The Parent’s Guide To Holiday Game Gifting
It’s a story that likely sounds familiar to anyone who works in video games, or even plays a lot of games. Every year around this time, a few friends and family members ask for game-buying advice. That’s great, as I love having the opportunity to help someone find gaming experiences that will lead to a great time. But it can be especially challenging if the giftee in question is a younger child who wants to play games, but is perhaps too young or inexperienced with the hobby to know what they might enjoy. We’re here to help with a brief rundown of some foolproof suggestions for parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or anyone looking to find the perfect holiday gift for the young game player.
Their First Gaming Console
One of the most common questions that comes my way, especially from parents who might not be into gaming themselves, is which gaming console to give as a first way to play games.
There’s no fundamentally wrong answer here. But if you’re looking for the most straightforward and surefire way to get this right in the year 2023? The answer is a Nintendo Switch.
The Switch is a fantastic first gaming console for a lot of reasons. One of the most important reasons is that its library of games has standout options targeted for family play, including big franchises like Mario and Zelda.
It’s generally less expensive than the other major consoles. You will likely see many bundles and sales over the holiday season, but you can usually expect to get a new Switch unit for around $300.
When shopping, you may see a few different models. As a general rule, you want the standard Switch. A “Lite” model exists, but it won’t be able to connect to your TV – it can only be played portably. There’s also an “OLED” model that features a better screen on the portable player portion, but that probably doesn’t need to be a priority for most younger players. Nintendo has an official comparison chart that can help you decide which model you want.
The Switch comes out of the box as a console that can play well when docked with your TV, but also can be pulled out and played as a portable system – like in the car on a road trip, or in a room that doesn’t have a TV. Pro tip: Consider unboxing the system before the big gift-giving day and pre-setting up the cables and creating relevant profiles or accounts. When the gift wrap comes off, you can get right to playing.
Finally, the Switch also arrives with two small controllers (called Joy-Cons) built into the system, without the need to purchase more. While we generally recommend that you eventually purchase at least one standard format controller (like Nintendo’s own Pro Controller), those two Joy-Cons will support multiplayer as soon as you get started.
What’s the Best Family Game This Year?
If the family and kid you’re purchasing for have a Nintendo Switch, the easy choice this year is Super Mario Bros. Wonder. The long-running franchise has a new installment that was released just a few weeks ago. It’s approachable and fun for even younger players and supports up to four players simultaneously. Among the playable characters are several that can’t be hurt by enemies, which goes a long way to make it easier.
It’s also a delightful adventure to share with your family, with cleverly designed levels and creatures, and a brilliant system that can suddenly transform each level you play with a weird and off-the-wall effect that toys with your expectations.
Other Great Family Games Only On Switch
Super Mario Bros. Wonder is by no means the only game in town. If you’re sticking with recent releases that are only on Switch, any of the following would be good selections.
Pikmin 4 is a strategy and puzzle-solving game where you control a squad of strange creatures/plants who must explore, fight bugs and other creatures, and find treasures. This one is good for kids who are big into brainteasers and have some patience.
WarioWare: Move It! is a fun and silly game that leverages the Switch’s motion-enabled controllers to let players confront quick-firing microgames that demand different poses and motions. Expect a lot of giggling.
Yoshi’s Crafted World came out in 2019, but is still one of my top recommendations as a first platforming game. Players control the dinosaur Yoshi in a world made out of crafted objects like yarn and cardboard. A setting allows you to make the game much easier so that Yoshi can perpetually float across areas without landing.
Disney Illusion Island is another excellent game, and an obvious choice if your kiddo is a Disneyphile. The multiplayer-enabled game stars Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Goofy as they explore an island and gradually acquire new abilities. The visuals and music are beautiful, and ably capture the Disney spirit of these characters.
Family Games On Other Platforms?
While family gaming on Switch is great, plenty of awesome multiplatform options exist.
Bluey: The Videogame (PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC) just released, and it’s a good pick for households that might be obsessed with the little Australian Heeler family. The game is very brief, and the gameplay is highly simplistic; it's not a good pick for older or more experienced players. But for some Pre-K and Kindergarten-aged kids who love the animated series, it’s a good fit to get to explore Bluey’s house, playground, and other nearby areas, with the actual voice actors and music from the show helping to provide authenticity.
Lil Gator Game (PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC) is a lovely action/adventure platforming game about exploring and having fun while running, climbing, and swimming across a three-dimensional island. After an earlier limited release on just a couple of platforms, the game is playable on almost everything. It’s great for young players who revel in creative play and discovery.
Just Dance 2024 (PS5, Xbox Series X/S, Switch) is ideal if the young person in your family just can’t stop moving their body, or they love pop music and dancing. It’s the latest installment of a long-running rhythm and dancing game where players dance along to onscreen characters as big-name pop hits play in the background. Note that the game connects to an associated smartphone app for motion-tracking unless playing on Switch, where you can choose to use your Joy-Cons instead. We take no responsibility for phones flung across the room.
Sonic Superstars (PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC) is another solid selection, providing a big adventure for the familiar blue hedgehog and his friends. The colorful stages and high-speed movement are a ton of fun, and for the first time, this installment of the long-running platforming game includes the option for up to four-player multiplayer.
The OIder Kids
This article is squarely addressed to folks looking to purchase for younger gamers (or potential gamers), but a quick note about figuring something out for older kids. If your giftee is around 10 years or older, you may need to do more investigation to find the perfect gaming gift. The entirety of Game Informer’s game coverage aims to help players find great gaming experiences, so you can peruse our reviews section to find good options.
It’s important to know which platforms the gift receiver plays on. In most cases, that means knowing if they have a gaming PC, a Nintendo Switch, a PlayStation 5, or an Xbox Series X or Xbox Series S. It might also be the case that some active game players may still be playing on slightly older consoles, including the PlayStation 4 or the Xbox One. Make a point to buy a game that will actually run on a system they own.
As for the game itself, it’s certainly okay to ask if there are any games they’re particularly excited about. But if you’re going for the surprise factor, snag a top-scoring recent game like The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom (Switch), Star Wars: Jedi Survivor (PS5, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, Xbox One, PC), Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 (PS5), or Super Mario Bros. Wonder (Switch). Those are all excellent releases that older kids should enjoy, and are all appropriately content-rated for teens or younger.
Of course, you can also buy a gift card for their platform of preference and let them pick their own game.
No matter what gaming experiences you gift to your family and friends, happy holidays, and enjoy your gaming!