Don't let the hand-wringing over video games these days ruin your child's holiday wishes. From quirky to cute to cool, there are plenty of kid-friendly games out there.
First, a plea: Ignore stores' patronizing displays of games for girls. Dolls, ponies and anything pink might work in a toy store, but it's insulting to tell girls those are the only games they should play.
The most reliably kid-friendly game system is the handheld Nintendo DS Lite ($129.99), the successor to the GameBoy Advance. (Make sure to buy the DS Lite, not the older, bulkier DS.)
Two of last year's hits are still good bets: the racing game Mario Kart DS (rated E for Everyone; $34.99) and the puppy simulator Nintendogs (rated E; $29.99). This year's big hits great for all ages are Super Mario DS (rated E; $34.99), an update of the classic Nintendo games, and two brain teaser/puzzle games: Brain Age and Big Brain Academy (both rated E and $19.99).
Tetris DS (rated E; $29.99) is a fun update of the puzzler, and Elite Beat Agents (rated Everyone 10+; $29.99) is the goofiest game of the year. You help a trio of dancing, singing secret agents save people in "peril" by tapping the DS Lite's touch screen in time to the beat of pop songs. It doesn't make any sense when you play it, either, but it's a hoot.
The Sony PlayStation Portable ($199.99) is geared toward a slightly older audience, but there's one don't-miss game if the PSP is on the kiddies' holiday list: Loco Roco (rated E; $39.99), in which you tilt the screen back and forth to navigate an orange blob through obstacles and past enemies.
The PlayStation 2 home console ($129.99) is nearing the end of its life, but there are plenty of good games still available. The most fun game of the year for any system is the music simulator/rhythm game Guitar Hero II (rated T for Teen), which is pricey but worth it: $79.99, including plastic guitar controller.