Child-friendly video games for Christmas (that are actually good)

Christmas is coming. The Xbox is getting fat!

Great games for grown-ups aren't always great games for children. We're looking at you, Piggsy. But don't think that means children like bad games. Give little Johnny Cliche a copy of Knack and he'll secretly hate you forever. But don't worry! There are lots of games that are suitable for children but actually good at the same time.

So here are 10 that I wholly recommend. All you need to do is find out which console you need to buy your chosen game for. Does the child you're buying for have a PlayStation 3? Xbox One? Nintendo 3DS? Once you know, take a look through this list, see which ones are compatible and then buy something they'll love. Oh, and all of these games came out in 2013 so they're still officially new and shiny. Let's get started...

Tearaway (for PlayStation Vita)

Who says games are horrible these days? In Tearaway, one of the first things you do is make a crown for a squirrel so he can be the king squirrel. What a lovely sentiment. He is a papercraft squirrel, mind. You see, everything in Tearaway's world is made out of paper (as in the screenshot above), which means the game is themed around creativity and imagination.

Admittedly, it's all virtual paper, but you can still poke your fingers through it using the touch sensor on the back of the Vita and see computer versions of your fingertips prodding through into the game world. It's rich in imagination and imaginative potential, plus the quality is extremely high. If it's good enough for us grown-ups, it'll be good enough for the kids.

Check out our full Tearaway review.

Luigi's Mansion 2 (Nintendo 3DS)

Why do you come to me in this, the year of Luigi? What present do you wish to open on the Christmas Day of this year, the year of Luigi? How about a copy of Luigi's Mansion 2 to round off this, the year of Luigi?

Enough daft Godfather Luigi chat. Luigi's Mansion 2 is a cartoony gem as the taller of the two Mario brothers explores a haunted mansion with his vaccuum cleaner-esque ghost catcher. Every object is interactive, allowing you to roll up rugs, spin chandeliers and even peel back wallpaper to discover hidden bonuses. It's less scary than Scooby-Doo, so buy in confidence. In this, the year of Luigi.

Check out our full Luigi's Mansion 2 review.

Super Mario 3D World (For Wii U)

Mario has kept children and adults alike transfixed for decades and his latest game is one of his best yet. Up to four players can play at the same time as Mario leaps around colourful levels, collecting coins and jumping on his enemies' heads (in a cartoony way, of course).

Don't let the primary colours deceive you! This game is designed by masters of their trade, creating wholesome experiences that the whole family can enjoy, regardless of age or gender. It genuinely keeps grown men up until 2am because they can't stop playing it. Nintendo is clearly proud of Mario's reputation for quality video games, but this game is right at the very top of the pile.

Check out our full Super Mario 3D World review.

Lego City Undercover (For Wii U)

If you want to avoid giving Grand Theft Auto 5 to a pleading child this Christmas, congratulations. Not only are you a good, law-abiding citizen, you're also a mature and responsible adult. It is an 18 for a reason, after all. So what's the alternative? If said child has a Nintendo Wii U console, then LEGO City Undercover is a brilliant substitute.

Not only is it completely non-violent (they're just LEGO men and women, after all), it has helicopters, cars and bikes to commandeer as you strive to put criminals behind bars where they belong. With a massive world to explore and 60 hours of gameplay needed to see everything the game has to offer, this is a wonderful gem of a game that deserves more credit than it's getting. As an added bonus, it's also full of funny references that only grown-ups will get, including nods to The Matrix, The Shawshank Redemption and countless cop shows. Marvellous.

Check out our full LEGO City Undercover review.

Castle of Illusion (for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, mobile)

Castle of Illusion was a favourite of mine when I was a kid. But there's a new remake! Sure enough, everything I loved about the original is back, only now it stands up as a great modern video game in its own right. You play as Mickey Mouse (who talks just like he does on Disney Junior), traversing a castle full of wicked magic in your quest to save Minnie Mouse. What could be better than that?

The game is only available as a digital download, meaning you'll have to pay for a digital voucher for either Xbox Live or PlayStation Network--with strict instructions, of course, to buy this with the credit!--or gift the game on iTunes via your own account. All the versions are excellent, but if someone lucky is getting a new iPod Touch, this is the perfect game to play on it.

Check out our full Castle of Illusion review.

Animal Crossing: New Leaf (for Nintendo 3DS)

Animal Crossing's residents are barking mad, as this picture would suggest. But they are also lovely. They spend their days catching fish, butterflies and... well, colds--but that just means you have to take a trip to the shop at the top of town and buy them some medicine. Then they get better!

They'll probably thank you by giving you some furniture for your house, which is your home so you can decorate it however you like. You can plant flowers all around it, buy and sell turnips and shake trees in the hope of finding items. The most innocent game imaginable, Animal Crossing is a place anyone can enjoy for a little time each day. And you'll want to do just that, because all the village's events are tied to the real world time and date. Wonderful.

Check out our full Animal Crossing: New Leaf review.

Skylanders Swap Force (available on most current systems)

Skylanders has become incredibly successful, probably because it features real-world toys that can be collected, then electronically read by the game so that they can appear inside the game itself, saving statistics and upgrades directly to the toy. It's very clever, but also quite an expensive hobby, as you'll find yourself buying toy after toy to augment your gaming experience.

That said, the gameplay requires logical thought to work out how to progress, plus if the children you're buying Swap Force for already have Skylanders characters, they can be used with the new game. Just make sure you check what they've already got so you don't double up! Oh, and don't get Disney Infinity instead, as Skylanders is much better.

Check out our full Skylanders Swap Force review.

Puppeteer (for PlayStation 3)

Puppeteer is a game about a puppet boy who can change his head to do different things. Although there is a moderately dark tone to the game world, it's only creepy in a Harry Potter sort of way: dark enough to feel exciting, but with a charm that prevents things ever getting too scary.

The game takes place on a theater stage, to the point where you can hear the audience applauding and gasping at your on-screen antics. If that sounds awesome, it is. And hey--if you have trouble taking children to the theater, you can at least bring some elements of the theater to the children, right? This game also features co-op play so one player can control the main character while another can point a cursor and help out by clicking on elements of the scenery.

Check out our full Puppeteer review.

Pokemon X/Y (Nintendo 3DS)

Pokemon has been around for over 15 years now and the reason is simple. It's a superb video game that kids can't get enough of. The game sees you walking around forests, mountains and caves, attempting to catch Pokemon (literally 'Pocket Monsters') by battling these creatures against each other. And yes, the idea is still: 'Gotta Catch 'Em All!'

The game is available as two separate titles: Pokemon X and Pokemon Y. The idea is that someone with Pokemon X will need to trade their Pokemon with someone who owns Pokemon Y in order to obtain the complete set. Multiplayer battles between 3DS consoles work between any combination of the two games and there's a massive single-player experience to be had if there aren't any other 3DS consoles around. A lot of the GamesRadar team are massive Pokemon fans, so we can personally vouch for this game's quality.

Check out our full Pokemon X & Y review.

FIFA 14 (available on all formats)

Though pretty much every modern sports game is child-friendly, there's something about FIFA that encourages play between parents and children. It's an exhaustive simulation of real football, with all the correct player names, kits and stadia from the Premiere League and countless other leagues around the world. And every footballing move you can think of (bar Rene Higuita's goalkeeping scorpion kick) is in the game if you want to learn all the tricks.

The game is best on the new consoles, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, but plays well on all the current formats. Oh, but one thing--if the intended recipient already has the game on Wii U, PSP or PS Vita, the 'new' game is literally the same as last year's version, just with updated rosters and kits. So look out for the 'Legacy Edition' tag for these rehashes and check whether it's really worth the upgrade.

Check out our full FIFA 14 review.

But what do you think?

These 10 games are all safe bets (as long as you buy them for the right console!) but there are more out there, with a great many that were released last year or the year before that are still worthwhile presents. So if there are any suitable games you think I've missed, share it in the comments. It might just make someone else's Christmas awesome.

And if you're looking for more, check out The 100 best games of all time and Proof that Animal Crossing New Leaf's characters are barking mad.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Justin worked on the GamesRadar+ staff for 10 whole years. Imagine that. Now he is a contributor, specialising in racing games, retro, and Sanic.
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