While most of the internet obsesses over the likes of Red Dead Redemption 2, Call of Duty, and God of War, a huge section of the gaming audience can't (or perhaps, shouldn't) play those games. Kids love video games, but often it feels like they aren't being catered for as much as adults. In this guide to the best video games for kids, I'll detail some great games that children of all ages can play, whether they are five years old, approaching their teens at 12 years old, or playing games together as a family.
Best Video Games for Kids
Originally this list was going to be split into age ranges, but a lot of the best video games aimed at children really can be enjoyed by everyone. I'll point out what ages each game below is best suited for, and mention any content that might be seen as unsuitable so you can make up your own mind about if a game is right for your child. I've limited this list of games for kids to only those I've personally played with my young son, so you can be sure these recommendations are genuine. Pretty much all video games have text that needs reading, but some include more than others. While you're obviously going to want to play alongside your kids when they are very young, less text-heavy games are still easier going so I'll point out those that require a lot of reading.
The LEGO video games are some of the best around for kids of all ages. While they all include combat in some degree (even LEGO City Undercover, which doesn't include guns, does include a grappling hook that can essentially be used as a gun), the violence on display is about as child-friendly as fighting can be. The LEGO Ninjago Movie Video Game and the various DC and Marvel superhero games are about as mature as the series gets, but nothing is ever more extreme than a LEGO person being broken into bricks and then instantly being put back into the game.
The key thing about the LEGO video games is that they offer very little in the way of obstacles that can't be overcome. Some puzzles crop up that might force the youngest players to seek help from parents, but progress can usually be made by simply persisting. It's hard to say which LEGO game will be best for your children, but most follow the same formula of levels to play through, characters to unlock, and then free-play (with all unlocked characters) in completed levels and a hub area. LEGO City Undercover is the biggest departure, in that it's set in an open-world, but The LEGO Ninjago Movie Video Game has deeper combat, and LEGO Worlds is a sort of Minecraft clone.
For young kids I'd recommend the following:
- Buy LEGO City Undercover - PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch
- Buy The LEGO Movie 2 Videogame - PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch
- Buy The LEGO Ninjago Movie Video Game - PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch
For older kids I'd recommend the following:
- Buy LEGO Worlds - PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch
- Buy LEGO DC Super Villains - PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch
- Buy LEGO Marvel Collection - PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC
- Buy LEGO Harry Potter Collection - PS4, Xbox One, PC, Switch
Minecraft is one of the most popular video games ever released, and it's great for kids of a variety of ages. There is a resource gathering/survival element to Minecraft, but most kids tend to veer towards the building and creating side of the game. Although Minecraft looks simple, don't let its block graphics fool you. There's a lot of depth hidden away and some rather complex menus and inventory screens to contend with. While young kids can grasp the basics and still have a good time, older kids will get the most out of Minecraft. Minecraft is available on most modern (and older) consoles, although only Xbox One, Switch, and PC receive the very latest updates. The game is also available as part of the Xbox Game Pass subscription.
Slime Rancher is a game so simple on paper you'll wonder how it manages to suck tens, perhaps hundreds, of hours away. You are alone on a strange planet and must farm creatures called slimes. There are many different types of slime, each with its own dietary requirements (meat or veg, at the basic level) and characteristic, and it's up to you to catch them (using a kind of futuristic vacuum cleaner), build pens, and collect plorts. These plorts are essentially slime poo, but are the game's currency. What starts out as a simple and fun roam around a colorful world, soon becomes a fairly complex game of slime management and gadget building. The game manages this increase in complexity quite brilliantly to ensure the tasks don't become overwhelming, and there's a lovely mode that gets rid of the bad slimes that could worry young kids. Slime Rancher can be enjoyed by young kids and older children, alike. With the bad slimes disabled, Slime Rancher also serves as a great game to get children accustomed to dual analog stick controls. There can be a fair amount of text to read, but a lot of tasks handed out are represented visually, meaning even kids who are just learning to read can bumble through.
Super Mario Odyssey
Whether or not Super Mario Odyssey is the best 3D Mario game is debatable, but this Switch exclusive is certainly a great option for kids. For one, the Assist Mode makes the entire experience a lot easier, removing the penalty from falling down holes or into the abyss and also replenishing health if you stand still. It also gives players an arrow that will guide them to the next moon that needs to be collected in order to make progress in the story. So, while Super Mario Odyssey isn't an easy game if you want to see all it has to offer, the Assist Mode gives even novice players an achievable route through the game.
It's worth pointing out that Mario Odyssey also has features that kids love. The core mechanic of using Mario's cap (Cappy) to become other creatures means that there's a lot of variety to the gameplay (frogs jump super high, tanks can fire out missiles, fish can swim). Even parts of the game that you might not care much about appeal strongly to kids. Each world in the game has its own store from which you can purchase costumes. These shops proved to be the location my son homed in on in every new area he visited.
Yoshi's Crafted World
There's something to be said for games that don't constantly up the ante. Yoshi's Crafted World on Nintendo Switch is a lovely game that kids can play at their own pace, and the ability to throw eggs at background and foreground objects makes the world feel more tangible than in most platformers. While there is an element of moving into and out of the screen, Crafted World is essentially a 2D platformer of old, with a neat twist that lets you spin the world around and see it from the other side. With loads of items to collect in each stage, Crafted World will keep kids busy for a long time.
Pokemon Let's Go Pikachu and Eevee
Pokemon has been a gaming juggernaut for a long time, but if your kids are yet to venture into the animal catching world that has delighted children and adults the world over, Let's Go is a great option. As a remake of classic Game Boy game, Pokemon Yellow, Let's Go is entirely focused on generation 1 Pokemon and serves as a fairly simplistic entry point to a series that has become more complicated in recent 3DS games. Pokemon Let's Go doesn't include any voice acting, so there's a lot of text to read which adds a level of difficulty on top of what otherwise is a fairly simple game to play. With Pokemon being prevalent in popular culture, chances are your kids might even be aware of some Pokemon (like Pikachu) even before they play a game, which might make them especially interested in Let's Go.
Spyro Reignited Trilogy
Three games in one budget-priced package make the Spyro Reignited Trilogy a great buy for kids. Although the three Spyro games here originally released on the PlayStation many moons ago, the remakes are brilliant and make the series feel at home on the PS4 and Xbox One. Gameplay is a mix of platforming and simplistic combat in 3D environments, with some puzzle solving thrown into the mix. While a lot of the gameplay is manageable for young kids, certain levels and bosses are a real challenge, so younger kids will definitely need some assistance. As with a lot of platforming games, all three Spyro games include many items to collect, meaning there's loads to do here even if the core storyline in each is completed. Strangely, Spyro Reignited Trilogy isn't on Nintendo Switch, but the game is a must-buy for anyone with a child who is fairly proficient with a controller.
If your children aren't fans on threat in games (a lot of young kids find any suggestion of a baddie to be more they can handle), Donut County's laid back approach might be perfect. There's a whole story behind the events in the game, but for kids the main thing to know is that you control a hole that can be moved around to make objects fall into it. The more items that fall in, the bigger the hole gets, until you're able to take in entire buildings. There are some minor puzzles as you progress, but mostly you're moving a hole around without anything to worry about. There is a lot of text before and after each level, most of which children won't care for even if they can read it, but this is easily skipped.
Peggle, Peggle 2
Peggle, the game in which you shoot a ball at some pegs to attempt to knock into every peg on the board before you've used all your balls, is perhaps one of the most universally playable games ever made. It's super simple to get the hang of but at times maddingly difficult. The key thing, though, is that it's easy to play and have fun with, looks cute and colorful, and is very cheap. Clearing the board of pegs and getting the triumphant music is never anything but a mini euphoric moment.
Dr. Panda Games
Dr. Panda is a pretty big deal on mobile devices, with what seems like hundreds of variants. Although a doctor, the games are actually set in pretty diverse scenarios, such as on a farm, on a train, in a restaurant, etc. Each one lets you partake in numerous activities that fit the locale and in turn teach a little about how certain processes work. All the games look super cute and colorful, and importantly never punish players or present a fail state. Kids can just tap the screen or move things around to experiment and have fun while doing so. The Dr. Panda games are ideal for very young kids who want to take their first steps into the world of video games.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Breath of the Wild is one of the best games ever made and a great choice for older kids. As this game is pretty tough, with some hard puzzle rooms to solve and a lot of combat (complete with a challenging weapon degradation system), avoid this if you're buying for a child under eight years of age, and ideally this is more suited to pre-teens and older. A 10-year-old is likely to love Breath of the Wild's sprawling world, full of secrets to discover, and the fantasy setting combined with a complete lack of gore makes it an action game that shouldn't worry parents.
Plants vs Zombies Garden Warfare 2
Zombies might set alarm bells ringing in the minds of parents, instantly thinking about the horrors found in The Walking Dead, but this is very much a PG-rated zombie experience that 10-year-olds will love. Plants vs Zombies 2 is a third-person shooter, with players opting to be a plant or a zombie, the two being at war with one another. There are a variety of plant-based projectiles at your disposal or zombie guns, but this is a far cry from Call of Duty or the like. The zombies are going to be too scary for young kids, and the idea of guns (even if they are fun) isn't really suitable for the youngest players, but older kids will find a lot to enjoy. Predominantly, this is a multiplayer experience, but there is a single-player mode that also teaches players the ropes.
Ratchet and Clank
The Ratchet and Clank games from Insomniac (now most well-known for the excellent Marvel's Spider-Man game for PS4) are brilliant. When Sony and Insomniac announced a remake of the original game for the PS4, complete with glorious new graphics, fans got excited. Thankfully they didn't let us down. This action-heavy 3D platformer takes the duo of Ratchet (a furry lombax) and Clank (a smart robot) to numerous planets on an adventure that is part Star Wars, part Toy Story. There are guns, but Ratchet and Clank isn't a blood-thirsty game, with the action being of the cartoon variety and the weapons often being hilarious. Maybe not one for very young kids, but if yours have progressed to "proper" cartoons, this should provide them with plenty of fun.
I think Tearaway might be one of the best games available for the PS4 (and almost certainly the best game on the PS Vita, the system the game was originally designed for). In a world entirely made of paper, Tearaway does an incredible job at letting you put your own creative stamp on the world, and uses the PS4 controller in genius ways. The game world is full of quirky characters and neat new gameplay mechanics that crop up over the course of the adventure. There is some wonderful voice-over work at key points in the game, but a lot of the other dialogue is tet only, so very young kids will definitely need some assistance to get the most from the game even if they're comfortable with the controls.
If you enjoy reading about great video games, you'll find a neat collection of more in our ever-growing list of the best games of 2019. It's easy to lose track of new releases, so use this list to make sure you don't miss the games we think are essential.