As the 32-bit generation starts having offspring, it's only natural parents would want to share their love of console gaming with their kids. Sure, there are three main home consoles, but everything from streaming devices to smartwatches runs video games nowadays.
Regardless of the platform, the possibilities for family-friendly fun are nearly endless. But just underneath the surface are dragons (sometimes literally). Some of the Triple-A experiences are rife with violence and sexual content that you want to keep from little ones. But just like other media where gory, nudity-filled adult content lives side by side with the likes of “Paw Patrol,” the best game consoles for kids we recommend are sure to keep the little ones, and occasionally every member of the family, happy.
— Best Overall: Nintendo Switch OLED
— Best Portable: Amazon Fire HD 10 Kids Edition
— Best For Family: Xbox Series S
— Best For Young Kids: LeapFrog LeapPad Academy
— Best Old Console: SNES Classic Edition
How We Picked the Best Game Consoles for Kids
What makes a good game console for kids? In many cases, you can follow the Jif Principle. Like with peanut butter, if it’s good enough for mom and dad, it’s good enough for their plucky, precocious offspring. And just like a brand of peanut butter packed with sugar and hydrogenated fats, special considerations should be taken into account when allowing a kid to partake.
Technical Specifications: Repeat after me: “Just because a console is made with kids in mind, doesn’t mean it gets a pass on its technical specs or game quality.” Kids are much savvier than we give them credit for. Many are gaming sooner and sooner, and developing their gaming palettes before they learn long division these days. Learn more about how we test gaming equipment.
Game Selection: Variety is always good, but just because a console has a lot of games, doesn’t mean even half of them are going to be worth playing. Consider the Nintendo Switch eShop. For every “Super Mario Odyssey” or “Minecraft: Story Mode,” there are a dozen terrible shovelware games not worth the small price you pay for them. Any console worth its salt should have a handful of “must-play” titles. Optimize your experience with one of the best gaming TVs.
Parental Controls: Gaming can affect the structure of the brain, scientists have found, so it’s not wise to let kids spend hour upon hour in front of a screen. Even consoles primarily aimed at older audiences should offer plenty of options to control everything from screen time to what games they’re allowed or not allowed to play. Bonus points if these parental controls are actually easy to use and monitor.
The Best Game Consoles for Kids: Reviews and Recommendations
Best Overall: Nintendo Switch OLED
Why It Made The Cut: It’s a home console, it’s a portable, it’s both! And for kids and families, it’s the undisputed champion.
— Released: October 8, 2021
— Recommended Ages: 6+
— Dimensions: 4 inches H x 9.5 inches L x 0.55 inches D, with Joy-Cons attached
— Weight: 14.88 ounces, with Joy-Cons attached
— GPU: Nvidia Custom Tegra processor
— Storage: 64GB, upgradeable up to 2TB with microSD cards, sold separately
— Inputs: 2 USB 2.0, Wired LAN, 1 HDMI 2.1
— Only game in town for Mario, Zelda, and Pokemon
— Bulk of the games are family-friendly
— Doesn’t require a dedicated TV to use
— Liable to breaking without a case
— Less capacity for flashy graphics
Ever since the NES revived the then-recently murdered video game industry in 1985, Nintendo prided itself on being the go-to family-friendly gaming company. The Nintendo Switch is arguably the best console since the SNES, because it’s a home console that doubles as a portable.
Using the console in docked mode works like every other console since the Atari. Gamers can use the two Joy-Con controllers separately or together as a mock pro controller to play modern family-friendly games like “Super Mario Odyssey” and “Pokemon Legends: Arceus.” Nintendo’s first-party exclusives, including the aforementioned Mario and Pokemon, along with Kirby, Zelda, Donkey Kong, and Splatoon, are what keep Nintendo competitive, despite their consoles lagging behind other consoles in the powerful specs department. After all, it doesn’t matter how good a game looks if it’s not fun. And Nintendo Switch provides plenty of fun, with over 4,000 of the best Nintendo Switch games available on the eShop. A subscription to Nintendo Switch online grants you access to classic titles from your childhood, and some of them have aged pretty well. The Nintendo Switch OLED is the best iteration of the Switch, but the original model and Lite versions are also fantastic. Check out our full Nintendo Switch OLED review here.
Best Portable: Amazon Fire HD 10 Kids Edition
Why It Made The Cut: Amazon Fire HD 10 Kids Edition offers tons of parental control options, even if it lacks the features of a regular tablet.
— Released: May 26, 2021
— Recommended Ages: 3-7
— Dimensions: 8.2 inches H x 10.6 inches L x 1.1 inches D
— Weight: 1.1 pounds
— GPU: Octacore processor
— Storage: 32GB, upgradeable up to 1TB
— Inputs: 1 USB-C 2.0
— Withstands drops with a durable case
— Built-in browser with hand-picked sites
— Comes with a one-year membership to Amazon Kids+
— Gaming experience strictly for younger kids
Fire Tablets are fantastic multimedia devices, for flipping through periodicals, streaming TV and movies, and even some light gaming. For a kid-friendly version of a grown-up device, the Amazon Fire HD 10 Kids Edition is a solid choice.
First, and perhaps most importantly, it’s built to withstand clumsy kids, with its durable silicone case. When it comes to parental controls, Amazon Fire 10 HD Kids Edition is rife with them, from app usage to what sites they’re allowed to visit. Each purchase comes with a complimentary year of access to Amazon Kids+, which is a library packed with kid-friendly content including books, movies, TV shows, apps, and even games. At its price point, however, it may be more prudent to simply buy them a regular Amazon Fire HD tablet. For slighter older kids, Fire HD 8 Pro is another solid choice.
Best For Family: Xbox Series S
Why It Made The Cut: The latest Xbox home console balances family-friendly experiences without sacrificing hardcore gaming potential.
— Released: November 10, 2020
— Recommended Ages: 13+
— Dimensions: 11 inches H x 5.9 inches L × 2.6 inches D
— Weight: 4.25 pounds
— GPU: AMD Radeon RDNA 2
— Storage: 512 GB, upgradeable up to 2TB
— Inputs: 1 Gigabit Ethernet, 3 USB-3.1 Gen 1, HDMI 2.1
— Great for kids and parents alike
— Powerful, next-gen gaming
— Xbox Game Pass is an affordable way to play tons of games
— Hard drive fills up in a blink of an eye
— Strictly for downloadable games, no disc drive
The second Microsoft got into the game console market, it quickly became a destination for mature gamers looking for Triple A immersive experiences. The Xbox Series S is one of the fourth generations of Microsoft home consoles, and a perfect destination for everyone in the family.
Xbox Series S is a slimmed-down version of the Xbox Series X. The big obvious downside is that it doesn’t have a disc drive, so all games must be downloaded to play. Because of this, expect your hard drive space to fill up pretty quickly. That said, one of the main reasons to own at least one Xbox console is to utilize Xbox Game Pass, a veritable Netflix of gaming with a wide array of rotating titles to play every month. For a small monthly fee, families can tap into fantastic Xbox games across countless genres. For kids, there are adorable and engrossing titles like indie RPG “Tunic,” legendary platformer “Banjo-Kazooie,” or the imaginative “Minecraft” clone “Dragon Quest Builders 2.” After the kids are tucked in, mom and dad can delight in the M-Rated glow of hardcore entries like “Crysis 3,” and the intensely gory “Gears of War 4” and “Doom Eternal.” Keep in mind that the Series S has scaled-down specs, and in some cases, upgrading to the Series X makes more sense. Get started with the best Xbox One controllers.
Best For Young Kids: LeapFrog LeapPad Academy
Why It Made The Cut: For strictly educational experiences, count on the LeapFrog LeapPad Academy.
— Released: April 6, 2019
— Recommended Ages: 3-8
— Dimensions: 5.9 inches H x 8.5 inches L × 0.6 inches D
— Weight: 2.38 pounds
— GPU: 1.5GHz Quadcore processor
— Storage: 16 GB, upgradeable up to 32 GB
— Inputs: N/A
— Shatter-safe LCD screen
— Over 20 apps, and access to LeapFrog Learning Library
— Customizable home screen
— Less versatile than a regular tablet
— Troublesome when used offline
An iPad can be a great place packed with educational possibilities. But let’s face it, no kid is going to want to fire up an educational app if “Roblox” or “Among Us” is also within reach. The answer? A dedicated tablet that’s all educational, all the time: LeapFrog LeapPad Academy.
LeapFrog LeapPad Academy feeds kids' heads, whether they know it or not, using clever games and apps. Through intuitive experiences, kids ages three to eight will pick up real knowledge and skills across subjects like reading, logical reasoning, math, environmental and physical sciences, and even creative expression and coding. When they conquer the skills on the apps that come standard, parents can download more using the LeapFrog Learning Library. That said, the LeapFrog just doesn’t have the wide versatility of a regular tablet, and if it’s used offline, it can cause a little heartache depending on the app. Of course, starting kids off on a lower-tech portable device like this one may encourage better habits once they graduate to their own smart device.
Best Old Console: SNES Classic Edition
Why It Made The Cut: This gorgeous blast from the past perfected the “classic console,” but its price point may relegate it to museum piece.
— Released: September 29, 2017
— Recommended Ages: 6+
— Dimensions: 5.2 inches H x 4.3 inches L × 1.6 inches D
— Weight: 1.76 pounds
— GPU: N/A
— Storage: 512 GB flash memory
— Inputs: 1 HDMI
— 21 classic titles, including deep cuts
— Plug-and-play, and portable
— Modern features like save states and rewind
— Expensive and rare
— Wired controllers
In the late 2010s, a big wave of gaming nostalgia, with everyone from Nintendo to Sony and even Sega releasing modern versions of legacy systems packed with games. Many of them left gamers feeling cold, except for the SNES Classic Edition.
The Super Nintendo is still considered by many to be the best console of all time, with its wide array of titles we now consider legendary. Nintendo’s curation for the best of the best is fantastic, including the big hitters like “Super Mario World” and “Mega Man X” along with cult favorites like “Earthbound” and “Kirby’s Dream Course.” These titles can be experienced with all the modern features like save states and being able to rewind a game at any time, thus conquering death. It’s also small enough to fit in the palm of most hands and plugs into any screen with an HDMI input. Strangely enough, it comes with wired controllers, perhaps to replicate the retro experience, but it does make the experience more cumbersome. If you didn’t score one in 2017, expect to shell out a few hundred for it. Many of these games can be had on the Nintendo Switch through its online service. If you want to show your kids a comparable “retro” experience, this is it.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Game Console for Kids
As a fan of gaming history, it’s fun considering what would have happened at different turning points. Did you know at one point Nintendo and Sony were developing a console together? After disagreements, Sony broke off and eventually launched the PlayStation, changing the landscape forever. Of course, this is less important than when the NES launched in late 1985, with its pack-in game “Super Mario Bros.” Would consumers pick up this console without its killer app? Hard to say, but Mario and his brother Luigi moved a lot of units, and revived the console gaming industry within a few years. When buying a console, always consider its killer apps.
It’s not a hard and fast rule, but in general, a console is only as good as the games you can play on it. Everyone has their favorite genres, and at this point, pretty much all of the big consoles (PlayStation 4 and 5, Xbox Series X/S, and Nintendo Switch) cover everything from platformers to first-person shooters. Where these devices differentiate themselves is with their first-party offerings. Naturally, Nintendo is unmatched in the “games your parents recognize” genre. And for kid-friendly games that are fun for all ages, there’s no better destination than Big N, which is why Nintendo Switch is our overall favorite.
Setting Ground Rules
I don’t have kids, and I blush at the thought of telling you how to raise them. However, more and more studies are conducted on how screens affect children, mostly for the worse. The Mayo Clinic has tied unmitigated screen times for kids to everything from obesity to behavioral problems. That said, gaming, like movies and TV are great things to experience together with your kid and could lead to some serious bonding potential. It may even spark creativity, help with hand-eye coordination, and naturally, help relieve stress and anxiety. In any case, ground rules are great to establish before letting a kid game alone. Growing up, I was allowed only an hour of Gamecube time a day, which was bumped to three on weekends, but only if my grades were satisfactory. Your rules and regulations may vary.
I’m not the six-o’-clock news, I’m not here to scare anyone. These consoles are packed with endless possibilities for fun, even with parental controls blocking out all the sex and violence. But anytime you’re dealing with a device that can go online, there are some things to consider. I don’t know if the logistics of the online systems on PS4, Xbox Series, or Nintendo Switch provide too much opportunity for predators to talk to your kids. The real danger lies in any game with online play, which is usually rife with kids, teens, and adults utilizing voice chat to say the filthiest things outside of an Andrew Dice Clay stand-up special. Vulgarity is almost assured, but things can occasionally become verbally violent and even sexual in nature. While these platforms are policing themselves more and more these days, there’s always a risk of your child being exposed to the worst toilet talk online. Luckily, in many cases you can disable voice chat if they hop online. Better yet, a heart-to-heart conversation could warn kids of the potential dangers, along with a quick promise of repercussions should they go astray verbally.
Q: What console has better games for kids?
When it comes to the best games for kids, Nintendo Switch has the most offerings including Mario and Pokemon.
Q: Which game console has more activity games for kids?
Nintendo Switch offers plenty of possibilities for activity including “Ring Fit Adventure” and the upcoming “Nintendo Switch Sports.” For more fun ideas, check out the best gifts for gamers.
Q: What age should a child have a game console?
In general, gaming consoles are appropriate for children ages six and up, though educational devices like LeapFrog LeapPad Academy and Amazon Fire HD 10 Kids can be enjoyed by kids as young as three.
Q: What age should I buy my child a Nintendo Switch?
Nintendo Switch is recommended for kids ages six and up.
Q: Do you need a Nintendo Switch for each kid?
A Nintendo Switch can be shared between multiple kids, and multiplayer experiences can be had in docked and portable mode.
Q: Is Xbox suitable for a seven-year-old?
While experiences vary, Xbox Series consoles are primarily aimed at kids ages 13 and up. However, kids as young as six could easily pick up and play many games.
Q: What age should a kid get a PS4?
PS4 recommended ages, according to Sony, are three and up. However, it may be worth it to let them age up a little before putting a controller in their hands.
Final Thoughts on Game Consoles for Kids
Gaming is enjoyed by just about everyone now, but there are plenty of consoles that are packed with experiences aimed at younger audiences. For the best in family-friendly gaming, Nintendo Switch OLED is unrivaled, because of its safe environment, portability, and high-quality first-party offerings. For families looking to ride the line between E for Everyone and M Rated experiences, nothing hits like Xbox Series S in conjunction with Xbox Games Pass. If you’re looking to help feed minds instead of fry them, LeapFrog LeapPad Academy and Fire HD 10 Kids are packed with fundamental potential, even if they’re mostly for younger kids.
This post was created by a non-news editorial team at Recurrent Media, Futurism’s owner. Futurism may receive a portion of sales on products linked within this post.