Video games are the only part of my kids' lives that I'm completely uninvolved in. But don't judge me as a neglectful parent; their dad loves video games as much as they do, and they bond over their shared love. They have animated conversations about what they're playing, different strategies they can use and new games that are being released. They giddily run around arcades together while I (quite happily) camp out in a corner with my book and my soda. Video games are their thing, and I'm happy to let them have it!
When I told my husband and daughters I was writing about the most popular video games for the holiday season, they happily bombarded me with everything they know. So, just in time for your last-minute Christmas gift buying, from the most knowledgeable people I know (well, about video games at least), here are some of the most popular games the kids today are playing!
For the kid on-the-go
One of the best things for parents about video games is their ability to keep the kids occupied during the boring but unavoidable chores and errands of everyday life, and mobile devices like the 3DS, phones and mobile devices are great for this.
Nintendo 3DS: This extremely popular handheld video game console sells for about $200 on Amazon. It's pretty much the go-to mobile video gaming device. For parents who are planning on buying a first 3DS for their kids this Christmas season, something to keep in mind for the future is that Nintendo has just announced it will be releasing something called the Nintendo Switch, which will allow gamers to play at home like a regular console and then "switch" it into a mobile device to play the same game on-the-go. There are very few details available about this yet, so, for the time-being at least, your best bet is still the 3DS.
Popular games for the 3DS
- Mario -- Mario games are still hugely popular. Try out Super Mario Maker ($40 from Amazon), Luigi's Mansion Dark Moon (about $20) or Mario Kart (between $25 and $30). Another Mario-centered option is Super Smash Brothers (between $20 and $30), which allows gamers to pit lots of different Nintendo characters against each other to fight it out.
- Animal Crossing -- This is a fun game series for those kids who like to simulate a real world with cute little animal characters. In New Leaf (between $20 and $25), you can create your own town, become mayor and interact with your residents. In Happy Home Designer (about $18), you get the chance to use your interior design skills to build and decorate homes for your residents.
Apps for Phones and Devices
If you have kids with cell phones or tablets (or aren't averse to letting them use yours), there are some popular and fun apps out there, some of which are free and some of which have a price tag. A word of caution about "free" games though -- some of those games are considered "freemium" -- they're free to download at first, but if you want to get past the demo mode or play different levels or get additional playing capabilities , you'll find you have to pay for them. As long as you and your child go into the app playing with that knowledge in the back of your mind, and with boundaries firmly in place, freemium doesn't have to be a deal-breaker.
Pokemon Go is this year's Angry Birds in terms of popularity. This app, which you can download for free, allows you to use your GPS to find different Pokemon creatures in locations all around the world. You can then capture the virtual characters, who "appear" on your device in your same location. You can make in-app purchases for additional game features. Kids and adults alike are obsessed with collecting all the different characters, and the app has actually been credited with encouraging healthy habits, as people who play this game are walking more steps during the day than their non-Pokemon obsessed counterparts.
Other apps your kids have probably heard of even if you haven't -- Minecraft Pocket Edition, Subway Surfers, Crossy Road, Angry Birds, Plants vs. Zombies and Candy Crush.
For Parent-Child Bonding
Lots of parents enjoy playing video games just as much as their kids do. For them, gaming is a fun way to relate to and to bond with their children, and it can be even more fun to introduce them to some of the games you loved as a child. And, even for those parents who haven't picked up a video game controller for 20 years, some of the retro gaming options out there might be a fun blast from the past. (Of course, considering that many of these retro games were created pre-rating systems, these are games to play with your kids, not necessarily to let them play alone.)
And, as an added bonus to keep in mind, both STEAM and Good Old Games usually have massive sales around Christmastime.
Nintendo NES Classic Edition -- You can buy this for $60; it looks like an old-school Nintendo system and comes pre-loaded with 30 retro games like Super Mario Brothers, Legends of Zelda and Metroid.
Good Old Games -- At goodoldgames.com, you can choose retro games to pay to download to play on your PC. Some favorites include all the old LucasArts games like Monkey Island, Grim Fandango and Sam & Max.
STEAM -- At steampowered.com, you can download cool retro games you were into as a kid like Knights of the Old Republic, as well as new games that your kids are probably already into like Rocket League and Civilization 6.
For the everyday gamer
Then of course there are your standard gaming consoles.
For those not in the know, in addition to your PC, here are the most popular ones.
XBox One (One S - $450, Standard -- $240)
Playstation 4 (Pro - $400, Standard - $290)
Wii-U (Deluxe - $410, Standard - $240)
Games for the standard consoles
- The sports games are always popular. Think Madden NFL 17, NBA 2K17 , and FIFA 17. All these games are between $50 and $60 on Amazon.
- Minecraft, which allows players to build their own world in "peaceful" mode and fight monsters such as creepers, zombies and skeletons in "survival" mode, has been popular with gamers for the past six years and continues to go strong. It sells for between about $15 and $30 depending on the gaming system.
- LEGO Dimensions is one of those games that you can build up over time by buying more and more sets to play with your original starter pack game. The starter pack, which sells for about $60 on Amazon, comes with three different "worlds" ("LEGO Movie", "Lord of the Rings" and "Batman"), and then there are lots of options for expansion packs you can buy separately later on, such as "The Simpsons", "Ghostbusters" and "DC Superheroes." These additional sets sell for between about $12 and $60.
- Of course, if you're not into spending lots of money as an initial investment and then over time as your children ask for more LEGO worlds, all of the LEGO games, such as "Batman", "Star Wars", and "Marvel Superheroes" are awesome, fun and funny -- and can be more affordable at about $15-$60 depending on the game.
- If your child has a Nintendo Wii-U (or a Nintendo 3DS if you want to go that route), amiibo might be a good investment. With amiibo, your kids can buy their favorite Nintendo characters (like Mario and Zelda characters, and even some others like the laughing dog from the old-school "Duck Hunt" game), place them on your console, and play with them in all kinds of different Nintendo games. The characters go for anywhere from $5 to $20 on Amazon, and the game prices are just as variable, some of them very affordable.
- With Star Wars Battlefront, which sells for between about $30 and $50, your kids can basically transport themselves into the world of everyone's favorite sci-fi movie franchise. You can visit the different planets, use the force to fight the dark side and fly tons of different aircraft into battle, including the Millennium Falcon. Gamers can also play on their own or with other players online (something you may want to disallow if you're not there to supervise).
Reviews and Ratings
So, how to know which games are appropriate and which games your kid will love the most?
The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) has developed a rating system, which you will see on the cover of games (or in their description if you're shopping online). Here are the categories:
- C for Early Childhood
- E for Everyone
- E 10+ for Everyone 10 years of age and older
- T for Teen (ages 13 and up)
- M for Mature (ages 17 and up)
- A for Adult (ages 18 and up)
Check out esrb.org for more information about each of the ratings.
There are also lots of websites that specialize in reviewing games to help you decide which games will give you the best bang for your buck and which ones are most up your own kids' alley. Here are two of the best.
IGN (at ign.com) is a well-established, professional site for reviews and things like cheat codes, trailers and news for video games, apps, and even movies.
MetaCritic (at metacritic.com) is a one-stop shop for reviews for games, TV and movies. The cool thing about the site is that it aggregates lots of different reviews from around the web and assigns an overall rating, while also providing links to the individual reviews.
And, there you have it -- everything you need to be a well-informed shopper for your little gamer!