As we head into the wee hours of 2013 our thoughts at Forbes Games turn to the highs and lows of the last 12 months. Setting aside the worst for another day it falls to me to pick our top five family console video games.
Unlike picking the top shooters, strategy or role play games, the family category spans the genres. This in turn leads to the huge variance in what family means to each of us. It’s perhaps the most overtly personal list of games we’ll pick this year (although I’d suggest none of these lists are ever really absolute if you scratch beneath the surface).
I’m also going to focus on console games and have a separate list for handhelds as there are simply too many to choose from. My final caveat before I dive in is that I’m avoiding choosing two similar games to ensure the list is varied — Disney Infinity and Skylanders Swap Force I’m looking at you.
5. Knack – PS4
Knack impresses on a number of levels, not least being a family friendly launch title when it’s usual to focus on core gamers. If Japan Studio and Marc Cerny hadn’t ended up creating Knack one wonders what their launch game may have been.
The family instantly warmed to Knack’s Pixar storytelling (something that is often claimed but rarely delivered by video games) that engages the emotions with more than the usual by-the-numbers story telling. There are real moments of distress, concern, joy and relief as you play through the game. This gave both grown-ups and children a real reason to play.
Admittedly the game is quite hard, but while many older players seem to assume this level of challenge is a show stopper for youngsters my kids set about proving they were up to the task in hand. Playing on Easy first time through has led to them returning to play on Normal, and trying to find each and every hidden item.
So far, so run-of-the-mill plaformer. What made Knack stand out for us was a little of what makes the PS4 stand out, it’s the Vita factor. While I’ll leave specific Vita games for my Top Handheld Family Video Games list in the coming weeks, playing Knack via both the PS4 and Vita was more than a novelty for us.
Firstly you can use the Vita as a second controller, if you don’t have two DualShocks. But the format that worked best was using the Vita via remote play and having the TV off, then using a DualShock controller for player 2. The boys would sit on the couch one clutching the Vita and the other a controller, both using the Vita screen to play Knack. It worked wonderfully well.
Knack combines this kind of unusual play-form with a great story, impressive visuals and some strong characters to be a big reason why families should look seriously at the PS4.
4. Wonderbook Walking with Dinosaurs – PS3
Many will have overlooked the Wonderbook games, consigning them to good ideas that never quite took off. However, those who have played these games in a family setting will enthuse about its game changing experience./>/>
Controlling a video game with a book sounds like a cumbersome idea, a category mistake; books and games are different things. But the familiarity and ingrained instinctive nature of reading a book lends these games something intuitive that does away with gamer/non-gamer divides and again crosses both gender and age.
Walking With Dinosaurs is, perhaps, the perfect combination for Wonderbook. Not only does it have a prehistoric dinosaurs and excavation mechanics to draw on but also characters from the Walking With Dinosaurs movie.
As you would expect from the BBC, and developer Super Massive, quality abounds here. Less expected though is how well the page turning, shaking, shouting and deft pointing combine to create a coherent experience. The icing on the cake is an educational thread running through each chapter with tests at the end that my kids actually relished completing.
Although some will see this as a collection of mini games, Wii Party U is actually a treasure chest of well designed family gaming action that is coherently arranged in time specific groupings. The sheer variety on offer here, along with the attention to detail on each and every mini-challenge makes this stand out for families.
Like the Wii game before it, Wii Party U offers not only a collection of novel ways to use Nintendo’s controllers (now including the Wii U gamepad) but also strings these eclectic experiences together with board-game-like challenges and quick play modes to fit most tastes.
Wii Party U stood out in my family through the different board game challenges. This draws on the developer’s experience with the Mario Party series but applies a more generic aesthetic to them that is less off-putting to those who don’t readily identify with Mario, Luigi, Peach and the gang. This again means that it more easily crosses the gamer/non-gamer divide as well as age and gender groupings.
Particularly fun for us were the Gamepad table-top style challenges like Baseball and Table Football. Although these seem super simple at first, they soon become more complex challenges depending on who you are playing. In fact, it’s this change of perspective (from the game itself to the other people in the room) that epitomizes what’s so great about Wii Party U — and arguable the Wii U itself.
2. Disney Infinity – 360, PS3, Wii U
It took me some time to come around to Disney Infinity, but once I understood how different it was to Skylanders it really started to impress. While the toys may not be as central to the play-mechanic as Swap Force and out of the box it lacked a little polish (or the ability to play co-op in the campaign), each day played our family’s infatuation with Infinity has grown.
The variety of game-play in the Play Set adventures, the openness of the game worlds, those super realized Disney characters and the quality of the physical toys combine to make Disney Infinity a winner for my family.
Add to this the Toy Box game creation mode and the free downloadable content for that space and you have an experience that offers considerable value (provided you don’t get drawn into collecting all the figures)./>/>
Disney Infinity had a very tall order this year, but from a standing start has become a genuine go-to experience for families of all shapes and sizes. Most telling for us is its ability to attract both my sons and my daughter to get us all playing and creating together.
1. Lego City Undercover – Wii U
This exclusive Wii U game, being released quite early in the console’s life and before the console had really been embraced by the masses, was easy to overlook. The combination of the long standing and popular Lego City series of physical sets and the open world game-play are a big draw for families.
While core gamers may have got hung up over the slower load times, not-quite-GTA play mechanics and its slow story lines, these concerns didn’t register for us. The safe Lego aesthetic and the open world exploration provided a framework not only for the game’s story and characters but also for children, parents and even grandparents to make their own fun.
Lego City Undercover on Wii U not only offers another great Lego video-game experience but successfully links that to toys that families already have in their homes. The adventure, world and Lego designs make this an essential purchase for any family.
Skylanders Swap Force – Still top of their game and only not included here for its similarity to Disney Infinity (and my resolve to not duplicated categories). As it stands Swap Force is another great games for families and offers good value if you can leverage your older figures. The mix and match figures are ingenious.
Lego Marvel – Another great Lego game full to the brim with Marvel Lego character goodness and game-play, although nothing really above and beyond what we have seen before. The co-op on console versions are a real stand out feature.
And many more that could have been included but didn’t make the cut. Also don’t forget I’ll have a separate list for Top Five Handheld Family Video Games in 2013.