Over the years, gaming has slowly evolved from a niche hobby to a worldwide phenomenon. The demographics of gamers encapsulates nearly the entire population, with children as young as three joining in on the fun. No longer is the medium viewed as something detrimental to one’s health — in fact, it is now believed that video games can improve cognitive health and help children develop social skills. Add in the fact that most games are just downright fun to play, and they become an excellent way to keep children entertained while educating them at the same time.
However, not all games are well-suited for all children, and parents must do everything they can to pick an age-appropriate title. After all, a video game that works well for a second grader isn’t necessarily the best video game for a kindergartener. With that in mind, here are the best games for children — broken down into distinct age groups.
Super Mario Maker 2
A great choice for kids who love platforming games and those with more creative ambition, Super Mario Maker 2 is an improved version of the original Wii U game, complete with more building components, a full campaign mode, and online multiplayer options. With red and blue switches and sloped hills available to build, it revolutionized the kinds of levels players could make, and we’ve seen some very creative courses thus far.
Super Mario Maker 2 is also a great choice for kids to play while an adult uses the television, as it’s actually much easier to build courses while playing in the Switch’s handheld mode. Purchasing an optional touchscreen stylus will make the process even smoother.
Read our full Super Mario Maker 2 review
Super Mario Odyssey
Super Mario Odyssey is one of the best 3D platformers ever made. While Mario games have always leaned to the accessible side, Super Mario Odyssey has a really great feature for kids: Assist mode. With Assist mode activated, Mario’s health doubles, falling off the map doesn’t lead to instant death, and a marker always guides you to your objective. Since Odyssey‘s planets are rather large and densely populated with stuff to look at and do, Assist mode removes some of the challenges and distractions for young players.
You can also have one player control Mario while the other takes hold of Cappy, Mario’s sentient hat. Playing as Cappy is ideal for players five and younger who have little to no experience with controller-based video games. Or you could always swap the controller each time someone finds a moon. No matter how you play Super Mario Odyssey, it’s a pure delight for both young kids and parents.
Read our full Super Mario Odyssey review
Yoshi’s Crafted World
Yoshi’s Crafted World is arguably the cutest game on Switch. Yoshi’s Island has been transformed into a land made of cardboard and construction paper. Yoshi still has his egg tossing abilities, but this time he can sling eggs into the backdrop of stages. Yoshi’s Crafted World is a 2D platformer with depth, allowing you to explore the background of stages.
It’s an excellent choice for kids just starting out with video games. Yoshi’s Crafted World encourages a slow pace, with no time limits and little risk of death (even easier if playing on Mellow difficulty). Exploration is key in Yoshi’s Crafted World and two players can enjoy local co-op. In local co-op, one player can hop on the other’s back at any time, which comes in handy during tricky platforming sections. Adorable, superbly designed, and full of whimsy, Yoshi’s Crafted World is a great choice for parents of young kids.
New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe
New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe uses the classic sidescrolling orientation for its Mario platforming. A collection of two Wii U games — New Super Mario Bros. U and New Super Luigi U — Deluxe is one of the best Nintendo Switch games around. The worlds are exceedingly colorful and vibrant, the platforming is excellent, and the Nintendo charm exudes with every jump.
Deluxe introduces two new playable characters, Toadette and Nabbit, each of whom makes the levels more approachable for young kids. Nabbit cannot take damage from enemies, and Toadette can pick up a crown that turns her into Peachette, who can practically fly. Additionally, Deluxe supports co-op for up to four players so the whole family can partake in the Super Mario goodness together.
Read our full New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe review
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe
As far as racing games go, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is both one of the easiest to play and the most fun. Featuring colorful, vibrant visuals, a simple control scheme, and all the Nintendo characters you could want in a game, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is one of the best multiplayer games on Switch.
Its wide selection of themed tracks in combination with battle modes that make use of the game’s awesome items give it immense legs. This is the sort of game you and your family will come back to for years to come. It’s that good.
Read our full Mario Kart 8 Deluxe review
Since 2005, officially licensed LEGO games have given kids and parents awesome ways to experience hugely popular intellectual properties such as Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, and a slew of superhero franchises. Almost all of these lovingly-crafted experiences have been worth playing cooperatively with kids both young and young at heart.
LEGO The Incredibles came out just in time for The Incredibles 2, and LEGO DC Super-Villains arrived in late 2018. With simple action gameplay, cooperative puzzles, and storylines often mirroring the movies at hand, the LEGO games are a great jumping-off point for young kids looking to get into games. The LEGO Movie 2 Videogame came out in 2019, too.
No arms, no legs, no problem. Ubisoft’s limb-impoverished hero, Rayman, has starred in a series of great platforming games, both 2D and 3D, but Rayman Legends is the hero’s absolute best outing. This 2D sidescroller is colorful, inventive, expertly-designed, and brimming with excellent content.
It’s perfect for fans of Mario. Rayman Legends is especially good for a family game night, as it features drop-in, drop-out cooperative play for up to four players. This is the type of multiplayer experience that can be enjoyed by young kids, teenagers, and parents all at the same time. It’s available on PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch.
Read our full Rayman Legends review
For platforming fans with creative minds, LittleBigPlanet 3 is an absolute can’t-miss game. The main adventure, starring Sackboy, features great levels with puzzles easy enough for small kids to solve. But where you will have the most fun with your kids is in the level creator.
LittleBigPlanet 3, like its predecessors, features a Create mode that lets you design and play your own side-scrolling levels. Not only does it add immense replay value to LittleBigPlanet 3, but it could spark an interest in game design for young players. You can play LittleBigPlanet 3 cooperatively as well, so it feels like a great choice for parents who are looking to get their children interested in games. LittleBigPlanet 3 is available on PS4.
Read our full LittleBigPlanet 3 review
Super Mario Run
As this first Mario game for mobile devices, Super Mario Run takes a fitting approach. It’s an automatic runner with one-button touchscreen controls. Mario runs all by himself, so the only thing you have to do is jump over gaps, hit power-ups, collect coins, and eliminate enemies. As such, Super Mario Run is a really good avenue for introducing kids to the iconic franchise.
It removes the need for controller fluency, while still letting kids experience the magic of the Mushroom Kingdom. Securing the game’s collectible gold coins is more of a challenge, though, one that will appeal to more seasoned gamers and parents alike. It’s the best of both worlds. Super Mario Run is available on iOS and Android.
One of the simplest and most satisfying games ever made, Peggle 2 is a puzzle game masterpiece from PopCap Games. You simply aim your shot, press a button, and watch as the metal ball pings around blue, green, and orange pegs. The objective is to clear all of the orange pegs within ten turns. You could call some of it luck, but aiming properly is the name of the game.
We know this premise may sound boring, but it truly is one of the most addicting puzzle games around. Bright, colorful visuals, awesome sounds, and local multiplayer make this a great game to play with your kids — no matter how young they are. It’s simple to pick up, and incredibly hard to put down. Peggle 2 is available to download on Xbox One and PS4.
Read our Peggle 2 hands-on
Yooka-Laylee nods back to late-90s platformers, mainly Banjo Kazooie. As such, this colorful adventure starring a cute chameleon and lovable bat is a great piece of nostalgia to play with your kids. It features cooperative multiplayer, where one person controls Yooka and the other controls Laylee.
It’s all about securing collectibles, mastering jumps, defeating baddies, and solving puzzles. After the adventure is over, you can play a collection of competitive mini-games with up to four players. Yooka-Laylee is available on PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC.
Read our full Yooka-Laylee review
A Hat in Time
A Hat in Time is a joyous 3D platformer that follows a young alien girl, simply known as Hat Kid, trying to find her way back home. It compares favorably to early 3D platformers like Spyro and Super Mario 64.
Across the game’s four open-world levels, you solve puzzles, defeat enemies, and collect items that let you unlock new hats for new abilities. A Hat in Time supports local and online co-op for two players. It’s available on Xbox One, PS4, Switch, and PC.
Sonic Mania Plus
Sonic Mania is the reincarnation of old-school Sonic, complete with retro visuals and, of course, lightning-fast platforming gameplay. It gives parents a chance to relive their childhood and lets them introduce a game they played when they were young to their children of all ages.
It even features remixed versions of classic Sonic levels. Even better, you can play split-screen couch co-op, so there’s no need to pass the controller. Sonic Mania Plus is available on PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC.
Scribblenauts: Showdown features an easy to learn board game with a plethora of fun and fast-paced mini-games for up to four players. Everything is simple enough for the whole family to enjoy, but some reading and spelling is required. While Showdown’s main focus is the party game, it still has the series’ Sandbox cooperative mode.
Each sandbox level has ten open-ended puzzles to solve with your imagination. For young kids, sandbox mode is a great playground for them to work on problem-solving skills. Conjuring up items using nouns and adjectives is both fun and educational, so it’s a great format for school-age children.
Read our full Scribblenauts: Showdown review
By now, everyone has heard of Minecraft, the sandbox game that has become a worldwide phenomenon over the past decade. What’s particularly great about Minecraft is that it’s a game that evolves with you. Young kids may not be able to create elaborate worlds at first, but as they age and learn more, they can add to them, and see the fruits of their labor pay off.
Whether you’re playing Creative mode to simply create your own world to hop around in or fighting off Creepers in Survival mode, Minecraft is a fun experience that gets both kids and adults to push their imaginations and ingenuity to the limit. Plus, it’s available on just about every device — home consoles, PC, smartphones, and tablets.
Read our full Minecraft review
Snipperclips – Cut it out, together!
Snipperclips is a cutesy Switch puzzler starring Snip and Clip, two pieces of paper who have to trim down to solve levels. This two-player co-op game is a funny and surprisingly strategic and creative experience.
It’s somewhat comparable to Scribblenauts, as there are multiple creative solutions to each puzzle. Blitz, a competitive multiplayer mode for up to four players, includes paper-oriented mini-games like basketball and lighthearted deathmatch.
Rocket League is a mesmerizing mix of extreme sports, racing, and soccer. In practice, it’s just cars driving around a field hitting a large ball into a soccer net, but that neat curious experiment has captivated millions thanks to its consummate depth and penchant for surprising hilarity.
It has an arcade-like feel, making it easy to pick up and play, ideal for both young kids (probably as young as five) and parents. Seriously, try to play Rocket League without getting hooked. Rocket League is available on Switch, PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville
Lacking the Garden Warfare branding but effectively the third game in the series, Plants vs. Zombies: Battle for Neighborville delivers even more over-the-top multiplayer action. There are several more Zombies and Plants to choose from, including an “’80s Action Hero” class that can fire a powerful bow, and both sides come with their own story campaigns that act as great teaching tools for the rest of the game.
Battle for Neighborville is a great choice for houses with more than one child, as well, as it’s playable via local split-screen across its various modes. These include the cooperative Ops mode, which is an easy-to-learn take on a horde mode.
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening
A complete remake of the original Game Boy game, with a new art style that turns Link into a little wooden figurine, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening is a simpler and easier-to-learn take on the series than Breath of the Wild. With several dungeons to explore, secrets to find, and items to unlock, it’s classic Zelda adventuring all wrapped up in an adorable package. The tranquil music is a huge bonus, too.
Link’s Awakening isn’t an outright easy game, however, so we’d suggest keeping the very youngest players away from it in order to avoid frustration. Once you become accustomed to the controls, though, it isn’t tough to get the hang of it.
Read our full The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening review
Luigi’s Mansion 3
The sequel to one of the best games on 3DS, Luigi’s Mansion 3 sees the series return to home consoles, and it just might be the best one yet. Taking place in a massive hotel rather than an actual mansion, the game sees Luigi searching for Mario, Peach, and two Toad friends after they’re transformed into paintings and kidnapped.
In addition to being a clever action and puzzle game, Luigi’s Mansion 3 is often laugh-out-loud hilarious, and it includes several multiplayer options for when more than one kid wants to get in on the fun.
Unravel 2 is a gorgeous side-scroller published by Electronic Arts under the EA Originals indie umbrella. Starring Yarny, a sentient being that is, yes, made of yarn, Unravel 2 is meant to be played co-op. Each of its puzzles requires two Yarnys to solve, whether played solo or with another player.
Unravel 2’s puzzles are slightly more challenging than those seen in LittleBigPlanet 3, but it’s a very suitable game to play with your young kids. Its aesthetic is cute and cartoonish and the puzzles are clever and insightful. If you’re looking for a bit more of a challenge, Unravel 2 is a great co-op game fit for kids and parents alike. It’s available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
Part puzzler, part platformer, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker was born from brief mini-games in Super Mario 3D World. The adorably dressed Toad and Toadette set off on an adventure. This isn’t a typical Mario platformer, though.
Most levels take place on a small square platform that can be tilted or turned. Neither Toad or Toadette can jump, so making your way to the end of each level requires manipulating the environment. Enemies and other obstacles make that simple objective harder.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is great for fans of Mario games and puzzlers. Treasure Tracker is available on Switch, Nintendo 3DS, and Wii U. A recent update for the Switch version added full couch co-op play for two people and paid DLC was released in early 2019.
Read our full Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker review
Pokémon mainline series
Pokémon RPGs have been going strong since 1996, and there really isn’t a better RPG for kids to start with than one of the many iterations available across Nintendo handhelds. These turn-based RPGs follow a young kid on their quest to becoming the very best Pokémon trainer in the world. Along the way, you capture Pokémon to train and use in battle against other trainers.
On Nintendo 3DS, there are three sets of excellent Pokémon adventures to choose from: Pokémon X and Y, Pokémon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire, and Pokémon Sun and Moon. If you have two 3DS (or 2DS) handhelds, you can battle against one another to see who’s the best of the household (your kid will probably win).
Pokémon: Let’s Go, while technically not a mainline entry, is also a great choice. It’s a remake of Pokémon Yellow infused with some Pokémon Go catching mechanics for Nintendo Switch.
Read our full Pokemon Sun and Moon review
Animal Crossing: New Leaf
If nothing else, Animal Crossing: New Leaf teaches responsibility. You must water your plants, fish for food, and tend to your house and neighborly obligations. This town management sim featuring one human character (you) and a bunch of memorable animal pals sounds ridiculously boring on the surface, but its relaxing loop will keep you coming back daily to see what’s going on in your town.
If you have two Nintendo 3DS handhelds, you can visit each other’s towns as well. Animal Crossing: New Leaf has a cutesy aesthetic that draws you in, but it’s the sheer satisfaction of completing activities that keep you coming back for more.
In broad strokes, Terraria is Minecraft but as a 2D sidescroller. Set in a randomly generated world, your job is to explore, gather resources, and defeat enemies both small and large. It’s more objective-based than Minecraft, though, as each task you complete, you can bring in new villagers to the buildings you have constructed.
Since it’s randomly generated, Terraria plays out differently for each user. In terms of longevity, Terraria has enough here to keep you playing for dozens, if not hundreds, of hours. There’s always something to do in the pixelated world of Terraria, and it’s a constant pleasure. Terraria is available on PC, Xbox One, PS4, Switch, mobile devices, and legacy consoles.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses
The Fire Emblem series began as a tough-as-nails tactical-role-playing game with permanent death and very little hand-holding. This is still the case if you want it to be, but the difficulty and accessibility options in Fire Emblem: Three Houses make it a great choice for older kids. The turn-based combat is deep without being overwhelming, and the storytelling is excellent from the beginning moments to long after the time-skipping segment at the midpoint.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses also offers tremendous replay value, so it can be a child’s one big gift during the holiday season and can last them for weeks or months. This is due to three separate campaigns included depending on a choice you make near the start, and it’s worth replaying multiple times.
Overcooked 2 is one of the most exhilarating and frustrating co-op party games around. The reason why we recommend this fast-paced cooking simulator for families is pretty simple. It requires constant communication and teamwork, essential skills for kids to master.
Overcooked 2 is also just plain fun, with outrageous moving kitchens and hilarious hijinks. Its predecessor is also a great time, but Overcooked 2 is a more robust experience. Overcooked 2 works best with two to four players, so it’s a decidedly co-op experience tailor-made for the whole family.
Overwatch is rated Teen by the ESRB, so the popular hero shooter is recommended for kids 13 and up. It features some cartoon blood and of course violence, though it doesn’t have the realism and gore of Mature-rated first-person shooters.
Overwatch’s objective-based modes, diverse characters, and strategic gameplay make it a multiplayer shooter that parents can enjoy with their teenagers and tweens. It’s truly one of the best competitive shooters around. If you don’t want your kids playing Call of Duty or Battlefield just yet, Overwatch is a good substitute (many will tell you that it’s better than those franchises anyway!).
Read our full Overwatch review
Apex Legends, like Overwatch, is rated Teen by the ESRB. This hybrid battle royale/hero shooter is also meant for kids 13 and up. Apex Legends is similar to Fortnite in that the goal is to be the last team standing in a gradually shrinking playable area. Currently, Apex Legends only supports three-person teams, with 20 teams duking it out in a round.
The map is really cool, the legends have fun abilities, and the overall experience feels far more polished than most battle royale games. Plus, it’s free-to-play on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. Apex Legends‘ weapons, however, are more realistic than those seen in Overwatch or Fortnite, so parents will definitely want to screen this game. It’s the new multiplayer sensation, though, so chances are your kids are talking about it or have at least heard of it.
Fortnite: Battle Royale
Fortnite: Battle Royale is a worldwide sensation. Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re already well-aware of Fortnite‘s massive popularity. Perhaps your child has even played it. If you’re wondering what the buzz is about, we suggest playing duos or squad alongside them.
This battle royale game has a great loop and uses cartoonish visuals which help it stay within the realm of a game that’s not too mature for your kids to play. Plus, the building aspect of the game helps teach creativity and who knows, maybe it will jumpstart an interest in engineering or architecture in your young ones. Best of all, Fortnite is free-to-play on consoles, PC, and iOS and Android.
Read our full Fortnite: Battle Royale review
Ratchet & Clank
A reimagining of the 2002 PS2 classic, Ratchet & Clank is one of the PlayStation 4’s best exclusives. If you happened to see the awful 2016 film adapted from this game, please don’t let its sheer terribleness deter you from playing the truly excellent game. The story of how a young Lombax and a robot became friends and saved the galaxy from certain destruction is both inspiring and, more importantly, incredibly fun to play.
With eye-popping cartoon visuals, hilarious weapons, great boss battles, and platforming sequences, Ratchet & Clank never misses a beat. The only downside is that it can only be played solo, meaning that you’ll have to sneak a session in after your kids are fast asleep. Yes, Ratchet & Clank is great for kids of all ages (it has animated blood and violence), but you’ll want to play it, too.
Read our full Ratchet and Clank collection review
No Man’s Sky
No Man’s Sky was once thought to be the future of gaming, a near-infinite universe of planets to explore and adventures to be had. When it launched in 2016, it turned out to be a massive, but a somewhat bland experience of repetition. Over the past two years, though, No Man’s Sky has improved in many ways. The original loop, however, has remained largely intact. So why is it on this list?
Well, because No Man’s Sky piques the imagination and curiosity that we often lose as we become adults. For kids, though, traveling from planet to planet, mining for minerals, and studying the odd creatures that populate the diverse worlds is a fun time. It has the power to make kids feel like astronauts discovering uncharted and unknown lands. No Man’s Sky is available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
Read our full No Man’s Sky review
Splatoon 2, the sequel to the surprise Wii U hit, is easily one of the most engaging and charming multiplayer “shooters” around. Armed with a paint weapon — blaster, brush, roller, etc. — your main goal is to cover each map with as much paint as possible. Essentially, it’s all about territory control, which also leads to some paint firefights with the opposing team.
This lighthearted Nintendo game stars squid-kids (Nintendo should really make a cartoon about Splatoon’s game world). There’s also a single-player campaign and a cooperative variant called Salmon Run. The unfortunate thing is that you need two Switch consoles to play local multiplayer, but it is a game that both parents and kids can get hooked on.
Read our full Splatoon 2 review
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle
The bizarre Mario/Rabbids crossover is an oddly wonderful take on turn-based strategy combat of XCOM. It also happens to be one of the funniest games to release in recent years. Each level takes place on a grid-based battlefield. Each turn, you move your three characters — standard Mario characters or Rabbid versions of them — in an attempt to clear the area of Rabbids.
As a strategy game, it’s probably not suitable, on average, for kids under the age of nine or ten, though you can play co-op with two players. Customization options let you make each battle easier, so it’s not as hardcore as the typical turn-based strategy game. If your kids enjoy checkers or chess, chances are they will love Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle on Nintendo Switch.
Read our full Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle review
Portal 2 is one of the greatest games of all time. No, really, it is. The mechanics are so simple yet so revolutionary. Armed with a Handheld Portal Device, you create blue and orange portals on walls that can be traveled through to advance through the giant facility that is Aperture Science. When the mechanic clicks, nearly everything you do will have you mouthing “wow” to yourself.
Portal 2 also has a co-op campaign for up to four players. Rated E-10, it’s recommended for kids ten and up due to fantasy violence and mild language. In addition to being a joy to play, it’s also genuinely funny. Portal 2 is available on PC and Xbox 360/PS3, if you still have a legacy console you want to dust off.
A spiritual successor to the Harvest Moon franchise, Stardew Valley is delightful farming and management sim with a whole bunch of heart. At the start of the game, you move to your grandfather’s farm in Pelican Town to get away from the hustle and bustle of the big city.
Much like Animal Crossing, you collect resources and interact with townsfolk. Stardew Valley also features combat, though, so it’s not all humdrum living. It’s a bit deeper and more complex than Animal Crossing, though if your child is a solid reader and has an interest in management sims, Stardew Valley is one of the best independent games in recent years. Plus, it’s only $15 on PS4, Xbox One, Switch, and PC.
A collection of 30 Rare games from its first 30 years in business, Rare Replay offers a varied look at video game history, from early beat ’em ups like Battletoads to defining platformers like Banjo-Kazooie to quirky hits like Viva Piñata.
While not every game in this collection is worth playing, there’s a lot of value in the package. Beware, though: Conker’s Bad Fur Day, although cute, is definitely not a game for kids. Rare Replay is available on Xbox One.