By Caroline Knorr, Common Sense Media
What’s the best way to entertain family, guests, and relatives of all ages throughout the holidays? Hook ’em up with multiplayer games designed to be enjoyed together. From inexpensive apps that offer immediate gratification (perfect for waiting out flight delays) to interactive experiences that let kids put their new gifts to use (such as a LEGO Dimensions toy or a sweet new Rock Band or Guitar Hero instrument kit), games meant for two or more will keep everyone laughing, thinking, strategizing, and bonding well into the New Year.
Sesame Street Family Play, age 3+ (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad)
With instructions for 150 simple offline games categorized by location of play, such as At Home and Traveling, this app zaps boredom and boosts learning while it keeps screen time at bay. All the games include a Sesame Street character’s endorsement and are designed to be led by parents or caregivers and played with common, everyday items.
Curious Words, age 6+ (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad)
Part vocab-builder, part video creator, this app lets kids create short videos inspired by a single word that displays on the screen. They can film whatever they want, which makes it a wonderful turn-taking activity. The single-word inspirations are read aloud, so even emerging readers will be able to play.
Heads Up!, age 7+ (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android)
Adding a tech twist to charades with video playback makes this party game great family fun. Guessing the answers–and giving hints for them–and then watching hint-givers gesticulate wildly adds a layer of silliness that will keep kids (and parents) entertained for a long time.
Disney Karaoke: Descendants, age 8+ (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad)
Evil’s never been so fun with sing-and-dance-along tunes about the children of villains from the movie Descendants. Combining music from a much-hyped Disney film with videos of themselves singing is many a tween’s dream, and it certainly makes for sleepover fun.
Trivia Crack, 11+ (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android, Windows Phone)
Answering trivia questions can be a fun way to test yourself–and maybe learn something–but when you make it competitive, it raises the stakes and makes it a lot more fun. Trivia Crack is a wonderfully social game that pushes players to scour their brains for information–and will surely spur some epic family contests.
The Martian: Bring Him Home, 12+ (iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android)
This all-text, real-time quest based on the movie and the book is a choose-your-own-adventure game where players guide a stranded astronaut’s movements by reading transmissions between him and a NASA crew. It’s a wonderful play-together option that can spark interesting conversations. The missions are often science-based, and some even require players to turn to search engines to solve real physics problems.
Snail Bob 2, age 6+ (Mac, Windows)
In this downloadable point-and-click puzzle adventure, players follow a snail named Bob as he slugs his way through 90 levels spread across three fantasy-inspired worlds. With bright colors, charming music, and simple one-button gameplay, it’s great for younger kids and provides an equally fun opportunity for parents to sit down and play with their kids.
Super Mario Maker, age 6+ (Nintendo Wii U)
Super Mario Maker lets you design, create, and share your very own Super Mario adventures with easy-to-use digital tools. Players use the Wii U GamePad controller stylus and touchscreen to add backgrounds, building elements, enemies, and other objects. Not only is this game fun, accessible, and creative, but it lets you play a near-limitless number of Mario levels created by Nintendo and players from around the world.
Mega Man Legacy Collection, age 8+ (PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One)
If you loved the classic Nintendo game Mega Man, then you’ll love introducing your kids to the Legacy Collection. Containing six games originally introduced in 1987, this set retains the old-school graphics but ups the ante with new challenges and ways to play. With a style similar to the Super Mario Bros. games, the Mega Man Collection has players fighting through various levels with an epic battle at the end of each. You’ll enjoy sharing the story of the “Blue Bomber” (Mega Man’s nickname) with a new generation, helping your kids learn cool moves and manage enemy attacks–and maybe you’ll learn some new tricks from them.
FIFA 16, age 8+, Madden NFL 16, age 8+, and NBA 2K16, age 10+ (each PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One; NBA 2K16 also plays on Windows)
Updated versions of the world’s most popular sports games offer something for every fan. From FIFA 16‘s addition of women’s teams to Madden NFL 16′s expanded array of controls to NBA 2K16‘s Spike Lee storylines, whichever game your family prefers guarantees major thrills.
Runbow, age 9+ (Nintendo Wii U)
Download this insanely exciting party game and let the mayhem begin. It’s a simple idea–players control their characters across multiple levels, aiming to be the first to capture a trophy–but the scenery, objects, and other graphics change constantly, adding an extra layer of adrenaline-building energy. Plus, other players (up to nine can play at once) can thwart you at every turn.
LEGO Dimensions, age 10+ (Nintendo Wii U, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One)
This action-adventure game blends the popular LEGO toy line with a number of licensed properties, including DC Comics, Lord of the Rings, Jurassic Park, Scooby Doo, and more. Kids first build a specially designed LEGO figurine or model, then plug it into the game console’s USB port, and voila! Their creations become part of the game. Co-op play lets kids and parents work together, and additional support can be found in the online community.
Rock Band 4, age 12+ (PlayStation 4, Xbox One) or Guitar Hero Live, age 13+ (PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One)
Whether you choose the guitar-focused Guitar Hero or the full instrumentation (guitar, bass, drums, and vocals) of Rock Band, these rhythm-matching games–both newly upgraded for 2015–are awesome crowd-pleasers. New features on both games increase the you’re-there feeling, giving kids (and parents) an immersive experience that kicks endorphins into high gear.