“Together now!” is a phrase I normally deploy when taking my wayward children out for a walk, mall visit or as a desperate plea to have them all smile in the annual family photograph.

So I was pleasantly surprised when I heard my two youngest kids say these two words, thinking some of my terrific team bonding parenting skills were finally showing results.

Guess again. I should have been suspicious when they recited it in unison, on key, and to a beat. These guys are never that harmonious. Until now, because of a new game on our Nintendo DSi called Rhythm Heaven. It’s basically all in the pen-tapping, as players work their way through a series of intriguing games that mostly require them to hit or flip the pen on the screen at precisely the right time. We’ve discovered it’s more about listening to the soundtrack than watching the screen, and that’s a cool way to integrate hand-eye co-ordination and listening skills. (If you aren’t a parent or a teacher, you may not be aware that children are not masters at listening, per se.)

“The game consists of easy-to-learn starter levels that progress to ‘remix’ levels that require mastery of the previous mini-games,” says Nintendo Canada’s Matt Ryan. “It’s a lot of fun and quite silly and will build the player’s sense of rhythm and co-ordination.”

Personally, I had never thought of Ping Pong as a rhythm-based game, but after playing it in Rhythm Heaven (excellent graphics and sound, unlike my experience with Pong, 20 years ago), the next time I play on a real table I’ll be listening for the ball as well as watching for it.

Other games include jumping monkeys; alien planets ... even an ancient island talking head who gets bird droppings on his head as a penalty when you miss the beat. This is a terrific game for the whole family — perfect for the cottage on a rainy day when you’re in the mood for giving your brain a good workout.

What’s also giving me a brain workout right now is my teenage son getting his driver’s licence. If it’s speed that he needs, I’m hoping that letting him play Mario Kart DS will be a good way for me to distract him from getting out on the real road.

“Mario Kart DS is an easy to pick-up-and-play racing game that uses Mario franchise characters and over-the-top tracks, items and Karts (similar to go-karts) to race in circuits,” says Ryan.

And honestly, at present my seven year-old son Nic is displaying a little more driving finesse than his older brother at this fun and sometimes challenging zippy game.

“To get first in the races, players need to strategically use the ‘items,’ jumps and short cuts to their advantage and beat the other racers,” explains Ryan. This makes sense as Nic has consistently demonstrated these moves in order to be first in line at the school bus stop.

Driving cars and a driving beat — these two games make a great start to a family game collection. Together now, kids.

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