As Christmas approaches children around the world will be pestering their elders for video game gifts. The world of video games is a difficult one to navigate however, if you don't know what you're looking for.
"What on Earth is a Minecraft?"; "Is my son really going to be bullied if I don't get him the new Call of Duty?"; "Which one is the new Call of Duty? There's about sixteen of them."; "I read in the paper that this game called Skylanders will turn my child into a psychopath, is that true?"
Having once worked in a video game shop during the Christmas period I know of the horrors and pity the parents and other family members trying to understand this strange world and ensure their wee ones are happy come December 25<sup>th.
To help things along a bit here are some of the year's top games suitable for various age groups.
Ages 5 and under
Angry Birds Star Wars (PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Wii U – Out now)
Rovio's classic physics-based puzzler Angry Birds infused with iconography and settings from George Lucas' sci-fi saga is now available on consoles. Simple to play and a great first step into gaming.
The Penguins of Madagascar (Nintendo 3DS, Wii U, Wii – Out 28 November)
The video game tie-in for the upcoming animated film from Dreamworks offers simple third-person platforming (that means jumping, climbing, and collecting items), suitable for all ages.
Ages 6 - 9
LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham (PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Wii U, PC, 3DS, Vita – out 14 November)
The latest in a long-running series of fun Lego adventures. Simple gameplay and slapstick humour is perfect for kids starting to know what they want – assuming what they want is superheroes. The game supports multiple players, so the whole family can join in.
Skylanders: Trap Team (Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U – out now) & Disney Infinity 2.0 (Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, PS4, Wii U – out now)
Two wallet-worrying games based around physical collectable action figures which transfer into in-game digital characters.
Skylanders launched in 2011 (and executes the concept better) but Disney has the characters children know well and are likely to want more.
Minecraft (PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Vita, Android – out now)
The building, excavation and exploration game that will define a generation of young gamers. Available on pretty much everything, Minecraft is one of few games out there that allows children to express themselves and create, which is why it has been such a success.
Ages 10 - 12
Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U (Wii U – out 28 November, 3DS – out now)
The latest in Nintendo's fighting series pits a huge roster of characters against each other - most from Nintendo games, some not such as Mega Man, Sonic and Pac-Man.
The beauty of Smash is how much fun it is no matter how you play, whether you learn combos, or simply button mash (or how old you are for that matter).
Pokémon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire (3DS – out 28 Nov)
Perhaps I'm biased having been among the first generation of children exposed to it back in the late 90s, but playing Pokémon should be a rite of passage for all gamers. A role playing series of consistent quality that last year received a substantial makeover with the X & Y games. This year 2003 GameBoy Advanced games Ruby and Sapphire are being remade, but the work being put into it builds on everything started in X & Y.
Just Dance 2015 (PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Wii U, Wii – out 13 Nov)
Just Dance's name also serves as its synopsis, there's not much else to it. These games require motion control, so on Wii and Wii U, or PS4 and PS3 you'll need to use the Wiimote and PS Move controllers respectively, while on Xbox One and 360 you'll need a Kinect camera. The PlayStation Camera also works on PS4 and PS3.
Ages 13 - 15
Halo: The Master Chief Collection (Xbox One)
13-year-olds will have been born in the year that the first Halo came out, which aside from being depressing for me to note, means they're just about the right age to get their first taste of the influential series.
The Master Chief Collection is an Xbox One exclusive and includes Halo games 1-4 in their entirety, as well as a robust multiplayer element (Xbox Live subscription required). It is worth noting that this is a shooter game so parental discretion is advised if dead aliens and robots are a concern.
WWE 2K15 (PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360)
Early teens either love the barmy world of wrestling or ridicule those that do. The games can be fun for everyone, but it's probably best to gift it to someone in the former camp.
Always remember: don't try this at home.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2015 & FIFA 15 (PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC)
You can't go wrong with a football game for most teenage boys, and this year sees the release of two great titles. The only risk is the likelihood of fights breaking out when they start playing against each other. FIFA has all the money, official kits and player likenesses, but PES has the better gameplay.
PSN, Xbox Live Credit (PS4 and PS3, or Xbox One and Xbox 360)
There is a wealth of great games available to download through the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade. Loading on some credit also allows the whippersnappers to make their own purchase decisions, an opportunity they'll relish.
Some select downloadable games from this year include skateboarding game Olli Olli, multiplayer action game TowerFall: Ascension, and slapstick title Octodad: Dadliest Catch.
Ages 15 +
The two games below are both violent with mature themes, so for impressionable 15-year-olds it would be wise for a parent to do their research and decide if the content is suitable.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (PS4, X1, PS3, 360, PC)
This is the latest Call of Duty, and it's the best one for some time. Blockbuster action silliness with robust shooting mechanics and set-piece spectacle in spades means there's a thrill every moment.
Since this is Call of Duty, the online multiplayer element will have plenty of legs once the single-player campaign is over (do note you will need an Xbox Live or PSN subscription for online play).
Also, it features Kevin Spacey, so what more do you need?
Far Cry 4 (PS4, X1, PS3, 360, PC)
Far Cry 4 takes players to an exotic location in the Himalayas, offering open-ended exploration of the gorgeous landscape, varied combat with the insane locals from outpost to enclave, and even animal hunting when humans become a bore.
Also, it has rideable elephants, so what more do you need?
While Call of Duty offers a tight, story-driven cinematic action romp and endless multiplayer, Far Cry 4 attacks from a complementary angle, making both of these shooters solid choices for the teen craving some action.