Let’s say you’re getting a PS3 or PS4 for your little ones this holiday season and want to give them something to play as well but don't know the best options. The fact is that a lot of the bestselling games for these systems don’t really work for kids. Most of us don’t want our elementary school-age children experiencing “Grand Theft Auto V” or “The Last of Us” quite yet but there are also WAY too many games aimed at little ones that are entirely creatively bankrupt. Just because it has to appeal to kids doesn’t mean that it should talk down to them. Luckily, the last few months have produced a surprising number of quality releases for kids of all ages. Unlike recent holiday shopping seasons, there are great options for your PS3 and PS4. Let us guide the way with five of the best purchases for you to bundle under the Christmas tree this year.
Angry Birds: Star Wars (PS3/PS4)
Yes, you’ve probably already played “Angry Birds: Star Wars” on any number of iOS devices but Activision has updated and upgraded the game with exclusive levels for the PlayStation 3 and 4, along with truly enhancing the graphics for the PS4. I know, how good can “Angry Birds” look? You’ll be surprised. It plays more smoothly, has sharper backgrounds and character details, and the new levels are fun and clever. It’s also wicked cool to use “AB: SW” with the PS4’s excellent upgrade of the remote play function of the PlayStation Vita, making the game portable to any room in your house. Just can’t shake that you haven’t finished that level yet? You don’t even need to be in the same room as your PS4 to do so if you have “Angry Birds: Star Wars” on your hard drive and a Vita. The only drawback? Dividing time between this and the excellent “Angry Birds: Star Wars II,” just released for iOS. You choose.
Kids games of the PS3 era are typically loud, cluttered, repetitive affairs. They’re rarely lyrical, philosophical, and straight-up gorgeous experiences like Sony’s “Puppeteer,” a game that may appeal a bit more to older members of the family but that’s one of the reasons I like it. It’s a great transition game for that parent who knows their kid is tired of weak pop culture tie-ins like the very kiddie “Adventure Time! Explore the Dungeon Because I DON’T KNOW!” – a game I really wanted to love given my adoration for the Cartoon Network show on which it’s based but I could never get beyond its 8-bit aesthetic and clunky gameplay – but isn’t quite ready to graduate them yet to “Call of Duty.” There are few transitional games for older elementary school kids and “Puppeteer” is one of the best.
The only game on this list to make About.com’s Ten Best of 2013 is this glorious platforming gem from Ubisoft, an ingenious blend of imagination and creative gameplay design. The “Rayman” character has long been a possible successor to the legacies of characters like Mario and Donkey Kong but this game really solidifies his place in PS3 history. The level design is incredible, the game constantly surprises with its ingenuity, and it’s as deep as they come in terms of replayability -- a key ingredient when parents are shopping for games. You don’t want something that will bore your little one after a few levels. Not only does “Legends” fit that bill but it is a good enough game that your kids will want to play many of its levels more than once.
The best LEGO game in years is this gloriously addictive gem that intertwines so many things that modern kids love from the superheroes in their favorite movies like “The Avengers” to the LEGO toys with which they play on a daily basis. The design of this game is addictive and immersive, bringing us into its world and continuously providing new experiences to enjoy within it. The problem with most modern kid’s games is repetition that leads to boredom. “LEGO Marvel” is constantly feeling refreshed by the inclusion of new characters. The toughest part of buying it for your kids this holiday season will be getting them to stop playing. (Note: This game skews a little older than some other LEGO games in that the puzzle-solving can actually be quite difficult. Don’t get it for real young ones or there mnight be some frustration associated.)
Finally, there’s this incredibly fun game that could also quickly bankrupt you if you’re not careful. Parents whose kids have already been inducted into the cult of “Skylanders” are nodding in agreement. Unlike most games, the purchasing is just getting started when you buy the starter kit with three character figures and a base with which to draw them into this fantastic world. Stores are filled with new figures to include in your “Swap Force” attack. Luckily, the cost is justified here as the character design and platforming gameplay are clever and fun. If you’re considering one of the two hit games this season to play off this collectible culture, this is a vastly superior choice to “Disney Infinity.”