It’s the question inevitably heard by anyone with young family members, or kids of friends: “What games do you have on your phone?”
Seeing children play on phones is no longer interesting, it’s simply a part of life (in the US at least). According to a fourth-quarter 2016 Nielsen study, “the most predominant age when kids got a service plan was age 10 (22%), followed by 8 years old (16%) and ages 9 and 11 were tied at 15%.”
Those are just the kids who already have their own devices and will be ignoring you at the holiday functions anyway. 66% of parents reported that their children had already been asking for their own device for “a while,” and it’s that group of offspring that will be coveting your tech.
While I recommend bringing an extra phone with only games, or a handheld gaming device, as a decoy, at least make sure that you turn your data off and lock the ability to make in-app purchases. Otherwise your next bill might be a bit more than you’re expecting.
To find the best games to entertain the once-in-a-while children of your life, I chatted with one of games’ harshest critics: my eight year old brother. Kevin (not his name) does not yet have his own phone, though he does spend way more time on my father’s iPad than my father does. He’s technology proficient; even before he could read he could navigate his way around a device must faster than my millennial fingers could. So, here are Kevin and Al’s big list of recommended phone games to make you the coolest Cousin/Sibling/Friend of the Family.
Super Mario Run
So, I’m a big Mario fan, and I share this with Kevin. When he was younger we played Super Mario Galaxy together and he played the little second player star.
Now Super Mario Run continues that shared interest. It’s a straightforward Mario game: the princess (and the whole princessdom) are stolen and Mario (you) must get them back. There are courses where you must collect coins and stars to win tickets, and then you can use those tickets to enter rallies. There’s also “Remix 10,” during which you play ten very short, consecutive courses to find Princess Daisy. You can win buildings and decorations for your town in this mode.
The biggest difference in this game is that Mario is always moving forward and you just control his jumps, backflips, and wall climbs. It can get … intense. I’ll admit that I’m an obnoxious perfectionist when it comes to games like this and will play the same levels over and over again to get all of the coins and special items. But my brother just enjoys it for what it is, and luckily did not inherit my worst tendencies.
Just make sure you’re within WiFi range for those data downloads.
I’m a little older than the Minecraft generation. I’m more of a RuneScape generation. So maybe this is why I just don’t get ROBLOX—but my brother is obsessed with it. Several “family friendly gaming” sites recommend that you lightly-heavily supervise kids while they play since there are interactions with others, Kevin reassures me that “most people are just there to build.”
ROBLOX is “the best place to Imagine with Friends,” according to their website. My brother says: “You create worlds and build things and it’s so much fun.” This is an MMO for kids that is continuing to enjoy success over ten years after its release. The addition of dozens of minigames within the worlds is one of the major pulls. ROBLOX is not any one thing, it’s a multitude of gaming experience.
Toca Hair Salon 3
Toca Boca AB
I wanted to keep this list focused on free games, but this game is great and totally worth the $2.99 USD. This is a hair makeover game that includes beautiful natural styles and an inclusive cast of characters. It was nominated for the BAFTA Games Award for Best Family and Social Game, and rightfully so. The game is easy to learn and really addictive. I admit that I liked this one a bit more than my brother, but he definitely didn’t dislike it.
The game is also refreshingly gender neutral in the sense that all of the hair styles and beards can be applied to all of the characters. There are over 20 tools to keep kids busy making over all of these cool characters.
Colin Lane Games
There’s a newer version of this game, but my brother assures me it “asks for money more” and the AI is “stupid hard.” So, stick with the original Dunkers if you want to enjoy the game and not shell out for each level.
Dunkers offers a 2-player mode and it’s absurd, but also lots of fun. Basically, you are both basketball players (with tiny feet and arms twice the length of your body) attempting to dunk on one another. I found it easier to play with kids than with other adults because there’s only so much room on the screen for my huge hands. (Though some kids had a bad habit of yanking the phone closer to them when they were losing—ahem.)