By Chad SapiehaUpdated Dec 22, 2017
The hot item for video game-loving families right now is Switch, Nintendo’s new hybrid console that connects to a TV but can also be unplugged and played anywhere—and by more than one kid at a time. It’s an excellent system. However, the hardware is so popular that it’s been hard to come by in stores. Should you happen to spy a Switch for sale, grab it before it disappears, lest you find yourself frantically scrambling around online, where you’ll likely pay a premium. If, on the other hand, your family already has its preferred console, then a couple of new games will be the key to holiday cheer. And this year, there’s plenty of age-appropriate fare to choose from.
A staple of the holiday season, Just Dance games deliver dependable fun and a good little workout to boot. All players have to do is watch the performers onscreen and mimic their movements to score points. The game is perfect for entertaining big groups of friends or nudging kids to stay active while stuck indoors on frigid afternoons. This year’s edition delivers more of the same great kaleidoscopic music videos for which the franchise is beloved, plus a starting roster of 40 modern and classic pop songs, including Lady Gaga’s “John Wayne,” Jamiroquai’s “Automaton” and kid favourite “24K Magic” by Bruno Mars.
Switch, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii, Wii U
Rated E10+, $60, bestbuy.ca
Sonic the Hedgehog was a must-play for game-loving 80s and 90s kids, but his more recent 3D outings haven’t really resonated with youngsters. So Sega has gone back to basics with Sonic Mania: a retro side-scrolling game designed to recall the Blue Blur’s original adventures. Kids will experience the same sense of speed and exhilaration their parents did as Sonic zips around loops and over jumps while grabbing golden rings on his way to foiling Doctor Eggman’s evil machinations.
PC, Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Rated E, $25, available for download from your console’s online shop
Minecraft is a terrific tool for fostering kids’ creativity, but the one thing it has always been missing is a story mode. This episodic companion game fixes that by presenting a group of colourful characters who embark on action-filled adventureswithin the Minecraft universe. There’s still a bit of building, but the focus is on storytelling, giving players the power to decide how events unfold. The game is underpinned with themes of friendship, courage and responsibility. Season 2 launched recently, but newcomers may want to start with the first one to get up to speed with all the characters.
PC, Mac, iOS, Android, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Rated E10+, $40, walmart.ca
This made-in-Canada soccer simulation picks up where last year’s game left off, with a story mode that continues the tale of Alex Hunter, a young star player from London in his second Premier League season. Kids uninterested in following the story can dive straight into league play: picking their favourite teams, competing in more than 80 authentic stadiums and building their own squads from a pool of thousands of real-life players. FIFA 18’s upbeat vibe and spirit of healthy competition will only increase most young fans’ passion for the beautiful game.
PC, Switch, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Rated E, $80, ebgames.ca
Many kids can’t wait to graduate to shooting games (“shooters”), which can lead to tense standoffs with their (rightfully wary) parents. Splatoon 2 is a compromise that will make everyone happy. It’s a third-person shooter that employs many of the same mechanics as adult games—that is, aiming and shooting weapons—yet it’s no harsher than a water-gun fight. It stars kids called “inklings,” who wage turf wars to see which team can splat more paint around maze-like maps. It’s colourful, humorous and downright delightful. And it could help distract tweens from grittier games for a little while longer.
Rated E10+, $80, toysrus.ca
The story may be familiar—Mario’s unending quest to save Princess Peach from Bowser—but Super Mario Odyssey’s world creates new possibilities for Nintendo’s iconic plumber. Players use unique powers—such as the ability to take control of enemies by tossing Mario’s cap onto their heads—to complete tasks across multiple kingdoms while seeking out Power Moons that unlock new realms en route to Bowser’s castle. Expect loads of creative problems that encourage imaginative solutions, plus a heaping helping of Mario’s signature catchphrases.
Rated E10+, $80, bestbuy.ca
Lego games based on movies are tons of fun, but have so far never quite managed to deliver on the promise of the complete creative freedom that’s inherent in the toys that inspired them. Lego Worlds tackles this shortcoming head on, letting kids explore unique worlds composed entirely of Lego elements. Players amass a huge collection of pieces that can be used to construct virtually anything, brick by brick. The game is a little low on story, but the potential for creativity is impressive.
PC, Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Rated E10+, from $30, bestbuy.ca
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