The Best Video Games and Consoles for Families

Planning to shop for a game console this holiday season, and wondering which one will suit your clan? Here's a look at the three major consoles, as well as at the top five family-friendly titles for each one.

Microsoft Xbox 360

What it is: The dominant home console on the market, the Microsoft Xbox 360 has a large mix of games for everyone in the family. Once hooked up to the Internet and supplemented with a subscription to the Xbox Live online service ($60 per year for one Gold membership or $100 for a Gold Family Pack, which supports four users), the Xbox 360 becomes not only a great gaming machine but also a fantastic media console that can stream ESPN and Netflix. Add the Kinect camera, and you have a system that lets you play games without a controller.

Cost: The base console with 4GB of storage is $200; the 250GB model costs $300. A bundle with Kinect costs another $100. All versions require an HDMI cable for top high-def resolutions. New games usually cost $60.

Essential peripherals: Most new Xbox 360 family games are powered by Kinect, a motion sensor that enables you to interact with games by using gestures and body movement. By itself (if you already own an Xbox 360), it costs $150, which is not cheap, but it’s a must-have for family gaming.

The bottom line: The Xbox 360 is the “does-everything” console, which is ironic considering that Sony has used that phrase as its marketing mantra for the PlayStation 3. From kids’ titles to hard-core games, the Xbox 360 has something for everyone, and it receives our highest recommendation as the best gaming and entertainment-media machine for your family.

Five Great Family Games for the Xbox 360

Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster
Sesame Street: Once Upon a Monster
$50
In Once Upon a Monster, you can join Cookie Monster and Elmo as you explore a world of magic and monsters, playing minigames and solving puzzles. And you don’t need to be familiar with controller buttons, because this Kinect game responds to body movement. It’s well suited for small children who might have trouble with a traditional controller.

Rock Band 3
About $18 (game only, used)
Rock Band 3 (also available for the PS3) turns your brood into the next Partridge Family thanks to instrument-shaped controllers that allow your entire family to play the guitar, drum, and bass lines, as well as to sing along with the set list of hit songs. You’ll find selections for every musical taste, with tunes of every decade from the ’50s to today. Rock Band 3 can even teach you how to play a real guitar--assuming that you invest in the $150 advanced guitar controller and have the patience to follow the extremely well-designed tutorial. Note: The game itself is inexpensive, but the instrument controllers can add up to a big purchase.

Viva Piñata
About $10 (used)
Viva Piñata appeals to players of all ages. Young children will fall in love with the colorful, fuzzy piñata animals, and older players will enjoy the game’s strategy mode, which enables them to breed new piñatas and build habitats. It’s simple fun that works for everyone.

Pac-Man: Championship Edition DX
800 Microsoft Points or $10, on Xbox Live
Also available for the PS3, the downloadable Pac-Man: Championship Edition DX is a simple but fun competitive version of the classic Pac-Man arcade game. Its stunning, bright, neon-colored mazes are a treat for the eyes, and online leaderboards allow you to track your progress against family members or friends.

Plants vs. Zombies
$20 retail; 1200 Microsoft Points, or $15, on Xbox Live
Plants vs. Zombies, a downloadable tower-defense game also available for the PS3, challenges you to use adorable bits of vegetation to hold off waves of comical undead foes. It’s fun and easy to play, and it has a terrific sense of humor that makes it a perfect cooperative title.

Next page: Sony PlayStation 3

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