You're headed home for Christmas and the whole family will be there! Yes! Even your uncle who works at Nintendo! But then again, maybe you can’t this year, and are stuck looking at the prospect of roast dinner via Zoom call. Either way, at some point you're either going to run out of food to eat or you're going to get sick of the sight of food and then you'll need something else to occupy you before aunt Doris starts talking about how things used to be different back in the war, even though she was born in 1972 and has lived through the longest successive peacetime in history. Time to crack out some video games.
The best games to play with friends and family in person
Able to meet up in person for your holiday celebrations? Here are the games you ought to be loading up while loafing on the sofa together. Some will help you start arguments, while others will defuse them. Either way, you're in for a good time together.
Super Mario Bros. Wonder
A cartoonishly crazy romp through wild worlds with completely unpredictable twists that will always keep you on your toes. Great even for the younger members of your family to join in with thanks to characters like Nabbit who don't take damage from the usual enemies and pitfalls. You can also customize your level of difficulty with the optional Badges system to help you (or hinder you) as you sprint, jump and spin your way through classic 2D-style levels with fantastic new art.
It Takes Two
Hazelight's co-op story is one of the most inventive puzzle-platformers in absolutely ages. While it starts of with both of you jumping around in third person, It Takes Two isn't afraid to flip genre expectations on their head as it jumps between sidescrolling, racing, and more.
It's best enjoyed by two consistent partners, and there are loads of entertaining minigames to duel one another in as you progress. A word of warning, despite the family movie setting, It Takes Two probably isn't a game for younger kids as there are some pretty tough (if not graphic) scenes down the line!
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge
Little known fact, the holiday season is also turtle time. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder's Revenge brings old-school beat-'em-up fun to the modern era, with gorgeously colorful pixelart action. Up to six players can join the fun at once, playing as turtles like Raphael and Donatello or allies like April O'Neil and Splinter. There's nothing that brings the family together better than working together to lay the smack down on a classic cartoon baddie's goons.
Mario Party Superstars
If there's one game guaranteed to get family "discussions" flowing, it's Mario Party. While the series has had its ups and downs, the latest entry, Mario Party Superstars, is an absolute corker. Picking maps from the first three N64 games in the series and minigames from the first 10 games, Superstars is a bundle of Mario Party's meanest and most fun aspects. If Nintendo adds more maps as DLC down the line, it'll be tough to argue that there's ever been a better Mario Party title.
Not every board is top notch – we'd recommend skipping Woody Woods – but that doesn't stop these boards from delivering constant laughs as you each ruin each other's chances of obtaining a star. If anything embodies the holiday spirit, it's all your siblings gathering together to batter Mom in a 3v1 minigame before hiring a Boo to rob her of stars. The ultimate present is everyone else giving their hard earned rewards to us, right?
Walkabout Mini Golf
Got a VR headset? Don’t mind risking it being bumped against a wall or, worse, drenched in sweat? Walkabout Mini Golf is the best social game you can play while sharing a headset. Perfectly nailing the sensation of calmly putting a ball around incresingly complex holes, Walkabout Mini Golf will take you through a wild ride of themed levels. Pirate wrecks on a sunny coastline? You betcha. A spooky graveyard filled with skeletons and candles? Of course. A wild west saloon and train robbery? My putter wouldn't be caught dead anywhere else.
Walkabout Mini Golf is a gentle enough experience that even VR newbies will feel perfectly comfortable immersing themselves. Just make sure that granddad doesn't get too eager with his swings and smash a lightbulb. We've sung Walkabout's praises before, but if ever a VR game was made for social play with everyone watching footage cast to a TV or laptop, this is it. And if everyone leaves you alone to your golfing, you can always spend your time rounding up missing balls on each and every course.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
This year saw Sora from Kingdom Hearts added to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, completing the game's full roster. That means you can, in the year 2021, have an eight-player battle in Nintendo’s brawler that features Sonic, Sora, Ryu, Banjo & Kazooie, Joker, the Dragon Quest Hero, Solid Snake, and Cloud Strife battling in a Castlevania level. And you wouldn’t even exhaust the third-party character options. The ridiculousness of that scenario aside, it shows that Smash is aiming to appeal to everyone.
At this point, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has so many characters and franchises stuffed into it that at least one should appeal to each family member. Well, perhaps not your grandma, but she’ll likely refer to them all as “nice young persons” anyway, presumably while repeatedly spiking you off stage with “that fellow in the stylish dungarees.” Ultimate is a phenomenal game, mixing the best parts of competitive action with nonsensical items and stages. Several years on from its release and finally finished in its DLC additions, it remains the best way to settle family disputes in person.
If you’re growing tired of Mario Party, you might be wondering what else is out there for the minigame (and luck) loving gamers of the world. Available on the PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC, Cake Bash is the perfect choice for fans of pastries, puns, and ridiculous chaos. While the minigame selection may be lacking compared to Mario’s outings, the games included are lathered in entertaining icing.
In a desperate race to score points, your little cupcakes will be tasked with efficiently coating donuts, dodging a hungry pigeon, perfectly toasting marshmallows, and more. It’s a silly, frivolous affair that can be played online but is best enjoyed within punching distance of your pals.
Mario Golf: Super Rush
What's this, a second golf game in our recommendations? Yes, while everyone is bundled up indoors, you can escape for a good walk ruined in digital form rather than risk the frosty air outside. Unless you opt for its frantic Speed Golf mode, Mario Golf: Super Rush is a fantastically relaxing time and a bloody good Golf sim at that. It's possible to to play with just a single controller, too, swapping it between everyone involved as turns rotate by.
Since release, Mario Golf: Super Rush has received three major updates for free, adding a bunch of new characters and entertaining stages such as New Donk City. As a result, the game is now crammed with content for everyone to enjoy. Put in the time and you'll be rewarded, too, with deft control over the flight path and spin of each shot. It may be competitive, but everyone can appreciate (and politely applaud) a perfectly placed backspin shot that rolls gently into the hole. Just what you need to simmer everyone down after a heated game of Smash.
Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics
Unless your parents are secret esports pros, there likely aren’t many video games out there you can expect older family relations to school you in. 51 Worldwide Classics doesn’t just deliver one exception, it unloads an entire dump truck of them. This melange of old board games and toys will teach you how to play matches of more commonplace classics like Chess, and Backgammon, as well as other interesting options such as Shogi, Gomoku, Riichi Mahjong, and Hanafuda.
Each game is taught and played in a surprisingly satisfying manner, and if you get tired of losing rounds of Nine Men’s Morris to your grandpa, you can always swap to the silly fun of games like Slot Cards and Toy Curling. Best of all, if anyone else in your family owns a Switch, you can connect them together with only one game copy to create an expanded screen for many of the included games.
Mario Strikers: Battle League
If you're interested in kicking a digital ball about but you can't be bothered teaching FIFA (or the new EAFC)'s confusing controls to your cousin, let Mario Strikers: Battle League fill that simple-to-learn, diabolical-to-master niche. Mario and co's latest trip to the soccer pitch is filled with as much rule-breaking chaos as you'd expect, with the likes of DK and Bowser straight up punching the ball toward the opponent's goal. The single player is almost entirely absent, but load up a few matches with friends in the same room and you'll soon be hooting and hollering as bob-ombs wander the pitch while Rosalina curls it into the back of the net.
The best games to play with friends and family online
Unable to meet face to face this winter? Good news! There are loads of quality games you can load up online to bring you closer no matter the real distance between you.
We know it's not spooky season anymore, but this is one of the best online party games we've played this year and it's well worth jumping into with a few hardy friends or family members over the break. If you can handle scares then you'll find yourself laughing more than screaming as your expedition goes hilariously "80s horror movie" wrong almost immediately whenever you're about to complete a task.
Jackbox Party Pack 8
While great when enjoyed around the same screen, the Jackbox Party Packs are also some of the best games you can play with an online group. Hook up to a Zoom or Discord call and, provided the owning player can screen share, everyone can join in the fun and laughter with just their phones or a browser handy.
The latest edition, Jackbox Party Pack 8, is another brilliant entry. As well as new takes on games like Drawful, you’ll find brilliant new additions like the jumbled sentence construction of Job Job and the mischievous evidence hiding of Weapons Drawn. As with many Jackbox games, 8 is best enjoyed by a group of at least five people or more, meaning you’d do well to get those distant relations, family partners, or wider friend groups involved too.
It Takes Two
Hold on, didn't we already cover this in the in-person games section? Yes, but It Takes Two has an online ace card up its sleeve: you can play co-op online with just one copy. So long as your co-op partner to be downloads the Friends Pass version of the game on their console or PC, they can partner up with you even if they don't own the game themself.
That makes It Takes Two one of the best games for separated gaming couples to link up through (friends and siblings can also get stuck in, of course). The story is schlocky, but features enough humor to keep you laughing together as you puzzle solve and cheer or jeer each other through silly puzzles, minigames, and boss fights.
Overcooked: All You Can Eat
Overcooked and its sequel remain some of the best couch co-op games available. But if you pick up the All You Can Eat edition on PS5 or Series X, you’ll also be able to enjoy the original game online for the first time. This bumper packed bundle includes both titles and all the DLC released for them, available in both online and offline co-op. That’s an awful lot of food to prepare, so you’d better enlist the help of some trusted friends or family members, wherever they are in the world.
A glistening color palette and achingly simple controls make Overcooked a great choice for co-op sessions with inexperienced gamers. Plus, messing up and setting fire to half the kitchen is pretty much an intended part of the game. There are also several Christmas-themed DLC packs, making this buffet well worth stuffing your face with during the holiday season. With added touch ups like 60fps support, Overcooked: All You Can Eat is a premium co-op gaming package whether you’re looking to play in-person or over the net.
Battle royale games are usually a little too stressful for social hangouts. And while Fall Guys will certainly have you shouting and at times swearing at the screen, that’s honestly where half of the fun is derived. You may rarely see your mates in the bouncing mob of 60 beans which start each run of this obstacle course gauntlet, but it remains a brilliant game to play as a group.
Reach the finish line early and you can either hang around to hug your friends as they catch you up, or cross over and cheer them on while spectating. As more of your are eliminated each round, the surviving players will build up a cheerleader squad of spectators, chanting support and laughing at each mishap. It’s a glorious bout of mayhem and each run is short enough that being eliminated early doesn’t lead to distraction. The latest season update brings a host of festival-themed levels and outfits to the game, along with a few PlayStation tie-ins like Aloy, Sackboy, and Jin Sakai.
Digital board games
We might be video game lovers at heart, but visiting the family in the colder months of the year has always been associated with sitting down to enjoy a board game together. If you’re lacking that connection this year, digital board games won’t quite fill the same role, but can serve as a pretty solid substitute. We’ve rounded up a list of some of the best digital board games you can read by clicking here, so you know which ones are worth you and yours gathering around the virtual table for.
Those are our suggestions for the games to play with your family and friends both online and off this holiday season. Got any go-to games of your own? Let us know in the comments below. And most important of all, have a lovely end to the year.