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Top-tier fun for the young and the young-at-heart.
By Adam Mathew
Selecting games that are suitable for your kids (or younger siblings) can be quite a tricky prospect. Ideally, you'll probably want to plop your little 'uns down, fairly unsupervised, with something that'll nurture their young minds, challenge them just enough, but also give them a sense of pride and accomplishment (without spending hundreds of your dollars on loot boxes).
Back in the day, our surrogate parents were Sonic, Mario and Crash, but that platforming genre has given way to a new breed of kids games. Collecting a billion fairly useless rings / coins / wumpa fruit has given way to much more purposeful kleptomania that fuels a resource crafting system. Finite levels, which used to end in minutes after reaching a goal, are also becoming dodo-esque, thanks to build-your-own-fun open-worlds. Sure, you can still see a few indie platformers out there in the wild – and nothing but the apocalypse will stop TT Games from making more Lego titles – but the jumpy-jump games that used to clog our store shelves are fewer in number (if you don't count the slew of “remastered classic” compilations out there).
I will also mention a recent fad which, as of 2017, seems to be winding down: toys-to-life. 2011's Skylanders started a large craze where the objective was to make you go and buy expensive figurines which, once placed on a “portal” peripheral, would spawn said physical character into a virtual landscape. Fast-forward a few years and Skylanders has had a bunch of sequels, hundreds of figures have been produced and market competition briefly appeared in the form of Disney Infinity and Lego Dimensions. Sadly, major publishers have basically abandoned their toys-to-life product lines – so buy into those cheaply, via a bargain bin clearance sale. Or not at all.
Before we get to it, Finder has asked that I tell you a little bit about myself, so you know my opinion is mustard. As a semi-responsible parent who regularly tests out (age-appropriate) games in front of his kids, I'm uniquely positioned to offer advice on this topic. It also helps that I'm a massive man-child, too. So far, I've invested 30+ years of my life into gaming, going from a gaming kid all the way up to a non-contributing member of society who somehow gets paid to engage in his childhood hobby all day, every day. All that being said, it's time to sit back, relax, and let my worrying Peter Pan Syndrome do all the heavy-lifting for you...
10. Little Big Planet 3
- RELEASE DATE: 18/11/14
- DEVELOPER: Media Molecule
- PUBLISHER: Sony
As a general rule of thumb, Media Molecule can be counted on for endearing, creativity-encouraging games for the whole family. LittleBigPlanet 3 is without a doubt their finest work (until Dreams comes out, that is). Imagine, if you will, a physics-heavy 2.5D platformer starring a midget made out of burlap (read: Sackperson) and his friends: Swoop (who gives players the power of flight), Oddsock (a wall-jumping dog) and Toggle (his superpower is expansion). Throw in narration by Stephen Fry and an antagonist voiced by Hugh Laurie, and you've got an irresistibly adorable adventure.
LittleBigPlanet 3 is without a doubt [Media Molecule's] finest work
While the four-person platforming and light-puzzling is solid, LBP 3's true power is its extensive user-generated content suite. Using an incredibly powerful and intuitive editor, you can build almost any type of level – or game – imaginable. Plus, the LBP servers offer a whopping nine years of curated work to dig through and play for free. This really is a LittleBigPlanet full of possibilities for your gamer younglings.
9. Tearaway Unfolded
- RELEASE DATE: 11/9/15
- DEVELOPER: Media Molecule
- PUBLISHER: Sony
Welcome to another Media Molecule gem, but this time – unlike the studio's user-generated content darling, LittleBigPlanet 3 – the action on offer is straight 3D platforming, ala Ratchet & Clank. What Tearaway Unfolded lacks in mission-editing and reams of player-made content, it makes up for with lovely origami-infused visuals, the ability to craft major assets in the world and there's also a control scheme unlike anything else out there.
Essentially, poking an index finger on the touchpad of your DualShock 4 can let you unfurl paper bridges, or generate enemy-flinging gusts of wind. This addictive and tactile gameplay can also be married to a super cool PlayStation App function on your phone. Speaking personally, my kids were pretty damn chuffed when I scanned their real-life scribblings into the game as virtual textures. Do that, and Tearaway Unfolded will go from top-notch platformer to a magical experience in no time.
Buy Tearaway Unfolded from Mighty Ape
Explore an adorable papercraft world that extends beyond the TV screen through novel interactions with the PS4's motion controls and touchpad.View details
8. Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2
- RELEASE DATE: 23/2/16
- DEVELOPER: PopCap Games
- PUBLISHER: EA
First and third-person shooters are awesome fun and they're the most popular genres in all of gaming. Mind you, and obviously, shooting is quite a violent pursuit, and the online communities that infest the servers of franchises like Call of Duty and Battlefield are pretty damn toxic. Fortunately, a kid-friendly alternative exists in the form of Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare 2 – provided you're ok with a bit of slapstick violence towards flora and living-impaired freaks.
The cartoony hijinks on offer take place across a dozen maps and a bunch of team-based modes, and you'll (eventually) earn access to eight unique class types with bizarre abilities. The best feature, though: free additional content drops regularly, and every mode can be tackled either solo or via good ol' fashioned split-screen multiplayer. If you want to keep your kids offline, there's also plenty of dirt to dig into with a deep base-customising mechanic that's tied to challenges. Virtual cubby houses! What ankle-biter doesn't love that?
7. Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2
- RELEASE DATE: 14/11/17
- DEVELOPER: TT Games
- PUBLISHER: Warner Bros.
I've honestly lost count of how many Lego games there have been since Lego Star Wars burst onto the scene way back in 2005. They're all safe bets if you want to play single-screen co-op with a younger sibling or child, too, though the general rule of thumb is: the bigger the franchise linked to the game, the higher the quality. For now, Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2 is my current pick of the litter (but Lego City Undercover was a close second).
Sticking to the core gameplay of past Lego titles – jump a lot, break stuff and engage in cartoony violence – this game also snaps on the ability to manipulate time and have a four-player battle royale. You also get a ridiculous 200+ characters to unlock in a large open-world which digs deep into the different eras and realities of the Marvel Universe. Frankly, there's so much to do and collect here. It's plastic fantastic.
- RELEASE DATE: 12/11/14
- DEVELOPER: Engine Software
- PUBLISHER: 505 Games
Kids games with structured goals and stories are becoming fewer and far between nowadays. What is in vogue are games like Terraria – free-wheeling sandbox jaunts that let you make your own fun (typically via collecting, crafting and bashing local predatory wildlife). I'd recommend you go Minecraft over this first, but if your younglings aren't up to using two sticks to navigate a 3D world, Terraria is the much more user-friendly, 2D alternative.
Terraria offers a tiny bit more gameplay purpose, too. Though it's certainly bereft of a grand narrative, the inclusion of boss fights, challenges and some meaningful interaction with non-player characters sets this apart from the crowd. Terraria can grow with the skill level of your children, too, thanks to an expert mode which will reward older, more harder-working Terrarians with rarer loot (or defeat and disappointment due to random chance). Hey, it's training for life, folks!
5. Dragon Quest Builders
- RELEASE DATE: 11/10/16
- DEVELOPER: Square Enix
- PUBLISHER: Square Enix
The Dragon Quest titles are an RPG phenomenon in Japan. It's so popular, the series caused a law to be passed that bans any DQ game from having a day-one release date on a working weekday (to prevent millions of sickies being taken). Dragon Quest Builders differs from the established formula by being a spin-off that puts a foot in both the RPG and Minecraft sandbox camps. Even still, it's a hybrid that's no less addictive.
Creation, and the brutal strip-mining of your environment for crafting materials, is still paramount, but Builders also layers in a few things sorely missing from Minecraft: meaningful progression, decent mission structure and a delightfully cheese ball plot. The only thing working against this package is the lack of multiplayer and the ability to explore underwater; but those missteps should be solved when the sequel (eventually) comes out. For now, Builders offers a solid foundation for near-endless fun.
Dragon Quest Builders for PS4 from ozgameshop.com
Dragon Quest Builders is available now for PS4 on OzGameShop.View details
4. Kingdom Hearts HD I.5 + II.5 Remix
- RELEASE DATE: 31/3/17
- DEVELOPER: Square Enix
- PUBLISHER: Square Enix
When most people hear “Japanese role-playing game” they picture complex battle systems, confusing melodrama, impractical hairstyles and sometimes...ahem, fan-service that's not fit for young eyes. The beloved PS2 Kingdom Hearts series sidesteps all of that nonsense (except for the hair thing) by fusing the best of Square's RPGs with the family-friendly appeal of Disney's expansive universe. Mind you, Donald Duck still doesn't wear any pants in it. Not sure if that qualifies as fan service.
You're scoring two excellent games for the price of one
Also, and just in case the extremely confusing naming structure hasn't made this clear, you're scoring two excellent games for the price of one with this package. Expect to spend dozens of hours happily exploring a series of nostalgia-filled locales and trouncing enemies with an approachable battle system that eschews traditional turn-based fare for faster, action-based biffage. Don't let the age of these titles fool you; these classics have been lovingly reimagined for the modern age, both in terms of visuals and control refinements. Kingdom Hearts is, in short, a magical experience perfect for players of any age. If, after playing them, these games don't earn a special place in your heart, there's a chance you might not actually have one.
3. Ratchet & Clank
- RELEASE DATE: 22/4/16
- DEVELOPER: Insomniac Games
- PUBLISHER: Sony
Though it was 12 titles deep into a successful franchise, Insomniac Games decided to reboot its Ratchet & Clank money-maker – to go Lombax to the future, if you will - with a new generation of kleptomaniac gamers in mind. Granted, what we have here is not entirely new thanks to a number of similarities with the 2002 original, but the formula has definitely been brought up to pace with modern third-person shooter conventions. The visuals, especially on a 4K TV, are Pixar-levels of pretty, too.
Fortunately, something that hasn't changed is Ratchet's access to an increasingly bizarre array of weapons and gadgets. One moment you're jumping from platform to platform, whacking people and boxes with your lowly omni-wrench, the next you're smearing the screen with spewing lasers and missile-based retribution. Relax, though, it's Looney Tunes style violence. Case in point: the Pixelator that turns enemies into bad 8-bit video game characters, or the Groovitron that forces them to disco dance like idiots. These are the moments that make Ratchet & Clank an all-time great.
2. Sonic Mania
- RELEASE DATE: 16/7/17
- DEVELOPER: PagodaWest Games
- PUBLISHER: Sonic Mania
Before we begin, here's a little bit of overdue real-talk: there hasn't been a knock-out-fantastic Sonic game since Sonic 3 in 1994. Everything after that was an okay-to-poor substitute that struggled (or failed) to capture the blisteringly-paced, seizure-inducing magic of the blue dude with the 'tude. After all these years, the traditional 2D stylings of Sonic Mania have finally been realised once again for a sequel that's worthy of canon. Any thanks you may want to give Sonic Mania should be directed not at Sega, but the two Sonic community diehards who were allowed to deliver an official product filled with the unmistakable care and love that can only be lavished by truly obsessive fans.
If you've never played a Sonic game, the idea is simple (and you've wasted your life up until this point): you've gotta go fast. You also have to collect rings, avoid enemies placed in deliberately unfortunate spots, defy gravity in loop-de-loop moments and secure chaos emeralds by taking on mini-games. It's fun, it's fast and, even after 25 years, you'll have zero chance of getting the music out of your head.
1. Minecraft: PlayStation 4 Edition
- RELEASE DATE: 4/9/14
- DEVELOPER: Mojang
- PUBLISHER: Mojang
Here it is, fellow parents: Minecraft, the game your kids are sure to stare blankly at for hours upon hours (and most likely obsess over long after the TV's been switched off). It's so much more than a baby-sitter on a disc, however: this eyesore-looking 3D sandbox is inoffensive, do-it-yourself fun that's guaranteed to get the creative juices flowing, regardless of the player's age.
It's so much more than just a baby-sitter on a disc
Why? Because this is basically like playing Lego on your TV, with a bit more emphasis on plundering the natural environment for resources, bonking animals on the head to deprive them of their delicious meats and avoiding explosive ghouls who come stalking at night. (That said, you can avoid the creationist capitalism and scary nasties via a dedicated mode that hands you unlimited resources and safety.) Even better, Minecraft offers up to four-person split-screen multiplayer. That's sure to keep siblings happily constructing and/or fighting over Kid X blowing up Kid Y's impalpable cubby house for ages. Viewer experience will vary, depending on in-going sugar levels.
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