If you've got a couple of little ones littering up the place now that a good chunk of the global workforce is stuck at home and the schools are closed, you may well be struggling to find things to keep them occupied. It's a very real concern for a lot of parents, especially those who find their sanity starting to dwindle.
After doing some digging in an attempt to keep our own children from turning feral, we thought we'd prepare a helpful resource for parents in a similar boat, complete with options across a bunch of platforms. Hopefully, there'll be a few ideas herein that everyone can agree sound like fun. And so, without further ado, is Gamereactor's Guide to Gaming for Bored Kids and Desperate Parents.
If you're on Nintendo Switch and you want to get them racing, the answer is simple: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. Nintendo's kart racer is absolutely top drawer family entertainment and thanks to some excellent accessibility options even the most inexperienced players will be able to get behind the wheel and start having fun. There are plenty of other options beyond Mario's kart racer; last year players were treated to Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled, another excellent racing game built with family entertainment in mind. On top of that, Sonic's latest effort, Team Sonic Racing, wasn't too shabby either.
However, if your kids are a little older and you're after something a little less cutesy but not quite a full arcade/sim experience, we're going to recommend Trackmania Turbo, which not only offers high octane gameplay but also includes a powerful track editing tool and split-screen. On that note, if you're after high-speed action with a multiplayer focus, Rocket League is a great option and it's relatively inexpensive too.
Overcooked is the obvious starting point when it comes to games where cooperation is of ultimate importance. The game has spawned a sequel and a number of imitators, all of which put their own spin on the top-down team co-op format with groups of players doing their best to keep disaster at bay by completing tasks in chaotic situations.
One Switch-exclusive that's all about teamwork is Snipperclips: Cut it out, together!, an unusual co-op game with a fun papercraft twist. Alternatively, why not work together to build an island paradise in Animal Crossing: New Horizons. While the fact that you're limited to one island per Switch has caused a bit of upset amongst the AC community, you can still cooperate and build your perfect island home in this sugar-sweet life sim.
Of course, we've got this far without mentioning Minecraft, which offers endless opportunities for little ones to work together towards a common goal. Then again, if you've got kids and you all like video games, the chances are you're already on board the good ship Minecraft. Still, there's never been a better time to dive into Mojang's masterpiece, and right now there are free educational resources available, as well as a whole host of activities including multiplayer modes and a fully customisable sandbox experience.
You don't have to be a kid to enjoy Lego games, but given the focus of many of the games, it certainly helps. Truth be told, there's a wealth of options and most of you will have already played a few of them. If we had to offer some advice as to which ones you should seek out and play right now? Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga is always a great shout, but for something a little more contemporary we'd recommend Lego City Undercover, an open-world adventure with a dash of GTA-inspired gameplay, oodles of parody, and which is crammed full of things to do and collect. Reassuringly, it doesn't matter what platform you're on, whether it's a tablet, a Switch, or an Xbox One, you'll find a Lego game to keep you entertained.
This is where things get really interesting because a lot of platform games are built with co-op in mind. For those seeking a sterner challenge, Cuphead is an excellent game that we heartily recommend (on PC, Switch, and Xbox). More accessible and almost as beautiful is Rayman Legends, which is absolutely crammed full of content, supports up to four players at once, and is available on all current-gen platforms.
Sonic Mania is another good option for platform fans, and we're also going to take this opportunity to once again highlight one of our all-time favourites, Spelunky, which not only offers tons of replayability but also supports co-op. Another good co-op game is Little Big Planet 3, which also offers a bunch of creative tools and (fair warning) an almost dizzying array of DLC.
In this area, Nintendo boasts an embarrassment of riches, with Super Mario Odyssey the pick of the most recent bunch, but perhaps consider Super Mario Maker 2 instead (or as well), as not only does it come with all the tools you need to make your own adventures, but it also gives you access to a whole ton of content (including some insane player-made levels).
We've mentioned Rocket League already, but there's a number of great titles based on real-world sports, too. If you were to ask us for a personal recommendation, we'd probably go with FIFA 20 as it offers a bunch of ways to play the beautiful game (and it's about the only chance Arsenal has of winning anything at the moment). That said, most major sports are well represented in the sphere of gaming, so you'll find something that offers good, clean fun whether they like basketball (NBA 2K20), American football (Madden NFL 20), ice hockey (NHL 20), or golf (The Golf Club 2019). Actually, if they like golf there's a ton of fantastic minigolf inspired games out there and you should have no trouble finding something fun, with What The Golf? a good recent example.
Many people don't have access to a console or a capable PC, but if that's you it doesn't mean that you're completely out of options. If you want something simple then Part Time UFO is an utterly charming physics-based game, and Ridiculous Fishing is also accessible and fun. Mobile is also a great place for puzzles, so that means Tetris, any of the Bejeweled games, and a sprinkle of Arkanoid vs Space Invaders for good measure.
If you want to mine or build, you've got a couple of great options (including Minecraft). Stardew Valley is the standout offering, but it's not really suitable for younger children due to the amount of reading. Also for bigger kids, there are a number of city builders, and of the many out there we're going to recommend TheoTown (but that's probably because we grew up playing Sim City 2000).
Finally, roguelikes offer plenty of replayability thanks to the stern challenge they offer, although that means they're not for everyone, especially younger gamers. Quirky space shooter Galak-Z is out on multiple platforms including mobile, as is the excellent vertical platformer Downwell. If you've got a tablet we'd also recommend FTL: Faster Than Light - you might have to do the reading for them but it offers an excellent choose-your-own-adventure style experience that you can enjoy together (just skip the bit about space cannibals and you'll be fine).
Whichever platform you're on, there are some great family-friendly adventures out there. We've already covered many examples where platforming is prevalent, but there are still plenty of exciting journeys ready to whisk your little ones away for a few hours of escapism.
If you're rocking a Switch, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a great way to kill a few dozen hours. On the same platform but altogether spookier, Luigi's Mansion 3 is an absolute hoot. We're also going to give a shout out to Cadence of Hyrule - Crypt of the NecroDancer Feat. The Legend of Zelda - it's a toe-tapping treat for gamers of all ages (if you don't have a Switch, plain ol' Crypt of the Necrodancer will do just fine).
PlayStation 4 boasts plenty of stellar grown-up adventures, but it's a little thin on the ground when it comes to great family-friendly exclusives (Knack 2, maybe). Xbox One fares little better with the likes of Super Lucky's Tale, but there are at least a wealth of cross-platform games that offer some lovely experiences for small people to savour. Dragon Quest Builders 2 is one good example, and RPG-lite experience Portal Knights has proven quite popular in our house. For something more on-the-rails, Minecraft: Story Mode is Telltale for kids (but it involves a fair amount of reading, so bear that in mind).
Finally, we've saved the best for last. Untitled Goose Game. It's not the longest game and won't entertain them for as long as some of the other titles in this feature, but it's absolutely one that we'd recommend you pick up (also, it's so charming that you'll want to play it in the evening once the babies have gone to bed).
If you're after something that demands more than just running and jumping around on a screen, you have options. Nintendo did a great job of merging papercraft and gaming with the Labo series (one of the packs also lets you make your own VR headset). The various contraptions you can build often take a long time to create, making them a great way to keep them busy (and that's why we're all here, right?).
Lego offers a good option in this space too, as you've got Lego Dimensions, with playsets that involve manual assembly before they can be used in the game. They're certainly more interactive than Skylanders and Disney Infinity, although all three are built around a similar premise of bringing toys to life on screen. One thing we will say about all three games is there is a fair amount of collecting involved, which may not be ideal given the current circumstances.
Another creative endeavour, this time on PlayStation 4, is Media Molecule's Dreams, which not only offers a wealth of extravagant player-made experiences, but you can make your own with the powerful creative tools included.
In fact, you can take your family's creativity further with Scratch coding on PC, or you can get them working with hardware via a Raspberry Pi. If that sounds like it could be of interest, Kano does a good range of kits built around the same tech and are an ideal starting point for young programmers.
We hope that helps you find something to keep your kids busy during these strange times we're all living through. Let us know if you've got any additional recommendations in the comments below!
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