This past year was, without a doubt, a little crazy. And it had families seeking out just about anything that might keep their clan busy while everyone was stuck inside with nowhere to go. Fortunately, there were lots of fun family-friendly games for kids to play by themselves or in co-op with anyone from a sibling to an online crowd.
So now that we’re nearing the end of this Corona-fevered year, we thought we’d take a stab at naming a few of Plugged In’s favorite games … or at least give you a handful of solid 2020 plays that you might enjoy if you missed them.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Nintendo Switch. Rated E): OK, this Nintendo Switch game was likely the king of games during the coronavirus shut-in. People spent way too many hours constructing their own little island paradise here. And I can see why. This sweet game takes players, young and old, gently by the hand, gives them a smiling animal persona and helps them create a growing ecosystem of resources, finances and friendly neighborhood businesses. There are a lot of good messages here about forming community, helping others and figuring out how to shape your world and make it work, too. And while that might not equate to the actual pleasures of winging off to a secluded island all your own, it’s not a bad diversion while you’re dreaming about it at home.
Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout (PC and PlayStation 4. Rated E): So you want a massively competitive Battle Royale game without any online trigger-pulling or nastiness? This incredibly colorful and crazy game might just be your sugar dumplin’. This game crams 60 online players into a series of matches that feel like large bouncy-balloon versions of the obstacle course TV show Wipeout. Players compete as little jelly bean-looking avatars and can only choose from four actions: running, jumping, grabbing at something nearby or diving face-first at the ground. And round by round, that initial cattle-call is whittled down further and further until one cute little champion stands tall and wins the day. The end result is, quite frankly, a hoot.
Star Renegades (Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One. Rating: E10+): Next we have a roguelike role-playing game for kids a little older. This adventure takes place in a sci-fi future and mixes time travel with strategy combat as your heroes try to save the world from a destructive fate. The goal here is pretty straightforward: You must plan and then battle your way through three planets in the solar system, and then take the fight to the invader’s mothership for the win. Characters can die here. And sometimes a fallen friend can even pop up again as a Borg-like transplant in the predominantly robotic enemy’s ranks. But there’s no blood or goop in the mix. A well-made strategy challenge can equal well-made fun, and that’s where this sci-fi battler lands with retro-rockets blazing.
Paper Mario: The Origami King (Nintendo Switch. Rated E):What would a fun game list be without at least one Mario game, right? This is the latest entry in the 2-D paper cutout branch of the Mario gaming tree. And as the title would suggest, it’s taken a very logical step and made origami paper-folding the central papery focus this go ‘round. It’s also revamped the gameplay, shifting the action away from stickers and cards and to something closer to a puzzle adventure with mini-game-like battles. Oh, and the mushroom-headed Toad folk step up to be the game’s jokebook kings. Paper Mario: The Origami King is creased and crafted with special kid-friendly care, and with lots of fun creative twists folded in to boot.
PAW Patrol: Mighty Pups Save Adventure Bay (Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One. Rated E): OK, this game isn’t going to offer much challenge for anybody over the age of a preschooler, but for beginning gamers, this one hits it out of the park. The dog park, that is. The furry heroes of the Nick Jr. kids’ series PAW Patrol have to use their newly-gained super-paw-powers to help people out of difficult situations and bring smiles back to the residents of Adventure Bay. The button-mashing challenges are short and geared perfectly for little inexperienced fingers. And there’s nary a nasty tick or flea to be found anywhere.
I’m supposed to stop at five picks, but let’s cheat a little and add one more for teens and Star Wars fans.
Star Wars: Squadrons (PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One. Rated T): This game is all about imagining yourself slipping behind the controls of a TIE fighter or X-Wing and then twisting and turning your craft past space debris while in the heat of a spinning, laser-blasting battle. There’s plenty of laser- and bomb-zapping destruction, of course, which means that characters are dying out there. The battling isn’t intense, however, and you don’t see any mess from an exploding foe’s ship. The only other potential trouble spot is some light rough-edged dialogue in character conversations. But for teens and up, there’s lots of high-flying action in the swooping dogfight mix.