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The world of gaming can seem really daunting if you’re just getting into it, or trying to find the right gift for a friend or family member who plays them regularly. There are different game consoles that each have their own library containing hundreds of titles, and it can be hard to separate the gems from the duds.
To help, we’ve broken down all of the most important information about how to pick video games in general and recommended a top-tier title for the Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4.
By the end of our guide you’ll be able to make an informed decision about which games are age-appropriate, whether the games you want require an online subscription, and a lot more.
What You Need to Know Before Buying Video Games
There are many factors to think about when choosing the right Nintendo video games for you; below are the most important ones, which we considered while we were researching this list.
Platforms: There are three major video game platforms: Sony’s PlayStation 4, Microsoft’s Xbox One, and the Nintendo Switch. We chose the best game from each to help give you a jumping off point for your library. Many game publishers release the same game on multiple platforms, but all of our picks are exclusives. That means you’ll only be able to play the game we recommend on the specific platform its on.
Microsoft and Sony have said their next consoles (the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X) will feature some level of backwards compatibility, which means the games you get now will be playable on the new systems. Nintendo hasn’t announced its next generation console, but the game we recommend can be played on the original Nintendo Switch and the Nintendo Switch Lite.
Genres: Different types of games appeal to different people, so we’ve made sure to include titles from the biggest genres: action adventure, fighting, racing, and simulation.
ESRB Rating: The Electronic Software Rating Board determines which games are appropriate for which age group. It’s the equivalent of movie ratings like G, PG, PG-13, etc. Our guide contains games that span that spectrum, but make sure to call out why each game has earned the rating it did.
Multiplayer vs. Single Player: We made sure to balance out the games in this guide so that single player and multiplayer games are included. If you’re the only one in your household who plays games, the single-player titles we’ve chosen will last hundreds of hours but can be played in smaller chunks of time. If you want to play with friends and family, our multiplayer selections can be played over and over again without getting stale.
Online Play: Some games we chose require a subscription to a console maker’s online service (Nintendo Switch Online, Xbox Live, or PlayStation Plus), to play with friends remotely. These games will work without an online subscription as well, but some functionality may be limited.
1. The Legend Of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
After nearly 30 years, Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda series got a major overhaul with Breath of the Wild, a game that places you in a huge, dense open world.
The game’s core strength (and potential weakness) is its totally open world structure. There’s a story, but you’re free to ignore it for dozens of hours as you traverse the massive world of Hyrule, uncovering secrets, meeting characters, and completing side quests. New players may find the enormity of the game daunting, but it rewards exploration in a way few titles in the action adventure genre have done.
It’s easy to spend hundreds of hours literally overturning every rock (there are 500 secrets hidden beneath them), building a house, stabling horses, or collecting rupees. It’s also possible to take the game’s directions, and complete the main story in around 60 hours, but you’d be missing out on a lot of content. If you’re interested in game that’s just as dense but far less daunting, consider Super Mario Odyssey.
This game is rated E 10+, which means it’s appropriate for anyone above the age of 10 — some of the themes are a little dark, and the protagonist Link does defeat enemies with swords, bombs, axes, and arrows. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a single player game, so you won’t be able to play it with your friends. It does not require an online subscription to play.
Pros: A well-crafted, in-game world with hundreds of mysteries, quests, and areas to explore.
Cons: Some players may find the game’s open world overwhelming.
2. Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection
The first three titles in the Uncharted series were critically-acclaimed games originally released on the PlayStation 3. Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection gathers the trilogy in a single place with updated visuals.
Each game stars Nathan Drake, an Indiana Jones-like explorer searching the world for hidden treasure. The action/adventure series requires a mix of problem solving, light combat and stealth, as Drake traverses trap-filled temples, long-abandoned military bases, and outdoor ruins.
What makes this collection stand out is that each game fits into a larger narrative about Drake’s life, including his relationships with other people, and growth as a person. These heavier themes are balanced out by lighthearted humor peppered throughout the story. All three games were released to critical acclaim, and the ability to play them back-to-back-to-back is what makes Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection so special.
The collection has earned a T for Teen rating, which means it’s appropriate for people 13 and up. It’s earned this rating because of its combat sequences and occasional innuendo. This is generally a game about exploration, but there are enemies you’ll need to fight in order to make progress. If you want a totally family-friendly game, we recommend the indie platformer Journey, one of the few games to earn a BAFTA (British Academy of Film and Television Arts) award.
If you’ve never played an Uncharted game, the Nathan Drake Collection is an excellent place to start. The games move at a brisk pace, and you’ll begin to see larger narratives evolve as you complete each one. Plus, the collection will fully prepare you for Uncharted 4, the first entry designed specifically for the PlayStation 4.
Pros: Engaging story, a lot of content on a single disc.
Cons: Not totally family friendly.
3. Forza Horizon 4
Xbox One owners can play one of the most highly-rated simulation driving games by picking up Forza Horizon 4, the latest entry in a long running series.
The game has more than 450 cars that you can race on dozens of courses that run the gamut from traditional race tracks, to forests, to deserts, to suburban streets. The Forza series’ biggest claim to fame is its ability to push the graphical limits of the console it’s on, and Forza Horizon 4 is no different.
The game can dynamically change the weather conditions while you’re racing, requiring you to change your play style on the fly. The game is playable on all Xbox One consoles, but players with the high-powered Xbox One X can play the game in 4K with HDR (high dynamic range), for even more realistic graphics, colors, and shadows.
Microsoft developed this game itself, and says that it will update the title with new content, gameplay, challenges, and rewards on a weekly basis. This is a really cool feature, but it can end at any time. Forza Horizon 4 has earned an E rating, which means it’s appropriate for all players. Racing games do have a pretty steep learning curve, though, so it may not be the best choice for very young players.
Forza Horizon 4 has both a single and multiplayer mode. If you want to play online with friends, you’ll need to have an active Xbox One Gold account. Racing tiles may not be as accessible as other genres of games — if that’s you, we recommend the action RPG Ori and the Will of the Wisps — but you won’t find a better, more realistic one than this.
Pros: Hyper-realistic graphics, new content is released regularly, a wide array of cars and courses.
Cons: Racing games can be a little tough to get into.