We play with our kids as much as we can. They’re so important to us and we already recognize how influential we are in their development… That being said, I need a break dude. I mean, sometimes we need to work, or take a nap, or run an errand, or nap. Or nap. I love naps. So what do we do then? What we need is a short list of the best kids app games. Man, I wish that existed. I’d only need, like, five games on it.
In our house, screen time is earned. We’re not raising our kids on the tablet by any stretch of the term, but it’s also a valuable tool. If our kids have done well with school (and each other) they can earn some coveted screen time, and it’s nice to let them play what they want. But how can we trust what’s out there? How do we know?
Well, it’s hard, but I’ve found 5 great games that will keep your kids docile for enough time to take a walk. Or a nap. Each of these I’ve rated as 5 on our Family Friendly scoreboard, but please read more to determine if that score is right for your family. But first, what these games are. These games have mild references to grown up things, like smoking a pipe, or being a victim of bullying. In context, these types of situations are brief and non-influential. But I always make myself available to discuss these topics with my kids if they have questions.
And they will certainly have questions! And what about what these games aren’t? They aren’t pre-school ‘learn-to-stop-picking-your-nose’ games. They’re entertaining and have good lessons.
This widely unknown game is a personal favorite of mine. Originally released 2009, I played Machinarium ( Kindle | Apple iOS ) when it first came out, mostly because I’m a big fan of Amanita Design. At it’s core, this game is a puzzle game, with tricky and creative solutions. You play an earnest little robot who isn’t very strong, but is nimble and as smart as you are. He’s trying to get back to town and his friend. As he does so the story unravels and brings you in on a plot against the king, kidnapping, and more. You’ll have to combine items you find with other characters or items to solve riddles and puzzles to advance. Some of these obstacles are quite tricky to figure out, and my sons and I consulted the in-game help screen more than once. But the level of difficulty isn’t too high, and the puzzles never feel tedious.
Machinarium is charming and sweet, even though it’s art direction is a bit rusty (literally). The characters bring a lot of personality to the game, that is, for being robots. The scenery is wonderful, and the game play is easy enough. You could let your child sit down with this game by themselves with little worry, but expect them to request help. My son couldn’t get everything on his own, but it helps build critical thinking and problem solving. If you know all of the puzzles, the game is fairly short, coming in at a few hours. First play through however will easily be several hours of entertainment and had my kids howling at some of the scenes. It’s hard finding kids app games that bring value beyond entertainment, but this game does in spades. Highly recommended.
LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga
We’ll swing from a relative obscurity to center stage. I mean, LEGOs and Star Wars? LEGO Star Wars ( Kindle | Apple iOS ) could have been a champ without even trying, but it’s developers still did an incredible job with it. LEGO approaches all of its licenses with their tongue planted firmly in cheek. They are able to disarm intense theatrical moments while maintaining the integrity of the story and in-game risk. This is no doubt true for The Complete Saga, as well. Part action/adventure, part puzzler, all fun, this is one of the biggest and most entertaining kids app games on our list.
Like most of these titles, LSW has a central hub from which you choose your episodic adventure. In this case it is Mos Eisley Cantina, with a gathering of the characters you’ve unlocked so far. Each episode provides several achievable goals, many laughs, and a crash course in Star Wars lore. Another game you can feel pretty good about letting your child play unsupervised, just be sure they don’t have your password as there may be an opportunity for in-game purchases. I recommend this game to any dad who needs a break (or a nap).
As far as insanely creative kids app games go, Samorost 3 may take the cake. Another Amanita Design title to make our list, this game boast fantastic music, incredible art, and delightful game play. Taking place on a series of space islands, you’ll encounter some unforgettable creatures and puzzles as you help your little friend on his journey. Any time I feel like extolling the benefits of kids app games and their benefit, I hear my wife’s voice in my head citing a different opinion. I will say however, this game will encourage critical thinking and hopefully spark some creativity in your kids as it has in my own. But back to the game itself.
Some of the creatures are familiar enough, only with a twist. White monkeys relaxing in hot tubs. A sleepy turtle with a bubble wrap shell. Chubby, squeaky bats that act as counter weights. You know. Normal critters. If the sights and sounds aren’t enough, the puzzles will have you running back and forth around these islands, but with good reason. And most often a good payoff, too. In fact, and this is the truth, as I write these words, my sons is sitting next to me and we’re playing this game together. That is to say, he is playing it and asking me for help when he gets stuck. And I keep hearing delightful noises from the game’s hero as well as from my son. This game is worth every penny and I can’t wait to play through it again with my other son!
Minecraft pocket Edition
I know, right? I have my own problems with Minecraft Pocket Edition (Kindle | Apple iOS ) as well, but it’s also so. much. fun. I’m not normally one for a ‘build your own game’ experience, but the game’s true potential came through when my son and I played this game together. It was incredible. You get to learn about the creative aspect of the game right away. Then threats are gradually introduced as night comes on. I am pretty terrible at this game, but my kids and I love it.
In fact playing for just a moment to grab the above screenshot elicited begging from my kids to continue playing. There’s just something about this game that makes it charming, exciting, and all the things kids app games should be. I only recommend playing this game vanilla, and unconnected to any public servers. Those aspects can be fun, but require supervision. But playing this game in Creative Mode, without the risk of some random kid shouting obscenities, is an awesome way to build and understand cause and effect.
I almost didn’t include Minecraft Pocket Edition due to its popularity, but I decided based on the hours of fun my kids have had with it and the number of non-screen-time toys and accessories that can be found, this game is totally worth a spin.
Honorable Mention: Armikrog
While not an app for a mobile device, I just had to include this title. Armikrog is still one of the most enjoyable experiences my son and I have shared over a game. This game combined things that I like and things that my son likes, and we played it every Dadurday. He still proclaims it’s his favorite game ever (he made sure I added ‘ever’ just now).
The brainchild of the prolific Doug TenNapel (Whom you can thank for Earthworm Jim, The Neverhood, and basically all of my childhood) and a crack team of developers including Mike Dietz and Ed Schofield, this game was crowd-funded and made possible by fans. Like The Neverhood, Armikrog is a game made from stop-motion sets and sprites.
It is a puzzle game with hilarious cut scenes and memorable moments. Unlike most games, the creative mood set by this game is tangible. The sets and characters often have finger prints left behind as everything was hand made. The story has Tommynaut and his space dog Beak-Beak crash landing on a planet. He finds a weird fortress, and a baby, a bad guy, and a mystery. The game play is fairly easy and the characters are funny, but it’s a pretty short title at about 6 hours.
It also seems like it would be one of the best kids app games if they has made it available for mobile. As it is, you can play it on Mac, PC or Wii. I’ve read reviews that pick this game over and both love and hate it, but for best results, bring your kids! No game is without fault, but between the great art direction and fun memories made with my kids, Armikrog just had to make this list.
Best Kids App Games – Summary
There are tons of apps and games available for your children, but many of them are cash grabs and don’t really care about how they influence our kids. We always recommend reading about, and even playing games before you trust your children with them. And we always encourage you to use protective measures to prevent your kids from making purchases (knowing your passwords) and accessing the internet unsupervised. Even YouTube. It will save you some worry and them everyone some heartache in the long run. As for these games we’ve listed above, we’ve played each of them with our kids and have enjoyed them.
Yes, there are some aspects that you personally may not find suitable for your own munchkins. As such, please review each of them yourself to make sure they’re right for your family, however we stand behind these choices. In the end they’ve created opportunities for us to connect with our kids and find like interests, and they’ve made some enjoyable memories for us as well.