We’ve reached that time of year again where we point you to some of Plugged In’s collected favorites from the past year. And one of my favorite things in 2021 was the ability to once again wander back into stores, restaurants and movie houses to buy some of my favorite things after the lockdown of 2020. Here’s a hip-hooray to that.
As far as great family friendly games are concerned, there’s good news and bad. The good news is that there are some solid entries on our list of great games released this past year. The not-so-great news, however, is that the new consoles released in 2020 (PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S) are still pretty tough to find and buy. Yowser!
For those of you that did, though, let’s start with a really fun PS5 exclusive.
(PS5. Rated: E10+): The newest action game in the hefty Ratchet & Clank franchise was crafted specifically for the PlayStation 5 and it definitely showcases the graphic punch of that new console. Rift Apart packs in everything from excellent use of the PlayStation’s dynamic ray-tracing light effects to a Pixar-like animation with 4K presentation. Gamers explore a variety of dynamic worlds, solving environmental puzzles and blasting their way through the quickly moving chaos with a mix of third-person shooting and platforming. This game is our fun action-shooter pick of the year. And though there’s a lot of trigger-pulling (and some winking commentary in the comedic dialogue) there’s nothing here to make any family room mess.
(PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X. Rated: E): Speaking of beautiful graphics, the new Forza game is nothing short of stunning. If you’re into gloriously sheetmetaled cars, and racing said cars around scores of roads and tracks, this is the title to consider. You can find a lot of driving and racing games on store shelves these days, but few are as eye-pleasing and interactive as Forza Horizon 5. Add in this game’s settings help—that can boost younger driver’s skill sets and ease them into learning—and you’ve got a very welcoming, checkered-flag-worthy combination.
(PC. Rated: E10+): Really good real-time-strategy world-building games don’t come along all that often. (And they usually have Civilization nestled in their title somewhere.) So it’s fun to find something fresh that plays out as a compelling combination of strategic choices and actions and keeps players thinking and involved. There are new world-building twists to be found and rule-the-world fun to be had. The biggest drawback for parents is that the game—with its different menu layers and ongoing cultural changes—might be a bit complicated for young beginning players.
(Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One. Rated: E10+): So you want a little multiplayer co-op play, huh? Well, this one is a fast-play, dodgeball game looking for the right knockout players. Knockout City takes every gym teacher’s go-to activity and elevates it to a fast-paced tournament; you play solo, but have the option of matching up with others online. You play in multiple complex maps with superpowered balls and easy-to-learn, hard-to-master controls perfect for all ages. Plus, it’s completely nurse’s office free.Hey, who doesn’t like the smell of pink rubber ball in the morning? The cartoonish animation and elementary-level violence make it a good fit for kids, but there’s enough room for strategy and technique to keep older players busy as well.
(Nintendo Switch. Rated: E): Can’t have a best of games list without a little Pokémon in there. These two (essentially the same game with unique special characters in each) represent a Switch-worthy graphic and gameplay update of a pair of older games, but the improvements are worth the replay. And if you never played them in their original 2006 DS version, you’ll definitely want to go catch-‘em-all. This Pokémon entry is as classic as it gets.
And let’s do one more for you virtual reality fans who can’t find some fresh VR fun.
(PC-VR. Rated: E10+): OK, it’s oddly quirky at times and something like playing through an escape room with Muppet sidekicks. But there’s plenty of puzzles to wrap your virtual fingers around and fun to be had. Parents should note that there’s a bit of odd “dark magic” played out with a magical object in a latter chapter, but it’s a Muppety sort of dark so it’s not as icky as it might seem on the surface. With so many VR shooters on the market, it’s nice to find a virtual reality game that’s both laughingly silly and invigoratingly challenging.