If you have a young child or children who want to get into video games, here is a list of five games they'll love that are age-appropriate!

Best Video Games For Young Children

One of the beautiful things about video games is that they can appeal to a wide demographic. While most of the major AAA releases these days skew toward older crowds, there are just as many major releases that are targeted at children. Nintendo is usually a reliable source in delivering family-friendly entertainment, but what if you’re trying to get a young child into gaming who has never held a controller before in their life? You can’t just plop them in front of Call of Duty due to the mature content of the game, but you can’t even present them with something more child-friendly like Pikmin 4 and expect them to understand it. Kids are still developing psychologically, and therefore need to play games that meet their development needs.

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I get asked a lot by people in real life with children who want to get into video games what games they should get for their kids. Chances are they know very little about the medium and don’t know the various intricacies that separate certain games or genres. To the average consumer, they just see a big ol’ E from the ESRB and think that’s good enough, but there’s a lot more to it than that. So today, let’s look at five video games that a parent of a young child or children can get them to help them discover what’s so wonderful about gaming while also helping encourage skills that are beneficial to their development.

For the sake of this list, we’re going to assume that the child in question has never played a game before and is anywhere from 3-6 years old. The reason for the age range is due to the stages of psychological development proposed by psychoanalyst Erik Erikson. To make a long story short, that is the age range where a child is known to take initiative on certain activities and may become more vocal in advocating for themselves and discovering what they’re interested in. So we’re going to look at games that a 3-6-year-old can theoretically handle and would get enjoyment out of. Not only that, but these are going to be games that I have personally played, and can attest that they are well-suited for a young child.

With that in mind, let’s look at the best video games for young children to play!

Animal Crossing: New Horizons Nintendo Switch 2020 year in review

Animal Crossing: New Horizons

There’s something simple to admire about a life sim and Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the best in the business. While I had originally wanted to go with Disney Dreamlight Valley due to its child-friendly imagery and use of the Disney IP, I had to immediately scuttle that thanks to the microtransactions present in the game and the negative habits they could have on a child’s development. In general, if you are going to be getting games for your young child, I would advise that you steer away from any game that has microtransactions.

Getting back on track, Animal Crossing: New Horizons is the game that keeps on giving. There are plenty of events and characters present in the game for your kids to become invested in and you as a parent can help your child play and give them ideas when they’re creating and designing their island. Allowing a child to express themselves is essential for their development, plus when the game is as fun as Animal Crossing: New Horizons, each day you and your child log in will give them something new to do or play around with.

Nickelodeon Kart Racers

When I was growing up, I loved to watch Nickelodeon cartoons after school. While I eventually gravitated to Cartoon Network’s brand of animation, I still have a soft spot for Nick and the shows that were on in the late 90s and early 2000s. Most children love to watch cartoons and seeing all of their favorite cartoon characters interacting together is sure to give any child a rush of excitement. With that in mind, the Nickelodeon Kart Racer series is a perfect way to introduce your young children to video games if only because they’re sure to become interested in playing a game with their favorite characters in it.

The Nickelodeon Kart Racer series has three installments, but the most recent game, Slime Speedway, has the most content behind it with 36 playable characters. It’s a fairly basic kart racer, but compared to how complicated Mario Kart 8 Deluxe can be to a young gamer, I would say that any of the Nickelodeon Kart Racer entries would be a good gateway for them to get into racing games, then you could introduce them to more advanced games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe. There’s also something to say about playing a round of either game with your child, allowing you as a parent to spend good quality time with them as they play. Make them enjoy playing games with their parents, much in the same way I played Mario Kart 64 with my dad when I was younger. They’ll treasure and remember the moments they spent with you.

Five Video Games For Young Children

Sonic Mania Plus

Sonic the Hedgehog has become a popular franchise for children, if only due to the success of the live-action Sonic the Hedgehog movies. Of all of the games that the Blue Blur has been in, Sonic Mania Plus is arguably his best, but it’s also undeniably a great game for young children to play. There are points where it can be challenging, but due to how expansive several of the stages are as well as the variety of characters you can play as, it allows a child to experiment, learn pattern recognition skills when confronting bosses, and slowly improve their skills as the game progresses. Beating the final boss will take time for them, and unlocking the true final boss will be something they’ll have to discover on their own. Let them discover everything on their own and they’ll marvel at the secrets.

The bright and energetic environments will certainly entertain your kids, plus with the cartoonish imagery and settings, you as a parent won’t have to worry about your kids being exposed to violence that is beyond what they can handle. While Sonic’s adventures in the third dimension have been somewhat divisive, his 2D offerings have almost always been highly praised and deliver a lot of simple, yet effective fun. It’s easy for anyone to pick up and play, and with all of the kinetic energy Sonic Mania Plus has, your child will be entertained for quite some time.

Super Mario Odyssey

Probably more so than Sonic, Mario is a franchise that is beloved by kids across the globe, especially after the billion-dollar success of his first feature film. While there have been a plethora of Mario games that have been released since the NES, I personally think that Super Mario Odyssey would be the best Mario game to introduce to a new video game player. What Odyssey excels at is allowing the player to take things at their own pace and explore the various worlds however they like. There’s enough variety within these densely packed levels for a young child to discover Power Moons on their own and unlock new worlds.

For young children, video games like Super Mario Odyssey is very easy to grasp and understand. At the beginning of each world, you’re presented with a task that you need to accomplish, usually accompanied by a boss that tests the skills a player developed on their short trek to them. Because the required number of Power Moons that are needed to progress is so low, a child is free to tackle any of the multiple challenges they want to earn these progression tools. If they find a challenge too hard, they can just move on to another one, preventing them from getting roadblocked like in other 3D platformers. There’s a handy hint system that will also point them in the right direction, ensuring that no one can be stuck on one particular challenge. Even if they die, the punishment for failure is just a slap on the wrist, so your kids can quickly get back in and keep trying at whatever bested them. Super Mario Odyssey is a fun adventure for both young kids and parents and one that will definitely keep them engaged for hours after the credits roll.

in defense of short games, single-sitting games Untitled Goose Game

Untitled Goose Game

There’s something magical about finding a game that does comedy extremely well, and for young kids who are looking to have fun in a goofy way, Untitled Goose Game does that in spades. The premise of you becoming a goose and just messing around with the people in a small town is instantly likable and kids will just laugh at the antics the goose will get into. What’s not to love about watching a goose trap a guy in a phone booth while continuously honking at him? Comedy is universal, and Untitled Goose Game is simple enough that both you and your child will be laughing at the situations the goose gets involved in.

But the secret spice that makes Untitled Goose Game a perfect game for young children is the puzzle-solving that you’ll have to do. You’re given a little checklist at the beginning of each area with tasks on it that you’ll need to figure out, and through experimentation, your child will figure out the solutions to these problems. Some of these tasks are relatively simple while others may require some assistance, but since there isn’t really a fail state of the game, your child can keep plugging away at different attempts to see which attempt will give them the solution they desire. Again, this isn’t rocket science here, but the quirky humor and easy-to-understand mechanics will help make Untitled Goose Game not only an amusing piece of media but maybe even an educational one as well.

And those are the five games I would recommend for young children who want to get into gaming!

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Jesse Lab
Jesse Lab is a freelance writer for The Escapist and has been a part of the site since 2019. He currently writes the Frame Jump column, where he looks at and analyzes major anime releases. He also writes for the film website Flixist.com. Jesse has been a gamer since he first played Pokémon Snap on the N64 and will talk to you at any time about RPGs, platformers, horror, and action games. He can also never stop talking about the latest movies and anime, so never be afraid to ask him about recommendations on what's in theaters and what new anime is airing each season.