Picking the best family games of 2013 was a surprisingly difficult job. Not only so many to choose from but such high quality. Even so 2014 looks like it will easily eclipse last year for families and video-games. Not only do we now have three platform holders touting for the wide open sees of the family market, but also big plays around new technology on each.
The Wii U game-pad controller and console-handheld spanning Miiverse social network may be familiar but still offer revolutionary ways to play games together — turning concerns from the one main screen to each other and the differing roles we can play with different controllers. Add to this the install base and technology of the 3DS, and the backwards compatibility of both systems and Nintendo have the potential to recover strong growth in 2014.
The PlayStation 4 not only sets Remote Play as a standard feature for its PS4 games, enabling families to access them from anywhere in the world with a Vita and an internet connection, but also broadens the PlayStation Plus offering that leverages Cross Buy, Cross Play and Cross Controller modes. More than its competitors this offers a joined up family gaming experience spanning console and portable.
The Xbox One’s new Kinect controller is perhaps the joker in the pack, easily overlook and wildly exciting in terms of potential. Microsoft's risky decision to insist everyone has Kinect with their Xbox One opens the door to all sorts of games being developed for its increased user base. Once families start to understand how much better this is than the 360 version, and there are the games to underline this experience, the Xbox One has every chance of becoming the console of choice.
Of course this all depends on there being the games on each of these systems to make use of their features and offer a tangible reason for families to upgrade. Here I was expecting my enthusiasm for 2014 to be dampened, but as I compiled the list below I was increasingly positive about just how much is on offer on each of these systems for families.
Octodad: Dadliest Catch (PC, Mac, PS4)
Octodad may be a little niche and rather unusual, but its intentionally convoluted means of getting around as an Octopus results in various mind stretching puzzles that will remind families of trying to rub their tummy while patting their head.
Although Activision have kept mom about what’s next for Skylanders, there is a tension here — how will they support next generation consoles as well as the long in tooth (but family favorite) consoles like the Wii. Either way we are expecting to see novelty interactions and a new range of Skylanders 4 figures announced at the New York Toy Fair in February — if Giants and Swap Force years are anything to go by.
Mario Kart 8 (Wii U)
Mario Kart is still more important than many core gamers assume. On the high definition Wii U it looks the business and in many ways feels like the Mario Kart Arcade machine. Anti-grav karts, hand-gliders and submarines all feature along with the rumored return of double dash kart sharing that was so popular with family gamers.
Kinect Sports Rivals (Xbox One)
There is a lot of pressure on Kinect Sports Rivals to deliver a convincing account of the new Kinect controller. So far it looks more than up to the task not only expanding the number of activities but also the competitive accuracy of the original Kinect Sports.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Wii U)
The first version of Donkey Kong Country on the Wii U promises to use not only the Wii U’s improved visuals but also that new Game-pad controller. Two player side platforming action combines with endearing graphics to offer family players of all ages something to swoon over.
Project Spark (Xbox One)
It would be easy to overlook this free to play sandbox but its powerful game creation tools open a door to development not previously seen in this depth. Spanning the Xbox One’s Kinect controller, Smartglass and traditional game-pad it’s the scope and simplicity of Project Spark that will attract families along with its low barrier to entry.
Fantasia: Music Evolved (Xbox One / Xbox 360)
From Harmonix, of Dance Central fame, comes a new music rhythm game that might otherwise have been written off. Even though it is themed around a Disney Fantasia world it still draws on Harmonix’ musical expertise as much as ever. For families it’s a new way to enjoy and respond to music.
Mario Golf: World Tour (3DS)
Camelot are back after a 10 year absence with World Tour on the 3DS. Along with 3D graphics this promises to restart the series in some style. A touch screen swing mechanic and super shot ability are both likely in what should be the definitive golf-on-the-go experience for families.
Super Smash Bros (Wii U, 3DS)
Some may see this as another tired iteration of an old property, but that is to miss how important Super Smash Brothers is for the Teen category. The frantic family fighting game returns to both Wii U and 3DS simultaneously. This offers exuberant combat and high-jinx as a viable alternative to more mature fighting games for younger players.
Lego: The Hobbit (Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PS4, Wii U, Nintendo 3DS, Vita and PC)
Another block based platform puzzling, this time in smaller and hairier Hobbit form. On the next generation consoles (even more so than the 360 and PS3 versions) this will offer a beautiful (and tongue in cheek) rendering of Tolkien’s world.
Quantum Break (Xbox One)
Although this is one for older family members, its combination of an integrated TV series and video-game will attract parents and those who don’t otherwise play games. Remedy Entertainment may have a lot on their plate with this, however their experience with Alan Wake suggests they will do fine.
We still have the Phineas and Ferb figures, but other than that Disney hasn’t disclosed what’s next for their toy-meets-video-game title. I suspect we’ll see a disc based Disney Infinity package will appear in 2014 that will enable the delivery of more play-sets and Disney franchises – Star Wars is still a family favorite?
Child of Light (PC, Wii U, 360, PS3, Xbox One, PS4)
A beautiful and unexpected take on the role play genre from Ubisoft Montreal not only in its hand drawn visuals but also in its storytelling. Game-play takes a more standard role play approach but with a simple timed-attack system similar to that seen in Vagrant Story. Child of Light may skew older but will certainly be of great interest to family gamers.
The Lego Movie Video-Game (Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PS4, Wii U, Nintendo 3DS, Vita and PC)
The Lego Movie offers another opportunity to deliver the now standard brick based video-game tie-in. This time we are expecting an expansion of the Lego City Undercover experience brought to all next generation consoles with characters and plot points from the movie.
Having moved on from the wild racing of Motorstorm Evolution Studios are now focusing on their socially rich PS4 racing experience. Challenging the likes of Grid will be no easy task, but this team racer challenge makes use of every last bit of the new PlayStation’s graphical grunt.
Lego Legends of Chima Online (Web)
Warner Brothers Montreal brings an ambitious and hugely important property to the online gaming space for families. Players will build their own Chima kingdoms in an open world experience with missions, secret areas and customizable characters. Lego Legends of Chima Online certainly looks much more compelling than the original (and discontinued) LEGO Universe.
Lego Minifigures Online (Web)
A MMO (massively multi-player online) game from Funcom that combines Skylanders style toy-video-game cross over with collectable Lego packs. Lego minifigs are purchased in foil “blind” packs and then used to unlock and play characters in the video-game. This will start with classic Lego worlds of Castle, Space and Mythology, which suggests that more will follow. Add to this its free to play nature (apart from buying the figures) via web browsers and Android/iOS devices and you have a potent mix for family gamers.
Kirby: Triple Deluxe (3DS)
This is the thirteenth Kirby game in the series but don’t let that fool you, it still feels as fresh as a daisy on the 3DS. Taking on a 2.5D visual aesthetic and using that in game-play makes Triple Deluxe feel more tactile than previous games. For families though it’s the four-player fun that will be most anticipated.
Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare (PC, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One)
The ever popular Plants vs’ Zombies brand takes on proper 3D in this Xbox One (and 360) game that combines third person shooting and tower defense. While improved visuals and sound will help draw attention it is the multi-player modes that will make the biggest difference for families.
Yoshi’s New Island (3DS)
The successor to Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island on the SNES/GBA and Yoshi’s Island 2 on DS, Yoshi’s New Island 3DS extends the oil painted visuals for a new generation of gamers. Don’t be fooled though, beneath its cute exterior it promises to offer a fresh take on 3DS platforming.