Headlining the video game news this holiday season is the release of two next-generation consoles — PlayStation 4 and XBox One — and launch lineups that include new installments of some of the most popular franchises.

Many of those offerings, however, are decidedly M-rated titles such as "Assassins Creed IV Black Flag," "Battlefield 4" and "Call of Duty: Ghosts" — games recommended for "mature" players because of violence, language, blood and/or sexual themes. Some of them made our elves blush.

Our family-friendly gift guide focuses on games for "Everyone" — those rated in the E range by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board.

We've compiled a list of games across the various platforms (PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, XBox One, XBox 360, Wii U, Wii, Nintendo DS) that are appropriate for a broader age range and are likely to keep families entertained with strong gameplay.

A few disclaimers: Not every game in the E range (some are rated E 10+) is appropriate for younger children, and the games are not always easy for kids to play. We've tested most of them, but in cases where we haven't, we'll refer to reputable online reviews. And while digital downloads and smartphone apps have greatly expanded the gaming landscape, we've narrowed our focus to software that can be found in retail stores.

Contributing: Aaron Shill, Jeff Peterson, Sarah Petersen, Lois Collins, Trent Toone, Landon Walters

"Disney Infinity"

Rated E 10+ for cartoon violence, PS3, XBox 360, Wii U, Wii

This multifaceted, innovative new release is overflowing with options and creativity. "Infinity" features tangible toys, a seemingly endless supply of digital building elements and familiar animated characters and settings that are, in all likelihood, close to the heart.

Parents will definitely want to understand Infinity's setup and structure before committing. And commitment starts with a "starter pack," which retails for $74.99. The pack includes the game disc, a platform called the "base," one "play set" piece and three character figures.

Like Activision's Skylanders series, plastic figures are required to import different characters into the game. The starter pack features characters from three different Disney films — Mr. Incredible, Sulley and Jack Sparrow.

Once in the game, there are two distinct play options — "play set" mode and "toy box" mode. Each play set is like a video game, filled with unique levels and challenges based on the theme of a particular Disney movie. The piece that comes in the starter pack actually contains three play sets — Monsters University, The Incredibles and Pirates of the Caribbean — and the physical piece must be placed on the base in order to access those worlds. Currently, three other play sets are sold separately — Cars, The Lone Ranger and Toy Story in Space. Each comes with two additional figures and sells for $34.99.

The second play option, toy box mode, allows players to build their own worlds with a random and robust collection of vehicles, characters, costumes, objects and terrain pieces. Separately sold power discs ($4.99 per pack) increase the number of options. Disney is constantly releasing custom-built toy box worlds that are free to download.

"Infinity" is quite sophisticated and can be experienced on many levels, making it an ideal game to play together as a family. Unfortunately, while all characters can play in toy box mode, they can't cross over in play set mode. So if you invest in the characters from the new "Frozen" movie, don't expect them to be admitted into the Monsters University playset.

Cost-conscious parents should ask themselves whether the starter pack will be enough for their little gamers. On its own, the starter pack provides plenty of shelf life and game-play depth. But everywhere gamers turn in "Infinity," they'll be enticed by all the upgrades waiting for them on the store shelves.

For a more detailed review, click here.

"DuckTales: Remastered"

Rated E, PS3, XBox 360, Wii U

Based on the Disney cartoon that ran for four seasons in the late ‘80s, Capcom’s original “DuckTales” video game on the Nintendo Entertainment System became a minor classic of the 8-bit era. Now, 24 years later, it’s gotten a 21st-century makeover. Gone are the pixelated graphics and off-model character art from the original, and the HD animation that looks cleaner and crisper than even the “DuckTales” cartoon ever did.

Despite the fresh coat of paint, “DuckTales: Remastered” is still, at its core, the same title, which is both good and bad. Gamers familiar with the old-school platforming of the old “DuckTales” will appreciate how much of it feels the same. But the gameplay is pretty limited, especially in comparison with recent 2-D platformers like “Donkey Kong Country Returns” and “Rayman Legends.”

Ultimately, if just the mention of “DuckTales” doesn’t make you want to sing “woo-oo,” you might not be the core audience for this nostalgia-fueled blast from the past. For a more detailed review, click here.

"FIFA 14"

Rated E, PS4, PS3, XBox One, XBox 360

EA Sports' long-running soccer franchise has a firmly established international reputation and respected brand, so buyers should expect a lot from this game. Reviewers, according to Metacritic.com, are giving "FIFA 14" lots of praise, especially the next-generation console versions. A video review from USA Today says EA Sports "delivers a much more refined version of the already solid game play from the franchise's last few iterations."

"Forza Motorsport 5"

Rated E for comic mischief, XBox One

A racing game exclusive to XBox, "Forza Motorsport 5" is called "an outstanding improvement to an already excellent racing franchise" by GameSpot.com. The game has earned an 82 score from Metacritic.com.

Just Dance

"Just Dance 2014"

Rated E 10+, PS4, PS3, XBox 360, XBox One, Wii U, Wii


"Just Dance Kids 2014"
Rated E, XBox 360, Wii U, Wii

"Just Dance 2014" stays consistent to its previous versions, and true to its name, by allowing users to flail their arms and legs while feeling like they can truly break it down.

"Just Dance 2014" includes songs from a few top-of-the-charts artists, such as One Direction, Nicki Minaj, Lady Gaga and PSY; several old-school hits, such as Jack Jones' "Loveboat," Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive," Ricky Martin's "María" and The Village People's "Y.M.C.A."; and a number of songs from relatively unknown artists.

Group performances have been popular in the past, and many more are added to this year's version. The Ghostbusters routine would be simply hilarious at any house party. As far as lyrics go, most songs with inappropriate material have been bleeped out, but some suggestive lyrics and movements are included.

For families who enjoy the Just Dance video games but are hesitant to purchase "Just Dance 2014" because of its content, "Just Dance Kids 2014" is a great option. Although the visuals do seem to be for a younger crowd and it includes several toddler songs, such as "Hickory Dickory Dock," "Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)" and "Mary Had a Little Lamb," it also has enough pop hits to satisfy any tween.

Some of the more popular songs include "One Thing" by One Direction, "Hit the Lights" by Selena Gomez & The Scene and "Give Your Heart a Break" by Demi Lovato. The dance moves are somewhat toned down compared to those in "Just Dance 2014," yet still very entertaining.

For a more detailed review, click here.


Rated E for fantasy violence, PS4

Included here as a rated-E title exclusive to the PlayStation 4, "Knack" is described by the game's website as "a fun-filled adventure of colossal proportions that invites players to wield fantastic powers and discover a unique and vibrant world." Reviews, according to Metacritic.com, have been mostly mixed.

"The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD"

Rated E 10+ for animated blood and fantasy violence, Wii U

This is a remastered version of a game produced for the Nintendo GameCube. Back in 2003, IGN called Wind Waker" a masterful achievement — a shining example, in fact, of how video games should be made and a case study for developers wondering what makes a compelling game."

This fantasy quest begins with a haunting and beautifully drawn story montage about the "Hero of time" who conquered a great evil. On an island where this legend has been preserved, we're introduced to a young boy who will become a new hero. After his sister is captured by a giant bird, the new Link takes to the sea, and the adventure begins.

Yes, a decade is a long time in video game years, but this game holds up beautifully. The character mechanics feel polished, not dated. Link's movements are fluid and realistic, whether he's sliding along a wall, hiding in a barrel or springing into combat, making the experience quite immersive.

While a one-player game, the storyline and challenges should be enough to engage other family members and encourage collaboration. The animation leans toward the gentle and cute, and a child who is old enough to successfully play the game is likely old enough to handle the images of creatures and combat.

For more on the Wii U lineup of family games, click here.

"Lego Marvel Super Heroes"
WB Games

Rated E for cartoon violence, PS4, PS3, PS Vita, XBox One, XBox 360, Wii U, Nintendo DS

It's hard to go wrong with the Lego legacy of games. From Star Wars to Batman to Harry Potter, developers have consistently turned out entertaining, funny, kid-friendly titles. Now it's the Marvel Super Heroes (Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America) that assemble in brick form. This game is available on multiple platforms, including the next-generation consoles, and is receiving Metacritic.com scores in the low 80s. "Lego Marvel Super Heroes" was designed by TT Games, which produced the terrific "Lego City Undercover" earlier this year.

"Madden NFL 25"

Rated E, PS4, PS3, XBox One, XBox 360

Madden's silver anniversary game is a fan's ultimate virtual experience, as long as you follow the sport and know the fundamentals of video game football. If you have heard of the read-option and the pistol offenses, you'll be excited to know both are in the game. There are 351 new plays overall, and the animation and physics of the game are as realistic as they've ever been.

Video-gamers have the option of becoming a player, coach or owner. Also included this year are more than 50 legendary players and coaches to choose from in the "Connected Franchise" option. Imagine a game involving names like William "Refrigerator" Perry, Barry Sanders, John Elway, Ronnie Lott, and Lawrence Taylor, coached by Bill Walsh, Tom Landry or Vince Lombardi.

Even with all the new features and improvements, the game hasn't changed a ton in recent years. But that won't slow gamers down. Madden still provides a fun, time-passing experience that will satisfy customers. For a more detailed review, click here.

"NBA 2K14"
2K Games

Rated E, PS4, PS3, XBox One, XBox 360

The NBA and 2K Games' answer to Madden, the NBA 2K franchise moves to the next-generation consoles but is still available on PS3 and the XBox 360. Ryan McCaffrey of IGN, which gave the game an "amazing" score of 9.3, wrote that "2K14 continues to get the core basketball systems almost dead-on right, and that’s the key to its success." Two-time champion LeBron James of the Miami Heat is featured on the cover.

"Need for Speed Rivals"

Rated E 10+, PS4, PS3, XBox One, XBox 360

EA's racing franchise gets an 8.0 ("great") score from IGN with its latest title. "Watch the stakes grow through a new scoring system that lets racers risk their speed points to shoot for higher multipliers and greater rewards, or bank their speed points safely when they return to a hideout," reads the game's website. Of course, parents should ask whether they want their kids trying to outrace the cops, though they can play as the police, as well.

"NHL 14"

Rated E 10+ for mild violence, PS3, XBox 360

Electronic Arts has been producing sports-themed video games since the late 1980s, and "NHL 14" is one of the best hockey simulation games to date. After last year's release remodeled the entire physics engine to improve the look and feel of the skaters, "NHL 14" expanded those features to increase the playability and enjoyment of the game for both hardcore hockey fans and casual fans alike.

One of the new features is called "collision physics," which is another upgrade to the physics engine. This feature makes it easier to pull off bigger body checks against your opponent based on player size, speed and positioning. The result of these new physics is more realistic collisions. Fans can choose from a very casual experience to a hardcore simulation in which all game assists, such as passing and shooting the puck, are turned off. And for the true hockey aficionado, 13 different hockey leagues from around the world are playable in the game.

The "mild violence" in the game refers to the fisticuffs (including blood) that come from hockey fights. For a more detailed review, click here.

"Pikmin 3"

Rated E 10+ for mild cartoon violence, Wii U

Unique, engaging and visually stunning, "Pikmin 3" introduces three explorers on a search for food to save their home planet of Koppai. They crash-land on a distant world, where they encounter curious little plant-like creatures that are loyal followers and ferocious fighters. Alph, Brittany and Charlie shepherd the pikmin, which help break down obstacles, swarm enemies and locate sustenance.

The mechanics of gathering, leading and tossing pikmin during exploration and combat are refreshingly novel. The beautiful nature settings are sharp and rich, and the characters are simply adorable. Game sessions are divided into days rather than levels, providing a sense of both freedom and urgency — because when the sun goes down, the pikmin need protection from predators, and the explorers need food.

But beyond the visuals and gameplay, "Pikmin 3" offers a good, fun storyline to follow as the protagonists explore this strange yet familiar world. "Story mode," while limited to one player, can engage the entire family.

Though cutesy and cartoony in almost every aspect, there is a good amount of fighting and violence involved, and the game doesn't shy away from the harsh realities of nature. Very young children might get spooked, but parents should feel at ease with "Pikmin 3."

For more on the Wii U lineup of family games, click here.

"Pokemon X" and "Pokemon Y"

Rated E for comic mischief and mild cartoon violence, Nintendo 3DS

Two separate role-playing games (each retailing for $39.99) that offer "a new generation of Pokemon, a new region to explore, new Mega Evolutions and a host of new features," according to a Nintendo news release. These games are exclusive to the portable Nintendo 3DS gaming system and have been receiving quite favorable reviews since their release in October (an 87 Metacritic.com score for "Pokemon X" and an 88 for "Pokemon Y"). Older folks who may just not get the Pokemon world might want to check out the video review of these two games on IGN.com.

"Rayman Legends"

Rated E for comic mischief and cartoon violence, PS3, XBox 360, Wii U

For anyone new to Ubisoft Montpellier’s Rayman series, imagine early ‘90s Mario but French and raised on a diet of nothing but Pixy Stix and Mountain Dew. The gameplay in "Rayman Legends" is fast, frenetic and endlessly engaging, making it one of the most entertaining games of this console generation and an easy recommendation for families looking for stuff they can play together.

After saving the day in the last game, Rayman, Globox and the Teensies decided to take a nap. When they are awakened 100 years later, they find that the idyllic Glade of Dreams has been invaded by nightmares, including legendary creatures like dragons, sea serpents and luchadores. Naturally, the only way to defeat this new evil is to collect a lot of gold shiny things and save princesses.

Sheer unbridled creativity is on display in each one of the more than 50 new levels. Although the single-player mode is addictive in its own way, it’s really as a multiplayer experience that “Legends” shines. Up to four people can play at once on the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions, five on the Wii U (using the Gamepad to control Murfy), making it a perfect game for families to sit down and play together.

A little surprisingly, perhaps, Rayman Legends also manages to be one of the most beautiful games of this generation. Like its predecessor, Rayman Origins, it features gorgeously layered, hand-drawn 2-D backgrounds that stretch into the distance, giving the sense of a lush cartoon world brought to life in high definition. Altogether, "Rayman Legends" is easily one of the best releases of the year, and it should be at the top of the list for anyone looking for family-friendly video games.

For a more detailed review, click here.

"Scribblenauts Unmasked: A DC Comics Adventure"
Warner Bros.

Rated E 10+ for cartoon violence and comic mischief, Wii U, Nintendo 3DS, PC

The unique visuals, superhero theme and robust gameplay options make this an easy sell for kids, but parents will likely be won over by the fact that "Scribblenauts Unmasked" encourages creativity, problem solving and word skills. The Scribblenauts series is centered on a young boy named Maxwell, who can create any object by writing it in his magic notebook. "Scribblenauts Unmasked" is built on superhero themes, importing more than 2,000 characters and objects from the world of DC comics. Gamers will quickly get the sense that they're playing on the pages of a comic book — colorful, decidedly 2-D and complete with comment bubbles and onomatopoeia like "Thunk!" and "Pow!"

Just about anything a kid can imagine can be used as a tool or weapon — from rocket launchers and stealth bombers to porcupines and icicles. All he has to do is type in the word. The number of images the game makes available is definitely impressive and gives kids incredible creative latitude.

The game is mostly devoid of content concerns, but there is cartoonish violence — some of which comes in the form of firearms. For a more detailed review, click here.

"Skylanders Swap Force"

Rated E 10+ for cartoon violence (PS4, PS3, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U, Wii, Nintendo 3DS

Activision's mega-franchise Skylanders recently released its third installment, "Skylanders Swap Force." The latest gimmick is a lineup of 16 interchangeable figures that come in two pieces connected by magnets.

Skylanders games require tangible figures to import and play with characters, so you're not so much buying a game as you are investing in a lineup of toys. The "Swap Force" starter pack ($74.99) comes with three of those characters (Blast Zone, Wash Buckler and Ninja Stealth Elf) along with the game disk and a portal to place the figures on. Specific characters detach at the midsection into two pieces to create hybrids with special abilities. Obviously, the more figures you buy, the greater the number of options. Additional swappable characters (there will be 16 total for 250-plus combinations) retail for $14.99. Activision is also rolling out a staggering 40 other characters that don't swap, priced between $9.99 and $12.99 each.

But all those characters would just be action figures without a great game, and "Swap Force" is just that. The game is beautifully animated, easy to play and oh so clever. For a more in-depth review, click here.

"Sonic Lost World"
Game cover

Rated E 10+ for mild cartoon violence, Wii U

An early challenger to Mario, Sonic has since become an iconic character in the video game world. (Look no further than his cameo in the 2012 film "Wreck-It Ralph.") But Sega's latest title in the franchise is exclusive to Mario's own Nintendo Wii U. In "Lost World," Sonic takes on villains known as the "Deadly Six" and even has to partner with his old enemy Eggman along the way.

Sonic games succeed by going at a breakneck pace, and "Lost World" reintroduces that element. Once a player has gotten accustomed to the controls, Sonic will sprint, soar, bounce, bust through barriers and evade enemies, picking up a lot of gold rings along the way. The key is to control the chaos. "Lost World" offers a mix of 3-D and sidescroll formats.

Reviews have been mixed, with the website Metacritic.com reporting a mediocre score of 63. But for those who love the Sonic franchise and enjoy its simple, fast-paced aspects, "Lost World" should meet expectations.

"Super Mario 3D World"

Rated E for comic mischief, Wii U

All indications are that Nintendo has produced another stellar title in the Mario franchise. Bowser is once again causing problems, and it's up to Mario and friends to save the day. So what's new? Unlike the incredibly entertaining sidescroll "Super Mario Bros. Wii" and "Super Mario Bros. U" from recent years, this version goes with the 3-D format. And, Mario can turn into a cat with the "kitty chaos" power-up. IGN.com has given the game a 9.6 rating ("amazing").

"Zoo Tycoon"

Rated E, XBox One, XBox 360

Unique to XBox consoles and available on the new XBox One, "Zoo Tycoon" allows gamers to build their own "dream zoo." IGN gave the game a tepid review (5.5), though Metacritic.com displays a more respectable score of 68.