Kids to together like ice cream and nuts, like peanut butter and jelly, like—well, you get the idea. Even though video games have reached far beyond the youth market, young people are far and away the most enthusiastic patrons of the pastime and there are still plenty of safe, fun games for them to enjoy.
In fact, this list of 2012’s best games for kids shouldn’t exclusively be viewed as a collection of games that are for children; every game named is capable of ensnaring any player of any gender or age. The important thing is that they’re thematically safe and easy to learn.
Epic Mickey 2: Power of Two (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, Wii U, Windows, Mac) – This sequel to 2012’s Epic Mickey for the Wii lets to players adventure side-by-side as Mickey Mouse and his compatriot, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit. The duo team up to save the Cartoon Wasteland once more, and much like the first game, splashing paint or thinner on the scenery plays a big part in getting things done.
Skylanders: Giants (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, Wii U, Nintendo 3DS) – It’s no surprise that 2011’s monster hit Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure received a sequel. As was the case in the first game, this action/adventure experience pairs up a digital experience with collectable plastic toys that become “real” in the game world. The merger is sure to continue to be a hit with kids.
Super Mario Wii U (Wii U) – Kids love Mario games, and for good reason. Nintendo is launching the Wii U alongside its latest side-scrolling Mario platformer, and both look great. Four players can work through the game simultaneously, which should put an end to “I’M NEXT!” battles.
Lego Batman 2: DC Superheroes (Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, Nintendo DS, Nintendo 3DS, PlayStation Vita) – The Lego property and comic book heroes tend to fit together like, uh, Lego bricks. This open-world action/adventure game starting Batman and his pals (and enemies) is colorful, fun, and will delight young new fans and veterans alike.
Scribblenauts Unlimited (Nintendo 3DS, Wii U, Windows) – Scribblenauts Unlimited is more than a fun game with a great sense of humor. It’s also an opportunity to let kids practice creative problem solving. Players reach the goals outlined in each stage using a magic notebook that can make almost any object come to life.
Paper Mario Sticker Star (Nintendo 3DS) – The latest entry from the weird but wonderful Paper Mario game series combines action, platforming, and role-playing. Of course, there are battles to be fought—lots of them—which Mario accomplishes by collecting and utilizing stickers. The shinier, the better.
Pokemon Black Version 2/White Version 2 (Nintendo DS) – Pokemon lives. Pokemon Black Version 2/White Version 2 are direct follow-ups to Pokemon Black/White for the Nintendo DS. That equals a lot more exploration, a lot more story, and, needless to say, a lot more Pokemon-catching.
Minecraft (Xbox 360, PC, iOS, Anrdoid) – Though Minecraft was released to a mainstream audience in late 2011, it has endured through 2012 as one of its most popular games. The world of Minecraft is as open-ended as a world can get. Players can choose to survive against enemies and hunger while they build shelters and forage for food, or they can simply build, build, build whatever their hearts desire.
Rhythm Heaven Fever (Wii) – Rhythm games that utilize licensed music (Guitar Hero/Rock Band) may have overstayed their welcome, but rhythm games that feature original, odd visuals and music are still thriving. Rhythm Heaven Fever for Wii is one of the best entries in the rhythm genre, as it features unique graphics and incredibly catchy tunes. It’s easy to play, but scoring a coveted “Perfect” on every stage is going to take hours of practice.
Kid Icarus: Uprising (Nintendo 3DS) – If you remember the original Kid Icarus for the NES, you might be a little old. But you can be any age to appreciate Kid Icarus: Uprising for the Nintendo 3DS. It combines non-stop shooting and action with one of the funniest game scripts to hit gaming in a long time.