iOS and Android

Game Description: 

Minecraft is essentially a free-play game in which you appear in a blocky world that expands indefinitely (or so it seems, anyway). You use your hands to harvest the land, from its soil and stone to its plants and animals. Using these resources, you can craft tools, weapons, furniture, and other objects to protect yourself and build whatever you can imagine.

You can use the Minecraft Wiki if you want to learn how to craft particular objects, or verify anything about the game, whether you want to know how to tame wolves or learn where the best place to find diamonds is. There are no rules, no levels, and no solid structure to the game. You simply appear, harvest resources (or in the case of creative mode, choose resources), and let your imagination take you from there.

The game has two main single-player modes. The first is survival, which is strategic, and gives you a health meter, a hunger meter, an experience meter, and an empty inventory that you have to fill yourself. This mode is best for those who like a challenge. The second is creative, which is, as it suggests, creative, and gives you an inventory with all existing items. You cannot die and have the ability to fly in creative mode. This mode is best for letting off creative steam.

There is also a multi-player mode, but you must join a server in order to play on multi-player mode. Be warned that most free servers host players of all ages from around the world and give them the ability to type whatever they want to each other in the “chat.” Some servers are free, some servers are not, some servers have rules, some servers have rules that are not strictly enforced, and so on. It is better not to connect a child to a multi-player server unless you run a server yourself.

Skills Required and Recommended:

  • Basic understanding of a keyboard and mouse, or other controller – REQUIRED
  • Ability to use somewhat complex controls – REQUIRED
  • Ability to navigate an inventory – REQUIRED
  • Ability to read – RECOMMENDED
  • Ability to write – RECOMMENDED
  • Problem-solving skills – RECOMMENDED

General Difficulty:

Minecraft is complicated, when used to its fullest extent, but kids are able to have fun with it without diving into the less simple aspects of the game (such as enchanting items, planning expeditions, creating portals to the Nether or the End, and so on). When using creative mode, the game is easier. All you have to do is choose what items you want to use and then build whatever your heart desires.

Level of Violence:

I would not consider Minecraft a violent game. It does have monsters that come out at night, and weapons to fight these monsters, but there is no blood, gore, or graphic scenes (there is literally nothing graphic about this game – the game is advanced, but the graphics are primitive). Fighting is a simple manner of whacking the enemy until they fall down and disappear. Some of the monsters may be scary to young children, however. For example, the tall, dark Endermen appear harmless, until you stare at them, and the little green creepers hiss right before they blow you and everything you’ve built up.

Use of Language:

Since the game has no dialogue, there is no bad language. However, if you use multi-player mode, you run the risk of encountering people who will curse in the chat.

Presence of a Story:

Minecraft does not have a story. It is a sandbox game, which means it is a virtual sandbox – you put your kid in it and your kid plays with what he or she finds in the sandbox. No story, no rules, and no limits besides your imagination.

Presence of a Message:

Again, with no story, there is no real message in Minecraft. Playing it can encourage creativity, architectural planning, and even strategic planning, if you play on survival mode. Otherwise, it teaches lessons through experiences – after falling into lava and losing all the valuables you just mined you start to learn to be patient, move on, and accept that sometimes you lose what you’ve worked for and simply have to try again. Among other things, you may learn a thing or two about geology and the responsibility of keeping pets safe.

Entertainment Value:

Though it may not look like an appealing game (especially due to the intentionally poor graphics), it truly is, and kids usually get sucked into it quite quickly (as long as they are able to understand the controls). I was skeptical of the game for a long time, being someone who is snobbish about game graphics, but I’m very glad I tried it. It’s fun, but as a result, it is easily addictive. If you don’t keep an eye on them, your kids may play it for hours. This means hours of creative exercise, but it also means hours of staring at a computer screen.

Age Range Recommendation:

With all of the above in mind, I’d say anyone 6 or above will probably be able to play this game. This depends on how experienced your child is with games – kids who already know how to use controllers and/or computers will be able to grasp the controls quickly, especially if they can read, but kids who are not “fluent” with technology may have more trouble adjusting to the controls.

Also make sure he or she is aware that there are monsters in the game. These monsters are made of blocks, but they can still sneak up on you and give you a scare. If you think your child won’t handle this well, they can set their game to “peaceful.” To do this, you must first create a world (survival or creative) in single-player. Then go to options, and where it says “difficulty,” click until it says “peaceful” (in which there are no monsters in the world) or “easy” (in which there are still monsters, but they are easier to fight).

Usual Cost:

At the moment (March of 2013), you can purchase Minecraft for your computer (by downloading it from minecraft.net, which is a safe site) for around $26 to $28, or you can get it for $20 on the X-Box 360. This is a good deal for a good game that will keep your kids entertained. There are free demo versions of the game for iOS and Android, but they are very limited compared to the full game. There have been improvements (such as adding survival mode to these pocket editions), but I would not recommend the pocket editions of Minecraft except to see whether your child likes the game.

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2013 in PC, Video Games, X-Box 360

 

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