Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat, HMV's head of entertainment software retail is panicking because Santa's elves say they can't physically make Wiis any faster. But, they've assured him, they do have an excellent disc burner so at least there will be plenty of games to go round.
That will include plenty of games for younger players, for the times they are a-changing. In the olden days, when consoles ran on oil, there were plenty of bright and bouncy platform adventures about. Then everything went Dark, and now for every title starring a brightly coloured fictional creature there are ten games about Nazis.
Games companies have taken this on board and responded by creating more and more games aimed specifically at kids. Not because of the lucrative revenue opportunities but out of the goodness of their hearts, of course. Their cold, dead hearts. Anyway, here we take a look at some of the many titles vying for parents' cash this Christmas.
It's surprising THQ found time to make another Cars game in between counting all the gold it made from the first one. It was the second best-selling game of last year, and more than 7 million copies have now been shipped around the globe.
It certainly wasn't the best game of last year, and Cars Mater-National isn't going to make it into Eurogamer's top 100 games of 2007. But it's not meant for the likes of us. It's meant for small children who like talking cars and racing games and the DVD Daddy puts on when Mummy says she's going to do a Plath if she has to watch In the Night Garden one more time. Makka-Pakka!
Cars Mater-National fits the bill. True, it's shallow and functional and won't entertain anyone over the age of seven. However, it's also highly polished and well put together, and if you're seven or under there's a good chance you'll love it.
In Story mode, you drive round a sandbox environment competing in various types of event such as races and relays. There's also an Arcade mode where you can compete in one-off events, and plenty of mini-games. There's no online option but that wouldn't make much (nonce) sense for a game like this anyway. The two-player offline modes suffice.
The cars handle easily and can do fun stuff like jumps and turbo charges. The AI is elastickier than a bungee rope, but there are various difficulty settings to suit different ages and abilities.
The game's visuals look surprisingly good, although that's judging by the Xbox 360 version running in 1080p on a bloody great big telly. The soundtrack is jollier than Santa himself and while the movie actors haven't provided the voiceovers this time, their imitators do a fine job.
Cars Mater-National is a hard game to score. So take a look at the number below. If you're old, knock two points off. This game will leave you feeling hollow, miserable and longing for the days when it all MEANT something. If you're a small child add two points. Or, if you really REALLY like talking cars, six.
Looney Tunes: Acme Arsenal
Ahh, now this is the way kids' games used to be - poorly designed, lazily animated, utterly unoriginal and painful to play. But these days we've got the Wii, which means games are often also physically painful to play. This one falls into that category.
Looney Tunes: Acme Arsenal is based on the olden days cartoon characters kids stopped caring about the first time Yu-Gi-Oh was broadcast. It's a third-person action adventure made by people who, we'd wager, have played a lot of Ratchet and Clank.
They've had a stab at copying R&C's weapons system but they've missed and stabbed the player instead. The guns are dull and tiresome to use. The targeting system is rubbish, constantly assuming you'd rather shoot an inanimate object than the homicidal enemy coming towards you.
So you'll probably resort to melee combat. Unless you're playing the Wii version, as we did, in which case you'll probably resort to throwing the game out the window and having a cry. The Wii controls are abominable. You're supposed to shake the remote and press various buttons to perform different moves. However, it's all so unresponsive you end up shaking and pressing everything in a bid to make your character do anything useful at all. It can't be good for your arms and certainly doesn't feel like it.
When you're not engaged in rubbish combat you'll find yourself endlessly jumping over gaps, solving tedious puzzles and bashing open crates. Visually the game is flat and lifeless, the graphics seemingly inspired by the dullest of the Looney Tunes cartoons. The characters make annoying noises all the time and their hit-and-miss one-liners are repeated too often. All in all Acme Arsenal is a chore to play, even if you're...
The Legend of Spyro: The Eternal Night
Good grief, is he still going? Apparently so, because here's another platform action game starring Spyro the stupid purple dragon. It's the second instalment in a new trilogy developed by Krome Studios. The first, A New Beginning, was a flawed attempt to reinvent the franchise, as our review observed. Unfortunately, The Eternal Night isn't any better.
For starters the control system is wonky. You'll discover this in the first level, round about the seventh time you watch Spyro plummet to his death because the platform you've just put him on appears to be covered in Vaseline and he's forgotten how to move in mid-air.
He's also forgotten all the special powers he acquired in the last game so you have to go through the chore of building them all up again. It really does feel like a chore as the gameplay consists almost entirely of fighting off endless hordes of the same old enemies.
There's platforming too but the poor controls make it frustrating. There's a new feature called Dragon Time where you can slow the action right down, but this is neither useful nor exciting. The puzzles are terrifically dull, and if they don't send you to sleep the over-long, all-too-frequent cutscenes will.
Having Gary Oldman and Frodo do voiceovers doesn't make up for the fact this game looks and plays like something made five years ago. Since then we've had some superb platforming action thanks to the likes of Jak and Ratchet. By comparison Spyro is a fading star, one who no amount of plastic surgery will improve. The Eternal Night is too difficult for kids and too frustrating for adults, and should be avoided by everyone.
Ben 10: Protector of Earth
You may not have heard of Ben 10 (we hadn't), but millions of young boys around the globe have. He's the star of an animated series on Cartoon Network. Due to some nonsense to do with an alien artefact, Ben has the power to transform himself into ten different alien heroes.
At least he can in the TV show. In the PS2 game, he can only transform into five of them, which seems a bit odd. They include firestarter Heatblast, Cannonbolt, who can roll himself up into an armour-plated ball, the super-speedy XLR8 plus a character called Fourarms - oh, work it out.
As Ben, you travel through a series of bland-looking environments transforming yourself according to the obstacles you face. Heatblast's surfing move is useful for crossing gaps, for example; Fourarms is brilliant at bashing enemies.
This is lucky because along with the generic platforming there's a good deal of combat to be getting on with. There are more than 80 different combos to learn, but if you can't be bothered you can usually get away with simply hammering all the buttons as fast as possible. When faced with a big group of enemies, this is often more effective than trying to be fancy.
There's not much variation between levels. You walk from the left side of the screen to the right, doing a few jumps along the way. Groups of enemies will regularly pop up and you must blap them all before you can continue. It's punctuated by decent cutscenes featuring the voices of the TV actors. There's a drop-in, drop-out co-op mode which works well enough.
That sums up Ben 10: Protector of Earth, really: it works well enough. There's nothing here to appeal to adults, or anyone who isn't a Ben 10 fan. But if you know one of those, this is a great present - and at under GBP 20 it's a reasonably priced one, too.