The six best games to play with family this 2015 holiday season

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The holiday season is almost upon us and, as everyone knows, Christmas is a time for family. In the past, this has meant squabbles over who gets the TV control and arguments about how much booze everyone is consuming. But in today’s digital age, families can come together and enjoy the best medium technology has to offer: video games.

Not every video game is a blood-filled, over-18s-only gorefest; and not every ‘family’ game involves Teletubbies or slightly sinister-looking cartoon characters aimed at babies. There genuinely are some titles that manage to hit that happy medium of being fun and family-friendly; games that the whole family can enjoy together.

This article looks at six of these games, lists what platforms they’re available on, and examines what makes them fun for all ages.

So, instead of being forced to sit through the latest reality TV show at Christmas, or having to watch your Grandfather slowly down that bottle of Jack Daniels, why not trying sticking on one of these titles and see the competitive side of your relatives rear its ugly head. After all, it is Christmas.

6. Just Dance 2016

Wii, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4

The seventh installment of the Just Dance series brings a few new features to the game, making it an ideal way for families to completely embarrass themselves in front of each other.

If you’ve never played a Just Dance game before, they basically involve players selecting a song from a list and following the motions of the on-screen dancer(s). By using the various consoles’ motion controller accessories (PlayStation Camera, PlayStation Move, Kinect, Wii Remotes), players get judged on how accurately they followed the moves.

Along with the standard competitive Dance Party mode, the latest iteration brings the ability to play cooperatively with other players to reach those high scores. There’s also the World Video Challenge, where players can compete with people across the world in a pre-recorded environment. And the new Showtime feature for the Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Wii U brings a karaoke element to the game – and every family loves karaoke, right?

But the best feature of the game is the ability to use your smartphone as a controller, which means you can have six players join in the fun. Most of the tracks in the game are pretty recent, but there are few from yesteryear that your grandparents will no doubt enjoy.

5. Trivial Pursuit Live

Xbox One, PS4, Xbox 360, PS3

For a lot of families, playing the Trivial Pursuit board game is one those festive traditions that just won’t go away, like a rarely-seen uncle who enjoys spouting mildly-racist rhetoric. But instead of squeezing round the table and accusing relatives of looking at the answers, why not try the digital version of the popular game that puts a modern twist on the classic format.

Instead of being a direct copy of the tabletop version, Trivial Pursuit Live is presented in a quiz-show style. It contains a varied question pool, which means you shouldn’t get asked the same question twice, and features adaptable difficulty levels for younger players (and those who aren’t great at this kind of game).

There are several different types of mini-game available, and you can play locally or try some online games (although it can be hard to find other people).

The multimedia elements are what set this version apart from the physical incarnation of Trivial Pursuit; images, audio and interactive group questions combine to make this an ideal family video game.  

4. Super Mario Maker

Wii U

Super Mario Maker for the Wii U manages to combine two games - a level designer and a traditional 2D platformer. While the ’10 Mario Challenge’ offers players a fun a way to get used to the game throughout its eight levels (it’s unlikely that every family member will have played a Mario game before), the best aspect of Super Mario Maker is its level designer.

By creating your own courses, you can make levels for family members as simple or as complicated as you want. Meaning you can create an area with a few simple puzzles/obstacles for those relatives who don’t even know Mario’s nationality and insanely difficult levels for your hardcore gamer cousins and siblings.

Once you’ve created your levels, it’s simply a matter of gathering your family around the console and watching each member becoming increasingly frustrated at their inability to finish a section. And you never know, the game could inspire a young member of your clan to become a famous game designer when they grow up. Maybe.

3. Lego Dimensions

Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4 

Lego Dimension is a Toys-to-life video game in the same mold as Skylanders, Disney Infinity, and Amiibo. What sets Dimensions apart from other similar games, however, is that it’s both an actual toy and a virtual one.

Assembling Lego bricks is something that most people enjoy. There are plenty of expansion packs available for the game which, while pricey, give players more stuff to build. The big caveat here is that all this doesn’t come cheap, but that’s usually the case with these type of games.

The core game itself follows the familiar Traveller’s Tales Lego format. These are all excellent, family-friendly titles, and many regard Dimensions as the best entry in the series for years. They all contain some of the best cooperative gameplay ever seen in video games and are simple and easy to play, even for complete newbies.

The addition of the Toys-to-life model adds another dimension (sorry) to what was already an excellent game for all the family to enjoy. Whether watching, building or playing, Lego Dimensions can be enjoyed by family members of all ages.

2. Wii Party U

Wii U

While I’ve tried to limit this list to games released in 2015, I felt I had to include this title. The fact that it was made specifically for multiple players on a console aimed firmly at families means it warrants a place here.

2013’s Wii Party U is the sequel to 2010's Wii Party. The game consists of four modes: TV Party, House Party, GamePad Party, and Minigames. Much like the Mario Party series, players roll a virtual dice to move around the board while battling in minigames. People can play using the Wii U gamepad, and you get a stand to support the pad when playing the tabletop minigames. The package also includes a Wii Remote Plus controller, in case you need another one for multiplayer.

The different game modes allow for both competitive and cooperative modes while offering a mix of casual and skill-based gameplay. It’s perfect when played with a group of four or more people, and the physical activities the game asks of players makes it an excellent way to liven up post-Christmas dinner lulls.

1. Rock Band 4

PS4, Xbox One

What better way to promote family unity than to simulate being in a rock band – which is what Rock Band 4 does best. In the unlikely event that there’s still someone out there who doesn’t know how the game works, it’s a rhythm game where players use plastic representations of real instruments to mimic the selectable songs by following scrolling cues on the screen.

The Rock Band/Guitar Hero games are regarded as some of the best party titles ever made, and rightly so. They’re immensely fun to play, and it feels great working together to nail a particular song. There are 65 songs on the disc, with 1500 more available to download from the existing Rock Band library. These span from the '60s to modern day tracks, covering pretty much every musical taste.

This fourth installment marks developer Harmonix’s return to the genre after a four-year hiatus. Anyone who still happens to own instruments from the earlier versions of the games will be able to use them on modern consoles via a USB dongle. Which leads us to the main issue with Rock Band 4: if you’re after all the instruments, which is pretty much a necessity if you want everyone to join in, then be prepared to spend a lot of money on the new and improved peripherals.

Whether playing just for fun, competitively or working through the new career mode, Rock Band 4 is a great experience for all the family. And thanks to the selectable difficulty settings, Grandma can strum away on the bass at a speed of one stroke per minute, while you destroy the drumkit playing Queen of the Stone Age’s "My God is the Sun" on the Expert setting.

Published Nov. 24th 2015

Featured Correspondent

Lover of all things PC and a fan of inserting indelible ink into the dermis layer of the skin. Remembers when 'geek' was an insult. Still passionately believes Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines was the greatest game ever made. Also works as a reporter/feature writer for TechSpot.com and a producer of YouTube video scripts.

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