1 of 20
3PS3, Wii, Xbox 360
A substantial upgrade from the geniuses behind the first two Rock Bands and Guitar Hero. The game will work fine with the "old" instruments if you have them, but investing in the latest keyboard, $80, which boasts a two-octave controller, ups the ante considerably. So would a new Pro guitar controller, $150, which has six actual strings and 102 buttons that mimic a genuine fretboard. Four words: Coolest party game ever. (Various bundles of the game plus instruments will be available at retailers.)
2 of 20
Game design legend Warren Spector reimagines the iconic mouse in a refreshingly dark alternate universe alongside a tribe of long-forgotten Disney characters. Join Mickey as he tries to change the world by battling numerous enemies and art styles, using paint and paint thinner to change the world.
3 of 20
Need for Speed Hot Pursuit
PC, PS3, Xbox 360
Set in fictional Seacrest County with over 100 miles of open road for cops-and-robbers-style play at breakneck speeds. The Lamborghini Reventon is exclusively for police.
4 of 20
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed
2 PS3, Xbox 360
Feel like a Jedi at the height of his powers and glean tidbits of the Star Wars story more compelling than what's found in the prequels.
5 of 20
The tried-and-true is back with the same basic setup but a revamped gameplay system that's more intuitive, with several strategic shifts. Build one of the world's great civilizations from the dawn of time through the far-flung future.
6 of 20
PS3, Xbox 360
The download-only game stars kids vying for candy on Halloween night wearing magic garments that give them special powers. More childlike than childish, it appeals to both boys and girls and has a deliciously warped sense of humor.
7 of 20
An MMO, which stands for massively multiplayer online game. This one's a twist on the traditional that allows players to craft their own worlds amidst tons of quest-y action. If you ever doubted that screen time could make a kid smarter, check it out.
8 of 20
Def Jam Rapstar
PS3, Wii, Xbox 360
How is it that there hasn't been a rap karaoke game until now? At last, budding MCs can live out their hip-hop dreams. Don't sweat the T (for Teen) rating—all rhymes are swear-free radio edits.
9 of 20
This utterly charming game somehow manages to entertain all across the age spectrum—happy tweens, teens, and parents will all want their Mii in a starring role.
10 of 20
The Sly Collection
The three Sly Cooper games that came out on the Playstation 2 were cartoony classics—think Ocean's Eleven for the under-15 set. They've been lovingly remastered to bring them up to today's graphical quality and released on one Blu-Ray for the PS3.
11 of 20
A new motion-sensing system called Kinect ($150) for the Xbox 360 tracks movements with the beat. A giant step up from conventional dance-pad-based games.
12 of 20
Raise, train, and exercise an impossibly adorable virtual pet, using cutting-edge reality technology. You can even tickle it or play chase—all with no risk of a pre-dawn wakeup for a walk.
13 of 20
Players choose whether to collaborate or compete in an experience that feels like a digital cross between two old-school mystery faves—the board game Clue and an Agatha Christie novel.
14 of 20
Little Big Planet 2
The first Little Big Planet was fantastic and revolutionary, with a creation tool that let kids design their own game worlds. This latest take raises the bar even higher—making it an absolute must for PS3 owners.
15 of 20
Start the Party
Goofy fun using Sony's new Move controller ($100)—more than 20 surprisingly addictive mini-games are included.
16 of 20
Pixeljunk Shooter 2
Part puzzle game, part twitch-based shooter, this download taps reflexes and wits in equal measure to rescue trapped miners.
17 of 20
This game comes with a new drawing tablet peripheral for the Wii that instantly updates the classic game for 2010.
18 of 20
Donkey Kong Country Returns
Nintendo's habit of revisiting its old (uniformly excellent) stomping grounds pays off big as Donkey and Diddy Kong romp in a side-scrolling 2-D jumping extravaganza.
19 of 20
Kirby's Epic Yarn
Another revived classic Nintendo franchise, this one takes the sweet, innocent blob on a whole new adventure with a yarn-based visual aesthetic that's alternately cuddly and mind-bending.
Originally published in the November 1, 2010, issue of Family Circle magazine.