These Four Video Games Are Fun for the Whole Family – The New York Times

Science & Technology

Wirecutter is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more.
Advice, staff picks, mythbusting, and more. Let us help you.
Updated December 17, 2021
Haley Perry
Share this post
Facing time indoors again for the winter, and with the possibility of more time together with loved ones this year, our team was thinking about what we’d recommend for people looking for video games to enjoy with their kids, cousins, nieces, nephews, and grandkids of all ages. It’s hard to know which games will please a variety of ages, skill levels, and attention spans.

We’ve put together a list of four games we think fit a range of different needs for different families: a classic party game for groups with mixed experience levels, a cooperative adventure for up to four players, a nonviolent, competitive shooting game for kids with some alone time, and a hilarious game for slightly older members of your family.
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Price: $60 at the time of publication
ESRB rating: E
An approachable crowd-pleaser for all ages and aptitudes.
Mario Party Superstars belongs in everyone’s Switch library because it’s one of the best ways to entertain a group of people whose attention spans, tempers, and experience levels usually don’t mesh. Thanks to its easy controls and straightforward gameplay, any combination of people can come together and enjoy—or minimally, survive—family game night.
In Mario Party Superstars, up to four people roll dice to race around a board and compete in different minigames between turns. While there are two Mario Party games available for the Switch alone, we like Superstars because it’s a compilation of the best boards and minigames the series has offered since the ’90s. Veteran players will be transported back to N64 days with minigames like Bumper Balls and Hot Rope Jump, where everyone times their character’s hop over a flaming jump rope to be the last one standing. But players who are new to Mario Party or video games in general also won’t feel out of place: The controls are basic enough that even your most fumbling relative can get the hang of them, and each minigame starts with a practice lobby that gives players plenty of time to prepare before the real match begins.
Even if you have one pro player in your group, there’s no guarantee they’ll win every time. Plenty of unpredictable events pop up in the game, including in the final ranking, where players may be awarded bonus points for random accolades such as landing on the most red spaces or traveling the least distance. You can also customize the gameplay in nearly every way, tailoring the minigame selection, the rules, and even the match length to fit your family’s preference.
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Price: $20 at the time of publication
ESRB rating: E10+
A cooperative dungeon crawler for up to four players.
The cooperative gameplay of Minecraft Dungeons is perfect for families who like to adventure together rather than compete against one another. Although it’s set in the same universe as Minecraft, the crafting game themed around breaking and building with blocks, Minecraft Dungeons is much different. It has the same cute, blocky art style but ditches the building aspect in favor of a more traditional formula, where the goal is to explore colorful realms, fight monsters, and collect treasure. Simple controls, casual story progression, and bite-sized missions make this game easy for people of varying skill levels and free time to enjoy together.
The game is engaging enough to keep every player busy, and it has a lighthearted combat system that isn’t bloody or graphic—we think the graphics and gameplay will appeal to a wide range of ages. Dungeons is broken up into short, standalone missions where players travel to different biomes to complete small goals like freeing captured villagers or defeating minibosses. An overarching story gives context to these missions, but it’s fairly insignificant—the meat and potatoes of the game lies in scavenging for new weapons and armor to spice up the combat and tailor to your own style.
Each player starts with a standard sword and bow, but more weapons and special items become available quickly. I love close-range weapons and maximizing my character’s speed, so I was delighted to find a set of dual-wield sickles and a pair of speed-boosting sneakers in a treasure chest early on. My teammate, on the other hand, chose to add special abilities to her bow, beefing it up to shoot five arrows at the same time and push back enemies. This customization made it easy for each of us to play the way we prefer while working together in wacky, wonderful worlds.
Because Minecraft Dungeons can also be enjoyed solo, it’s an ideal game for families where certain members have more free time than others. The controls are easy enough for most people to pick up and put down without fear of forgetting everything, and you can replay any level for new rewards.
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Price: $60 at the time of publication
ESRB rating: E10+
All the fun of an online shooter, without any of the violence.
Splatoon 2 is a Switch game that encompasses all the fun parts of a competitive shooting game but leaves out the violence and mature content. It’s a wholesome alternative that substitutes colorful ink and squid people for bullets and blood, and it’s a blast for all ages—you may even find yourself sneaking in a few rounds once your kids relinquish the controller.
Instead of machine guns and chainsaws, players in Splatoon 2 battle each other with different types of paint guns and melee weapons in a variety of game modes. Keep in mind that Splatoon 2 is most suitable if you’re looking for a game for your kid to play alone. It has no split-screen option, so you’ll need to have a Nintendo Online membership to participate in multiplayer modes. That also means that two kids hoping to play together will need two copies of the game and two Switch consoles.
My favorite mode, Turf War, tasks players with splattering as much of the map in ink as possible before the time runs out. While some of my teammates whom I play alongside in online multiplayer mode race to cover the ground efficiently with their paint rollers, I go out of my way to hinder the other team by hunting them down with my standard Splattershot gun. It’s a chaotic good time to face off with other players and splash around in bright paint, and the competition usually feels healthy and amicable.
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Price: $60 at the time of publication
ESRB rating: T
The perfect game to play after the youngest kids go to sleep.
If you want something the grown-ups can indulge in after the kids go to sleep, or if you don’t have any kids at your family gatherings at all, we recommend breaking out one of the Jackbox party packs. They’re full of hilarious minigames that prompt players to chime in on their own mobile devices by drawing silly pictures, typing in random phrases, or answering trivia questions. We love them because they’re absurd, effortless to learn, and a breath of fresh air in comparison with other competitive games that cause tension (we’re looking at you, Monopoly).
There are eight different party packs available, but we like The Jackbox Party Trilogy because it bundles three packs together for a wide variety of minigames. These minigames can accommodate up to eight players at the same time, but if you need space for a couple more, some of the newer packs can host up to 10 people. And some of our favorite games, like Drawful and Fibbage, are also available for purchase as standalone titles if the bundle is overkill for you.
If your family can’t get together in person, the Jackbox games are also great for virtual hangouts. So long as one person owns a copy of the game, it can be shared on a screen during a Zoom call or over the Discord app. Although they’re rated for teens and older, the content isn’t so scandalous that you need to worry about hiding it from kids—but we do think it’s more fun when you’re not worried about whether the games are appropriate for younger ears.
Further reading
by Grant Clauser
Here’s the best audio and video gear, plus accessories, to improve your gaming enjoyment.
by Wirecutter Staff
There’s no one right answer when you’re deciding between a PS5, Xbox Series X|S, or Nintendo Switch. But we can help you choose the one that’s right for you.
by Haley Perry
In the pursuit of building my first gaming PC, the most invaluable tool for my journey was a video game.
by Arthur Gies
We gathered recommendations to our favorite gifts for video gamers, from popular games to give with new consoles to lesser-known greats for experienced gamers.
Let’s be friends!
You can send us a note too.
© 2021 Wirecutter, Inc., A New York Times Company

source