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Cat suits, dance routines, bowling: the best games for groups

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Mario in a cat suit is everything.
PHOTO COURTESY OF NINTENDO

joe@sfbg.com

GAMER Winter is the time we spend with loved ones, and much of that time is spent trying desperately to escape. Dodging questions about work, romance, or money from your family? Fear not! Read on for the perfect list of multiplayer video games to keep your relatives occupied — games that even Grandma could play without getting (too) lost. Most of the games on this list are for four players, and span the current and next generations of consoles.

 

Super Mario 3D World (Nintendo; Wii U; four players) Mario in a cat suit. Once again: Mario in a cat suit. Yes, the graphics are amazing; yes, the music is orchestrated and will have you dancing in your chair. But what you really need to know is that four players means four Mario characters running around with swinging tails and cat ears. It's adorable and fun to see Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, and Toad all racing together to beat a classic Mario level.

If you've been bored by Mario lately, nobody would blame you. But trust that Super Mario 3D World is vastly more imaginative than the droll New Super Mario Brothers U, which has been rightly accused of phoning it in. You'll ride giant swimming dinosaurs, play levels entirely in silhouette, and turn yourself into a Goomba all in the name of beating Bowser, again. The variety of levels and power ups in the game makes it look like the turducken of the Mushroom Kingdom, stuffing 10 Mario games into one. A tip for longtime fans: the Tanooki suit and Kuribo's shoe are both back from Mario 3. Let's-a-go!

 

Just Dance 2014 (Ubisoft; Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, Xbox One, Wii U, PS4; four to six players) The problem with video games for most non-gamers is the controller. They're wacky, unwieldy things, infinitely more complex than the humble TV remote. Luckily Just Dance is a game that does away with all of that. Playing it on the Xbox or PS4 uses the systems' camera functions to capture and rate all your awful, awkward dance moves in all their glory.

The song list includes a variety of jams to satisfy all family members (Christina Aguilera, Lady Gaga, and even "Prince Ali" from Aladdin — street rat!) While the professional dancer on screen performs slick moves, the players mirror them with their drunken best. Up to six people can dance simultaneously, fulfilling all of your Jackson 5 and Partridge Family dreams.

Word to the wise, the Wii version measures your dancing solely with motion sensors in its controllers. If you have the choice, go with the Xbox version, which uses the advanced sensors of the Kinect camera.

 

Wii U Bowling (Nintendo; Wii U; four players) Ah, bowling — the great equalizer. A game you can play with beer in hand. Feel the fear though, because this is a game your parents can (and will) beat you at. A vast improvement over its predecessor from the original Wii, bowling on Nintendo's next generation console, the Wii U, uses advanced sensors to capture the more finely tuned spins and curves of your throw. This means it's even more like real bowling, which you know, can be good or bad, depending on if you're any good at the sport itself.

The best part about this game is its price: $10 (a day pass is just $2). You can buy it from Nintendo's e-shop online, making this a purchase you don't even have stand up to make.