When a video game is described by a reviewer as a “kids’ game,” it’s usually meant as an insult. The term “kids’ games” conjures images of overly-simplistic gameplay, bland, licensed characters, and titles that are intended from the start to entertain very young children.
The problem is that our predisposed ideas of kids’ games aren’t unjustified. Many games for children are rotten. But it’s important to remember that there are some great long-running series that are still capable of providing a fun, fulfilling game experience for kids of all ages. Not surprisingly, many of these series were built around children, but can be thoroughly enjoyed by tweens, teens and older gamers as well.
The LEGO series — LEGO games are available on almost every modern game console, and it’s not uncommon for a LEGO game or two to usher in the birth of a new console. LEGO Star Wars III: The Clone Wars was available for purchase at the launch of the Nintendo 3DS, for instance. But Star Wars isn’t the only popular movie franchise to receive the LEGO touch. Other LEGO-fied franchises include Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones, and Batman. Not surprisingly, LEGO-style games are more lighthearted than their source material: Defeated enemies crumble into blocks instead of bits of broken bone and flesh. Many of them also offer simultaneous multiplayer, making them ideal for family play.
Pokemon — Don’t let Pikachu’s cute mousy mug fool you. Pokemon is one of the most intense game series ever released, and it has a thoroughly devoted fanbase that extends across a huge age group. Combined, Pokemon Black and White sold 2 million copies in two weeks, and that’s in the United States alone. What makes Pokemon compelling (besides its cast of mythological monsters) is that the trading card game (TCG)-based gameplay experience can be as easy or difficult as you choose to make it. Young kids can play through the main quest without many issues, but older players can devise drawn-out battles with friends that border on scientific.
Super Mario games — Mario is one of gaming’s oldest recognizable characters (in an Earthly sense, that is; in-game, he’s still spry enough to bust up some turtles), and he’s still by far the most popular. That’s because his signature games (side-scrolling and 3D platform-hopping arcade experiences set in candy colored worlds of cartoon whimsy) are still excellent. New Super Mario Bros. was a hit on the Nintendo DS, and New Super Mario Bros Wii is one of the system’s best-sellers. The latter is particularly suited for family play, as it offers a simultaneous four-player option. What’s more, Mario games don’t coddle the player, though the more recent ones offer hints, suggestions, and other options for younger gamers who might be having a hard go of things.
Battle of Giants series — Ubisoft’s Battle of Giants games involve modifying and pitting huge monsters in battle with each other. Some of these beasts include dinosaurs, dragons, and giant insects. It’s not a particularly deep series, but it’s undeniably fun to build up dragons and command them to rip upon one another. The “giant monster” aspect of the series pretty much sells itself.
Star Wars series — The appeal of the “Star Wars” franchise extends across two generations. And regardless of what fans of IV, V, and VI think of the prequels, Jar-Jar, Anakin Skywalker, and the Jedi pantheon are huge hits with kids. Most modern “Star Wars” games are based on the prequels, especially the hit animated series “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.” The franchise has produced some solid titles (e.g. popular MMO Star Wars: Clone Wars Adventures), and they’re definitely more forgiving than the “Star Wars” games from the era of the NES and Super Nintendo.
Pac-Man games — Pac-Man is another timeless game character whose original premise (run through a maze while escaping from pursuing ghosts and eat, eat, eat) is irresistible for kids and adults alike. The Pac-Man titles are easy to learn, addictive, and have received very compelling and affordable upgrades in recent years thanks to online distribution channels like the iPhone, iPod and iPad App Store, PlayStation Network, WiiWare and Xbox Live Arcade.
Animal Crossing games — Nintendo’s Animal Crossing games can be regarded as a more lighthearted take on the Sims franchise. Players build up their own towns, meet neighbors, fish, plant, and pay off the mortgage on their homes. If nothing else, that last task will prepare any kid for what’s to come in his or her adult life. Overall though, Animal Crossing games are cute, colorful, and a lot of fun to re-visit over and over – even for grown-ups.
Raving Rabbids series — The unstable Rabbids from the Raving Rabbids series initially hailed from the Rayman games–another long-running series. The Raving Rabbids games, mostly mini-game collections and action-adventures, have been released in multiple genres and across multiple systems, but one thing has remained the same: The crude, nutty antics of the Rabbids themselves are a huge draw for kids and tweens.
Super Monkey Ball games — Super Monkey Ball games are a compelling exercise in dexterity wherein the player must guide a rolling monkey in a ball to safety by tilting and manipulating the environment around him. It’s simple stuff, but pretty engaging for the whole family: The series has been around since 2001.
Sonic the Hedgehog games — Sonic’s fanbase is pretty divided these days, but he still has a very dedicated following that’s composed primarily of tweens. The gameplay for Sonic games (which focuses on running, bounding over platforms and collecting rings at breakneck speed) is easy to grasp, and the large cast of colorful mammals who populate Sonic’s world is a big draw for younger audiences.