The Best Video Game Consoles for Kids
The best gaming console for your kids will depend on their age and interests, plus your existing library. We looked closely at the catalogue of top-quality E-Rated games each console offers, as well as technical power, educational content, and multiplayer functionality. Whether you’re looking for a digital educator, an on-the-go entertainment system, or a new family pastime — we’ve found an option for you.
How We Chose the Best Video Games for Kids
E-Rated games and franchises
Part of evaluating which console is best for your child is looking at the kinds of games available. Ideally, they’ll be age-appropriate options that are also known for their quality and popularity. We pulled the 418 video games released in 2018 and broke them down by platform, rating, and Metacritic Score. To ensure that kids of all ages would be able to play, we looked closely at the E-Rated games that each game system hosted and the differences between their exclusive titles. We found, for example, Nintendo typically offers more popular content for younger kids, while PlayStation earns high ratings for its teen-friendly fantasy content. The best video game system will offer a wide array of E-Rated games, although some of our top picks also excel in content for older kids.
We wanted the best game consoles to allow for various multiplayer modes — both online and local. Having teammates who aren’t perfect can help children deal with disappointment, frustration, and hopefully develop patience. While decades past have pushed team sports for fostering such social skills, the world of multiplayer gaming can do some of the same. Video games can be a great opportunity for kids to learn team-building skills and to find community.
Kids are constantly learning from their environment and absorbing information from the things they engage with. Video games can teach children language, problem-solving skills, hand-eye coordination, logic, and more. Gaming expert George Weidman, known online as @superbunnyhop, told us “playing is learning by nature.” Even so, there is more explicit educational content and options that directly work to teach children new skills. We favored systems that hosted unique educational elements, games, and opportunities.
A reliable gaming console will have the technical ability to run games without lagging, glitching, or maxing out storage. Our favorite gaming consoles are advanced enough to last you years and support other entertainment avenues like video streaming and web browsing. Any of our favorites are an investment that will grow with your child and outlast at least a decade of technology.
The 5 Best Video Game Consoles for Kids
- Versatile console
- Tiny controllers for multiplayer
Why we chose it
The Nintendo Switch is a uniquely hybrid device. You can reconfigure the system for TV and controller use, or a travel-friendly handheld. Two Joy-Con controllers attach to the sides of a tablet-like screen for a pretty large portable gaming system. You can slide the Joy-Cons off and doc the base for playing on the TV or prop the base up and hand one Joy-Con off for on-the-go multiplayer. The Switch’s various controller configurations make it the only device that comes with multiple controllers for playing with your kids and friends.
You’re likely well-versed in the exclusive game catalogue that Nintendo offers. Lifelong classic series like Mario, Donkey Kong, Zelda, Splatoon, and Pokémon are all Nintendo’s domain. These staple brands are some of the most family-friendly gaming content on the market. Their multiplayer modes lend to fun with friends, nostalgia for parents, and unique worlds for kids. Some of Nintendo Switch’s best exclusive games include: Mario Kart 8, Splatoon 2, Super Mario Odyssey, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and Yoshi’s Crafted World,
Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu! and Pokémon: Let’s Go, Eevee! also made a particular splash last holiday season. The games are an impressive extension from the Pokémon Go app and allow you to become the Pokémon Trainer of your dreams. You can even purchase a Poke Ball-shaped Joy-Con to play the game with.
Another unique addition to the Nintendo Switch is the Nintendo Labo. A Nintendo Labo kit allows you to build elaborate cardboard set ups, like a race car or robot, that can engage physically with a Switch game. For example, you can build a cardboard keyboard and insert the Switch and Joy-Cons to play the piano and record music (using the Joy-Con’s infrared sensors). This series adds an impressive hands-on educational opportunity for kids and parents.
Nintendo goes above and beyond with its parental control settings. There is a designated smart device app that allows parents to not only control which games their kids play, but also when and for how long. You can also tell if screenshots have been posted to social media, monitor logged game time, and switch off the console entirely.
Points to consider
Tiny controllers for multiplayer
The Nintendo Switch is a pretty big deviation from Nintendo’s Wii series — no more throwing your controllers through the TV screen while bowling (ah the good ol’ days). While the Switch attempts to maintain the same physicality with games like Just Dance, it’s a far more secondary focus in comparison to Wiis of the past. When splitting the controllers for multiplayer mode, the individual Joy-Cons are pretty tiny to play on without much room for grip. Those with larger hands may be less inclined to play multiplayer for very long, as it’s likely you’ll hit the wrong buttons and eventually get hand cramps. You can also purchase Joy-Con accessories that make multiplayer easier — like steering wheels and more traditionally shaped controllers.
- Entertainment system
Most powerful console
Family game catalogue
- So long Xbox Kinect
Why we chose it
There are some additional features that allow the Xbox One X to double as an exceptional entertainment system. Unlike the PS4 Pro, the One X has Ultra HD Blu-ray playback to support some of the most advanced film viewing. When paired with the Dolby Atmos surround audio, and entertainment apps like Netflix and Hulu — you’ll hardly need any other entertainment tech like Blu-ray players or streaming devices.
Whether you’re gaming, watching a live Twitch stream, or browsing through Netflix, Xbox has a very intuitive party chat feature that makes it easy to connect with friends. We think that adds to the overall entertainment value of the console because it adds a social element to otherwise isolated activities. And while the PS4 also has a party chat feature, we felt Xbox’s was simpler and more accessible.
Most powerful console
The Xbox One X debuted as the world’s most powerful console. Microsoft claims it has 40% more power than any other console. Its “8-core Custom AMD CPU is clocked at 2.3GHz,” which means it’ll process every detail of a game faster and smoother than before. In addition to some other techy lingo about its memory bandwidth and GPU, the Xbox One X is delivering some swoon-worthy internal hardware. For the user, it’ll probably require a 4K HDR TV and some gaming experience to notice the enhancements. You’ll also want to look out for Xbox One X Enhanced games that have been updated to match the console’s improvements.
The Xbox One X is also boosted with 4K and high dynamic range (HDR) graphics, as well as Dolby Atmos surround spatial audio. The kind of setup will bring games to life like never before. Every detail will be sharper, brighter, and more life-like. The console is pretty future-proof as it’s the most advanced on the market right now.
Family game catalogue
Xbox’s exclusive game catalogue is generally more varied in genre than PlayStation. With family and kid favorites like Sea of Thieves and Forza Horizon 4 topping its charts, this ecosystem might appeal to more casual gamers. Other notable games only available to Xbox consoles include: Ori and the Blind Forest, Halo 5: Guardians, Halo Wars 2, Gears of War 4, Forza Motorsport 7, Sunset Overdrive, and Titanfall. If racing games and techy alien warfare appeal to you and your youngsters, then Xbox has what you want.
Points to consider
So long Xbox Kinect
Along with the introduction of Xbox’s new line of consoles, the Xbox Kinect was discontinued. After a promising launch, the Kinect failed to sustain ease of use. Despite its lackluster catalogue of games, it was an admirable attempt to introduce healthy physical movement to gaming (especially for kids). After bringing some movement to what is otherwise a mostly indoor and sedentary activity, the Kinect will be missed.
Pricing for the Xbox One X is pretty all over the place right now. Depending on the vendor, you can purchase the console for anything between $370 (discontinued models on Amazon) and $500 (GameStop). That’s a huge discrepancy in pricing that will definitely lead to some consumer confusion. Even the Microsoft website has certain bundles for $400 and others for $500. They all come with the same specs and 1TB of storage, but some include exclusive versions of games. We recommend shopping around a bit and comparing deals if you’ve decided to purchase the Xbox One X.
A smaller step up from the Xbox One is the Xbox One S. For about $250, you’ll see internal improvements the display more enhanced visuals, but not quite at the level of resolution that the One X can manage There’s only 500 GB of storage on the Xbox One S — enough for the casual gamer but potentially a problem if you like building large catalogs of games. If you want the best technology, opt for the Xbox One X. If you aren’t planning on upgrading your home to 4K HDR TVs anytime soon, the Xbox One S is all you’ll need for a great gaming experience.
- 4K and HDR visuals
- Expensive and potentially excessive
A minor update from the PS4
Why we chose it
4K and HDR visuals
The PlayStation 4 Pro introduces impressive visual upgrades and high-quality graphics. With HDR lighting features and 4K, you’ll notice brighter whites and deeper blacks. With the right tech (like a 4K TV), game environments will feature more detailed textures, lifelike lighting, and sharper definitions on things like shadow and movement. This also means 4K support for apps like Netflix and Youtube. Though 4K technology may feel fairly new to the industry, 4K HDR TVs are making their way into more homes every year. PlayStation 4 Pro is future-proof this way, and its graphics won’t be outdated any time soon.
Online reviews and consumer feedback says the PS4 Pro’s graphics and faster frame rates rival some of the most intense PC gaming settings. This makes the console a plug-and-play option that will appeal to serious gamers most.
The selection of games made only for the PlayStation are more fantasy and role-playing oriented than Xbox and Nintendo. Some notable games include: Spider-Man, Street Fighter, Horizon Zero Dawn, The Last of Us, God of War, The Last Guardian, Persona 5, Ratchet and Clank, and Yakuza 6. Forbes reported that the PlayStation 4 has, “more than doubled sales of the Xbox One, which is estimated at around 40 million units.” With that many people out there owning a PS4, more friends will likely own it and there will be more opportunity for playing together online or buying used games.
Not every game is toggled to support the PS4 Pro’s graphic upgrades, but developers can issue a patch that will update existing games for free. For new games, you’ll want to look out for the “PS4 Pro Enhanced” label that indicates its advanced software.
The PlayStation VR kit is the most affordable premium VR headset available, and it gives the PS4 Pro an impressive edge over other game consoles. You’ll need a PlayStation to power the virtual reality headset, and VR will support PS4 Pro Enhanced visuals. If you’re looking to step into the future of gaming, “Ready Player One”-style, pairing the PlayStation VR with a PS4 Pro is definitely a level up.
Points to consider
Expensive and potentially excessive
Everything about the PS4 Pro’s fancy specs, VR accessory, game catalogue, and price tag ($400) emulate a more serious gamer experience. This is for the older kids and families that are already pretty invested in gaming. Many of its impressive advancements are probably excessive for younger kids and casual players, appealing more to professionals and long-time hobbyists. If you’re invested in the game ecosystem that PlayStation offers but don’t care about the graphic enhancements, the PS4 Slim (now called the PS4) is $100 cheaper.
A minor update from the PS4
While the PS4 Pro is impressive, it’s not the PS5 for a reason. Rather than a top-down reinvention of the PlayStation console, the PS4 Pro is a relatively minor upgrade for those who already own a PS4. It’s a worthy introduction to the PlayStation line if you don’t already own one. But if you don’t have a 4K HDR TV or PlayStation VR, nor plans to get either soon, the PS4 is the savvy choice. This is especially true because the PS4 Pro glaringly lacks 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray playback (a feature the Xbox One X does include).
The PlayStation 4 (previously called the PlayStation 4 Slim) is a great option for anyone uninterested in 4K graphics or advanced visual technology. It hosts many of the same games, works with PlayStation VR, and is about $100 cheaper than the PS4 Pro. Its restricted to 1080p resolutions and will appeal to more casual gamers.
- Giant library of great games
- It’s not 3D
Why we chose it
Giant library of great games
The Nintendo 2DS XL hosts a satisfying suite of games new and old. You’ll find favorites like Super Mario 3D Land, Mario Kart 7, Super Mario Maker, Detective Pikachu, and Animal Crossing, plus several iterations of Zelda and Pokémon. And thanks to its Virtual Console service, you’ll have access to older DS, NES, SNES, and Game Boy classics. If you happen to have old cartridges, those are likely compatible as well.
You can also add apps like Netflix, Hulu, and a web browser to the DS. And all of this content can be regulated with parent control settings.
If you’re looking for a gaming system you can take anywhere, the Nintendo 2DS XL is for you. It’s clamshell closure protects the two screens and can probably fit in your pocket. (While the Nintendo Switch can also be called handheld, it’s quite a bit bigger than the DS.) The 2DS XL also has a longer battery life for on-the-go gaming. And the smaller size will be easier for kid-sized hands to hold. There’s hardly anywhere you won’t be able to take your Nintendo 2DS XL as a constant gaming companion.
At $150, the Nintendo 2D XL is more affordable than its competition. It’s half the price of the Nintendo Switch, and its games are similarly cheaper. DS games typically cost $40 or less, while the price for a similar Switch game runs closer to $60.
Points to consider
It’s not 3D
We chose the 2DS XL over its cousin the 3DS XL, because in our research we found the 3D feature generally wasn’t that important to users. For many games, the feature either wasn’t utilized much or users said they preferred to toggle the 3D off. We generally found the technology isn’t worth the extra $50-plus. The 3D screen offers additional depth that’s pretty cool at first, but you won’t feel like you’re dodging bananas from Bowser on the go-kart track. We think the 2D is the best option for most people.
While the Nintendo 2DS XL does have the option to play with others, it’s pretty limited in comparison to other consoles. If you want to play a game with a friend, they also have to have a DS. Most of the time, they’ll have to have the same game, too. It’s not quite the same experience as tossing your friend a controller and playing Mario Kart on the big screen.
There are two other Nintedo DS devices you could consider if you’re looking for a portable device. The Nintendo 3DS XL ($200) is nearly identical to the 2DS XL, but adds 3D projections. The Nintendo 2DS (without the XL) is an interesting iteration design-wise and lacks the ability to close, but is quite a bit cheaper at $80. The design leaves the device more vulnerable to screen scratches and we’d generally recommend one of the other DS devices. All three devices have the same game library.
- Unmatched library of learning content
Grows with your child
- Can’t directly compete with other consoles
Costs add up
Why we chose it
Unmatched library of learning content
At its core, the LeapFrog Epic Academy Edition is a learning tool. Most of its content is designed to help children learn skills like reading comprehension, mathematical reasoning, music and rhythm, spelling, science, and coding. It has books, games, puzzles, videos, and art apps all readily available to supplement your child’s learning journey. You can download and purchase apps that feature your child’s favorite characters from programs like Frozen or PAW Patrol, too.
The LeapFrog Academy program goes beyond your standard subject matter and offers programs that support social emotional development, recognizing facial expressions, developing daily routines, and understanding health and wellness. There’s even a parent dashboard that gives insights into the child’s progress and particular skill levels. And if siblings are sharing, you can set up to five different profiles to keep their experiences customized.
Grows with your child
The LeapFrog programs are impressively dynamic. The curriculum that the games and programs are based on will increase in difficulty to match learning advancements and skill-levels. It remembers progress and can keep children engaged because it’s a new experience each time they pick up the game. So you can introduce this gaming tool to your kiddos much younger than other devices (as young as two), and it can advance with them until they’re about 10 years old.
There’s a pretty rigorous suite of parental controls, and you can add more features and apps as your child is ready. This includes a kid-safe web browsing app called LeapSearch, that lets your kids engage with the internet in a controlled space. All LeapFrog apps also promise no in-app purchases or third-party ads. Because the LeapFrog is an Android-based tablet, you can enable the Amazon App store for Netflix and other content and games as kids get older. Heads up, though: You’ll need a 23-page guide just to download the Amazon App store.
This handheld gaming console is as kid-proof as they come. With a shatter-resistant screen and protective silicone bumper, it should withstand most toddler tantrums. You can remove the bumper for a sleeker look that will appeal to kids as they mature.
Points to consider
Can’t directly compete with other consoles
When considering our lineup of favorite video game consoles, the LeapFrog is a clear outlier. It can’t really compete with the others on most features — except for its educational content. The LeapFrog’s resolution is nowhere near the PS4 Pro’s or Nintendo Switch’s, and there’s a pretty definitive age cap at around 10 years old. Even if you opt for the LeapFrog Epic, there’s a good chance your kid will want a Nintendo device or Xbox console down the line. If you’re looking for a safe and educational handheld game console for young children, the LeapFrog is a great option. If you’re in the market for a true gaming console for older kids, one that the whole family will engage with for years, you’ll be better off with one of our other favorites.
Cost adds up
The LeapFrog Epic’s initial cost is fairly reasonable at $120. While it does come preloaded with 20 apps, you’ll have to pay a monthly $6 for the LeapFrog Academy program after a three-month free trial. LeapFrog claims the 20 apps alone are worth $175, but we think that says more about its over-priced programs than included value. Additional apps typically cost between $5 and $50. Other consoles have monthly memberships for accessing certain games and live multiplayer gaming, and you have to buy each game. But for a strictly kids’ tablet like the LeapFrog, it’s investment that they’ll outgrow quicker than our other picks.
How to Encourage Healthy Gaming Habits
Before jumping to ban or restrict the games your kid can play, consider the context of the game. An example for older kids: “Assassin’s Creed: Origins” is an action game set in ancient Egypt and intended for players age 17-plus. While it may not seem educational at first impression, the game actually features a museum mode that walks you through the ancient cities the story is set in. The historical detail in the Assassin’s Creed series is so accurate, that a previous version of the game might be used to help rebuild the Notre Dame Cathedral. In other words, your kid might be getting more out of the game than just the action.
Similarly, puzzle games can enhance problem-solving abilities, cooperative games can build social skills, and platformers can improve spatial reasoning. There’s a ton your children can learn from playing video games, and we encourage you to explore the context, setting, and problem-solving styles when helping your child choose a game.
Video game time is generally advised to be kept to less than three hours per day, and encouraging a healthy moderation is the best way to approach video gaming as a hobby. Help kids set their own limits (with advisement) and to divide time with other activities. Become an ally for fun rather than an obstacle, and kids are more likely to trust your advice about moderation.
Give your child agency
Allow your kids the opportunity to direct their own free time. Kids spend all day being told what to do by adults, at school and home — where to be, what to eat, what to do, how to think, etc. Allowing kids to make their own decisions about how they play and interact with video games will encourage healthy experimentation, competence, and confidence.
As Peter Gray, Ph.D., said in Psychology Today — “When kids are asked, in focus groups and surveys, what they like about video games, they generally talk about freedom, self-direction, and competence.” It’s good to give them the opportunity to explore those experiences.
Turn screen time intro quality time by playing along with your child. Become their biggest fan by watching them achieve new skill levels and win competitions. Letting them be the expert and teach you how to play is a great way to show interest in their passions and help develop confidence. It can strengthen your relatedness by participating together in their favorite past times.
Video Game Console FAQ
You don’t need a 4K TV for the PS4 Pro to work. You’ll just need one to enjoy the best features of the PS4 Pro’s visual enhancements. We recommend pairing the two — otherwise, you’re better off with the cheaper PS4 instead.
The answer depends on the features you’re comparing, and your taste in games. Technically speaking, the Xbox One X has better processing power and faster computing, but some consider the PS4 Pro’s game catalogue better and prefer its VR capabilities. At the end of the day, both are pretty comparable, and we recommend using each system’s suite of exclusive games to inform your decision.