During the holidays, we generally tend to hunker down with family for hours and hours of close bonding time. There are a few key events, sure: You’ll spend some time exchanging gifts, maybe eat a big meal. But a lot of that time is “free.” You’re all just sittin’ around… Doing what, exactly?
This is what video games are for. Even if you have a family full of people who never pick up controllers, there are some awesome party games out there that are perfect for the holidays.
‘Rocket League’ (PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch)
Soccer might not be a game for everyone, but anyone can get behind the chaos of fast, insane cars smashing into each other as they attempt to score points with a giant soccer ball. Rocket League is a game where having a lot of coordination and skill can make you great, but even with the bare minimum of control capabilities — namely, holding down the gas button and steering — the frantic action can make the game a lot of fun. Plus, Rocket League supports split-screen play with multiple bots, so you can turn a local two- player match into a bigger game without any stress.
‘Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime’ (PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One)
Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime is a cooperative puzzle game in which 2 to 4 people attempt to pilot a spaceship by controlling its individual systems. Here’s the catch — the controls for each system are all physically far away from each other inside the ship, and each person can only stand at one set of controls at a time. That means you need to work together to keep your ship as effective as possible — one person can man the guns while the other person controls the engines, for instance. Lovers can get chaotic, but the focus on teamwork makes it pretty fun, and it usually doesn’t take a ton of controller experience to understand.
‘Mario Kart 8 Deluxe’ (Nintendo Switch)
The Mario Kart series has always been an old standby at parties, going back to its Super Nintendo days. Though it’s become pretty complex over the years, weapons like banana peels and blue shells still keep Mario Kart competitive when those with less experience in the game go up against their gamer counterparts. As with every title in the franchise, Mario Kart 8 is flashy, fun, and lighthearted. If you’ve got some people in your family who can handle a controller and know how to time shooting a green shell, this one’s an instant hit.
‘Until Dawn’ (PlayStation 4)
Until Dawn isn’t a multiplayer game, but it can work like one under the right circumstances. The game is basically a B-horror movie about a bunch of teenagers who find themselves chased around by a serial killer, and playing it mostly boils down to making dialogue decisions to push the story in one direction or another. It’s a solid choice if you have one person manning the controller — probably the most capable video game player in the room — to handle Until Dawn‘s quick time events, while everyone else watches the story and influences what happens along the way. Just note that this one includes some gory moments, so save this until after all the kids have gone to bed.
The Nintendo Switch’s motion controls open up a lot of its games to people who aren’t great at the careful use of thumbsticks or perfectly timed button presses. With a pair of Switch controllers, you can get through Arms just by using punching motions. That makes it a great, goofy game that’s easy to pass around to a lot of non-gamers. Plus, watching people flail their arms in the air in a desperate attempt to win a video game is always hilarious for anyone not playing.
‘Nidhogg 2’ (PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One)
Dueling game Nidhogg 2 pits two players against each other in a battle to the death to please a giant worm monster. Your goal is to reach the far side of the two-dimensional battlefield before the other player does and sacrifice yourself to the worm. Nidhogg 2 makes for some intense battle moments, but it’s just as often ridiculous and hilarious as two players flail at each other and then fall into some roaring saw blades, or stab each other with fencing swords at the same moment.
‘1-2 Switch’ (Nintendo Switch)
Another motion-controlled Nintendo Switch title, 1-2 Switch is pretty much made for parties with people who don’t play video games. It’s full of mini competitions in which people participate in activities like a quick-draw gunfight or milking imaginary cows. It’s a weird, awkward novelty game that gets people up and moving and doing weird, awkward things. It’s perfect if you’ve got a fun family (or a bunch of kids hanging around).
‘Towerfall Ascension’ (PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch)
Towerfall is a bit more gamer-centric than some of the other titles on this list, but simplicity is what makes it work. Each level is a two-dimensional arena where the goal is to kill tons of enemies — as well as other players. You carry a bow and only a few arrows, so every shot has to be carefully considered, and a lot of time is spent desperately trying to replenish your ammo. If you’ve got some more capable players this holiday, Towerfall is a fast-paced game that can test your skills and is full of fun, crazy moments.
‘Hidden Agenda’ (PlayStation 4)
The Until Dawn team must have realized the party potential of its recently released Hidden Agenda. It’s another playable movie with some serious twists and turns, only this time, lots of people control the outcome of the story. You can get up to six people participating in Hidden Agenda, a police procedural where not everyone is necessarily working toward the same objectives. Even better, you control the action using your smartphone over Wi-Fi, negating the need for familiarity with a PlayStation controller. For the mystery-loving family, this is a great option.
‘The Jackbox Party Pack 4’ (PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch, PC)
For years, the You Don’t Know Jack games have been turning trivia into hilarity. The Jackbox Party Pack is a bunch of similar games in a single package, each with that wry, knowing You Don’t Know Jack humor baked in. These games take more of a game show approach instead of more traditional video games. The Jackbox games are highly accessible, more akin to board games than video games. They’re also very funny for both adults and kids. Best of all, the Jackbox games can be controlled with your phone, making it even easier for new players to jump in fast.
‘Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes’ (Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, PlayStation VR)
If you happen to have a virtual reality headset, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is a great way to introduce a group of new people to the tech without overwhelming them. One person wears the VR getup and finds themselves looking at and manipulating a virtual bomb. The rest of the players pull up the game’s free online bomb manual on their phones or a computer. The bomb defuser has to explain what she is seeing to the people with the information, who then have to walk the defuser through the actions necessary to stay alive. Keep Talking is a smart and often hilarious puzzle game, depending more on how good you and your family are at working together than on intense gamer skills.
‘Overcooked’ (PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Switch)
If you’ve got four people with quick reflexes and good experience with a controller, you’ll want to get them into the Thanksgiving spirit with Overcooked. The four-player co-op game is about quickly trying to fill orders in a kitchen setting while dealing with all kinds of ridiculous stuff — like trying to cook in a volcano, or passing ingredients back and forth across moving flatbed trucks. The game is all about working together through the chaos, which should make for a fun time with family. But note that Overcooked is one of the more traditional games on the list and will likely be a bit tougher for people who don’t play very often or at all.
‘Brawlout’ (PC, Switch)
Nintendo is taking its sweet time releasing a new Super Smash Bros. game for the Nintendo Switch, but indie developer Angry Mob just released the next best thing. Brawlout is a fast-paced party fighting game that emphasizes easy-to-learn combo attacks and unique characters over the complex controls seen in other games. As you batter your opponents into the ground, you increase your “rage” meter, which you can then use to unload even more devastating attacks. On Nintendo Switch, four players can even compete using separate consoles, and with 18 fighters to choose from, your battles should stay fresh for hours at a time.
‘LA Noire’ (PC, Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360)
Rockstar and Team Bondi’s LA Noire is technically a single-player game, but it can still offer some of the best cooperative enjoyment we’ve ever played. The detective game focuses primarily on investigating crime scenes and questioning both witnesses and suspects. As they answer your queries, you have the opportunity to decide whether or not they’re telling the truth, and giving everyone in the room a vote can make this a group effort. With dozens of cases in the game across four different crime divisions, you won’t finish it in one sitting, but hey, there’s always next year!
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