Whether you love or hate your family, videogames can be a great way to spend time together. During the holidays or other large gatherings, there’s often the problem of keeping everyone entertained, and when there are several different age groups and interests to consider, that can be a tall order. But if you have the Nintendo Switch, then you’ve already won half the battle; this last bastion of couch co-op and multiplayer competitive games still has a lot of kid friendly titles that offer an approachable point of entry for almost anyone. If you’re looking for something to play with your immediate or extended family, here are our top ten suggestions.
1-2-Switch is pretty standard fare for a console pack-in game, especially when it comes to Nintendo—which is weird why it isn’t part of the standard Switch package. Collections of tech demos disguised as mini-games came with both the Wii and the Wii U, and if the Switch did have a standard pack-in game, it’d make sense for it to be this one. That doesn’t mean you won’t get a good laugh out of some spirited rounds of 1-2-Switch, especially among the members of your family who aren’t as familiar with the novelty of motion controls. There are 28 minigames to choose from, each with an amusing but extremely simple premise that informs how and when the Joy-cons are to be used, from a cow milking competition, to a cowboy-style quick draw showdown, to an eating competition where the goal is to mimic eating as many sandwiches as possible within the time limit. Playing this one will likely serve as a great, low stakes introduction to the Switch that will also encourage everyone to branch out and try other games too, so maybe use it as a warm up to the rest of your group gaming session.
I’ve long been a fan of the imaginative spelling game series Scribblenauts. It’s not only fun to see what the game will let you do in terms of conjuring up an item or object to solve the puzzle, but it’s also a great creative thinking exercise that can be used to teach kids how to spell. My own daughter, in fact, loved the original DS game, and coming up with solutions to each level was a great motivator when it came to learning new words to her vocabulary. In Scribblenauts Showdown, the same spelling-based gameplay is spread across several minigames that you can play with up to four friends, including a strategy card-based board game, and even a Sandbox mode that allows you to freeplay with another person. With so many different ways to play (and on the big screen instead of the cozy little Nintendo DS), you’ll likely get more mileage out of this version of Scribblenauts than its portable predecessors, and especially with kids between five and 12.
When this game was first announced it was a bit confusing—Mario crossover series aren’t entirely common and Rabbids was certainly an interesting choice. But as baby’s first tactical strategy game, it’s definitely worth a look. The goal within the game is to progress on the board by using smart maneuvering tactics and the unique abilities of each party member to defeat or get past enemies, accounting for the number of moves they are able to complete within a turn. In effect, the game heavily encourages teamwork while allowing for each player to feel as though they’ve made an individual contribution. And while the gameplay is often compared to the (much harder and grittier) XCOM series, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is accessible enough for novices and children, with that super cheery NIntendo aesthetic that makes playing it feel like taking a triple dose of Vitamin D. It’s unconventional but endearing.
The Just Dance series has been keeping families entertained for many years now, and this latest version maintains what makes it a great group game: catchy tunes and fool-proof choreography that makes it fun to dance even if you don’t know how. Not only is it pretty simple to pick up a pair of Joy-cons and move to match the silhouettes on the screen, but with such a wide selection of songs (even more if you subscribe to Just Dance Unlimited), everyone should be able to find something they’re willing to boogie to. There’s even a Kids Mode that has some special songs and choreography that in a classic hide-broccoli-in-the-brownies type maneuver is also designed for healthy cardiovascular activity. The real bonus however is convincing them to play something that will wear them out and have them in bed by 7.
I’m gonna put it out there real quick that Super Mario Party is a dang cheater. When playing with your family, this can be either good or bad. On one hand, it’s easy to get frustrated when a victory is in the bag and it gets pulled out from under you in a series of unbelievable AI moves at the last second. On the other hand, the game’s unpredictability keeps things a bit even, win-wise, and adds a ton of drama, which keeps things interesting. At the very least, even a young child has a chance at victory when playing Super Mario Party, which makes it a great pick for mixed age gatherings. Its basic board game structure is also familiar to all generations and thus holds almost universal appeal.
When I originally played New Super Mario Bros. Wii, a predecessor to Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe, I never thought I’d be able to get into a multiplayer 2D platformer. Platformers seem like such a solitary experience. And yet, Nintendo managed to pull it off, by combining the individual goals of a sidescroller with the competitive goals of a multiplayer game, pitting players against each other to complete the level the fastest even as they’re technically on the same team. In Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe, which contains both Super Mario Bros. U and its Super Luigi U DLC, both of which originally appeared on the Wii U, Nintendo has even added a few features to help out the novices in your family, including a hints gallery and reference videos. Between the balance of cooperative and competitive elements plus the tutorial aspects (and a couple new characters optimized for younger and less experienced players), this is another game that is great for bridging the gap between the beginners and experts in your immediate family.
Like many on this list, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is ideal in family and group situations because at least four people can play. But additionally, Mario Kart also has race settings that allow you to team up with other people, instead of always having to go up against each other. This key distinction can assist in maintaining the peace over longer gaming sessions and help keep younger players engaged even if they aren’t very good at the game, as can the many items and track shortcuts that help even the score late in a race, like Bullet Bills. On top of that, it’s Mario Kart! What could be better than blitzing through a bright colorful word of creative Mario power-ups and nostalgic Nintendo characters, as well as all the old levels you’ve come to love (and faithfully memorized to your strategic advantage) over the years? Dropping a Blue Shell on your four year old nephew? Absolutely.
What’s great about Ultimate Chicken Horse, when it comes to playing with families, is that the game often comes down to chance more than skill, meaning even if you’re playing with a group whose age and skill sets are widely diverse, almost anyone can win. In the game, players make a mad scramble to collect various environmental items—from hazards like bandsaws, barbed wire, and wrecking balls, to aids like platforms and teleporters, and must place theirs in the level somewhere to either help themselves or hinder others from getting to the stage’s goal. What makes the experience deliciously fun is that playing dirty is half the goal; you get more points for reaching the end of the level if your opponents don’t. And no matter how confident you are in your own item placement, everything can go to hell in a matter of seconds if someone decides to sabotage you personally. Between that and how inventive and absurd the level objects can be (there’s a paper plane shooter and a flower that punches you in the face), the game has a sense of chaos that keeps things light even as they turn hypercompetitive, keeping things fun even if you’re losing miserably.
The Overcooked games can be a little tough in terms of team work and coordination so you may get better results out of playing them with older family members than you would with children. However, it’s also an opportunity to teach kids (of all ages) how to take directions, pay attention to surroundings and contribute to a group task, all of which can help with social and cooperative skills in real life. Overcooked 2 also has the benefit of being fairly simple to teach; each dish only comes down to a few ingredients that are easy to identify, and once an assertive adult or older child steps in to assign roles in the kitchen, the completion of each recipe can go pretty smoothly. There are also some adorable and funky avatars to choose from that make the game just that much more fun; my 10 year old niece, for example, loves to play as the raccoon or the crocodile.
There are so many reasons why almost any Super Smash Bros. game is great for a group gaming session, but the Switch version in particular is nice because you can battle in multiplayer with a whopping eight players on the screen, as opposed to the traditional four, making it great for bigger families, or for family gatherings like Thanksgiving. Like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, you can also set up custom games to put everyone on the same team, so as to avoid any competitive drama that might derail your group gaming session. With over 100 different Nintendo characters on the roster, there’s also sure to be a fighter or a moveset for just about everybody, and letting the kids choose little details like what level you’re playing or what team color you’re using helps them feel included. It’s also fun to play with certain themes; in my family, we sometimes do challenges like “everyone has to fight as a Pokemon” or “everyone has to use a character with a sword”. This helps keep everyone from fighting over who gets to use who while equalizing the playing field and preventing the ever-present concern of attack spamming (that is, settling in with one character and one special move and repeating it ad nauseam to victory). This is one series that’s never going to end, so it’s also an opportunity to start training up the little ones while they’re still young. You really can’t go wrong with Super Smash Bros.
Holly Green is the assistant editor of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.