Best PS4 games for kids
Top-tier fun for the young and the young-at-heart.
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I often find myself in awe of the childhood enjoyed by my two sons. When I was their age I was told to go outside and play with a stick (sometimes on the highway). That or I'd have to wait until "cartoon hour" rolled around in the afternoons. Nowadays, the invention of the Internet and the proliferation of digital screens serve to offer kids a million ways to be entertained.
Short of sport and outdoors, I think the interactivity of video games is the best option to go with – as opposed to the mindlessness of Netflix and the worrying toxicity of YouTube. That being said, collected below are the absolute best games released (on any system) for the young and young-at-heart.
How did we pick this list?
Our editorial team selected the games on this list based on over 60 combined years of gaming experience. We chose each game based on its overall quality, lastability and ease of use for younger players. Find more detail on our methodology below
Let's get the obvious comparisons out of the way early. Yes, PixARK is more or less Minecraft survival mode, but it also brings enough new things to the table to differentiate itself from gaming's greatest open-ended digital babysitter.
For starters, you're desperately trying to get by on an island populated by over 100 different dinosaur species – all of which can be adopted and ridden, or killed and eaten (in self-defence).
Layered through that collect-a-thon is another one: resource kleptomania to pay for tool crafting and cubby building in a world of procedurally generated biomes and quests.
"Jurassic Playground" sounds great on paper – especially when you factor in a kid-friendly creative mode – but the developers of PixARK spared some serious expense.
I hit a bunch of bugs during my triple-digit test that made for some very unfair deaths. Obviously, that's not a problem if you're a Creative mode player, but it'll make Survival players madder than a cut compsognathus.
Currently quite rough, there's still the barebones of buried potential here. It may yet be patched into being.
The Lego Movie 2 Videogame
As a general rule of thumb, Lego games can always be counted on for great drop-in, drop-out co-op that can leap any generation gap. This is a rock solid foundation to build fun times on that are as fantastic as they are plastic.
All that being said, The Lego Movie 2 Videogame isn't the finest specimen ever constructed by developer Traveller's Tales.
Yes, you get to raze entire levels of objects to score tons of collectables. Yes, these are themed moments drawn from The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part, and you even get some throwback bonus moments to places mentioned in the original film (think: Bricksburg, The Old West and Middle Zealand).
But the downsides are that this entry has an incredibly low difficulty level, uninspired puzzles, rookie-level bugs, no dynamic split-screen and an overall sense of safeness that will annoy veterans of this 20-year-old franchise.
This is best bought for younger gamers as a gateway experience to the better/older entries.
Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled
Long thought dead since the 90s (aside from the evergreen Mario Kart series) the kart racing genre has accelerated into a glorious renaissance of local multiplayer of late.
Many gamers will have forgotten the raw power of damn good split-screen multiplayer, a feature that absolutely nobody wanted to see disappear from our hobby.
With the right crew and some pizzas you can spend an entire night powersliding and pulverising one another with randomised weapons. CTR is the stuff of lost jobs and non-gaming significant other tension.
It would also be a colossal understatement if I said that developer Beenox has tuned the graphics up to modern standards.
What we have here is a complete graphical engine overhaul – the tracks are brimming with additional 4K detail, the racers are animated to OCD Disney Pixar levels and everything is bathed in a sumptuous lighting system.
My 1999 self could not have even conceived of Crash Team Racing looking this good or purring along this smoothly.
This is Sony's multiplayer magnum opus, a kart racer that races neck and neck with the hallowed Mario Kart 8.
Starlink: Battle for Atlas
After the demise of Skylanders and Disney Infinity, there has been a toy[s to life]-sized hole in my heart.
It's the same with my two sons. They're aged 8 and 6 and I more or less recruited them to get their pint-sized opinions on Starlink, a game that fuses physical starship models with the delicious loot-grind of Skylanders and a dash of No Man's Sky. Those are the ingredients for a pretty stellar experience.
For a modest outlay you'll be getting the base game, a ship model, two pilot figurines, two weapon pods and a connector mount that latches onto your controller.
The general idea is to clip in a pilot first, then over the top of him/her/it you'll snap on a ship and then the armaments you attach all have elemental properties that either increase or decrease your damage against certain enemies.
Basically, it's pick 'n' mix pew-pew meets a mini No Man's Sky universe that's quite impressive in size, scope and side-mission content.
Give this a chance and the shoot 'n' loot formula will keep your youngins hooked for hours and hours.
Spyro has returned from the mists of history and he's all scaled up (read: bad dragon / 4K remastering pun).
With Reignited Activision has pulled out all the stops and rekindled my love of the original three games, Spyro the Dragon, Spyro 2: Ripto's Rage! and Spyro: Year of the Dragon.
Once more you'll be able to platform through the expansive realms, re-encounter the fiery personalities and rabuse far too many innocent sheep with your horn stampede move.
Fresh coat of paint aside, do these games hold up? They certainly do.
The original adventure is fairly simplistic by modern standards. That said, everything becomes decidedly complex as the series glides along.
Pretty soon you're learning advanced techniques like powerflames, supershots and more as you travel to strange lands, meet exotic beasts and do your best to immolate the lot of 'em.
Crash Bandicoot N Sane Trilogy
This wumpa fruit may be old but it's still remarkably fresh and delicious, thanks to a 4K master and a lot of love.
PS One's favourite marsupial has lost none of his insanity and his haunts are just as diabolical today as they were pre-millenium.
Expect to lose yourself in a mesmerising action loop of spins, jumps and wumps through the three games that started it all, Crash Bandicoot, Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back and Crash Bandicoot: Warped.
Even better, the deceptively simple task of platforming from point A to point B is layered with challenges your ankle-biters can aspire to in the long-term.
Can they find all of the secret gems hidden about? Can they nab the secret tokens to discover hidden challenge levels? Can they destroy every box in a level without falling into yet another bottomless cavern as they shriek in anguish at the TV?
If they can, they're better than me.
Rock Band 4
- RELEASE DATE: 04/08/15
- DEVELOPER: Harmonix
- PUBLISHER: Harmonix
To those of you about to upend your living room to make space for fantastic plastic instruments (and mad windmill guitar moves), I salute you.
Though AAA rhythm games are livin' on a prayer right now, Rock Band 4 represents the absolute apex of the genre, and you can procure its Band-In-A-Box bundle quite cheaply.
In no time you, your partner and two rugrats can go from talentless shlubs to shredders who can belt out 60s rock classics on mic, lead guitar, bass guitar and drums.
Music taste is always going to be subjective and the good news is you can always expand your setlist by logging into a 2000-strong song store.
And the only thing better than attempting your absolute favourite music in the career mode together is listening to the virtual crowd start to sing along when you really start to nail it.
Rock Band 4 also offers some latitude for some attitude via freestyle solo sections for guitarists and free-form melodies for the crooners.
Kingdom Hearts III
I'm not even going to attempt to explain the story basics of KH3 for you today (which, weirdly, is the same approach taken by the developers). There's not enough time; this unique fusion of JRPG melodrama and Disney lore is too dense.
Nevertheless, anybody can roll into this and enjoy the combat, which is a fine line between accessible, over-the-top action and an empowering magic system that needs a light seizure warning.
We're talking hyperactive displays of fireworks, explosions and some really great advertising for Disneyland theme parks. You might shred through dozens of inky foes in one of the teacup rides, or splash down on their heads in a Splash Mountain dinghy, or harness the centrifugal force of that pendulous Pirate Ship ride.
It's the same deal with Keyblade transformations, which are effectively 18 or so weapon forms that increase your damage output, tweak your combos and pay homage to yet more Disney IP.
For example, a Hercules-inspired shield allows you to simultaneously go on the offensive while blocking incoming frontal assaults.
100 Acre Woods fans can rain... uh, Pooh, down on their foes with the Honey Spout form that gives you dual guns and a bit of third-person shooting.
And this is just the iceberg tip of 30+ hours of fun, adventure and fan service.
Team Sonic Racing
Essentially, you're about to turn the ignition on for a new version of 2012's Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, just without the fancy reconfigurable vehicles.
The roster here draws solely from Sonic canon instead of Sega entire. TSR is a game obsessed with threes too. Teams of three characters, who themselves are divided into three classes, race and work together to reach the checkered flag by sharing and caring as much as possible.
Try to lone wolf these races (either online or in story mode) and you'll go home with the wooden spoon.
Drifting skillfully, busting stunts, collecting rings and running over boost pads soon takes a major backseat to just helping your AI pals earn Team Ultimate energy.
Skim Boost and Slingshot Draft well enough, and you can table-turn a race with the resulting berserker speed burst.
Sating one's need for speed aside, TSR drops a few places in our esteem due to a relatively short story mode and a thin character roster with few unlocks to shoot for.
Be that as it may, what we have here is solid, and certainly more pick-up-and-win than Crash Team Racing: Nitro-Fueled. In a party scenario, that's more than enough for a podium finish.
Technically, you can beat Unravel Two on your lonesome and have a fun time doing it. That said, this gorgeous platforming experience is elevated substantially if you recruit a partner in crime.
I'd go so far as to recommend you play this with one of your offspring or a younger sibling.
Sure, one party will be forced to wait if the other party repeatedly messes up their jumps, but there are also some complex puzzles woven into the fabric of this thing. Two heads will be better than one in the long run.
All of the old mechanics from Unravel return – abseiling using your own thread, tying of a thread to use it as a mini-trampoline, etc, but now you have to do it all in tandem while maintaining a set distance apart (and working with limited screen real estate).
The best new addition is a creature comfort mechanic for parents that should be in every platformer – at any time, you can make one Yarny merge into the other. Control is then relinquished to one player and this allows you to literally carry the other gamer to success.
Trust me, it beats the heck out of playing your own patience Olympics as your eight-year-old buddy screws up a jump... for five minutes.
Ultimately, Unravel Two has a lot of heart but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that it's by a short length and a threadbare narrative.
Little Big Planet 3
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 its finest work. 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.
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.
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.
Plants vs Zombies: Garden Warfare 2
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?
Lego Marvel Super Heroes 2
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.
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).
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.
Kingdom Hearts HD I.5 + II.5 Remix
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.
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.
Ratchet & Clank
Though it was 12 titles deep into a successful franchise, Insomniac Games decided to reboot its Ratchet & Clank money-maker with a new generation of 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.
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.
A good party game needs to be easy to pick up and play (thus luring in casual gaming fence-sitters), but some complexity also needs to be steadily layered in to keep interest levels high.
Being a 2D platformer – the simplest gaming concept this side of Pong or Tetris – Rayman Legends fulfils the first requirement, and over the course of 12 hours, it achieves the latter by drip-feeding in clever and unpredictable ideas.
The cherry on top is that it looks gorgeous and is jam-packed with quirky humour, and the universal appeal consistently leaps generational gaps like Rayman does bottomless pits.
Obviously, this is primarily about running, jumping and four people collecting more stuff than a hoarder who's just discovered a new spare room.
Rayman Legends slowly expands this framework to include slapstick violence (which is hilariously inter-player), tons of unlockable cosmetic items, fiendishly hidden secret areas and some exquisitely choreographed musical levels.
The latter are crowd-pleasers of the highest order. Because who doesn't love butt-kicking medieval goblins to the sound of Black Betty or mashing through a mariachi version of Eye of the Tiger?
Minecraft: PlayStation 4 Edition
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 has 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.
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.
- Our editorial team considered over 100 'G-rated' PlayStation 4 games.
- We based our findings on our own gaming experiences, observations of our children, as well as the average score from other professional reviewing sites. (Metacritic.)
- The products on this list are chosen by our editorial team and are not selected based on commercial relationships.
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