Maybe you’re a gamer parent, like me, who’s been playing for so many years that it was inevitable your kids picked up your habit. Or you’re a new parent gamer, eager to share an experience with your child’s favorite hobby. Perhaps you’re just a cool uncle who wants to play with his nephew. This list of five games will provide you with a few ideas of experiences you can have with kids right now. There are a lot more than five good games on the network, so I’ve taken the approach of choosing games in which parents and kids will have a unique experience together—something that wouldn’t happen playing these games alone. In no particular order, here are five PS4 games to play with your kids. I should warn you that my screenshot-taking ability is pretty weak.
1. Moon Hunters
Moon Hunters is a game that was made to be played cooperatively. You’re a member of the moon tribe and one night the moon disappears. Believing the evil sun cult is involved, you set out to find answers and restore the moon. If you’re playing it solo you just aren’t getting the full experience. And playing with young children is an incredible experience—especially since the full game plays out in about 45 minutes. The game is coming out for Xbox One, so Tanya Short wrote a piece for the console’s Moon Hunters launch in which she described it as a “multiplayer personality test RPG.”
What makes this experience unique is that children don’t choose a path based on what stats they unlock. They choose a path based on how they feel at that moment. Choosing to attack or speak to a Sun Cult member we just cornered was a turning point for our party: my 4-year old chose to attack while my 7-year old chose to try to talk him down. Later, the 4-year old became the leader of the party and took our group down a path of violence that left my 7-year old feeling sad and disappointed. Once he understood the Leadership mechanic, he focused on becoming the leader in the next game so he could “force” his brother to be more peaceful. He explained the value of peace while doing this, and influenced his younger brother to be more peaceful in future playthroughs.
Like Moon Hunters, Crawl works best with four people. Crawl opens with a duel between the four players, and the winner goes on to begin the dungeon. The remaining players play as ghosts and have to try to kill the hero. Whichever goes lands the killing blow becomes the hero next, and the remaining players and recently dead hero now have to kill the new hero. Once a hero gets to level 10 they can get to the exit and escape the dungeon.
The competitive nature of this game makes it less fun for smaller children, but slightly older kids will have a great time upgrading their monsters, landing that final blow, and trying desperately to avoid the other ghosts on the way to the exit. Crawl randomly generates each dungeon and boasts an impressive collection of weapons and monsters. With a typical game lasting 30 minutes, it’s easy to fit into a structured game time. The asymmetrical nature of this game is where it shines. When I’m the hero, my kids get to team up to fight me. They work together, they sacrifice for the chance at killing me. It’s harder to team up in a game like Towerfall.
3. LEGO Worlds
LEGO Worlds is only two player on console, but it supports split screen. Performance takes a hit, though I notice my kids don’t seem to care about frame rates very much—going to keep that discussion out of their minds for as long as possible. LEGO Worlds jumps ahead of the other fantastic LEGO-branded experiences (Marvel, Batman, Hobbit, Jurassic Park, etc) because what it lacks in story-driven gameplay it makes up for in creativity-driven gameplay. As players explore more worlds, discover (unlock) more pieces and objects, and find more golden bricks, they can explore bigger and more detailed worlds. There are quests scattered around each randomly generated world and a decent variety of terrain types (or “biome” to use a Minecraft term).
From an adult’s point of view, LEGO Worlds is, at present, lacking in a few ways. Obviously it’s not the type of game where the Hulk will be fighting Batman—and that was never promised. But what I kind of expected from it was a collection of LEGO’s own creations: Nexo Knights, City and Castle. You get some of them, but I’ve yet to be able to explore Jestro’s Volcano Lair, and I guess I kind of hoped I’d be able to. That said, the game is still fun and the creation and destruction tools are amazing. Driving a car with front-mounted drills to dig through the world and discover secret caves with golden chests is more fun than I ever thought it could be. Fingers crossed this game is supported by some fair DLC practices in the future.
4. Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime
Like Moon Hunters, this game gets better with more players. Your spaceship has several control stations: guns, shields, propulsion, the Starcraft Yamato Cannon (not its real name). Each player can (and should) rotate stations constantly to deal with threats and challenges on screen. Lovers starts out slow, but by the middle of the game the action is frantic. This means a peaceful early experience for the younger ones, and a challenging experience later on.
What I like about Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is how dynamic the co-op is. You’re rarely sitting on one station. You’re rotating between guns, shields, cannons, and nobody (at least when we play) is ever planted in one spot. There is a noise that children make when they use teamwork to open a door that requires the precision of hitting two targets at the same time. That noise is hard to explain, but it’s why Lovers gets a spot here.
The problem with writing about Helldivers is how do I make it sound fun? In fact, its most charming feature is also its most infuriating. I played with my two kids, and I was the only one alive. I called reinforcements once I found a safe spot and brought them both back. But the younger one’s pod crushed and killed me. For a moment everything stopped. He looked at me, horrified. As a parent, this is one of those moments. You can’t go back from this. How you react will forever shape this child’s mind.
I smiled. I turned to my son and said, “Wait. Hang on. Did you… did you just… crash your pod on me?” Once he realized this was funny and not bad his expression changed. He got off the couch, put his controller down, and ran to see mom.
“Mommy, guess what? I just KILLED daddy by CRASHING into him.” Then he laughed maniacally.
Helldivers won’t always be fun. There will be plenty of times where playing with children will be frustrating, because every mission failure means restarting from the beginning. But there are moments here and there that make the experience worth it. The rest of the time we played, my son tried to run under my escape pod to give me a chance to get revenge. He wasn’t successful, but I did accidentally drive an ATV off a ledge, killing everyone inside, three seconds before the evac ship arrived. Kids loved that one. Sorry, random fourth guy we picked up that day.