If you’re a video game-loving dad who has sworn allegiance to Microsoft’s console, you’ll need some games to play with the kids until they’re old enough to blast away in Halo. But it can be difficult, with so many of the biggest and best games full of kid-unfriendly content. Whether it’s sex, violence, or both, lots of the best Xbox One games are less than great for kids. And among family-friendly games, there is a lot of garbage that just isn’t worth your hard-earned money.
We looked at the latest releases for Xbox and found games that meet crucial criteria. First of all, they’re appropriate for kids. All of our picks are rated for everyone or everyone over 10. They have plentiful positive reviews from real players, and, most importantly, they’re a blast to play. Our picks give parents and their kids searching for an activity to do together plenty of options. So whether it’s an underwater survival favorite or a racing game with amazing graphics, there’s something for you and your kid to enjoy on this list.
This racing game features 15 players from the world of Sonic and tons of items that players can use to get an edge.
Pros: There’s a team racing mode that makes it less competitive and more about working together, something parents with hypercompetitive kids can appreciate. There’s also a story mode that helps kids learn the ins and outs of the game in a way that’s more structured than just jumping into full races.
Cons: Lots of courses can only be unlocked by playing story mode, which is kind of frustrating for kids who just want to get racing.
With so many games looking and playing in pretty much the same way, we jumped at the chance to play a run and gun action game inspired by the cartoons of the 1930s.
Pros: The hand-drawn look of the graphics is incredible. This game looks nothing like anything else on the market, and that’s great. The gameplay itself is also well thought out, with single player and local co-op modes available.
Cons: It’s only available as a digital download at the moment, which might be a turn-off to some gamers.
We love this game because it actually makes you move around. And the 2019 version features some of our favorite, non-annoying songs.
Pros: The latest version of the popular Xbox One game includes tunes by Camila Cabello, Calvin Harris, The Weeknd, Bruno Mars, and yes, Britney Spears, among many others. It’s multi-player, and even has a kids mode, to choose more age-appropriate songs if you’re so inclined. And the updated graphics are pretty mind-blowing.
Cons: The concept can get old rather fast, and the music does become grating after a while. You also might have trouble keeping up with your kids, so be prepared to take a breather before they do.
Kids love racing and they love getting dirty. That's why they love this game, which combines both of those avocations in a richly detailed, high-definition environment with realistic driving physics. There's plenty of action, from bumper tapping to full on wrecks, but nothing bloody or obscene, hence the E for Everyone rating.
Pros: There are tons of tracks to choose from in locations across the world, including New Zealand, Argentina, Spain, Poland, and the good old U.S. of A. The tracks have different conditions, so just like in a real rally race the final lap won’t feel the same as the first, as the dirt gets compacted and the driving surface gets smoother. The makers of the game talked to real drivers to add realistic details like these. As for vehicles, players can choose cars from the 1960s through modern day, a bunch of different makes and models that are customizable. This game is officially licensed by the FIA World Rallycross Championship, so everything about it is as authentic as possible.
Cons: In the end, every racing game can get kind of repetitive, particularly those that strive for realism and don’t have the ridiculous mechanics and obstacles of a game like Mario Kart. So while it’s a fantastic example of the genre, it is also limited by it. Kids with super-short attention spans may find themselves bored sooner than you’d like them to be.
This sequel to one of the best independent games for the Xbox One features gameplay that adds even more chaotic fun. As in the original, 1-4 players are part of a team of chefs whose job it is to prep, cook, and serve food in a busy kitchen. The kitchens on each level feature different layouts and obstacles, from moving walkways to magic portals, that get progressively more complex as you and your kids make your way through the game. And the settings themselves, from a hot air balloon to whitewater rafting, are creative and entertaining for young kids.
Pros: The learning curve on this game isn’t too steep, but the mastery curve is. That’s the recipe (get it?) for a game that isn’t discouraging to learn and can be lots of delicious (sorry, can’t help it) fun once you master the basics. Fans of the original game will find plenty of the same fun with added wrinkles (like the ability to throw food to other players) that add more strategic options.
Cons: You can play this game solo, but you have to keep switching back and forth between two chefs. It’s clunky and not as fun as the multiplayer version, so we recommend you save this one for family game time.
What Smash Bros. is to Nintendo, Kingdom Hearts is to Disney. The role-playing game franchise brings together characters from across the Disney universe, from Donald Duck to Buzz Lightyear. Your kids know them and love them, but the game doesn't rest on its intellectual property. Top-notch gameplay and a strong good vs. evil narrative make this a game that doesn't coast (as it easily could have).
Pros: A huge array of characters, from Frozen to Tangled to Pirates of the Caribbean anchors this game inhabit brand-new worlds inspired mostly by Pixar movies. The game is fun but not too difficult, so younger players shouldn’t get frustrated too easily. They can also just explore everything, with tons of minigames, 90 hidden Mickey Mouse heads, and extra enemies to discover.
Cons: Disney owns Star Wars and Marvel now, but they’re tragically absent from this game. And if you haven’t played the first two games in the series, you’ll be a bit in the dark about what’s going on, which makes playing not quite as much fun.
Subnautica is a survival game that takes place almost entirely under the sea. You play as a diver whose life pod crashes into an alien ocean world, forcing him to live underwater. With a limited supply of air, the clock ticks as you search for resources and construct bases on the sea floor. There are plenty of menacing exotic creatures, beautiful coral reefs, kelp forests, and even volcanoes to explore and conquer.
Pros: At about $30, it’s half the price of a typical Xbox One game, but it’s just as fun with detailed graphics to boot. There are lots of shorter-term pleasures in this game, from finding supplies and adding on to your bases to luring and catching fish to eat. The greater mysteries — What’s happening on this planet? What caused the crash? How do you get past those damn giant jellyfish? — unravel slowly as you continue playing. And while it’s not exactly a positive of this particular title, we like that Subnautica is becoming a series with this year’s release of Subnautica: Below Zero, a title you and your kid can tackle once you’ve finished the original.
Cons: With such an immersive, interesting Xbox world, it’s a shame that there’s no multiplayer mode to be found. The developer (an indie, which is cool) was working on one, but left it out of the final release in the rush to hit the market. Also: beware of a few bugs that can make gameplay glitchy, particularly as your underwater world becomes more elaborate.
This vertically-scrolling shooter puts you above a plane you control, avoiding enemy planes and rounds as you try to shoot down your enemies. There are tons of planes and pilots to choose from, and RPG elements that let you add skills and weapons by playing and replaying different levels. And at just $20, you're getting a ton of game for your money.
Pros: The concept of this Xbox game is simple: a secret German commando squad invaded the United States just as the war seemed to be won, and it’s up to you and your squadron to take them out and save the day. Historical revisionist narrative aside, the structure of this game lend it to co-op play, which you can do with up to four players. Instead of flat characters, the pilots in this game have fully formed personalities, strengths, and weaknesses which come into play during dogfights that take place around the country.
Cons: This Xbox game does feature air combat and it’s set in World War II, which may be a bit much for younger kids. It’s rated for everyone over 10 by the Entertainment Software Rating Board, and we think that’s a pretty good guideline in this case. There also isn’t any online multiplayer capability, so your kids won’t be able to play their friends (which you may actually think is a good thing). And finally, we like the graphics, which are a bit cartoonish, but kids used to ultrarealistic HD 3D images may think they’re kind of corny (though they’d definitely be wrong).
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