Deciding when it’s safe to introduce your child to VR can be a tricky decision.
Once you do, though, you’ll find an incredible amount of content geared towards teens and pre-teens that will rock their worlds more than a standard video game ever could.
Does your kid live for challenging puzzlers, need a way to work out while having fun, or just want to shoot baddies?
Whether you’re looking for adorable short films to entertain younger children or violent action to entice your angsty teen, we’ve got you covered.
This is the comprehensive list of games and apps to load up on your VR headset before stuffing it in a gift box.
Note: Games followed by “(M/O/P/V)” are available on mobile VR, Oculus, Playstation and Vive, respectively. “(All)” means the game is available on all four of these platforms.
Best free starter apps
Fair warning: many VR apps often cost a pretty penny while offering a limited amount of replay value. So before spoiling your son or daughter with expensive experiences, start them off with VR freeware meant to introduce people to the mechanics of virtual reality.
Oculus First Contact (O) helps you master Oculus Touch controls as you build a virtual robot and then play with your creation one-on-one.
Playroom VR (P), on the other hand, is the Mario Party of Playstation VR, where the VR headset wearer plays with, or against, everyone else on the couch in a collection of fun minigames. Kids can enjoy VR in short bursts without feeling isolated from their families.
Our favorite VR intro is Valve’s The Lab (O/V), which inserts you into Aperture Science Labs (of Portal fame), where you can play mini games like archery, dodging projectiles, robot repair and teleporting across the Earth – all designed to help your kid become fluent in motion controls and walk around without crashing into furniture.
The best Earth exploration game, however, isn’t actually a game: it’s Google Earth VR (O/V). In this app, you can explore any region in the world mapped by Google’s satellites, from historical landmarks to the tops of mountains to your own front yard.
Mobile VR users will find plenty of free apps with 360-degree videos to enjoy. YouTube VR (All) hosts NASA launches, skydives, concerts and more – but don’t turn younger kids loose in it without parental controls activated.
Try Within (All) for a more selective library of films made with acclaimed directors and high production value, or Discovery VR (M/O) for nature-themed documentaries appropriate for children.
Kids under thirteen will fall in love with free films like Crow: The Legend (M/O) and Invasion! (All) – which sport Dreamworks-level graphics and characters that seem to interact with you – or Allumette (All) and Henry (O), which will wow and entertain while tugging on heartstrings.
Rounding out our favorite freebie list is NVIDIA VR Funhouse (O/V), a carnival that lets kids play their favorite arcade games from home, and Waltz of the Wizard, a more teen-level magic simulator for Harry Potter fans looking to brew potions and make mischief.
Tricking kids into exercising
Can’t get your game-loving teens out the front door? See if you can get them movin’ and groovin’ with games that will have muscles burning well before they stop having fun.
Beat Saber (O/P/V, $20) puts a lightsaber in your hand and has you attack blocks of sound to the rhythm of an overall song. Beat Saber will have kids frantically slashing at blocks and having a riotous good time. For younger kids, turn on No Fail mode so they have fun without feeling bad about their skill level, or help your teens to download mods so they can install custom songs based on popular music.
Audioshield (V, $20) is another Guitar Hero-esque rhythm game that has you punching orbs to the beat of your own music library, or your kids’ music, which should prove exciting for them.
To really get your teen sweating, try Sprint Vector (O/P/V, $30), an infinite runner racing game that makes you pump your arms to move forward and lean to dodge obstacles as you race against other players.
Shoot for shooters
First-person shooter games translate really well into virtual reality, and the best ones keep your kid moving as they dodge and weave around enemy attacks. Don’t worry, we’ve chosen the best ones that don’t get too bloody.
Space Pirate Trainer (O/P/V, $15) drops the player into a robot-infested arena with blasters, shields and swords. It’s a frantic, fantastic experience to play and replay as you try to reach the harder levels.
Superhot VR (O/P/V, $25) has a simple premise: time moves when you do. As much a strategy game as a shooter, your kid will have to carefully plot out his or her movements around your living room to dodge bullets and take out enemies. And again, there’s plenty of replay value.
Rez Infinite (O/P/V, $25), a rhythm/ shooter hybrid that has you soaring and fighting through a space-like digital landscape to an EDM soundtrack, will blow your teen away. And for a more 12-and-under audience, try Shooty Fruity (O/P/V, $20), an adorable on-rails shooter in which your kid can aim and shoot at, well, fruit.
Puzzlingly enjoyable puzzlers
VR is the best way to experience puzzle and mystery games: there are no mental distractions, no online cheat guides, just a stimulating challenge for minds to overcome.
Despite its violent name, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes (All, $15) is a relatively tame social party game for anyone 10 and up. One person inside the headset tries to deactivate a bomb while the non-VR group studies the bomb-defusing manual and tries to guide them through it before the timer runs out. Everyone involved will have a blast (pun intended).
Another scary-sounding but youth-friendly game, I Expect You to Die (O/P/V, $25), turns your teen into a Bond-esque secret agent trying to escape challenging traps and save the world.
Transpose (O/V, $20) will stimulate your teen’s mind with reality-bending physics puzzles in a dreamlike world, while Talos Principle VR (O/V, $40) will provide literally dozens of hours of challenging mind-teasers, where most VR games only last a few hours.
If your teen is a Clue fan, hit them with Invisible Hours (O/P/V, $30). Investigating the murder of Nikola Tesla, they will have to search a mansion for clues and investigate suspects like Thomas Edison, before naming the murderer.
Or for kids that will enjoy a more humorous, easy experience, try Job Simulator (O/P/V, $20) or the upcoming Vacation Simulator. These cartoonish games provide easy motion-controlled tasks that younger gamers can handle, but with enough subtle humor to entertain adults and teens alike.
Our can’t-miss favorites
If your kid skews more towards the artsy and creative than the violent or puzzly, you can’t go wrong with Google’s Tilt Brush (O/V, $20) or Masterpiece VR (O/V, $30), two apps that let you paint, sculpt and animate in 3D and then export your creations to your computer.
Astro Bot Rescue Mission (P, $40) may be the best platformer (think Super Mario) that VR has to offer. As you guide your plucky robot through the beautifully animated world, you can lean forward into it to look for traps and then punch or head butt them out of the way.
If you’re not worried about your teen spending too long inside a headset, then the incredibly addictive Minecraft VR (M/O/V, $7) may be the last app you’ll need to buy them for a while. Or if you want to buy them an experience that you can’t find on consoles, send them to the rings of Saturn with the transcendent Lone Echo (O, $40).
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