No amount of holiday spirit can properly equip you to survive long days with relatives over the next few weeks. But there is an antidote. Thankfully, we have multi-player video games, which lets the family gather around the living room TV screen and experience the joy of battling each other on digital racetracks and virtual arenas.
We've rounded up the nine best party games to help you survive the holidays. They’re guaranteed to bring your family together, even if the spirit of competition can get a little intense. Hey, at least it beats listening to your grandmother talk about her hip replacement.
1. Rock Band 4 (Playstation 4 and Xbox One)
For music fans, the gold standard has long been Rock Band. Throughout its four iterations, as well as side releases and downloadable expansions, Rock Band has helped would-be pop and rock stars live out their wildest dreams, jamming out on guitar, drums, and even vocals.
Each instrument has its own specially designed controller, including a full drum set. Rock Band 4, more than its predecessors, enables improvisation, so you can run off into your own screeching solo if you wish. With a back catalogue of 2000 songs spanning multiple genres and eras, there’s bound to be the right tune for each family member. The program is also a neat way to get everyone collaborating, rather than trying to thrash each other at Mario Kart (see below). Harmony is literally the name of the game. Just don’t smash your guitar at the end of a set.
2. Rocket League (Xbox One, Playstation 4, Windows)
What are two of the coolest sports on the planet? If you answered "Soccer and Formula One," then you’re going to love Rocket League. It’s literally soccer played with cars--an absolutely, frantic experience as one to four players try to use jet-controlled vehicles to get the ball into the other team’s goal.
The game is available on all major platforms--Xbox One, Playstation 4 and Windows--and boasts an extensive online community, just in case your family gets whacked out on the experience and you have to find new players over the net.
3. You Don't Know Jack (teens+, on every system you can imagine)
Unlike most of the other games on this list, You Don’t Know Jack (which the cool kids abbreviate YDKJ) is for teens and up. It’s a snarky quiz game with a wickedly subversive sense of humor, as an off-screen game show host guides you through a list of highbrow and lowbrow trivia, gently mocking and chiding as he goes.
Frankly, it's a little surprising that YDKJ is still a thing; we remember playing the game way back in 1995. And while it’s true the host can be a little grating at times, but it’s a small price to pay for some good (unclean) fun.
4. Wii Sports (Wii, Wii U)
Back when the Wii was launched in 2006, industry spectators were sceptical about the console’s signature Wii Remote--a wireless, motion-activated controler that could simulate everything from the swipe of a sword to the stroke of a tennis racket. Thankfully, anybody who played Wii Sports for more than ten minutes was won over.
Today Wii Sports is still going strong and it's a solid party favorite, featuring tennis, bowling, boxing, golf and baseball. Sure everybody looks strange standing in front of their television gesticulating wildly as they try to one up their relatives, but that’s part of the fun.
This choice is especially good at narrowing the generation gap as each of its games are instantly recognizable by all ages and even players with slower reflexes will enjoy the challenge. Uncle Joe may be able to teach you a thing or two about your golf stroke.
5. Mario Kart 8 (Wii U)
Mario Kart is another of Nintendo’s most beloved and long running franchises. Players pick characters from the Mario universe and compete to cross the finish line across a variety of wacky tracks. Bizarre obstacles block the way and there are a plethora of items available to thwart your opponents; nothing beats the satisfaction of ramming your opponent with a red homing shell, just as he or she is about to cross the finish line.
This iteration of the game also features high-gravity sections as players can race up and down walls, defying the laws of physics. Due to the fast-pace and racing graphics, this may not be the best choice to play with older members of your family. Prepare to have your eyes bleed (kids seem to be immune to this particular ailment).
6. Super Smash Brothers (Wii U)
I’ve been playing various versions of Smash Brothers for over a decade now and I still have no clue what’s going on. Settle into the game and you’ll watch frantically as the screen erupts in a blaze of cartoon violence.
Just keeping track of your character is half the battle (pun intended), and all the favorites are here, from Mario to Nes from the Earthbound games (a rather obscure inclusion). As you might have gathered, Smash Brothers is a brawler and so parents sensitive to violence might want to stay away. But the spirit of the game is cartoonish, and there are no blood and guts.
7. Mario Party 10 (Wii U)
Mario Party 10 is another quintessential Nintendo party game. The aim here is to collect Mini Stars by participating in a variety of games as you move around a colorful game board guided by a pair of digital dice. The assortment of games range from nail-biting fun to just so-so.
Nailbiting: you have to race your opponents to the end of a snaking series of narrow platforms. So-So: Shy Guy Shuffle is a Mario Universe variation on the tradition carnival game: “figure out which shuffled cup the ball is in.”
While Mario Party can be a little hit or miss, overall it’s a pretty fun way to spend a holiday evening, and the multiplayer spirit usually outshines some of the more lacklustre challenges.
8. Just Dance 2015 (Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Wii, Wii U, Xbox 360 and Xbox One)
The high concept explanation of this game (as in, "Speed 2 is Speed on a boat") is that Just Dance is Rock Band for dancers. Unlike other dance games, which use a mat to register your fancy footwork, Just Dance uses a motion controller or even just an app on your smartphone. The base game has 41 top forty tracks and with a monthly subscription you get access to 200 more songs.
The vibe here is definitely pop music, unlike Rock Band, which has a more extensive set of genres, but if you’re into top forty tunes and fancy yourself a bit of a whizz on the dance floor, pick up Just Dance. Although you may get your butt kicked by your five year old neice (she has commited this game to memory), you will both have fun.
9. I Darb
I Darb is the only independant game on this list, and it's definitely more low tech than some of the higher budget titles. That doesn’t mean it is any less spectacular. Not unlike Rocket League (or basketball for that matter), I Darb has you frantically aiming to slam dunk a ball in your opponent's “net”, all the while navigating a complicated series of platforms.
The action is as frantic as Smash Brothers, and to be honest half the time I couldn’t keep up with what was happening. But it’s still a great party game for four to eight players. Just expect some vertigo. Again, this may be one for the younger generation.
So there you have it. There’s no single “best” game out there. But rest assured, if you choose any of these titles you’ll definitely liven up your holiday gathering.