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Simple Console Games for Small People

I don’t watch much TV, or many films. But I do spend hours – days, weeks, probably months if you added it up, yikes – playing video games. For better or for worse, video games are, for me, the reason to own a television. And so, as our Small started to grow up, I spent a lot of time wondering about how and when to start to introduce him to it all.

I’ve been playing games with Small since he was a little over three, and now that he’s four, and we’re all locked inside for the foreseeable future, I’m doing it for a few minutes almost every day. And so, as others might be doing the same, maybe for the first time, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned.

I’m going to focus entirely on games for very small kids – maybe aged 3 to 5 – and on current TV-connected games consoles, because that’s mostly what I’m using. I’m aware that there are good options on iPad, for example, but I don’t know anything about that.

Where possible I’m interested in things we can play together, or games that our Small can play with very light guidance from me. For older kids and other devices there’s a great list from journalist Keza MacDonald here.

1 – Mario Kart 8

What is it?

The latest in this series of colourful, cartoonish go-cart racing games, Mario Kart 8 is a riot – simple to get started on, and also great fun for adults to master (learn the oh-so-satisfying powerslide). Having no concept of winning or losing each race proved no impediment to our Small’s enjoyment of it all.

Anything worrying / violent / tough to explain?

There’s violence, but it’s suitably cartoon-ish: drop a banana and your opponents can slip, throw a shell at someone, they get bopped in the air. A few of the courses have scary monsters, but these are easy to spot and avoid if needed.

How can Small play? Can we play together?

Mario Kart is perfect for playing together. Adults can play with the thumbstick, while Small prefers the motion controls – you can even buy small plastic steering wheels, which make it easier still. The Switch version adds additional assist modes for younger players, such as keeping them on track.

How can I get it?

Mario Kart 8 was released on the Wii U – if you have access to one, this allows you to play using Wii controllers, which are cheap and abundant. MK8 Deluxe is on the Switch, and you can use the two Joy-Con controllers so that two can play together. There are plastic steering wheel add-ons for both.

2 – LocoRoco Remastered

What is it?

A remake of an old PSP game, LocoRoco puts you in control of a space-hopper like blob with eyes, and asks you to guide it through a colourful world, collecting red flowers. The oddity is this: rather than controlling the blob itself, you roll it around by tipping the world from side to side.

Anything worrying / violent / tough to explain?

The enemies here are little black blobs with arms – sort of like an octopus? – and they will attempt to eat you. When they appear, your blob or blobs are scared. But you can soon learn to deal with them, and the first few levels (which we tend to play over and over) are mostly antagonist-free.

How can Small play? Can we play together?

The great thing here is the control system: press R1 to tip the world right, press L1 to tip the world left and – very occasionally – tap circle. Small picked it up in no time. There’s also a motion control scheme that’s rendered entirely useless by requiring you to swipe to jump.

How can I get it?

LocoRoco Remastered is on PlayStation 4, digital only via the PlayStation Store, for about £10.

3 – Untitled Goose Game

What is it?

You are a goose. A naughty goose. You have a list of naughty tasks to accomplish in the village, and can do so by moving, picking things up, and honking. That’s it. Our Small particularly enjoyed tearing around the garden, honking at the farmer while shouting “rake in the lake!”

Anything worrying / violent / tough to explain?

Well, you’re being naughty – stealing a hat, dropping a rake in the lake, that sort of thing. This isn’t Bloodborne. Small calls the game Naughty Goose.

How can Small play? Can we play together?

It’s single-player, but simple to control: one stick, and mostly one button to pick things up or drop them. Small very much enjoys running around and honking at people, mostly ignoring the list of tasks, for ten minutes or so. For adults, it’s a fairly short but very enjoyable puzzle game.

How can I get it?

Untitled Goose Game is available on every current console (Switch, PS4, Xbox One), digitally, and for less than £20.

4 – Wattam

What is it?

A very, VERY strange game in which you must reassemble the entire universe, item by item, because it has disappeared – and do so using an exploding hat and, uh, pooping. Designed by Takahashi Keita – famous for the PS2 roll-em-up Katamari Damacy (remaster now, please) – it’s a story that seems designed to appeal to very small kids.

Anything worrying / violent / tough to explain?

Well, the story involves the entire universe being destroyed, but it’s animated in such a way that Small wasn’t remotely bothered. And there’s quite a lot of pooping, if that bothers you, I guess. I found it charmingly bizarre; Helen couldn’t stand it.

How can Small play? Can we play together?

This one’s tricky: in the early stages, controlling Wattam is very easy – one stick, mostly one button. But as more and more characters and things appear, and the tasks get complicated, our Small increasingly handed the pad to me. Even if you end up taking control, though, the plot is simple to explain and Small was engaged all the way through to the conclusion.

How can I get it?

Wattam is on PlayStation 4, digital only, for £15 full price (and often less). It’s also available on PC.

5 – Captain Toad Treasure Tracker

What is it?

A beautiful 3D puzzle game in which you, playing as the little mushroom character from Super Mario Bros, must navigate dozens of small, individual worlds, collecting coins and mushrooms and dodging hazards.

Anything worrying / violent / tough to explain?

This one falls under “strictly Mario violence only”. There are enemies, you can sometimes get rid of them, but it’s all cartoon-y fun.

How can Small play? Can we play together?

Controlling Captain Toad requires two things: to move him, and to orient the world to keep him in view. Aged 4, Small really enjoys the former – using one stick – and struggles with the latter. We often play the early levels together, with me occasionally spinning the world so he can see, and he likes guiding me when I play – watch out for that thing, get the coin, and so on.

How can I get it?

We play on the Wii U, but there’s an enhanced version available for the Switch and a 3DS version, too.

6 – Taiko no Tatsujin Drum Session

What is it?

Taiko no Tatsujin is a Japanese rhythm game that, ideally, you play in an arcade, using a giant drum-shaped controller, alongside a friend, when slightly drunk. This home version has no giant drum, sigh, but you can play it with your kids.

Anything worrying / violent / tough to explain?

It contains the terrifying vocaloid stylings of Hatsune Miku, but you can avoid those tracks. Also you’ll have to explain why the Frozen song is in Japanese. Sukoshi mo samukunai wa, etc.

How can Small play? Can we play together?

Taiko no Tatsujin is a simple thing to learn – when a red blob hits the line you press one button, and when it’s a blue blob you press the other. Of course, it’s difficult to master, and the “demon” difficulty level is, well, quite something.

But the really great thing about this version of the game is the assistance options. For any song there are multiple difficulty levels, including an easy one, but you can also simplify things further: you can make it more forgiving in terms of missed notes, and even reduce the controls to allow one-button play.

How can I get it?

In the UK, Taiko no Tatsujin Drum Session is available digitally-only from the Playstation Store. And it’s expensive – about £50. Unless you’re already a fan yourself, I wouldn’t pay that much – but wait for a sale and you can grab it for much less.

7 – Overcooked / Overcooked 2

What is it?

Overcooked and its sequel are party games designed to be played by several players, together, on the same TV. You each control a little chef, and you must make recipes as quickly as possible while new orders stack up – and don’t forget the dishwashing.

Anything worrying / violent / tough to explain?

You might set the stove on fire. Small finds this hilarious.

How can Small play? Can we play together?

The controls in Overcooked are wonderfully simple: one stick to move, and two buttons – one to pick up or put down, and the other to “do” something (chop an onion, for example). They are also designed so you can share a controller between multiple players – we often play with two of us on opposite sites of a PS4 gamepad. Small isn’t exactly a competent chef, but he very much enjoys running around with vegetables.

How can I get it?

Both Overcooked and its sequel are on PS4, Xbox One and Switch, often for just a few pounds as a digital download.

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