Kids love getting video games as gifts—but before you start loading up your shopping cart, check our picks for the most fun and family-friendly titles this year. Our selections include games for every kind of gaming console, but check to be sure games you want to buy work with what you have. And if you're considering springing for a new console this year, make sure to read our takes on the new PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
Disney Infinity, $75 (characters, $13 and up) ESRB rating: Everyone 10+
Available for: Wii, Wii U, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Skylanders should feel flattered by Disney Infinity. The games' concepts are more or less identical: You place a toy version of a Disney character on the Infinity Base to bring it to life in the game, as you do with Skylanders characters and the Portal of Power.
In Infinity's more traditional Play Set mode, you use characters in their own worlds: For example, only characters from Monsters Inc. can be played in the Monsters Inc. Play Set. In this mode's storyline, up to two players receive missions and are rewarded for completing them.
Toy Box mode is where kids' imaginations can run wild. You use creation tools to build your own worlds, and any of the characters can interact within it. Up to four players can join in this mode via a network connection (except on the Wii, which allows just two players). This game is a must-have for Disney fans, and kids will be thrilled with the popular characters and creation modes. Younger gamers may need help using the more advanced building tools, though.
ESRB rating: Everyone 10+
Available for: PlayStation 4
Knack is a video game that the whole family can enjoy: The controls have a traditional game feel, and it's easy to pick up and play. Knack is the hero of the game. Humans are relying on him to turn the tide on the war against the goblins. He begins as a cute character, smaller than the humans that created him. As you play, Knack absorbs objects within the game environment and becomes larger and larger.
The game has a light tone and great look, and it's reminiscent of classics such as Crash Bandicoot. Two can play cooperatively, so you can enjoy playing alongside your kids (not that I'd judge you for playing without them).
Lego Marvel Superheroes, $50 to $60
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Available for: Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PC
This game is Lego's take on the Marvel comic-book universe. More than 100 Lego-ized game characters include Spider-Man, Hulk, and Captain America. They need to track down the Cosmic Bricks before Doctor Doom can use them to assemble the aptly named Doom Ray of Doom.
Each hero has special abilities to help smash and build the way through missions. And you can create up to 12 characters with their own super powers. Two players can play at the same time with a split screen, so both can explore as much of the world as they want. Lego has a great track record with games, and kids are sure to love this one.
For more reviews and tips, see our guide to video games, consoles, and tech toys. And find out which "5 horrifyingly violet games to keep your kids away from."
Pokémon X and Y, $40
Available for: 3DS
The newest entry in the Pokémon game series features the biggest departure from its traditional gameplay. Catching, training, and battling Pokémon monsters is still the heart of the game, but the visuals are new: It uses 3D animations, a visual facelift that breathes new life into the game. And you can now move diagonally on the screen, which might seem like a small change—but in a series that has before now stuck with the same tried-and-true formula, it is refreshing. And you can customize your trainer for the first time.
While there are new Pokémon to catch in the game, many familiar ones return. (Hint:You can find Pikachu early in the game in Route 3 and Santalune Forest.) After some game events unfold, you gain the Mega Evolution ability, which allows some of your Pokémon to transform during battle and then return to their previous forms when the battle is over. New methods of training and pampering your Pokémon make use of the 3DS's touch screen.
Kids love catching as many of those critters as possible. The game is for one player, but you can battle or trade with other trainers online. And Pokémon X/Y requires a lot of reading, so make sure your kids are ready for that.
Skylanders Swap Force, $75 (characters, $10 and up)
ESRB rating: Everyone 10+
Available for: Wii, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4
Skylanders Swap Force is the third entry into this video-game series, but the original premise remains: You buy and collect physical toys that, when placed on the Portal of Power, become your in-game characters. New this year are the Swap Force characters, which kids can take apart and recombine to create brand-new characters with new powers. The goal is to save the Cloudbreak Islands from the villain Kaos.
Skylanders Swap Force is compatible with previous Skylanders figures, and there are plenty of new ones to collect. It's a proven recipe for fun, though buying all those additional characters can be a bit of a drain on the wallet!
Super Mario 3D World, $50
ESRB rating: Everyone
Available for: Wii U
What kid doesn't love Mario? Super Mario 3D World features four main playable characters, each with its own abilities: Mario has average speed and jumping, Luigi jumps higher and hovers before falling, Princess Peach is slower but can glide, and the blue Toad is fast but cannot jump very high. You can pick up objects and throw them at enemies or pick up fellow players to help get through a level.
New power-ups for the game include the Cat Transformation, which allows the player to move faster and climb on objects, and the Double Cherry, which creates a duplicate of the player. Your mission is (surprise, surprise) to defeat Bowser who has captured the new character, Sprixie. This is another game the family can enjoy together, with up to four people playing at once.
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