Video Game Gift Guide

Advice + Real Life: Tech

Check out what’s new and hot for this holiday season.

Did you know that games with creative elements have been shown to spark kids’ interest in reading and even cause them to eagerly devour thick guidebooks to learn tips and secrets? Or that local co-operative games are great at fostering amazing social experiences among peers? Or that music games can encourage indoor exercise on bad-weather days? The right game at the right time can have a positive impact on your kids’ lives. The key is to know what they’re playing, when they’re playing and—whenever possible—to actually play with them. Keep this in mind as your family dives into some of these games. You may emerge from the holidays amazed by what interactive entertainment can do.

Skylanders Imaginators

PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U, RATED E10+, $85,

The latest instalment in Activision’s terrific toys-to-life series adds a healthy dose of creativity. Once again, kids adventure through fantastical worlds filled with quirky monsters and puzzles, and they’ll continue to covet the game’s charming collectible toys that are required to unlock specific characters (they’re pricey, but remember that all previous figures are compatible with this game). The coolest part is that kids can now design their very own Skylanders, from basics like body shape and abilities, all the way down to individual voices. It’s great for imaginative kids—especially for girls itching to address the franchise’s long-standing gender imbalance among characters.

Paper Mario: Color Splash

Wii U, rated E, $60,

This puzzle platformer creates cool and imaginative play scenarios by turning Mario into a cute two-dimensional version of his plumber self. It lets kids use a paint hammer to colour in blank parts of the world and has them wield the Wii U GamePad’s stylus like a pair of scissors to physically draw and cut origami obstacles out of the environment. Ultimately, the goal is to restore all the colour that has been drained from Prism Island, where the game takes place. Like other Paper Mario games, Color Splash is vibrant, funny, and not the least bit scary. That said, it might prove a bit challenging for younger players. Be prepared to lend a hand.

Pokémon Sun + Moon

Nintendo 3DS, RATED E, $50,

Pokémon GO’s massive success last summer means that the newly released Pokémon Sun and Pokémon Moon will be on plenty of kids’ wish lists. These two new monster-collecting adventures have loads of fun and original features, including four-player battles and Pokémon that players can ride to reach different areas. Plus, all the action takes place in a brand new region called Alola, a tropical paradise home to creatures never before seen. And remember: As with all paired Pokémon games, there’s no need to buy both since kids can trade with other players to access monsters not in their game. Get your kid ready to catch ’em all!

Just Dance 2017

PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii, Wii U, PC, RATED E10+, $40 to $60,

Just Dance games are incredibly easy to play. Simply stand in front of a camera by your TV and copy the dance moves on the screen. No camera? Download Just Dance 2017’s free companion app to your phone and have your kids hold it while they bust a move. Motion sensor magic will do the rest. The disc includes 40 pop hits, including tracks from Beyoncé, Queen and OneRepublic. If your kids crave more, you can subscribe to the new Just Dance streaming service—it’s free for three months with the Gold Edition, which costs an extra $10—to gain access to hundreds of additional tracks. This game is good exercise and great fun. Plus, it’s the perfect excuse for the kids to challenge relatives to a dance-off at family get-togethers.

Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue

PS4, RATED G, $80,

Never mind its confusing name: Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8 Final Chapter Prologue is actually a good starting point for kids new to Square Enix’s popular, family-friendly fantasy adventures centred on a mix of Disney characters—including favourites like Mickey, Donald Duck and Goofy—and original heroes. This entry offers a collection of different experiences, including a remastered version of the 2010 3DS game Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, an animated movie, and a never-before-seen playable adventure focused on Auga, one of Kingdom Hearts’s most beloved characters. By the end, your kids will be completely engrossed in this ongoing epic’s rich mythology—so don’t be surprised if they go asking you for the previous games!

NHL 17

PS4, Xbox One, RATED E10+, $80,

Little hockey fans will burst with national pride as they watch Team Canada take to the ice in NHL 17’s new World Cup of Hockey mode. Those who’d rather command an international dream team can opt for Draft Champions mode, where they’ll put together a squad of the league’s finest. And kids looking to flex their creative muscles can spend hours designing and creating the ultimate arena, customizing everything from the look of the ice to special effects that accompany goals. NHL 17 plays a pretty good game of hockey, to boot.

Lego Dimensions: Ghostbusters

PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U, RATED E10+, $50,

Already have the Lego Dimensions starter pack? Keep adding to the experience with new story packs, beginning with a Lego-fied version of the new Ghostbusters movie. It comes with a 259-piece Lego kit—featuring new Ghostbuster Abby Yates—that lets kids build both the Busters’ headquarters and their iconic car, the Ecto-1. As with most Lego games, this one delivers an awesome co-operative experience for friends and families, and is loaded with surprisingly clever jokes geared to players of almost any age.