All game consoles, even those like the PlayStation and Xbox aimed at teenagers and adults, have been host to many games suitable for families and children.
Everyone knows Nintendo’s Mario, but Sony has its own (slightly ruder) Crash Bandicoot, and many games, like new favourite Fall Guys, are cross-platform.
Nintendo’s reputation as the makes of family-friendly consoles goes back to their very first console, the NES, which in Japan was called the Family Computer, and which came with two controllers permanently attached.
Let’s take a look at some of the best consoles for the family.
This list isn’t in any particular order, but, still, you have to talk about the Switch first as it’s one of the best game consoles for kids. It’s also the best-selling console of this generation and the fifth best-selling console of all time.
One reason has to be its innovative, accommodating design. It can be slotted into a dock and played in the way you’d normally play a console, but it can also be played as a handheld. This is great for families as it doesn’t have to compete with your set-top box for dominance over the TV.
Another way in which it’s accommodating is in its “Joy-Cons”. These can be attached to the Switch to create a single controller for one person, or detached and turned on their sides to function as controllers for two people.
Out of the three big current consoles, the Switch has by far the biggest library. The Switch is chock-full of fun and light-hearted age-appropriate games for your youngsters to enjoy. Some of the greatest game franchises in history were created by Nintendo, including Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, Super Smash Bros, and more recent hits like Animal Crossing and Splatoon.
And we couldn’t talk about family fun without mentioning Super Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Super Mario Party, and Switch Sports, which involves on-your-feet family fun, simulating real sports like tennis, boxing and golf.
Something else in Nintendo’s favour is price. All of the big console makers offer subscription services, but Nintendo’s is the cheapest at £3.49 per month or £34.99 per year. Nintendo is also the only one to offer a family membership, which covers up to eight family members starting from £31.49 per year.
Their games are generally at least £10 cheaper, too, though you should be aware that Nintendo games don’t tend to come down in price.
Still, perhaps you want more oomph from your console. Nintendo has always preferred to compete through innovation rather than graphical fidelity, and the Switch doesn’t compare to the Xbox Series S/X and PlayStation 5 in terms of graphical fidelity.
The PlayStation 5 has been plagued by scarcity since its release. It’s still a little difficult procuring one, but rumblings on the gaming streets say Sony is about to release a large batch. This is great because, although it’s expensive (around £500), it is one of the best consoles out there.
The PlayStation 5 is a jump from its predecessor in specs, with improved graphics and larger storage. Its most talked-about feature on launch is its very high-throughput solid-state drive. This allows the PS5 to stream data very rapidly, and what that means is less loading and bigger, more complex levels.
By itself, it’s hard to argue that game-wise the PS5 is incredible for families. It does have the lauded co-op adventure, It Takes Two, and it has games suitable for kids like Sackboy: A Big Adventure, which was the recipient of the best family game at the 2021 BAFTA Game Awards. But it can’t compete with the Switch, which has more than eight times as many games.
Still, the PS5 is backwards-compatible with the PS4, whose back catalogue rivals that of the Switch. And when you play PS4 games through the PS5, they often benefit from the PS5’s higher specs, resulting in better framerates. Like the PS4, the PS5 is not directly compatible with the previous PlayStations, but you can play older PlayStation titles on it through PlayStation Plus.
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The PlayStation 4 itself, though, is still a perfectly viable console for the family to enjoy. It’s much cheaper – roughly half the price of the PS5– and its subscription service PS Plus, which gives you free games every month, is still supported.
Then there are endless hours of family fun to be had, with great co-op titles suitable for children and families to enjoy together, like Unravel Two, Minecraft, and Little Big Planet 3.
Another great reason to get either console is PS VR. Virtual Reality is a great immersive experience for children and the whole family to use to explore. There are some absolutely brilliant family-friendly games to play on the PS VR, like the platformer Astro Bot Rescue Mission and Dreams, a compendium of creativity and imagination for children and families. From the makers of Little Big Planet, you can rest assured it will be worth every minute of gameplay.
The Xbox Series S and Xbox Series X are two versions of the same console. They play the same games but at different fidelities. The S aims for 60 frames per second at 1440p, and the X aims for 120 frames per second at 8K. If you were interested in one of these, your decision on which to get would be influenced by the resolution of your TV, the amount you care about high resolutions and framerates, and price. The S is a lot cheaper, about half the price of the X, which at about £450 is quite expensive.
Our recommendation out of the two is the Series S. Games have become quite expensive, not because the standard price for a game is now greater than £60, but because many of them sell you more than that as downloadable content/DLC.
In light of this, subscribing to Netflix-like services like Microsoft’s Xbox Game Pass becomes very sensible. The disc-drive-less Series X is the perfect fit for the Game Pass, which lets you rent out games from a pool of more than a hundred titles and is very suitable for young hands. There’s less risk of scratching the discs and less risk of toppling the console while inserting them.
Still, the Series X is something of a masterpiece, at least by Microsoft’s standards. It is by far its most powerful console. It offers a 1 TB hard drive, and as with the PlayStation 5, it’s strapped with an SSD, meaning loading times zoom past.
Games-wise there are several great gaming options and video game genres for the family, like Minecraft: Bedrock Edition, which is one of Microsoft’s babies. It can be played cross-platform, so if someone else in the family wanted to join in on some block-building fun, they could hop on another console, PC or laptop.
Now, we know most VR headsets are made for teens and up, but it's still a great console-ish for a whole lot of family fun.
Most VR headsets, like the Oculus Quest 2 are for ages 13+, but it’s great for family events, birthday parties and just great family fun. Sometimes even just watching someone using a VR headset alone is hilarious by itself, but with the Oculus app, you can now cast your experience so the whole family can see you in your virtual world. Originally you could only buy games through the official Quest Store, but now you have more options, through App Lab.
It’s great for keeping fit, and there are also great games for your teens to play, like Best Kart Racer: Dash Dash World, a Mario-kart-like racing game, and rhythmic wonder Beat Saber, where you can slice and dice.
The Wii might be a surprise to see here, as it is a much older Nintendo console, there are many places where you can still purchase second-hand Nintendo Wiis. You might even still have one.
The Wii shop has been shut down, meaning you won’t be able to buy new digital games, but there are so many second-hand games that are available that will provide hours and hours of family fun.
The Wii was one of Nintendo’s most popular family-targeted consoles, and it introduced more people to the wonderful world of video gaming and introduced a great way for family bonding.
As with the Switch, there are group and family games like Wii Sports, but these were the first iterations of the Switch versions we have today.
The Wii was also different in the way you could control the game, as the players used Wii controllers which were handheld and different from the usual ones that you would expect to use. However, you could still get a standard Wii controller if you struggle to get used to the Wii controllers.
Your first port of call should be a game’s age rating, also called a PEGI rating; every game has one, and it will be printed on the case. When shopping online, you will find it in a game’s product details. You can generally filter by age rating – each of the big three console markers’ stores lets you do this.
Even once you know the age rating, you might still have to consider what’s appropriate for your child. Just because a game is rated, say, 7+, doesn’t mean that you’ll be happy with its content. There are games for children aged 7+ that may have guns in them. They won’t be violent games or have blood, but you might prefer your child to not play anything that involves them.
There are a few ways you can vet games.
Hop on YouTube and type in the game you’re looking for. You’ll be able to find a playthrough, review or trailer for just about any game.
Play the game yourself. If you want to do a quick test run, do so. Subscription services like PlayStation Plus can help here. If you’ve bought the game, you can always return it.
Use sites dedicated to the task: Common Sense Media, which helps parents pick age-appropriate media (not just games) for their kids.
One of the great things about many of the games targeted at children is that there are educational games that can improve their maths, science or other knowledge of subjects and increase their skills. So you may want to stick to games that involve some form of learning. It’s rare for educational games to include anything inappropriate.
Like all interactive platforms, online gaming has its own list of potential problems. Even if a game itself is safe, multiplayer games mean your children are interacting with other players online. This could lead to them being exposed to things like inappropriate language and even online harassment or bullying.
Hopefully, they won’t experience this, but be sure to communicate to your kids that this type of behaviour is no more acceptable online than it is in real life. Talk to them about the dangers of the Internet and online gaming, including stranger danger and make sure they let you know about any new online friends they might meet.
Here are some things to monitor when your child is gaming online:
Always ensure the game your child is playing is age-appropriate.
Make them aware that they can mute chats and even disable chat communication altogether.
Check all new friends your child adds or that adds them.
Learn about the parental controls on the consoles and devices your child uses.
If you’re worried, you can keep better tabs on what’s being said during gaming sessions by unplugging headsets and headphones. If they’re in a video chat or gaming with friends, you’ll be able to hear what’s going on.
Another important thing to consider is in-game purchases. Many online games like Fortnite, Minecraft or Roblox have in-game purchases. These things – the skins, special characters, and items – are very alluring to children, and, let’s face it, adults too. Generally, these don’t have any impact on the game so make sure your child knows this.
If a player’s progress in a game is really affected by the items purchasable in it, the game may be exploitative – aka “pay to win” – and your child probably should be kept away from it.
With thousands of video games already available, and countless more released each year, how do you decide which ones to get? Find out more about each video game genre and which is right for you.Read our guide to video game genres