Christmases, birthdays, anniversaries, any number of other fictional occasions: if you’re a parent there are always reasons you’ll be looking for the best games console for kids. Because in an era where safety is paramount and finding the best PlayStation 4 deals or Xbox One deals can be confusing, it’s often difficult to understand exactly what you’re buying. After all, no-one wants to unpack a $300 machine only for it to become your household’s chief dust-gatherer a fortnight later.
It’s for that reason that we’ve put together this guide on the best games console for kids. Below you’ll find a summary of all the major consoles’ appeal (or lack thereof) from an under-16’s perspective, plus the best – and most appropriate – games. Once a taboo, gaming for youngsters has become a popular and safe pastime, with modern publishers and developers aware of the need to provide parents with a sense of security each time their child starts up the machine. That’s reflected here, and after a thorough read you’ll be able to invest your dollars with confidence – and get the best available deal to boot.
Need to know: For three decades Nintendo has built its reputation on family friendly consoles, so it’s no surprise that Switch suits kids aged 4 to 44. Prices are steep at $300 / £275 and up, but you’re getting a machine that can be played 24/7: remove the main unit from its dock and it becomes a tablet for use on the loo or in the car – although very much not at bathtime. Don’t ask. Just trust me. Switch offers activity logs so you can keep track of what your little big one is playing and when, while parental controls enable you to restrict online communications, Nintendo eShop purchases and viewable content.
Games to consider: Handily, almost all the best Switch games are of the ‘family fun’ variety. The ever-popular Fortnite is a marvel played on the go, though its age rating (12) makes it one for teens only. Primary schoolers will prefer the platforming ingenuity and delightful visuals of New Super Mario Bros U Deluxe, while Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Pokemon Let’s Go Pikuchu and Super Mario Odyssey also feature high on our list of the best Switch games.
Expect to pay: $300 / £280 | Packaged with: Two controllers, wrist straps, grip, dock, HDMI cable, AC adapter | Child lock: Yes (numeric pin) | Online age limit: 13
Need to know: First released in 2013, there are two models of Sony’s black beauty widely available: the standard, slim PS4 and souped-up PS4 Pro. The latter offers 4K and HDR TV support, which is unlikely to be a priority for most nine-year-olds – so we recommend sticking to the standard model. Its settings enable you restrict access to online features, customise spending limits, set age rating levels, and disable the machine’s web browser, meaning you can tailor its use for your child’s age and personality. A basic 500GB model retails at around $300 / £250.
Games to consider: Kids of all ages adore Minecraft, while nippers will especially love LittleBigPlanet 3 and Lego Dimensions, where plastic figures are brought to life onscreen. For tweens and teens, Journey – in which you guide a mysterious figure through a deserted desert landscape – remains a must-play despite being seven years old. FIFA 19 is the most popular sports game, but Rocket League is a fantastic car-based alternative.
Expect to pay: $300 / £250 | Packaged with: Controller, Power cable, USB cable, HDMI cable | Child lock: Yes (restriction passcode) | Online age limit: 7
Need to know: Like PS4, Microsoft’s Xbox One is available in two flavours. The basic Xbox One S does everything you need it for under £200, while the Xbox One X is more powerful – but also nearly double the price. Our recommendation is the former. Xbox One S offers a huge gaming catalogue and myriad safety features: for instance, access to content is set to ‘off’ by default for children under 8. You can completely block online purchases or restrict them to free apps, toggle what’s accessible online with age-specific filters such as ‘young children’ or ‘child and teen’, and configure playtime limits via computer, phone or tablet.
Games to consider: Like on PS4, Minecraft, Lego Dimensions, FIFA 19 and Rocket League are all worth consideration depending on your child’s age and interests. Pirate sim Sea Of Thieves has been out a while but is still highly playable for those aged 12 or over, while younger gamers should enjoy Xbox exclusives Disney-Pixar’s Rush, Super Lucky’s Tale and Disneyland Adventures.
Expect to pay: $250 / £200 | Packaged with: Controller, power cable, power brick, HDMI cable, headset | Child lock: Yes (numeric pin) | Online age limit: 8
New Nintendo 2DS XL
Need to know: The advent of iOS and Android has seen most publishers cease production of bespoke portable consoles, with PSP and Vita residing alongside the Atari Lynx and Game Gear in handheld heaven. Nintendo, however, continues to evolve the niche it jump-started with 1989’s Game Boy via the beautifully lightweight yet pleasingly robust Nintendo 2DS XL – its only drawback some underwhelming battery performance. A handheld is harder to monitor than a machine that utilises your living room TV, so helpfully 2DS XL offers the same activity logs as Nintendo Switch. Nintendo recommends this model over the pricier 3DS for younger children as it doesn’t have a 3D mode - hence the name.
Games to consider: 2DS XL’s big sister console, the 3DS, was first introduced in 2011 – and all its games are compatible with the newer machine, giving you a colossal eight-year back catalogue to cherry pick from. Racing favourite Mario Kart 7, adventure Pokemon Sun and platformer New Super Mario Bros 2 are suitable for all ages, while more mature youngsters will love The Legend Of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.
Expect to pay: $150 / £135 | Packaged with: AC adapter, stylus, six AR cards, memory card | Child lock: Yes (pin code to prevent child changing your settings) | Online age limit: 13
Need to know: Looking to let your little ones share in fabled memories of your own youth? Then rejoice in the news that popular yesteryear consoles are making a plug-in-and-play comeback. A miniature version of 1994’s PS1, Sony’s throwback machine serves up 20 games that found fame in the ‘90s at an RRP of just $89.99 – and if you shop around it’s easy to unearth at half that price. Cheekily, however, its AC adapter is sold separately (but it has a USB power supply). Also, its simplistic set-up and offline-only nature means safety features are absent.
Games to consider: You’re limited to the 20 games that come built-in on this one. Platforming fav Rayman and long-lost puzzling gem Mr Driller are safe and fun to play with the kids, with Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee’s fart button sure to deliver laughs for all ages. For teens, beware the seductive appeal of Grand Theft Auto (rated 18) and Metal Gear Solid (15).
Expect to pay: $50 / £50 | Packaged with: Two controllers, USB power cable, HDMI cable | Child lock: No | Online age limit: N/A (console is offline only)
SNES Classic Mini
Need to know: Most considered Nintendo and Sony’s 1990s console war a score draw. That’s not the case here, with SNES Classic Mini a smarter retro game console purchase than PlayStation Classic if you’re looking for a family-friendly machine. There’s little to differentiate the pair in terms of safety features: again, its plug-in-and-play nature shirks parental controls. But that’s less of a concern here as the majority of SNES Classic Mini’s 21 games are safe for teens and toddlers alike. Hence it being our pick from the old-school pair.
Games to consider: Super Mario World. Super Mario Kart. Yoshi’s Island. Starfox. You probably won’t want to let the wee ones loose on Punch-Out or Street Fighter II Turbo until secondary school age, but there’ll be no looking back once they do. It’s a similar story for The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past. Truly, a colossal collection of classics.
Expect to pay: $100 / £100 | Packaged with: Two controllers, USB power cable, HDMI cable | Child lock: No | Online age limit: N/A (console is offline only)
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