The Christmas holidays provide prime opportunity to sit down with your children to play videogames. You might also be inclined to pop on a game for them to play on their own, under supervision. But which games are most suitable?
Sure, you can check the age rating of a game before purchase - as each title comes with an official guideline on the box - or check out scores at the end of reviews, but should you stick to them religiously? We suggest not.
If you spend time with a range of families and you soon discover that the best games are not always those with the highest score, or the youngest age rating.
For example, F1 2015 is rated PEGI 3 but of course requires more dexterity than most three-year olds possess. The age rating is a measure of appropriateness rather than ability or maturity required to enjoy the game in question.
Consider games that don't suit adult reviewers' tastes
A game like Nintendo's Amiibo Festival is another case in point. Roundly dismissed and scored low by critics as a mini-game tie-in to move more Amiibo toy figures, there’s actually more here than meets the eye. For a range of ages, the main board game mechanic actually works very well.
It’s true that this doesn’t offer a highly skilled challenge, but instead is an activity that families can share while chatting to each other and relaxing after school. Therefore, while it scored lowly in reviews, Amiibo Festival plays to its interactive strengths because, unlike watching TV, here there are pauses and turn taking that engage young players and leave space for conversation.
Play through enough of the game and you unlock a range of sub-games. Again these are aimed at a younger audience but the variety on offer is impressive. From simple target-hitting tasks to hand-to-eye co-ordination of using three different Amiibo cards to steer your character, or even a classic Mastermind-style logic puzzle, there is plenty to enjoy (and learn) from these short experiences.
Controls are important for younger children
Another unlikely place for family gaming is found in the guise of Wipeout on the PlayStation 3. Where many families with young children will go for the likes of Mario Kart instead, thanks to more child-like graphics and sensibilities, that game can still be too difficult to steer for novice players.
Unlike Mario Kart, Wipeout enables you to switch on an auto-steer assist function that ensures when you stray too close to the edge you are put back on the track. Young players in Mario Kart often find themselves frustratedly bashing into the barriers or facing the wrong way. Wipeout neatly avoids this problem.
In two-player mode you can also tweak the controls separately so that an expert and novice can compete together. It also mirrors the tilt sensitive steering of Mario Kart. Put it all together and you have a great way to enjoy racing as a family.
Don't always opt for the latest games
Another good place to find some unexpected gaming gems is from previous year’s titles. Not only can you save a lot of money by opting for last season’s sports simulation, but they often include family friendly modes not deemed profitable to keep in later versions.
For starters, FIFA 15 is now available at a fraction of the price of FIFA 16. But old Tiger Woods golf games offer more than just discounts to families. The motion-controlled versions of Tiger Woods on the Nintendo Wii or PS3 (using a Move controller) open up the play to a wider audience by avoiding too much button pressing.
Similarly, go back to FIFA 09 on the Wii (still playable on the Wii U) and for a few pounds you can access a range of football modes including All-Play so players can control key actions like shooting and passing, while the in-game artificial intelligence controls the rest.
And consider some that you might not have heard of before
Other games can also offer a surprising amount of depth in family friendly ways. Go Vacation for the Wii was generally overlooked when released in 2011, but offers four player open-world explorations around large resort locations with 50 mini-games.
As you explore hidden secrets are unlocked for new activities (surfing, beach volleyball, scuba diving, kayaking, snowball fights, snowman making, ski jumping and even hang gliding). Controls are based around the motion mechanics popularised by the Wii but also include use of the Wii Balance Board to add more motion to each challenge.
Here, because the game lets each player explore at their own pace, and use a variety of vehicles, mounts and boats, the whole family can enjoy it together. It encourages imaginative play because it’s up to the players how they tackle each challenge or whether this simply opt to have fun exploring on horseback or helicopter.
While the titles here will provide a good starting point, the best way to find great games for your family is to talk to other families about what they have enjoyed. Particularly when they have children of a similar age, this can be a better way to find hidden gems than going by top 10 games lists or review scores.
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