Let’s get straight down to it: I’ve rounded up 10 of the best games for 10-15 year olds. None of them are M-rated (meaning there’s no blood and guts to worry about, however fun disemboweling enemies might be), and each one has some decent lessons to teach, from patience to contemplating human mortality. Oh, and one has you escorting a talking potato clock around. Because the games you own says a lot about you, and chatting to a talking potato clock is a great ice-breaker. So when you’re pondering what to buy someone who’s not quite old enough to play games where you use someone’s decapitated head as a football, you want to make sure they get something that can be looked back on fondly. Here’s our suggestions for what’s worth your hard-earned cash!
Play it on: Xbox One, PC
ESRB rating: E (Everyone) 10+ - Fantasy violence, mild language, use of alcohol and tobacco
Best for someone who: Likes old-school platformers like Mario, enjoys challenging themselves...and doesn’t mind trying the same level over and over and over until they get it perfect.
Fit for all ages, Cuphead is a platformer inspired by retro cartoons of old like Steamboat Willie and Betty Boop. It’s also a great lesson in patience. Because you’ll be dying quite a bit to begin with. Yet Cuphead is undeniably fair, rewarding perseverance with its uncompromising tests of jumpin’ and shootin’ skill that take you from woodlands to casinos to theatre matinees. All the animations are hand-drawn, with unforgettable boss fights headed by grinning sunflowers and melodramatic dancers that warp and stretch into slightly nightmarish monsters the closer you get to killing them. Spending hours mastering the ability to avoid the fickle attack patterns of higher-level baddies is all worth it for that hallowed ‘KNOCKOUT!’ screen. It’ll practically become an aphrodisiac by the end of your playthrough. Plus it’s co-op, so you can tackle its levels with a buddy on those rainy afternoons.
Horizon: Zero Dawn
Play it on: PS4
ESRB rating: T (Teen) 13+ - Alcohol and tobacco reference, blood, mild language, mild sexual themes, violence
Best for someone who: Likes openworld games with fighting and shooting, science-fiction, anything to do with robots, and has a burning curiosity.
Do you stare at all manner of machines and wonder how the hell they work? Is that a yes I hear? Then you’ll love Horizon: Zero Dawn. As the indomitable outcast Aloy, you hunt animal-like robots with bows and arrows as you try to figure out what destroyed the technologically-advanced civilisation that came before and face up against the enigmatic threat that’s corrupting the usually docile machines. The colossally-big world will have you aimlessly exploring for hours and using its photo mode to capture the exquisite scenery. It does explore mature themes like birth parents, slavery, the apocalypse and extinction, so it’ll definitely provoke some thoughtful questions. But also, y’know: robots. Deadly robots. Deadly giant T-Rex robots. Need I say more?
Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
Play it on: Nintendo Switch
ESRB rating: E (Everyone) 10+ - Fantasy violence, mild suggestive themes, use of alcohol
Best for someone who: Likes openworld adventure games where they can do what they want and is happiest when they’re doing their own thing (and isn’t particularly fond of rules).
Anyone who just can’t stay still is sure to find a kindred spirit in Link, Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s main character. Almost straight from the beginning you can go almost anywhere in the entire game, and it’s up to you whether you take on mountains of quests, head directly for the most difficult enemy in the game, or just wander around the stunning landscape with a bow in hand to see what you can find to cook. Yes, cook. It’s not all fighting and exploring, though: scattered throughout the mind-bogglingly big world are puzzles that’ll put you to the test, characters that you aren’t likely to forget in a hurry (including a giant parrot who plays the accordion), and secret locations that’ll surprise you even after you’ve being playing for hours upon hours and no matter what age you are.
Play it on: Xbox One, PC
ESRB rating: Not yet rated (likely T - Teen, 13+)
Best for someone who: Likes story-heavy games, preferring enthralling plot to fighting - especially if they’re to do with space.
A mysterious explosion has cut off all contact to a space station. Not the most optimistic start to a videogame, true, but what it does mean is that you’re left alone to explore Tacoma’s eerily empty rooms and corridors to piece together exactly what happened to the missing crew. There’s no fighting in Tacoma, yet there’s a decidingly eerie undercurrent that’ll make you want to open every locker and replay every recording by the surveillance system just to make sure you didn’t miss a single thing. At the heart of Tacoma is the mystery of the absent crew, yet it’s interwoven with deeply heartfelt personal stories and mature revelations that younger kids might not fully understand.
Play it on: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch
ESRB rating: E (Everyone) 10+ - Fantasy violence, mild blood, mild language, simulated gambling, use of alcohol and tobacco
Best for someone who: Prefers farming simulators to anything to do with guns and enjoys calm, pleasantly-repetitive routines that take place in a charming world.
If there was one word to describe Stardew Valley, it would be ‘wholesome’. Overwhelmingly wholesome, in fact. Underneath this world of rosy-cheeked farmers and mysterious forest magic is a exquisitely-structured progression system where, over time, your farm turns from a dilapidated ruin into a thriving homestead. As a rosy-cheeked farmer yourself, you get to choose to grow fruit, vegetables, or even own your very own livestock that you’ll name, feed, and get surprisingly attached to. Shear sheep, milk cows, harvest your ripe produce and sell it all to buy bigger and better farming devices until your farm is the envy of Old MacDonald ee-ii-ee-ii-oo himself. Before you know it you’ll be rolling in gold no matter what age you are, but farming isn’t all there is to it. If you’d prefer, you can spend your days chatting to villagers and growing your friendships in an equally wholesome manner, or tackling the deadly caves to fight the monsters within.
What Remains of Edith Finch
Play it on: PS4, Xbox One, PC
ESRB rating: T (Teen) 13+ - Blood, drug reference, language, violence
Best for someone who: Likes story-based games that don’t hold back on feelings, and isn’t afraid to ask questions about the most difficult experiences life has to offer.
I’m going to say this straight away: there’s a lot of death in What Remains of Edith Finch. Yet none of it is bloody, gruesome, or gratuitous, and there’s zero violence. Instead this game tells the story of the only surviving member of the Finch family, Edith, and her return to her sprawling family home. All her relations have died in odd circumstances, with their rooms boarded up after each loss. It might sound morbid, but the game is actually an exploration of grief and acceptance. Celebrating life is at the centre of What Remains of Edith Finch as you play sections as some of the family members Edith has lost, find secret passages into rooms hidden in the house, and get the answers to questions Edith’s mother has long been hiding from her. If you don’t find yourself shedding a single tear during your playthrough, you should check yourself into the doctor with Severe Robot Emotion Syndrome. Because it’s mainly about loss, grief, and acceptance, it’ll almost definitely lead to some questions about life in general. Which is most certainly a good thing…you just might want to prepare some answers beforehand.
Play it on: PS4, Xbox One, PC
ESRB rating: E (Everyone) 10+ - Fantasy violence, mild language
Best for someone who: Likes puzzle games, and refuses to be beaten (i.e. they’re stubborn. Tenaciously stubborn).
Portal 2 is one of the best games to ever exist. That’s just a fact. Filled with devious puzzles, wickedly clever writing, and a villain that has enough layers hidden under their deadly wit to keep you guessing for hours about whether you adore or despise them, this game is perfect for any age. Based on the premise that you wake up in a scientific lab as a test subject, you have to traverse testing rooms using portals. Step into one, appear in the other. A simple premise, but boy does it get deliciously complicated the further on you get. Those who find themselves drawn irresistibly to crosswords, riddles, or M.C. Escher will probably think that Portal 2 was made for them, but there’s more to it than just puzzles. Woven into all the portal-related acrobatics are wisecracks, unpredictable AIs, and a quickly-deteriorating underground laboratory that you’re trying to escape. In no time you’ll be thinking with portals.
Night in the Woods
Play it on: PS4, Xbox One, PC, Android, iOS
ESRB rating: T (Teen) 13+ - Fantasy violence, mild blood, sexual themes, drug reference, language, crude humor, use of alcohol and tobacco
Best for someone who: Likes story-driven games that are a little unusual and can’t get enough of hearing what their friends have been up to
Mae is a drop-out. However alienating college was, coming back home to Possum Springs isn’t exactly what she imagined it to be. Friends have changed, nothing is quite the same, and there’s something very odd happening in the woods. Dealing with the everyday concerns of millenials including the not-so-optimistic state of the job market, the temptation to undermine your boss, and general existential crises, Night in the Woods is best for older kids thanks to its deadpan humour and the occasional (non-bloody) knife fighting mini-game. You’ll spend your time exploring Possum Springs, reconnecting with old friends, and unravelling exactly what’s happened during Mae’s absence. Trust me on this: nothing is simple in Possum Springs. Especially not in those mysterious nearby woods...
Ratchet and Clank
Play it on: PS4
ESRB rating: Not yet rated (likely E - Everyone 10+)
Best for someone who: Likes adventure games, fidgets like crazy with an almost unhealthy adoration for cartoonish violence
Anyone who likes to keep their garage nice and tidy might go a bit haywire at the sight of the nuts and bolts strewn throughout Ratchet and Clank, but you just wait until they see how it feels to hoover up every single one in sight. So satisfying. This action-adventure game is stuffed with ridiculously over-the-top weapons, used by the wisecracking mechanic Ratchet whose only wish is to be a Galactic Ranger and save people from various threats to the galaxy. Now isn’t that wholesome? Teaming up with the naive robot Clank, the two jump, shoot, and swing their way through the Pixar-ish futuristic world and is perfect for any age. Expect yourself to be inadvertently quoting the duo in no time. They’re quite the masters of deadpan humour.
Read more: The 25 best PS4 games
Play it on: PS4
ESRB rating: E (Everyone) 10+ - Mild cartoonish violence
Best for someone who: Likes platforming adventure games and wants an easy, carefree way to while away their weekends or lazy afternoons (and has a love of anything paper)
Games don’t come much more heart-warming than Tearaway Unfolded. Everything is made out of paper, ripped lovingly into twee shapes that dance across the screen as if they’re animated with pure joy instead of lots of lines of code, this adventure platformer is the equivalent of the cosiest, softest blanket you’ve ever touched and that you can’t wait to wrap up warm in. Frolicking across the cardboard countryside, you’re a messenger who has to deliver a letter to something called The You (psst - that’s literally you, the player) through a portal that’s opened in the sky. Along the way there’s minigames to play, theatre productions to take part in, and delightful accessories to add to your character in the form of paper ornaments. In case you haven’t realised it from the literal sunshine beaming out of these words, Tearaway Unfolded is suitable for anyone and should be played by everyone.