The last-gen formats have reached the age where they’re being handed down to younger siblings, with the Xbox One and PS4 taking pride of place under the main TV instead. Both consoles have also fallen in price heavily over the past year or so, making them affordable (and more viable) for children.
Unlike the Wii and Wii U, the Xbox 360 and PS3 never saw a steady slew of children’s games – just the odd movie or cartoon tie-in here and there, plus the usual LEGO, Skylanders and Disney Infinity games.
The aim of this guide is to highlight some of the alternative kids’ games out there while sorting the good from the bad. Contrary to popular beliefs, kids can tell the difference. They may not be able to exactly point out why a game is bad, but they know the difference between boring and entertaining.
With this guide you hopefully won’t be hearing “this game is boring” too often.
The obvious choices
Let’s get these out the way first, as chances are your child already owns a few of these. We’re talking about the games that are always prominently placed in supermarkets and GAME, such as LEGO, Skylanders, Disney Infinity, Just Dance, FIFA Soccer and Minecraft.
Disney Infinity was axed earlier this year, meaning retailers are starting to clear out stock. The first DI features Disney and Pixar franchises and packed in a lot of content, with worlds based on Monsters Inc, The Incredibles and Pirates of the Caribbean. You do however need two characters from the same universe to play two-player in these worlds, which obviously goes against the whole ‘Infinity’ aspect.
The second DI favours Marvel superheroes and has a quickly cobbled together feel to it, with just one campaign that soon becomes tedious. The Guardians of the Galaxy and Spider-Man add-on packs also scored poorly by the gaming press.
For the third and final DI, Star Wars is the theme and this iteration focuses heavily on the premium priced add-ons. Despite featuring characters from all different Disney lines, the majority can only be used in the Minecraft-style Toy Box mode…which is due to go offline next year. It can still be accessed, but the ability to share creations with the community will cease.
Children are likely to lean towards their favourite franchise, but for our money, the original DI is the one to go for. With three campaigns lasting around 3-4 hours each, it offers the most out-of-the-box value.
As for Skylanders, we recommend the recent Skylanders Superchargers – which has online co-op play and Mario Kart-style races – and Skylanders Giants, which wasn’t too demanding when it came to extra figures. Although Skylanders Giants is also knocking on a bit now, it’s the prices for the giant figures have hit rock bottom. A full set can easily be obtained for around £20.
While not bad games – the Skylanders games have a rare consistency to them – both Trap Team and Swap Force lock a lot of content away, with the former requiring £5 coloured crystals to capture bad guys in, and Swap Force adding new areas that only Swap Force characters can enter. These two are by far the most money grabbing.
Then we have the LEGO games, which too are constantly good…and sometimes even great. LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones and The Lord of the Rings are generally seen as some of the weaker entries, while Harry Potter, Star Wars, Batman, Marvel Super Heroes and The Avengers are perceived as the best.
LEGO Jurassic World and LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga are the ones commonly found in bargain bins nowadays, both of which are recommended.
LEGO Dimensions stuff meanwhile is slowly starting to come down in price due to the arrival of season two. The starter set hasn’t quite hit the magical £30 mark yet, but it’s almost there. Out of all the ‘Toys to Life’ franchises, LEGO Dimensions is the most demanding on the wallet, and the upcoming second season looks set to be even more so with packs based on Sonic the Hedgehog, Gremlins, Adventure Time and dozens more. At least LEGO tends to hold its value, eh?
This leaves us with Minecraft, which needs no introduction. Several years from launch, it’s still a big seller and just as popular. Thankfully for parents, it isn’t a full price release – expect to pay between £15-£20. If your child is into Minecraft in a big way, also be sure to check out Minecraft: Story Mode – which features a collection of episodic adventures to play through – and Terraria, which is often referred to as Minecraft’s 2D cousin. It’s slightly trickier to master, but chances are your child has friends who’ve already learnt the ropes and will be keen to show off what they know.