With the Xbox One and PS4 breaking all records for console sales and just about every family household in the UK having a tablet device of some description, gaming has permeated every walk of life - sometimes obviously, sometimes not so. Kids and adults have plenty of choice when they want to sit down and play a game these days, whether it be on a dedicated console, tablet, smartphone or even Smart TV. However, what about the younger children?
Not only do they need games that offer age appropriate content, preferably with some form of learning along the way, but they need to be able to play the games mostly unaided too. Yes there might be a few Xbox games that a three-year-old can view without fear of their brain melting, but are they able to use the joypad to be able to perform actions?
It's actually harder to find appropriate games for toddlers and those slightly older for current consoles, especially the new generation machines, but we've managed to track down some that we think you'll be happy to leave in the hands of your child. As well as some that are made exactly for that purpose.
The LeapTV is perhaps the most obvious addition to our round-up in that it is a games console specifically designed for three to eight-year-olds. Having only just released, it is already a favourite in our own households, especially as some of the dedicated launch games feature characters like Disney's Sofia the First and Jake and the Neverland Pirates.
You could say that the LeapTV is a Wii for an even younger audience and it's a clever move by LeapFrog. It has a camera that can track the controller, the motion controller itself, which can be set in multiple positions, and the stand-up console has a cartridge slot on the front for the games. In addition, as it connects wirelessly to the internet, parents can download and store additional software titles from LeapFrog's own app store.
Where it mainly differs from most games consoles, even those that come with educational games, is that all software available for the LeapTV has been created with learning and growth in mind. Yes, Sofia the First might have a cute, arcade game to play, but it encourages reading in the process. Instead of collection stars, for example, it asks the player to collect letters. The other games are similarly suitable, with different basic skills to be absorbed along the way.
The LeapTV is a great device to encourage kids to play responsibly and while pricey at £120 (with the standalone games costing £25 a pop) parents can be rest assured that their younger children will be learning something as they do.
When it comes to looking for an app to keep kids entertained for the most amount of time in comparison to how much it costs you can't get better than the completely free Cbeebies Playtime app from the BBC. The one app, available for iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows Phone 8 and Amazon Fire tablets, has nine or so activities and games based around the biggest characters from the TV channel.
Some of them are educational, some just fun. All of the games and mini-activities are designed for younger children to get to grips with immediately. And the BBC adds new characters and games all the time. It recently added a Christmas advent calendar, for example, which gives access to even more mini-games based on some of the biggest stars and shows.
Disney Infinity 2.0 and Skylanders Trap Team
Although both Disney Infinity 2.0 and Skylanders Trap Team are very different games from different publishers, their concepts are similar. They are also pretty much both available on every gaming platform available.
Both games have a platform gaming element designed for six-year-olds and above and each is enhanced with the addition of extra toy figures that can be bought separately. Admittedly, neither is really for younger children and both have, albeit cartoon, violence as part of their gameplay. But in the case of Disney Infinity for example, you can buy Elsa and Anna from Frozen to play in the Toy Box mode so smaller kids can run around as their favourite characters - they won't get up to much but just having that control over a favourite or two could be enough.
One word of warning though, not only will the starter sets for both cost from £40 and up, your child is likely to want you to add additional figures over time, which can cost from a tenner each.
LeapFrog LeapPad 3 and VTech InnoTab Max
Although there are plenty of kid-friendly apps available for iPad, Android and other tablet devices, for them to play games like Cbeebies Playtime it does require a parent to either hand over their own tablet device or the family's. That means it will be out of action for the time a child is playing and - experience talking here - it could be a struggle to get it back off an engaged toddler.
To be fair, some tablets even have kid-based software integral to the experience, such as Amazon's Freetime on its Fire tablets or a similar tool on the Tesco hudl 2, whereby you can set a defined amount of time a child can access their profile and the games and apps they are able to see and play. However, there is no better tablet for a kid than one made specifically for them. And in the LeapFrog LeapPad 3 and VTech InnoTab Max there are two on the market that are wonderfully geared to not only provide entertainment for young kids, they are a doddle for them to use too.
Both tablets have their merits and can be enhanced through the acquisition of plenty of educational games and activities and both are robust enough to cope with a tantrum. What makes them extra special for kids though is that they talk on their level and are easy to operate.
The LeapPad 3 is around £90, while the InnoTab Max is a slightly bigger device that comes with a built-in cover for around £110.
Nintendo Wii U
Although three-year-olds might struggle with a Wii U - regardless of a large selection of games rated at three and over - as soon as they become four or five, their attention spans and motor skills should be enough to start them on the path to what many would consider more coventional videogaming.
In that we would most recommend the Nintendo Wii U over the PS4 or Xbox One. For a start it has Mario Kart 8, one of the best family-oriented games out there. We often played Mario Kart on the Wii with a five-year-old and on the easiest levels, thanks to a more physical motion control, he found the game easy enough to play. The Wii U is also compatible with the remote controls, games and other accessories from the original Wii, so if you've already invested heavily in that before, you can carry on playing the family games you already own.
At around £230 with a game for the Premium pack, the Nintendo Wii U is also a cheaper option than the other new generation consoles, so worth considering for that reason too.
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