My family has embraced video games wholeheartedly. I wish I could tell you it was a choice, but I got swept along as my two boys, ages 14 and 11, and now my nine-year-old daughter, fell for video game culture 100 percent. Despite my misgivings, I’ve been able to see the positive side of video games. They can increase sociability (no, really!), hand-eye coordination and problem-solving skills. My kids regularly beat me at every game we play together on our Xbox One, but even I grudgingly admit that we have fun—and are maybe learning something while doing it.
Before buying a video game console, you have to consider what you’re looking in a system. Do you want something that will work exclusively for games, or do you want a console that can grow with your family and be used for some of your other entertainment needs? Each console has exclusive features and its fair share of fans or detractors. Here’s a start:
Best for: Kids, anyone nostalgic for “Super Mario”
Pros: Nintendo has the kid market locked up, and the Wii U is a great starter system. It has simple actions, and the GamePad can be played separately from the TV. If you’re sentimental about Mario, Luigi and their pals, they’re only available on Nintendo gaming systems.
Cons: The Wii U won’t grow with your family, as the more complicated games aren’t made for this console. While it can stream Netflix, it doesn’t have a built-in entertainment system.
Cost: $300; the Wii U comes in a set with a free game—the bundles this year are the Super Mario 3D World Deluxe Set or the Mario Kart 8 Wii U Deluxe Set.
Microsoft Xbox One with Kinect
Best for: Adults, older kids, gamers, families looking for an entertainment system
Pros: In the summer, Microsoft started selling the Xbox One with or without the Kinect body sensor. The Kinect makes the motion-controlled games like “Just Dance” much more fun, and also provides voice control. The Xbox One is a one-stop media hub that streams movies through Netflix, has a Blu-Ray player, and it also allows you to watch live TV by connecting your cable or satellite box directly to it.
Cons: It’s aimed at a gamer crowd and there aren’t many options for kids younger than eight.
Cost: $500 with Kinect; $400 without Kinect, which is $150 if purchased separately
Sony PlayStation 4 (or, as the cool kids call it, the PS4)
Best for: Adults and older kids, gamers and gamer wannabes
Pros: The one-year-old PlayStation 4 is the most powerful console on the market and boasts incredible graphics. It can stream movies through Netflix or the Internet, and has a Blu-Ray player. “Little Big Planet” is one of the best kids’ games on the market and is exclusive to PS4.
Cons: Other than “Little Big Planet,” there aren’t many games for the younger-than-eight crowd.
Read more: In defence of video games>
The hottest new titles of the year
Mario Kart 8
The universal truth of Mario Kart games is that kids who cannot drive legally win this game more often than those of us with drivers licenses. This family game can have four players racing their favourite Mario characters through fantasy worlds. This game is guaranteed to have kids (and adults) of all ages groaning and laughing with every twist and turn. Only available for the WiiU.
Cost: $65, Rated: E for everyone
Super Smash Bros
This game is full of mindless fun and mild cartoon violence. You choose your character from across the Nintendo worlds to battle each other. So Donkey Kong can take on a Pokemon, and Link can trade punches with Princess Peach. One of the most powerful battlers in the game is the Wii Fit Trainer—her yoga moves can cause some serious damage. The highly anticipated new version is going to be a hot commodity this holiday season and is only available for the Wii U.
Cost: $65, Rated: E 10+ for cartoon violence
Disney Infinity: Marvel Super heroes (2.0 Edition)
If your kids love superheroes, then Disney Infinity is a must for their holiday haul. Both Disney Infinity and Skylanders are “toy to life” games, and you need to purchase a base along with some figurines to play. This year’s version has added the Avengers to the lineup—if your kid has dreamt of wielding Thor’s hammer or is obsessed with Iron Man, then you’re in luck. The Toolbox is an open-ended part of the game that increases the game’s depth exponentially as players can use their imaginations to build their own worlds. Bonus: Figures from the first Infinity still work in the Toybox. There’s a social element as well: You can upload your creations and show the world. Available for the PS4, Wii U and Xbox One.
Cost: $75 starter pack comes with base and three figures (Thor, Black Widow and Iron Man). Each additional figure is $14. Rated: E10+ for cartoon violence
Skylanders Trap Team
The new twist in the third version of this popular game is that players can choose to trap the bad guys and use their powers for good. “Trap Team” has all the appeal and depth that kids love about the franchise, along with a larger range of characters. All the previous figures from the Skylanders game can be played in this version, along with the new Trap Masters who carry the powerful Traptanium crystals. The new game comes with a portal to the all-important jail. Available for PS4, Wii U and Xbox One. Cost: $85 starter pack comes with two characters, a new portal and the Traptanium crystals. Each additional character or pack of three traps is $16. Rated: E10+ for cartoon violence and comic mischief
Read more: The best video games for kids>
Just Dance 2015
In case you haven’t heard “Let It Go” enough times, the new Just Dance game has it, complete with smooth dance moves. This game will have the whole family breaking out in a sweat to some of last year’s favourite tunes like Pharrell’s “Happy” and Maroon 5’s “Maps” (but they mix in some oldies for us parents, too). There have been many stories of adults rocking out to this game when the kids are in bed. This game is best with the Kinect on the Xbox One that can “see” all your awesome moves, but it works if you’re holding a controller for the other systems as well. Available for all systems.
Cost: $50 Rated: E10+ for lyrics
Little Big Planet 3
The Little Big Planet series is one of the more imaginative games on the market. The new version expands lovable Sackboy’s world so that three hand-stitched friends can join him on his puzzle-solving adventures. Only available for PlayStation 4 and PS3.
Cost: $65 for PS4, $60 for PS3, Not yet rated
Sports video games don’t just show the gameplay, they also teach about strategy and sports management. “FIFA 15” has amazing graphics and features real players and official teams. You can play against the computer or against your friends “in real life” or online. In this latest update, the virtual players on the sidelines react with real emotion as the game progresses—it’s the next best thing to being there in person. You can be a soccer hero on all the gaming systems. Cost: $70, Rated: E for everyone
Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham
The Lego games are family favourites for a good reason: The combination of easy gameplay, Lego humour and familiar characters can’t be beat. Here the Caped Crusader is joined by other DC Universe superheroes as they battle the evil Brainiac in outer space. There’s cartoonish violence, and the Lego characters break apart bloodlessly when hit. Available for the Xbox consoles, the PlayStation consoles and Wii U.
Cost: $60 for Xbox One and PS4, $50 for PS3 and Xbox 360, $30 for PS Vista and 3Ds, Rated: E10+ for cartoon violence