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It’s the calm before the storm as we head into 2020, with with a pair of next-gen consoles looming on the horizon from Sony and Microsoft. This year was more than an afterthought for games, however, and Nintendo continues to release smash hits for the Switch.
Gaming families had plenty of excellent choices this year, though you’ll definitely want to own a Switch if you don’t already have one – nearly half the games on our list are exclusive to Nintendo’s excellent handheld hybrid. Here is the (alphabetical) list of our favorite family games of 2019.
Doraemon: Story of Seasons
You may not have heard of classic 1970s anime and manga series Doraemon, but chances are the words Harvest Moon or Stardew Valley will excite you. Doraemon: Story of Seasons infuses the enjoyable farming gameplay of Harvest Moon (now called Story of Seasons) with the youthful characters of Doraemon, including the titular time-traveling cat and his helpful gadgets.
Platforms: PC (Steam), Switch
Dragon Quest Builders 2
Dragon Quest Builders mashed up two great tastes that taste great together – the colorful enemies of venerable RPG series Dragon Quest, with the building, crafting, and blocky world of Minecraft. The result was an instant hit. Dragon Quest Builders 2 adds online (and local network) co-op multiplayer, and is available on Nintendo Switch.
Platforms: PC (Steam), PlayStation 4, Switch
Kingdom Hearts 3
Kingdom Hearts fans had to wait an eternity for the return of Sora, Donald, and Goofy with this beloved mash-up series of Disney and Final Fantasy. While the gameplay in Kingdom Hearts 3 is still firmly rooted in its original early 2000s PS2 era, there’s an undeniable joy playing within the Disney and Pixar worlds like Frozen, Toy Story, and Pirates of the Caribbean.
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Luigi’s Mansion 3
Nintendo knocked it out of the park with this excellent follow-up to the Luigi’s Mansion series, turning the haunted mansion into an entire ghost-filled hotel. Luigi is armed with more ghost-busting abilities, such as cloning himself as Gooigi, which can also serve as a family-friendly local co-op mode. On top of a fun campaign, up to eight players can play competitively or cooperatively in various multiplayer modes.
Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order
It’s been ten years since we last enjoyed a Marvel Ultimate Alliance co-op brawler, and The Black Order more than satisfies our need to punch, blast, fry, and zap henchmen and villains. We love mixing and matching our team of different Marvel heroes from a roster of over 30, including Avengers, X-Men, and Guardians of the Galaxy.
As a full park sim Planet Zoo is geared more toward teens and adults, but thanks to the excellent animal AI, robust creation tools, and focus on animal conservation, it makes an excellent game for families to work together to learn about animals and their complex habitat needs. A lengthy campaign help introduces the park tools and management systems while offering a wonderful variety of biomes and locations, then you can try your hand at building your own zoo from the ground up in sandbox or franchise modes.
Platforms: PC (Steam)
Pokémon Sword and Shield
There’s little doubt that a Pokémon game will grace our list of best family games. Even with the somewhat mixed results of Pokémon Sword and Shield, there’s no denying that it provides hours and hours of catching hundreds of Pokémon and battling through the UK-inspired Galar region. The free-roaming Wild Area alone is worth the price of admission for Pokémon’s eighth generation.
Super Mario Maker 2
Super Mario Maker was a phenomenal game when it released on Wii U in 2015, finally giving us the power to create our own 2D Mario levels. The Switch sequel is basically more of the same, plus tons of new features like new enemies, components, day/night and biome themes, and the Super Mario 3D World tileset. All that along with a much improved single-player campaign and online and local multiplayer makes Super Mario Maker 2 a must-have for Mario fans.
Untitled Goose Game
The official tagline nails this quirky indie game’s description: It’s a lovely morning in the village, and you are a horrible goose. Play as a goose in Untitled Goose Game with a checklist of hilariously mischievous tasks such as stealing from a store, knocking over vases, hiding in boxes, and causing light-hearted mayhem for these poor townsfolk.
Platforms: PC (Epic Games Store), PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair
Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is a much improved spin-off of the 3D platformer series that combines 3D overworld travel with 2.5D level designs, starring the chameleon Yooka and his bat companion Laylee. The result is a satisfying spiritual successor to classic 2D platformers like Donkey Kong Country.
Platforms: PC (Steam), PlayStation 4, Switch, Xbox One
Disney and Nighthawk Interactive have announced a special Retro Edition of Disney Classic Games: Aladdin and The Lion King, available elusively at Best Buy stores in the US, for $49.99.
The Retro Editions are only available for the Nintendo Switch version of the Aladdin and The Lion King double-pack. Two boxed versions are available. A large box simulates the old SNES game boxes, while a plastic clamshell is available for Sega Genesis fans (it’s worth noting that Aladdin is the Genesis version).
Both versions also include an exclusive manual and full color game manual.
The Disney Classic Games set includes two 16-bit platformers from the early and mid 90s: Aladdin and The Lion King, along with upscaled graphics, customizable controls, and the ability to save the game! An Interactive Game Viewer can help guide players by showing live playthroughs, while the Rewind feature lets you quickly fix any mistakes. If all else fails, check out the built-in cheat code menu.
The retro set also includes a digital museum of behind-the-scenes development, including interviews, art gallery, and a music player.
The Retro Edition is available exclusively for Switch at Best Buy. The standard version of Disney Classic Games: Aladdin and The Lion King is also available digitally and physically for PlayStation 4, PC (Steam), Switch, and Xbox One, for $29.99. It’s rated E10+.
Nintendo has announced the DLC plans for Luigi’s Mansion 3. The DLC will feature two multiplayer packs that will release in 2020, for a combined purchase of $9.99.
Multiplayer Pack Part 1 will launch on April 30, 2020, and include three new mini-games for ScreamPark mode, which is the competitive multiplayer mode for Luigi’s Mansion 3. It also adds three new outfits, floor themes, and ghosts for the cooperative ScareScraper mode.
Multiplayer Pack Part 2 will release on July 31, 2020, with yet three more mini-games and three more outfits, floors, and ghosts for the multiplayer modes.
The multiplayer packs cannot be individually purchased, and only available as a bundle for $9.99. As an added bonus, players will also receive a new Polterpup light, called the Flashlight Type-P. This new flashlight can be used in either Story Mode or ScareScraper.
Luigi’s Mansion 3 released earlier this year exclusively on Nintendo Switch. Luigi is tasked with saving his friends from a haunted hotel in Story mode, using his trusty flashlight and Poltergust vacuum. It also features competitive and cooperative multiplayer modes for up to eight players locally and online.
Luigi’s Mansion 3 is rated E for Everyone.
Planet Zoo welcomes its first paid DLC pack next week on December 17, for $9.99. The Arctic Pack adds four new winter-themed animals and two new scenarios.
The four new animals are the Arctic Wolf, Dall Sheep, Polar Bear, and Reindeer. Each animal has specific needs and preferences for terrain, temperature, social groups, and habitat size.
The two new scenarios utilize the winter theme in two new biomes – snowy tundra and arid desert. In Norway, zoo managers will build a remote animal sanctuary for arctic animals. In Mexico players will be challenged keeping native arctic animals comfortable and happy in a warmer climate.
The Arctic Pack also adds over 200 new foliage, building, and other scenery items.
The DLC will launch alongside a free update to Planet Zoo. The update adds a number of new features and tools, such as an aging slider, heat maps for crime, and new nature assets and enrichment items.
If you like numbers, Frontier Developments released some fun stats based on the first month of play time:
- 62 million animals born
- 23 million staff hired
- 5 million enrichment items placed
- 7 million animals released into the wild
Planet Zoo is available on PC (Steam). It’s rated E10+ with Crude Humor, Mild Blood, and Mild Violence.