Yes, it’s December and time for Plugged In to wheel out its end-of-the-year “Best Of” lists. And in the gaming category, that’s not an easy call—not because there’s too little to choose from, but too much: I reviewed a pretty heavily populated crowd of fun games this year. But fear not, we’ve culled the crowd and come up with a solid top five (or six, if you’re being really nit-picky) that you could comfortably enjoy with the kids on a variety of friendly neighborhood gaming consoles near you.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order (PS4, Xbox One, PC): Since we’re finding multiple new adventures from a galaxy far, far away popping up just about everywhere as of late, we’ll start with the latest Star Wars video game. It’s a T-rated adventure that follows a former Jedi padawan named Cal Kestis. He’s embarking on important quests and trying to avoid the evil Galactic Empire in a time when the Force-wielding Jedi have all but been eliminated. There’s lots of wall-running, Force-using, environmental puzzle-solving and lightsaber-swinging fun to be had. And though those lightsabers can be deadly, there’s no bloody mess to worry over. Fallen Order may well be the best gaming depiction yet of what it would feel like to be a young, slightly bewildered Jedi … in a world that desperately needs a hero.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Nintendo Switch): The Fire Emblem role-playing strategy franchise has been around for a good long time, but now the action moves to the Nintendo Switch and away from the miniature handheld realm of the Nintendo 3DS. Gamers take their chosen forces of specifically skilled characters into strategic, chess-like RPG battles on grid-based maps. Three Houses mixes up the battle-after-battle formula, however, with a lot more character interaction and relationship bonding than in past games. This is a solid and involving game with tons of replay potential. Parents should note, though, that there is some polytheistic magicking and potential same gender-romance that can be stirred up in this T-rated fare.
Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn (Nintendo 3DS): Of course, if you’ve just gotta get your hands on some cute and cuddly fun for your faithful small-screen 3DS, you can’t go wrong with Kirby. The basic storyline here unspooles like a fanciful children’s tale that tells of Kirby getting transformed into yarn by a magical guy named Yin-Yarn and sucked into a strange, uh, fabricated dimension where everything is made of yarn, cloth, buttons and beads. Did I say this E-rated platformer was cute? Sorry, I meant that it’s CUTE! And no matter what else happens on your 3DS in the future, Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn is a current title that’s definitely worth a spin.
Plants v Zombies: Battle for Neighborville (PS4, Xbox One, PC): For those of you hungering for a family-friendly shooter, the new Plants v Zombies entry gives you lots and lots of trigger-pulling challenges. And it comes with an E10+ rating, too, so Mom doesn’t have to worry over screeching warriors and gore-splashed scenery in the family room … just a few, uh, colorful zombies and a zap of sap. In fact, the biggest parental grumble here is probably the fact that no matter what you play, you must always be connected to the internet. Even in areas where there are no other live players to be found, or where junior is playing with a pal in the same room, you can only get there with an online connection. Yet another foul zombie plot, I’m sure.
Pokémon Sword and Pokémon Shield (Nintendo Switch): OK, technically these are two separate games. But they’re essentially the identical adventure, just with some different Pokémon variants. So, don’t be fooled into forking out a lot of extra green by your wily uber-fans. That said, this new Pokémon adventure comes packed with really solid improvements and might just be the best Poké play in a good long time. Huge huge stadium contests and 100-foot-tall dynamaxing Pokémon are added this go-round, making the game even more interesting. What more could you ask for in your E-rated play?
OK, sue me. I can’t sign off without tossing out just a couple honorable mentions in the form of these repackaged titles. Perennial world-building favorite Civilization VI was released for all the major consoles this year. And the classic The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening was released with an updated Nintendo Switch dressing. Hollah!