Games consoles for children

Buying tips for parents

The internet and smart toys have changed the world of gaming. As well as being able to play against people in other locations, today’s consoles enable you to do a multitude of online activities as well as use toys to interact and unlock the games’ levels.

Game consoles can offer a point of connection and collaboration with friends who are not able to be in the same place. Also, they provide internet access to work on Google Classrooms and chat in new ways.

When choosing the best games console to purchase, it’s important to think about who in the family will be using it, where it will be used, what it offers over existing technology you already have and the type of content you’re happy for your children to have access to.



Expert Parent Tips For Buying a Device

Here are the things to consider before deciding which is the best games console for your family.

Which games are a must-have for your family?

Although there is a lot of crossover between different consoles, there are some key games that you need particular hardware to play. If your child wants to play Roblox or Forza on a console, then you need to go for an Xbox One. If you want to play Mario Kart or Zelda games, then the Nintendo Switch is the way to go. Or if you want to enjoy Spider-Man or Kena Bridge of Spirits together, you need the PlayStation 4.

You can also check out the Taming Gaming site before making a decision to check through the exclusive games console game review.

Consider starting with older consoles

The drive to the newest and fastest experiences means that many gamers only want the latest technology to play on. However, particularly when you are starting out with gaming, the previous generation of consoles can still work brilliantly for families at a fraction of the price. If you don’t need to play the latest games, then check out Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii U for cheaper options that each have amazing games.

Setting Parental Controls and Time Limits

Before letting children lose with a console, it’s important to spend an evening setting up accounts, parental controls and time limits. This not only enables you to restrict access automatically to older rated PEGI games, but you can agree a daily time limit with your child that is then automatically enforced. Although it is achieved in different ways, Xbox, PlayStation and Switch all have controls and apps to help you keep track of how your child is using the system. They also let you specify who they can communicate with online and whether this is just with text, images or video.

Check PEGI ratings to make sure games are age-appropriate

The most important piece of information to understand about a game before your child plays it is the PEGI rating. This appears on the box or in the online store to ensure a game is suitable for your child. You can get more information about this via the industry website

Expert advice from Andy Robertson, read his book, Taming Gaming book for tips on specific games.

What technology do you already have?

There is an increasing crossover between consoles and tablet games. Many games are available on iPad and Android devices as well as Xbox, PlayStation or Switch. If you have a new tablet device, it’s worth trying out games on that system before buying a console. You can even purchase a Bluetooth Gamepad (or one that holsters the phone physically like the Backbone controller) to use with a tablet and connect it to the TV to get a console experience without spending much money.

Find out about online and controller costs

Along with the initial costs of purchasing a console, you need to factor in how much extra controllers will cost as well as required subscriptions to play with others online. Investigating third-party controllers can save money, but it’s important they are officially compatible with the system you own. Also, it’s worth noting that Xbox, PlayStation, and Switch online subscriptions also provide free or discounted access to a wide catalogue of games. Many of these have a free trial that offers an affordable and easy way to try out lots of games before making a purchase.

Online pocket money purchases

All consoles connect to each platform’s online app or game store, which can be used to buy and download games. Each, therefore, has an option to prevent a child from accidentally buying a game or spending money through in-game purchasing. Some have this on as a default, but you can adjust this when you set parental controls. This enables you to specify a PIN like on a banking card to ensure no one can spend money unexpectedly.

Guide to second-hand devices

Second-hand devices are a great alternative to buying new. See our guide to help make used devices safe for children.


Consoles to consider for your child

A video gaming console is popular among many families. See reviews below of games consoles currently available with advice on the age they’re appropriate for, what online activities they allow and the types of games that can be played on them.

Nintendo Switch

The Nintendo Switch is the latest console that plays Mario and Zelda games. It’s unique because when plugged into its dock, you can play on the TV. When removed from the dock, it works as a stand-alone portable gaming device.

That means you can play the same games on the remote screen when out and about as on your TV. The Joy-Con controllers are also detachable, so two children can play games at the same time without additional accessories.

It plays all the important games like Fortnite, Minecraft and FIFA, although it doesn’t have Call of Duty games or Roblox. It’s also the best way to play Mario Kart, Zelda and the popular Animal Crossing: New Horizons. There is also a growing library of affordable indie games that are great fun for families.

It costs around £280 without a game.

The parent controls on the Switch are excellent and use a separate app for iOS and Android to adjust the options. This makes it really easy to keep track of how your child is playing. Also, there is no internet browser, and playing games with others online is restricted to approved friends only. The only down side is that you can’t set different restrictions for different users, as they apply to the whole console.

There is a version of the Nintendo Switch that is a little cheaper and only offers portable play. The Nintendo Switch Lite costs £199 but can’t be connected to a television. It will play all the Switch games but is harder to use with other people. If your child is mainly going to play away from a big screen or on the go, this is a good option. There is also a new version of the Nintendo Switch that has been updated with a bigger, brighter screen, better battery life and updated dock.

Click here for a step-by-step guide to setting up parental controls on the Nintendo Switch. You can also see an in-depth review of the console on the Taming Gaming site.

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Nintendo 2DS / 3DS

Nintendo has been making its 3DS series of handheld games consoles for more than six years. You can access this huge library of games with a wide range of hardware. The original 3DS, the new 3DS and the 3DS XL all feature a 3D display that doesn’t need glasses. The original 2DS, new 2DS and 2DS XL play all the 3DS games but don’t offer the special 3D screen. The games look the same, although they don’t pop off the screen quite so much.

The 2DS XL is the final version of the handheld that you will see most often in store. With many 1,000s of compatible games already available – many of which are heavily discounted – the 2DS XL is the finest portable games console of its generation.

It costs around £130 although stock can be hard to find at peak times of year.

There are online capabilities of the 2DS XL – much like the 3DS variants before it – but as with the Switch, the parental controls are excellent. You can restrict online purchases and internet browsing to age-specific guidelines and PIN protect the content you don’t wish your child to access.

Click here for a step-by-step guide to setting up parental controls on the 3DS/2DS. You also see an in-depth review of the console on the Taming Gaming site.

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Xbox One S / Xbox One X

Although there is now a more advanced version in the 4K-enabled Xbox One X, the One S is a great option for the budget-conscious family who wants an all-round entertainment machine. It plays games in up to Full HD (1080p) but can also be used as a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray player.

And with many entertainment apps, including Netflix and Amazon Video, it works as a smart streaming device too. There are also 1000s of games available for Xbox One, and you can also play hundreds of older Xbox 360 games on the console too, which is great for those looking to upgrade.

It is available for around £249.99.

As with any connected device, the Xbox One S gives access to the internet and online apps. Many of the games are also playable online, so you need to supervise when children are playing them to ensure they do so safely. Thankfully, there are also plenty of parental controls to restrict access to online activities and age-inappropriate games.

It also has a novel dual-control feature so that two people can control the same game. This is ideal for taking away the frustration very young players can have while learning a game. It’s also a fun way to collaborate on more advanced experiences for all ages.

Click here for a step-by-step guide to setting up parental controls on the Xbox One.  See an in-depth review of the console on the Taming Gaming site.

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Xbox Series X|S

The latest version of the Xbox is released this year: the Xbox Series X|S. There are two versions of this console. The Xbox Series S is £249 and offers a slightly less impressive visual experience, but still plays all the new Xbox games. It doesn’t include a disc drive so you have to buy games digitally. The Xbox Series X is £449 and offers a high-end experience with the best visuals. It also provides a disc drive if you wish to use games from discs.

The Xbox Series X|S supports most of the old Xbox One games. You can also save money by using the older Xbox One controllers that are compatible with the new system. Also if you have a large library of Xbox One discs you will need to purchase the Xbox Series X console with the drive to be able to access them.

When you have decided which version to purchase it is important to note that the cheaper model only offers 500GB of storage. To expand this to match the 1GB of the Series X will make the overall price similar.

You can also take advantage of the Xbox Game Pass subscription that provides 100’s of the latest games on a monthly subscription (12 months cost £49.99). This avoids the expensive additional outlay of purchasing individual games and expands the breadth of experiences you are likely to play in the family.

See an in-depth review of the console on the Taming Gaming site.

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PlayStation 4 / PlayStation 4 Pro

There are two versions of the PlayStation 4 available today: a standard model and a PS4 Pro with 4K graphics and more power under the hood. However, all PS4 games will run on either machine and look great no matter which version you opt for.

As with the Xbox One, you get apps for streaming videos, such as Netflix and Amazon Video, but this console is more geared for gaming than all-around entertainment. It is also the biggest-selling console in the world right now, so games support is mighty.

You can get one for around £230.

There are two versions of the PlayStation 4 available today, a standard model and a PS4 Pro, with 4K graphics and more power under the hood. However, all PS4 games will run on either machine and look great no matter which version you opt for.

The PlayStation has a range of “PlayLink” games for families that you can play with a Smartphone as a controller. This means that 6 people can play together without needing to purchase lots of controllers. They are also really varied in how they’re played. Using the touchscreen, camera and tilt controls makes for some unique family gaming experiences not possible on other systems.

Click here for a step-by-step guide to setting up parental controls on the PS4. See in-depth review the console on the Taming Gaming site.

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PlayStation 5

Last year also saw the release of the PlayStation 5. There are two versions of the PS5 although, unlike the Xbox, they both offer the same graphical performance. The main difference is that the cheaper model (£359) only runs games digitally. The model with a Blu Ray drive costs £449.

Although you can use the old PlayStation 4 controllers to play older games on the PS5, to play the new games, you need to use the new Dual Sense controller. It’s important to factor in the cost of additional controllers for the family when making your decision.

The PlayStation 5 runs the majority of PlayStation 4 games. It’s worth noting that if you have a large library of PlayStation 4 discs, you will need to purchase the Blu Ray version of the PlayStation 5 to access them.

You can also subscribe to PlayStation Plus to access a range of games each month, or PlayStation Now that enables you to play and download even more PlayStation games on a variety of other devices via a game-streaming feature.

A big benefit of the PlayStation 5 for families is the helpful Activity Cards that are built into the operating system. These can tell you how long the next mission or chapter will take to complete (handy for stopping when it’s mealtimes) as well as offer video tips that you can pin to the side of the gameplay and follow along.

Click here for a step-by-step guide to setting up parental controls on the PS5. See in-depth review the console on the Taming Gaming site.

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Gaming PC 

A growing popular way to play video games for youngsters is with a gaming PC. This is a computer that has a dedicated graphics card to run the visuals of games. Players then use a mouse and keyboard or gamepad to control the action.

A gaming PC can be an affordable way to play games and grants access to a very wide array of experience through online game stores like Steam and Epic that are not available on consoles. It’s worth noting that these stores don’t enforce PEGI ratings in the same way as the console stores.

There’s a more recent trend in younger players wanting to build a custom PC for gaming. This arises from seeing game streaming celebrities with big self-build computers. This can be a good project for a family to work on together. However, it should be noted that this is technical work and if a component doesn’t work or isn’t compatible, you will need considerable time, patience and expertise to solve problems.

Before you seriously consider investing in a gaming PC, you should ask your child which specific games this will enable them to play. You can check this list of PC and console exclusive games. It may well be that they could get the same experience (and same game) on a console. This will likely be cheaper and a lot less time-consuming to set up.

See an in-depth review of gaming PCs on the Taming Gaming site.

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Nintendo Classic Mini / SNES Classic Mini

The original Super Nintendo (SNES) original came out in the UK in 1992, so many parents have fond memories of it. Nintendo understands that yearning for retro thrills and has, therefore, re-released a smaller, modern reworking of the original console.

It contains 21 classic games from the 90s, including Super Mario World, Super Mario Kart and Star Fox, and comes with two controllers modelled on the originals. If you want your kids to experience the same great games you remember, you can’t get much better than this.

It is priced from £70.

These are an all-in-one unit with no access to the internet. The games are included and locked to the machine, so you cannot add any more. However, this also comes with the safety of knowing that a child will not encounter any untoward behaviour. Multiplayer is still available through good, old-fashioned, same-room two-player action. Great for all the family.

There is also a more basic Nintendo Classic Mini Entertainment System that provides games from the previous generation of Nintendo hardware. This is a little cheaper but because of its age, the games can be hard for very young players to master.

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Sony PlayStation Classic Console

This is a re-release of the original 1994 PlayStation console in miniature form. It comes preloaded with 20 of the best PlayStation games, including Final Fantasy VII, Jumping Flash!, Ridge Racer Type 4, Tekken 3 and Wild Arms.

You can plug it straight into a screen with the included HDMI cable. It also incorporates a virtual memory card so you can save your adventures as you switch between games. Two controllers are included in the box as well, which makes it a cost-effective way to access some great classics.

It is priced £89.99

Although the box states PEGI 18 because of the games included, there are plenty of titles that the whole family can enjoy. It’s just worth ensuring that younger children don’t stray onto the other games.

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Supporting resources and guides