Our pick of the best kids games this Christmas
Once upon a time, buying video games for kids was a fraught experience. So many movie and cartoon tie-ins, so few games that were actually fun. Thankfully, recent years have seen a decisive shift in the direction of top quality games for kids, with many top titles that are every bit as polished and entertaining - if not moreso - than their adult counterparts.
Formats: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U, 3DS, Wii
It's a safe bet that Skylanders will be gracing a lot of letters to Santa this year, and Activision's toy-based blockbuster has gone from nothing to billion dollar brand in only a few years. SWAP Force is the latest in the series, but one of the great things about Skylanders is that it's a gift that keeps on giving. There's always a new character toy or playset to buy, meaning that for the young fan there's a related gift that suits every budget, from extravagant main present to a stocking filler from Nan.
Formats: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U, 3DS, Wii
Disney Infinity offers similar scaleable gifting options, with its single core game augmented by additional playsets and characters drawn from a wide array of Disney movies. Relatives buying blind should be aware that some characters require a specific playset to work with the game, but these requirements are clearly explained on the packaging. If in doubt, buy a pack with the playset token included. There are also additional Power Disc packs, which fill the pocket money niche quite nicely.
Formats: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U, 3DS, PC, PS Vita
If you want something more self-contained, you can't do much better than the LEGO games. These hardy perennials of children's gaming are coming up on their tenth anniversary, but they just keep getting better. LEGO Marvel Super Heroes is the latest, an absolutely jam-packed comic book adventure with hundreds of characters and oodles of silly secrets. Kids weaned on the new blockbuster movies will love it, but so will adults who grew up on the comics. Thanks to the series long history, there's also a good chance new fans won't have played the earlier titles - LEGO Star Wars, LEGO Indiana Jones and LEGO Harry Potter - so there's room there for shoppers on a budget to pick up a bargain that will still delight.
Of course, games for kids don't have to be simple. More experienced young players will find much to love in Pokémon X and Pokémon Y, the latest entries in Nintendo's evergreen series. The first main series Pokémon titles exclusively for the 3DS, Pokémon X and Pokémon Y represent a pretty major leap forward for the games, with full 3D polygon graphics rather than 2D sprites, and changes galore to the battle system. That makes them a perfect jumping on point for anyone new to the saga, and also a deftly balanced challenge for kids who are ready for games that are a little more deeper and strategic. Of course, if you have Pokémon-obsessed kids than you'll never be short of gift ideas - even if they have the latest game, there's always a ton of toys and merchandise to pop under the tree.
Formats: Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii U, Wii, 3DS, PC, PS Vita
For a more mainstream and communal option, it's worth remembering that the world-conquering Angry Birds series is no longer confined to phones and tablets. You can pick up budget-priced console versions of both Angry Birds and Angry Birds Star Wars, and the games really do benefit from being played on a large TV. With its accessible and immediately appealing fling-and-destroy gameplay, this is one game that might unite the whole family in the aftermath of turkey and cake.
But that's just the tip of the iceberg. If you want something cute and everso slightly educational, take a look at Microsoft's Zoo Tycoon, an easy-to-grasp critter-filled management game that is available for both Xbox One and Xbox 360. Don't forget there's also Super Mario 3D World out on the Wii U - you'll never go wrong with the podgy plumber - while Animal Crossing: New Leaf for the 3DS offers a gentle little spot of world-building for kids who don't like rough stuff.
Basically, whoever you're buying for, whatever their age, kid gamers today are spoiled for choice, and we wouldn't have it any other way!