Stuck Indoors With The Kids? Keep The Peace With These Video Games
The schools are closed. You're at home. The kids are at home. Things are going to get tetchy (trust me, I've had four days of this, and yes, they do). Video games can help, but if we're all honest with ourselves, they're the thinnest paper over a widening crack. Haha, crack. No but really, they help.
Here are some video games that you can play with your kids, or just let your kids play while you enjoy some relative peace for the shortest while. Some of these are tried and tested with my own kids - six and nine, both boys, both loud, and both of whom find gaming a fairly positive, fulfilling pastime. Others are games I've played and feel are worth a go for kids, or alongside them. Any moment of happiness, right?
I feel we've put Minecraft in a whole lot of lists, lately - like this one, on games to chill out with; and this one, on games to fill 14 days with. But, nevertheless, it'd be pretty darn remiss of me to not highlight my own kids' favourite game - whether they're playing solo, or in co-op.
The two of them usually play to build, with the game's settings on peaceful, or creative, or whatever the right mode is. But they've been known to provoke a mob or two, just for sh*ts and giggles, so if your kids are up to the challenge, you can make Minecraft as much about staying alive as it is mining and crafting. Though, NGL, that feels a mite too real at the moment. Better, I reckon, to use it as a giant virtual LEGO set (more on LEGO, in a mo), and create some masterpieces alongside your weans in split-screen co-op.
DRAGON QUEST BUILDERS
You don't need to know a thing about the wider Dragon Quest (J)RPG series to enjoy this game, or its more recent sequel. It's a lot like Minecraft, in as much as you need to gather resources and build things. But it has more of a concentrated story running through it, with lots of other characters to interact with and cute enemies to splat. One for kids who like the moment-to-moment play of Minecraft but perhaps need a little shepherding from one task to the next.
SUPER MARIO MAKER
Sticking with games that are as much about putting things together as they are playing through anything, Super Mario Maker and its Switch-released sequel are great for creatively minded kids. If you don't know what this is about: it's classic, side-scrolling 2D Mario fun that you make. The clue is in the name, really. It's also really, really good, with aesthetics and assets drawn from a range of Super Mario games of the past. And if you don't fancy making levels of your own - although, you should - you can go online to find millions of them, many of which can be tackled in multiplayer.
Okay, if you're ready to graduate from the blocky builds of Minecraft and the platforming puzzles of Mario Maker, Dreams might be for you. This newly released game-creation tool for the PlayStation 4 is a wonderfully deep and detailed delight, where game-makers of the future can find a footing for the basics of design - or, alternatively, check out what others in the Dreams community have been up to. It's maybe one for slightly older kids, if they're playing on their own; but Dreams is a winner for parents who want to crack on with a 'big project' alongside their children, while we're on lock-down. What you produce in this one really is only restricted by how wide your imagination can stretch. Read more about it here.
Keeping this one broad, given the number of great Zelda games out there, with difficulty levels to suit almost all ages. Younger kids are sure to be charmed by the toy-like visuals of the Link's Awakening remake of last year (reviewed here); whereas those who are up for a challenge will get more out of Breath of the Wild - our game of the decade, no less.
If your kids are still rocking the (3)DS range, then Spirit Tracks, Phantom Hourglass and A Link Between Worlds are all great shouts, though you may need to glance over a shoulder to help them out with a few puzzles, and bosses. And I know what you're thinking: but what about Ocarina of Time, and Majora's Mask. Both classics, absolutely, but darker than what some kids will be up for.
We used to love playing Dimensions, the kids and me, with the wealth of free-roam, play-your-way options it has, spread across multiple universes. But not everyone can stretch to all that physical plastic, and the thing's been discontinued, anyway. (It is, nevertheless, the best darn LEGO game ever, so says us.)
Take Dimensions off the table, though, and you're still left with a huge array of options, and all of these games are both a) eminently playable by all, regardless of your skill level and b) support co-op play on the same screen. At least, I can't immediately think of a recent, mainline LEGO game that can't be enjoyed by two, at once.
Recommendations, based on what my kids like to play, include The LEGO Ninjago Movie Videogame, LEGO Marvel Super Heroes, LEGO Batman: The Videogame and the GTA-for-little-'uns LEGO City Undercover. But really, most of the LEGO games are great, easygoing fun, with simple puzzles and basic combat to mash buttons through.
A more recent hit with the kids in my house, since they realised it's on Xbox Game Pass, Goat Simulator is just dumb slapstick fun that'll have players of a certain age rolling around the floor in hysterics. Doesn't look all that funny to me, but to a six year old, clearly, a goat bouncing off a trampoline into a car, and everything blowing up for some reason, is the absolute height of hilarity.
So Overcooked has definitely been the spark that set ablaze a few burning-hot rows at home, given that it's both incredibly reliant on co-operation and against the clock (trust me when I say that kids do not always handle under-pressure situations completely calmly, even when it's just stirring some onion soup). But it's also hilarious, easy to get into, and ramps up its challenge in a very measured fashion. A good one for kids and their folks to play together, so long as you're not quick to turn to tantrums. A sequel is also available, and just as warmly recommended.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is a big, big favourite round our way, perfect for four-player split-screen racing. It supports an array of assist options, such as automatic acceleration and motion controls (you don't need the little plastic wheels, but sure, if they help, why not), and the tracks are reliably uplifting - my favourite grand prix series is the Star Cup, with Mount Wario as its climax and a sun-kissed airport circuit for starters. And when you get tired of racing around in circles (which you won't, but variety is the spice of life), there's also Battle Mode to turn to, which pits players against each other in slightly more aggressive competition.
FORZA HORIZON 4
While its cars are a lot more real-world than those of Mario Kart, Forza Horizon 4 can be played just as chaotically. Both of my kids love letting loose on this one - turn the damage off, let them pick a supercar, and watch the magic unfold. No need for competition, though they can enter races, of course. FH4 is more about exploration, and smashing through countless fences, trees and walls, all in the pursuit of speed.
Driving backwards on the motorway? Sure, why not. Demolishing a pub drinking garden? Knock yourself out. Run over those sheep? Ha! Good luck. This one is a big favourite in our house, albeit one that can only be played by one person at a time. And like Goat Simulator - and a few others here - it's on Game Pass, right now.
My kids' school uses the Just Dance series to get pupils up and moving around in class - and it's a great game for short bursts of exercise at home, too, especially when Ring Fit Adventure is in such high demand, and so overpriced where you can find it. We've only got Just Dance 2017, but there are enough songs on it that the kids know to keep them entertained for a while. There is no shortage of older titles in the series out there, mostly cheap as chips, if you're able to nip out and get them.
You might be surprised just how much fun your kids can have with a game like Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Banjo-Kazooie, Spyro the Dragon or Super Mario World. It's a cliche, but to a great degree, the classics really do not go out of style - and an all-ages-friendly favourite of yours from back when may well still be a winner in 2020. If you've got some of those mini-consoles lurking at the back of cupboards, now's their time to shine.
Featured Image Credit: Ubisoft, Warner Bros., Square Enix, Nintendo