There comes a time in every gaming parent’s life when your young child is no longer content to sit there with an unplugged (or unconnected) controller, happily mashing buttons along with parents or older siblings. They know the controller is supposed to light up. They know the on-screen characters should respond to their inputs.
When your young child begins to express an interest in games, there are sadly too few console games for toddlers they can explore. While the mobile market and tablets in particular have made leaps and bounds toward kid-friendly gaming, the big consoles still lag behind.
Nintendo is a bastion of family-friendly gaming. But for decades they’ve had a limited selection of games that very young children can operate and enjoy. I probed the depths of the Nintendo eShop and found several fun games for toddlers and younger children for the Wii U—all kid-approved by my own 3-year-old daughter.
1. Dolphin Up
“Can we play the dolphin jumping game again?” In Dolphin Up, you perform jumping tricks with a dolphin using two buttons and the joystick. The controls are simple enough that a young child can operate them, though many times my 3-year-old preferred to share the controls. One of us would use the joystick while the other would hold down the buttons. Flipping the dolphin through the air (and up into space as fireworks fire off) elicits giggles and smiles that made it well worth the few dollars. My daughter insists we only ever play as the orca.
My First Songs is not so much an interactive game as it is a karaoke device. It contains over a dozen nursery rhymes and familiar children’s songs that delighted my little one. Each song plays with cutesy animations of kids and animals while lyrics and bars fill the bottom screen. Technically, the gameplay uses the built-in microphone of the GamePad to score your ability to vaguely hit the right pitch, but thankfully it never punishes you for missing notes or singing too quietly. The game takes pictures with the GamePad’s camera throughout each song. These were a big hit. We would strike our goofiest poses and laugh at the pictures afterward.
Color Zen is a simple puzzle game using colors and shapes. Colored shapes are arranged on the GamePad Combining them causes the whole screen to change to that new color. The goal is to end each level with a certain color. Like all good puzzle games it starts off relatively simple, then ratchets up the difficulty as you go. The Kids version does a good job keeping things simple while teaching problem-solving, color matching, and coordination.
The act of writing on a touch screen and seeing your work come to life on a big screen is still magical to me. It’s even more captivating to my 3-year-old. Art Academy Sketchpad is a simple drawing application that gives you a blank canvas, a few shading options, and a ton of colors and pencils. Using the stylus and GamePad, my daughter was able to provide that typical chaos of circles and lines that little hands produce. She was even more delighted when I added a few stick figures and houses for her to color on. If your little one enjoys drawing in coloring books and playing with crayons, Sketchpad can provide a never-ending source of amusement.
Scribblenauts is a bit pricier than most of our picks, but it’s well worth it. The vibrant, kid-friendly world is an absolute delight to explore. The touchscreen controls make it incredibly toddler friendly as well, allowing my daughter to easily move around and manipulate objects. The real joy comes in solving puzzles together. Using Maxwell’s magical notebook, you simply type in any word and create an object. One of the earliest puzzles tasks you with rescuing a cat from a tree. Just as I was typing in “ladder,” my daughter spoke up and suggested a slide. These kind of open-ended puzzles create a unique and memorable shared experience.