Teenagers can be difficult to buy games for since, for the most part, all they want to do is play mature-rated ones. Of course, there’s a huge difference between ages 13 and 17 (and between different 17-year-olds, for that matter), so deciding whether or not to buy the latest Halo shooter is each parents’ individual call. While we also have lists for kids and adult games, as well as one specifically for Wii U, we’ve kept this one restricted to games that are rated T for Teen. There's also a few downloadable games, which are almost all teen appropriate, too.
Marvel Avengers: Battle for Earth — Xbox Kinect, Wii U (Ubisoft)
For those with a teenager who loved The Avengers flick, this game from Ubisoft’s Quebec City branch could be a great bet. It’s a motion-controlled Mortal Kombat-type fighting game, which means it’s relatively superficial as far as gameplay goes, but will definitely provide some exercise for your teens while they’re Hulk smashing their little brother Thor. It can be played solo or as co-op and competitive multiplayer, and the controller-free Kinect version works via a camera with some minor voice controls thrown in. Rather than the movie, the plotline cribs from the recent Secret Invasion comic crossover — in which shape-shifting alien Skrulls pretend to be Marvel superheroes and villains — thus justifying all the fighting and allowing for fan favourities like Magneto, Doctor Doom, Spider-Man and Wolverine to join in the fray.
PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale — PS3, PS Vita (Superbot Entertainment/ Sony)
Nintendo has always fuelled its success with its beloved stable of characters, but Sony’s been in the gaming business long enough to have put together a pretty solid cast of their own — and Battle Royale brings them all together for the first time to duke it out, Super Smash Bros.-style. But while all of Nintendo’s mascots seem to fit in the same cartoonish universe, PlayStation All-Stars range from Uncharted's death-dealing adventurer Nathan Drake, Infamous’ dark-hued superhero Cole MacGrath and Devil May Cry’s anime demon-hunter Dante to LittleBigPlanet’s adorable burlap Sackboy and even cartoon animals Sly Cooper and Parappa the Rapper. These juxtapositions give the game, which can be played in a single-player campaign or in multiplayer face-offs, a nicely zany feel, and the fighting mechanics are deep enough to give the game plenty of punch throughout the winter.
Dance Central 3 — Xbox 360 (Harmonix/Microsoft)
Once upon a time, plastic instrument rhythm games were all the rage with the kids — and, yes, the drunk adults. But eventually Harmonix, the makers of Guitar Hero, moved onto Dance Central. It is, in essence, the evolution of that arcade classic Dance Dance Revolution, but the Xbox Kinect camera means you don’t have to do your dance moves on a big floor pad or even hold a Wii-mote controller like the Just Dance games. It’s also just really well-designed and has 40 songs, ranging from past hits from the likes of Daft Punk, TLC and Gloria Gaynor to current smashes from Bieber, Kelly Clarkson and LMFAO (plus you can download Psy and Carly Rae). Do you need this third iteration if you own one of the first two? Perhaps not, but it does offer new modes like the team-based Crew Throwdown and a beginner mode for younger siblings — and you can import the songs from the past games into this one. Though you have to pay to do so which, like, totally sucks.
Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask — Nintendo 3DS (Level-5, Nintendo)
Famed Japanese studio Level-5 used to specialize in sprawling role-playing games, so it may seem weird they have spent so much time working on the Professor Layton puzzle games, with Miracle the fifth in the series (albeit the first in 3D). But we’re not about to argue, since they’re among our favourite handeld games. Set in a lushly hand-drawn-looking world, they add a narrative adventure component to what is, ultimately, a series of traditional puzzles and riddles that must be sussed out. (There are 150 packed-in, with hundreds more available for download.) As you wander about the town of Monte d’Or, you meet townsfolk who will only help you once you solve their puzzle, and each interaction helps further the storyline along.
NHL 13 — PS3, Xbox 360 (EA Canada/EA Sports)
Honestly, it hardly matters if this game is any good, considering as of press time, it’s the only hockey game in town now that the NHL season is on hold on account of, I guess, greed. But luckily, this umpteenth annualized hockey title is good, perhaps because Electronic Arts handed off the duties to EA Canada. Speaking of which, on top of the NHL teams, the game also includes the Canadian Hockey League, made up of minor leagues in Quebec, Ontario and the West — as well as, for the first time ever, the chance for players to pick female athletes as "playable legends," namely former Team USA member Angela Ruggiero and Team Canada player Hayley Wickenheiser. As for the rest of this year’s new features, it includes stuff like smarter computer-controlled opponents, a more realistic, physicist-based skating engine and NHL Moments Live, which allow you to replay great matches from last season. And you know that'll be appreciated, since it’s looking increasingly like there will be no moments, great or otherwise, from this one.
Sound Shapes — PS3, PS Vita (Queasy Games / Sony)
This is perhaps the perfect game for a teenager, not to mention a perfect purchase for those who like to support local art. With help from members of Toronto’s indie gaming, indie art and indie music communities — alongside a couple of superstars like local EDM hero Deadmau5 and LA alt icon Beck, who contributed songs to various levels — Sound Shapes turns a side-scrolling Super Mario-style platformer into a veritable musical instrument. As you play through each impeccably designed and animated album (i.e. collection of similarly-themed levels), each sound contributes to the real-time creation of an interactive electronic song. Moreover, it comes with an editor that allows you to design your own music-based levels that can then, like LittleBigPlanet before it, be shared with the ever-growing community, essentially making the game endless. New downloadable content has just been being released this month to give your levels and songs even more variety, and if you buy it once, you can also play it on both a PS3 and a PS Vita.
Journey — PS3 (thatgamecopany / Sony)
This insta-classic indie game is the brainchild of Jenova Chen, the digital artist behind experimental efforts flOw and Flower. While the former had you playing as a microorganism and the latter as wind exploring a verdant valley, this time you’re a person, sort of. You play a hooded figure not unlike a Jawa, who must go on a silent journey towards enlightenment, or at least towards a shining light on top of a distant mountain. This ambitious game not only doubles as silent religious allegory, it also takes an innovative approach to multiplayer in which you can randomly join up with — but not talk to — other people playing at the same time, wordlessly cooperating with a stranger to make it to the mountaintop together. It’s a fascinating and fantastically gorgeous work that will have you thinking about it long after the game has come to a close.
The World Ends With You: Solo Remix — iPhone, iPad (Square Enix)
Let’s start off with the price point — $18 or $20 depending on whether you're buying for the iPhone or iPad. It’s a lot for an iOS game, and practically criminal that there's not a universal app for both. That said, this is not Angry Birds and this port is still cheaper than the original 2008 Nintendo DS version. The bottom line is that this game offers the sort of in-depth design that rarely makes it to an iDevice. It’s a role-playing tale set in the ultra hip Shibuya district of Tokyo, rather than some Middle-Earth clone, and even manages to incorporate fashion trends and street culture into the gameplay. But this is still an anime-inspired JRPG, so our Shibuya is paired with a purgatory-esque alternate version where dead teenagers play the Reaper’s Game for a chance to be brought back to the land of the living. So yes, it costs more than most people would spend for themselves, which makes it a great gift.
Ōkami — PS3 (Clover/Capcom)
The argument over whether video game can be art came to a head during the 2006 release of Ōkami, a game that took on art, in this case traditional Japanese watercolour, as its driving force. But beyond the design, this also comes through in the controls as you play Ameratsu, the sun god come to earth as a white wolf who must defeat demons using, in part, the precise strokes of a paintbrush. Steeped in ancient Shinto mythology, the original game arrived at the tail end of the PS2 era and was critically acclaimed but a commercial failure. It was then resuscitated as a Wii game and now comes back to life as a PSN download, complete with motion-sensing via the Move controller. The stylized art looks even better with an HD upgrade, and though the gameplay feels old-school, the game itself feels classic.
Fez — Xbox 360 (Polytron/Microsoft)
This award-wining puzzle-platform game available via Xbox Live Arcade would be well paired with Indie Game: the Movie, a Canadian-made documentary about the making of Fez (as well as Braid and Super Meat Boy). The film provides an interesting perspective on the creator of Fez, Phil Fish, a divisive figure in the indie gaming scene. But his jerkiness, earned or otherwise, is irrelevant to his achievement here, a sidescroller that combines 2D and 3D planes to craft ingenious, mind-melting puzzles. (Seriously, my brain still hurts.) While obviously inspired by its perspective-shifting predecessor Super Paper Mario, Fez takes that gameplay to another level, if you’ll pardon the pun, and does so in a gorgeously retro-futuristic fashion with its hip pixel-art aesthetic and chiptune soundtrack that pays tribute to the 8-bit NES games of yore.