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There's a lot of video game talk in my house.
My son is 12, and he's been gaming since preschool. We've had just about every gaming console in our house at some point, from the handheld Nintendo 3DS to multiple versions of Xbox and Playstation.
It's his passion, and although there are nights where I ban all talk about the latest game releases at the dinner table, my husband and I do our best to support him and encourage his career dreams of becoming a software developer someday.
Since we talk about video games and the consoles you play them on non-stop in my house, I asked my kid to tell me the best video games out there right now. His picks cross all systems, and I think the highlight of his week was sitting in my office, telling me all of the things about each of his favorites.
When you're raising a tween, you've got to take those bonding moments where you can get them, right?
In this Nintendo game, released in 2020, players move to a deserted island and interact with anthropomorphic animals while taking their assigned island from a desolate landscape to a thriving town. Users can fish, snorkel, grow flowers and fruit trees and customize their entire island into a society of their choosing.
My son likes to play "New Horizons" when he wants to relax.
"I like going fishing," he said. "It's a casual, laidback game that you can really customize into anything you want."
Pro tip: If you run out of ideas on customizing your island, turn to YouTube. The amount of user videos dedicated to everything from growing hybrid flowers to making lots of money catching tarantulas is an incredible resource.
This 2020 video game, played from a third-person perspective, is based on Marvel Comics' superhero team the Avengers. Users play as popular characters like Iron Man, Captain America and Black Widow, and are tasked with saving the world from peril by playing in either single-player, multiplayer or online co-op modes.
"This game felt like a superhero movie at times," said my son, who felt major superhero vibes the entire time he played through the game. "The cut scenes felt like I was watching a Marvel movie in the theater and playing it made me feel really powerful."
Also available for Xbox One.
Nintendo released this compilation for the Nintendo Switch in September 2020 to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the Super Mario game franchise. Nintendo fans will enjoy playing through three iconic games from years past: "Super Mario 64," "Super Mario Sunshine" and "Super Mario Galaxy."
With three games to choose from, my son likes all the different things that are available to do in just one game cartridge.
"So far, I've enjoyed 'Super Mario Galaxy' the most," he said. "When you hop from planet to planet, you aren't focusing on just one world like most video games — you get a different experience each place you land."
Pro tip: Don't tell the kids, but moms and dads raised in the '80s and '90s may want to sneak some playtime of their own, enjoying the nostalgic Super Mario Bros. memories this game provides.
This third-person shooter game is the third installment in the "Plants vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare" series. Players can play the game in single or multiplayer format and connect with other online players to defend their turf from those pesky zombies.
"I've played all the 'Garden Warfare' games," my son said. "I like how it takes 'Plants vs. Zombies,' one of my all-time favorite phone games, and does something completely different with it while still keeping the general vibe."
"Puyo Puyo Tetris" combines "Puyo Puyo" and "Tetris" for a challenging puzzle-solving experience. Players can attempt the various modes of play on their own, or sync up with other players for a multiplayer experience on a shared screen or online.
"This one is fun to play with your family," my son said, remembering the times my family of four has had epic showdowns of the game together on our couch. "There are two different 'Tetris' games in there — the 'Puyo Puyo' mash-up version and regular 'Tetris' — so it's fun to try both."
Also available for PlayStation 4.
Fans of Sonic the Hedgehog will love this racing game where players can choose one of 15 players from the Sonic universe to compete in races using sports cars.
Racing games are a hit in my house because they're competitive.
"If you're playing with your friends, it's really fun to race against each other," said my son. "And I like that there's a Sonic twist to it."
Pro tip: Since the film "Sonic the Hedgehog," starring Jim Carrey and James Marsden, was a sleeper hit this winter, rent the film from your favorite streaming service and have a themed family night watching the movie and racing the night away.
7. "The Sims 4"
In this simulation game, players create a world of their own, from characters to neighborhoods and landscaping.
Kids will love the Sims because they can build anything they want, from a "house full of dogs" to a "yard where the entire plot is a pool," according to my son.
Our family enjoys the downloadable content available for the Sims — packs of extra content that add new elements to the game. Our current favorite simulates the planet Batuu, located at Star Wars-themed Galaxy's Edge inside Disney Parks. (Yes, there's even a Baby Yoda.)
8. "Pokémon Sword" and "Pokémon Shield"
One of many releases from Nintendo in the Pokémon franchise, this role-playing video game has adventure elements and lets players control a young Pokémon trainer who goes on a quest to catch mythical creatures called Pokémon and battle other trainers.
"I liked 'Sword' and 'Shield' because there are only 400 Pokémon in the game that you can catch, and in some of the other Pokémon games, there are way more and it feels overwhelming" my son explained. "I liked the graphics, too. They feel really cartoony and are definitely on point as far as the Pokémon style."
Pro tip: Another Poké-perk of "Sword" and "Shield" is the downloadable content. The first update launched earlier this year, and another is expected to come later in 2020. Downloadable content adds a tremendous amount of new perks to a video game and keeps players interested and engaged long after they've become a Pokémon champion.
This 2020 reboot of the 1997 role-playing video game Final Fantasy VII takes place in a dystopian society where the player takes on the role of a mercenary trying to stop the planet from being destroyed.
This game looks beautiful on the screen and gets high praise for graphics from my gamer son.
"This is one of the best-looking games on the PlayStation console," he said. "The graphics are some of the best of all the games I've played on the PS4 so far — they're really impressive."
And, there's more to "Final Fantasy VII Remake" than just good looks.
"The game is very immersive," he continued. "You don't even really have to play the main game, it's also fun to interact with all of the characters and play around with the side activities you can do."
Unlike the extremely popular sandbox-style game "Minecraft," the new "Minecraft Dungeons" is not an open-world game featuring mining and building. This popular game in the "Minecraft" franchise has players move through dungeons, battling monsters, solving puzzles and finding treasure for a unique adventure of its own.
This is the second-most played game on my son's Nintendo Switch. He's a big fan.
"There's a lot of combinations of weapons, armor and enchantments and that lets you try new ways to beat the levels," he said, explaining that if at first you don't succeed in a task, you can try lots of other ways to accomplish your goal.
This Spider-Man title came out in 2018 and is a third-person game where players control Spidey as he does what he does best — saving the city.
With the release of the PlayStation 5 console later this year, a second Spider-Man game will be released, "Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales," which follows the adventures of "Into the Spider-Verse" hero Miles Morales as he, too, saves the day.
"This is one of my favorite games I've played in a long time," said my son. "I liked the motion of swinging around New York and the missions were great because they were pretty long and each seemed to have a solid point that helps the overall problem of the story."
Pro tip: According to my tiny gamer, if you buy "Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales Ultimate Launch Edition" when PlayStation 5 launches, you'll receive the original Spider-Man game and loads of downloadable content as well, so consider pre-ordering it today.
"Ratchet and Clank" is a third-person shooter video game that has become a huge franchise since its 2002 release. The game stars a feline humanoid character and his robot partner, and the duo travels their universe saving it from evil.
"Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart" will be released after the PlayStation 5 console is available. Although there is not currently a release date, it's sure to be a hit with fans of the game series.
My son only recently played through this older game.
"It's funny and entertaining, and the missions are hard and challenging sometimes," he said. "I really liked it."
Following a hunter living in a world overrun by machines, Horizon Zero Dawn is an action-packed role-playing game where players can explore open worlds and take on side quests.
In 2021, after the release of the PlayStation 5 console, the game's follow-up, "Horizon: Forbidden West" will be available.
It was the problem-solving nature of this game that made it stick out for my son.
"There are so many ways you can approach everything," he said. "Every single monster has a weakness and you have to figure out the best way to defeat it, which weapon to use and the best form of attack."
This "Marvel Ultimate Alliance" game is the third in the popular series and lets players play as characters like Black Panther, Spider-Man, Deadpool and Iron Man. The game can be played cooperatively by up to four players on the same screen, and online play is also available.
"Me and my dad used to sit down and play it on the couch together until we beat it," my son recalled. "It's really fun to play together with someone. The missions are challenging and there's also good downloadable content to add to it later on."
This 2019 role-playing action game was the twelfth "Kingdom Hearts" game to be released in the popular series and adds even more Disney fun to the mix. Sora, the main character, is joined by familiar Disney faces like Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse in the game, and several Disney Parks attractions are woven into the gameplay.
"I liked having Disney tied into it because I like the Disney franchise and it's not often in video games," said my son. "It was kind of cool to see Mickey and Donald fighting alongside the main character."
Also available for Xbox One.
In this puzzle game, players control a goose who bothers the residents of an English village. The silly sandbox-style game was only available as a single-player game until September 2020, when an update allowing cooperative play was released.
"This one is kind of silly, but you can steal things from the people in the village and they run after you angrily," said my son. "It's really funny and making them mad is fun."
Also available for PlayStation 4.
This 2017 addition to the iconic "Legend of Zelda" series allows the player to control popular character Link as he defeats villain Calamity Gannon and saves the kingdom of Hyrule.
A prequel to the popular game, "Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity," will be released in November 2020 and is available for pre-order.
Since getting this game, my son has put in over 300 hours of gameplay, making it the most-played game in his Nintendo Switch library.
"Even once you've beat it, it becomes a sandbox game where you can play around, changing the environment and building," he said. "I loved the graphics, too, they feel very realistic and are some of the best I've seen on the Switch."
Pro tip: There are a lot of similarities between "Breath of the Wild" and "Horizon Zero Dawn." The visual, open-world style will attract players who loved one or the other.
For more stories like this, check out:
- Nintendo Switch: What it is, where to buy it, and what games to get
- Why the Nintendo Switch is the comforting dose of nostalgia I needed
- 32 fun games for family game night 2020