PCs are inherently more complex than tablets. Whereas even very young children can grasp how a touchscreen works, figuring out mice, trackpads and keyboards may take longer.
This is why our selection of the best PC games for kids skews a little older, although there are still games here that’ll fit a five-year-old. Note that several titles are browser-based, although none require plug-ins. We recommend Google Chrome for these titles.
1. Cube Slam
Pong was one of the earliest home videogames. Cube Slam is Pong in your browser – only in 3D, and you get to play against a bear (or a friend – but the multiplayer option is flaky).
You face your furry opponent, moving the bat left or right to deflect the cuboid ‘ball’, aiming to smash the bear’s shields. Win enough times and the game introduces power-ups, invisible balls, and extra blocks on the table that make the ball bounce around unpredictably.
2. Quick, Draw
For children who enjoy doodling, Quick, Draw should prove fascinating. The idea is to sketch – against the clock – something recognizable enough for Google’s Neural Network to identify.
In each case, you’re told what to draw. But this game isn’t about drawing photorealistic objects. Instead, you must quickly figure out the key visual clues that describe something. Which is probably a good thing, unless you can scribble a realistic rhinoceros in 20 seconds.
3. World’s Biggest Pac-Man
Pac-Man’s one of the most recognizable gaming icons around, and the original game is simple enough that even young kids can get to grips with it. However, its single maze quickly becomes dull – hence our recommendation to instead play World’s Biggest Pac-Man.
This online effort has hundreds of thousands of mazes, which you venture between by sneaking out of exits. Other than that, the original game’s compelling mix of munching dots and avoiding a quartet of spectral pursuers remains intact.
This indie hit takes the basis of Pac-Man and a slew of other ancient arcade games, and then smashes them into an endless bout of modern neon craziness.
Again, the basics are simple enough for any kid to understand: march about mazes, grab a key, and make for the exit. But the game’s chaotic nature (the maze’s denizens appear as intent on blowing each other up as taking on the player) ensures it’s relentless raucous fun.
5. Little Alchemy 2
It would be a stretch to call Little Alchemy an educational game, but textbook smarts may help you crack the logic at the core of this match-and-discover puzzler.
You begin with a handful of building blocks, which when combined create new things. Sometimes, discoveries are obvious – add water to more water and you get a puddle. But some are more whimsical and funny, like when metal and a pigeon become a plane.
It’s ideal fodder when your kids want to play games, but you’d prefer them to relax and think for a bit.
6. Contre Jour
This lovely physics puzzler began life on mobile, but its landscape-warping nature works well in the browser.
The aim is to get trundling protagonist Petit to a glowing exit. This involves click-dragging malleable hills to influence Petit’s movements, or using catapults and dangling tentacles to fling him about.
Petit’s endearingly grumpy demeanor, combined with great-looking visuals and clever level design, makes for a family-friendly puzzler sure to have kids scratching their heads figuring out all the solutions.
Play Contre Jour online. The game is also available in paid form on various mobile platforms
7. Escape Goat
The clue’s in the title here – a leaping bovid wants to reach the exit. But doing so requires brainpower, plenty of dextrous jumping, and the occasional help of a friendly mouse.
Mostly, you’re aiming to reach and butt switches that shift rocks and create tunnels in cunningly designed single-screen challenges. But planning’s often required to collect keys, and not get squashed when walls start moving.
Oddly, when you send the mouse on a mission, you can teleport to its position. Quite why the goat can’t teleport straight to the exit, we’ve no idea. Goats never were the brightest creatures.
This side-scrolling dungeon crawler as a distinctly Indiana Jones feel, and this is probably why it became such a huge indie hit on handhelds – but it began on PC. These days, there are various ways to play early incarnations of the game for free.
Although this take is rougher than modern iterations, it remains engaging. You explore caves, bounding about, grabbing bling, and duffing up monsters. Each game is unique – caves are randomly generated, and a single error can bring your quest to an abrupt end, with you impaled on spikes or killed by snakes. So tread carefully and look before you leap.
9. VVVVVV: Make and Play Edition
One for kids who are a bit older and twitchier of thumb, this take on gravity-flip platformer VVVVVV is a special free edition. Like the paid release, it features a little chap who darts about and can leap from ceiling to floor by tapping the jump button.
His aim is to escape from a maze comprising dozens of single screens full of spikes and roaming enemies. This free edition includes maps created by fans – and the means to build your own.
10. Super Crate Box
This one’s also in the twitchy thumbs category, and finds a little pixelated chap leaping about, trying to grab crates. All the while, he must blast creatures spilling into the screen, lest they hurl themselves into the flames below and emerge from the top furiously angry.
The game is fast-paced, entertaining, and has plenty of weapons and arenas to unlock. And although it’s a shooter, we can’t imagine many parents will be too concerned about their kid taking a cartoon bazooka to a conga of green monsters.