It’s easy to dismiss kids’ games as not worthwhile. After all, what could you possibly hope to gain from a kids’ game? Children are stupid and don’t know anything, so what sort of insight can a game designed for them possibly offer to you? Educational games can probably teach you things most adults don’t know because they are pretty stupid as well, truth be told. But for a solid, upstanding, not-stupid person, are these games really worth playing? I say yes, and here’s a few reasons why.
Before we get straight into it, what makes a kid’s game a proper “Kids’ Game”? Is it the marketing? Is it the characters? Is it a learning game? Does it have micro-transactions? Is the word “Nintendo” on it? Many are quick to immediately declare all Nintendo games to be games for children. Nintendo games have a very wide appeal and a broad spectrum of fun characters, but they aren’t often overly violent, gory, sweary, or emotional. Does that actually make it for kids, or does that make them simply “all-ages”? Properties like Mario are games that kids play, surely, but that plumber has been around for years and people in their thirties will still play that or the next Pokemon when they come out, no question. Minecraft is an incredibly popular game for children (maybe even the new Mario for a new generation), but adults play Minecraft too. Heck, it makes up a large portion of the “Let’s Play” community videos. What about Splatoon, is it a game for kids now, or squids now? Really, in order for a game to be officially a kids’ game, it really comes down to what the game is mostly intended and marketed to. Maybe a kids’ game can also be an all-ages game, but it was meant for kids (the Trix Cereal of the video game world). For now, let’s define them as “because I said so” for the sake of brevity.
At their core, kids’ games tend to be more gamey, if you get me. When trying to make a game for kids, one must make sure it will keep their interest. Try and drop in a big plot and you might lose their attention. So, keeping it drama-free is usually a good start. The next bit is to try and make the difficulty perfect, neither frustrating nor easy. One may be quick to think kids’ games are easy but by and large, they either aren’t, or they are the type of difficulty that are only as tough as you make them. These games also have a very straight-forward progression system, usually presenting the player with a clear goal and a good indicator of progression. All of these elements make for a game that is purely meant to be enjoyed. That’s an ideal game really, as sometimes you’ve got to unwind from all the murder, racing, questing, and walking aimlessly in an open world picking flowers for your potion recipe so you can murder some more.
The mobile world has solid kids’ games. One such game is Angry Birds. Minimal plot? Check. Perfect difficulty? Check. Clear sign of progression? Check. Is it fun? It absolutely is. Is it overexposed the point of sheer lunacy? Yes, but who are we to deny the children their Angry Birds t-shirts, backpacks, plushies, toys, and assorted gummy candies? Angry Birds is disliked by some for a great many reasons, but there’s really no point in disliking it. For the most part, it is a harmless game that’s easy to pick up, enjoy, put down, and pick up again because dang it, you’ve gotta get that last green pig! I understand that recently, the game series has moved onto more questionable practices, with newer games in the franchise featuring the controversial “Premium/Free-to-Play” model. With that, some people say the game is exploitative, but that’s for another time. Sticking crucially to the theme of adults playing a game intended for kids, Angry Birds is an easy time killer that will make you smile. [Side Note: On mobile, check out Bag It! if you want a similarly structured game for fun, it’s a game about bagging groceries in case that’s not immediately apparent.]
Looking at a more recent title, there’s Zoo Tycoon (2013) an Xbox One launch title. While the spiritual successor to the Zoo Tycoon games of ancient yore, this one is watered down a bit for the sake of fun and simplicity. There’s a lot more focus on enjoying the animals and exhibits you create than micromanaging the crap out of every single facet of your zoo. How do you play this one? You put up a pre-made enclosure, put an appropriate animal in the space, and then make sure they stay fed. Park paths are made automatically every time you make an exhibit, show, concession, or facility. Then you get to hand-feed the animals and zip around the park in your zoo buggy. Yes, it makes you keep track of your money and if you spend recklessly you will run out, and you have to keep your guests happy by fulfilling a series of challenges. But, the game is very fast paced and once you get a hang for it, you’ll be sprucing up and managing your park on auto-pilot before you know. This game is certain to keep you busy, and it’s really enriching to occasionally stop what you’re doing, jump onto a water cannon, and spray down your African Elephants because they like it (and will spray you back in a quick and adorable cutscene). Once again, minimal plot, difficulty, and clear progression maximize the fun you’ll inevitably have with a title like this.
A final look is actually at an older game, Thrillville: Off the Rails!. This game was made by the same studio that did the original RollerCoaster Tycoon game (yes, another tycoon game), but albeit was a largely different team at the time. Just like the above, this game reduces the intensity of its older counterpart for a more fun-focused adventure. This game directly assumes the player is a kid as you take control of one, a boy or girl, who gets to be the boss of his/her very own amusement park, “Thrillville”. However, this one’s even more shallow, unfortunately, as you can only build your attractions in designated areas, the parks are already fully designed (and small), it limits you on what you can build per area, and it can be beaten rather quickly if you largely ignore the park in favor of just breezing through the “story missions”. This all violates my ground rules, as the game is too easy, they add a plot and it’s terrible, and progression is done through as series of short cutscenes congratulating you on being super incredible. This is done to the point where it interrupts you taking care of your park because you don’t even realize you’re progressing.
So why did I bring up Thrillville: OTR? Because multiplayer is where it shines, believe it or not. The game comes with a slew of 50 minigames to play solo or with friends. You get to play some of these minigames during the campaign, but you unlock them all and can play them at any time after you beat it. A lot of these games are ripoffs of classic arcade games, but that’s what makes it great. This game is a collection of cheap and quick arcarde games that you and friends can have fun tearing through. To summarize, you get a selection of games like: skee-ball, racing (2d overhead and 3d), bumper cars, cheerleading, cleanup game, bubble bobble, 2d sidescrolling shooter, overhead scrolling shooter, first person shooter, shooting galleries, minigolf, pipe puzzles, sumo, soccer, dogfighting, trampolines, dungeon quest, a weird anime thing, pg-rated streets of rage featuring chihuahuas, pg-rated trials hd, and a couple more. All of this can be played in the game’s party mode and is a blast to play with friends locally, as the controls are easy and the play style is easier to grasp than most Mario Party minigames on your first time. Truly, the only flaw is that the game determines player numbers based on the order each player presses the start button and not something much simpler like which controller number you are, but that is easily remedied by telling all your friends to chill the hell out and just hit “ready” in an orderly fashion. Games are quick, and time flies when it’s rematch after rematch because you scored 200 more points firing cork guns at more robot pirates than your buddies.
People are really ready to write off a game for kids, simply because a kid is the target audience. “This game is for children, and I am not a children!” Don’t be insulted and don’t be petty, that shouldn’t discourage you. Most of the games for kids out there are fun and incredibly well designed. As an adult, you can enjoy a kids’ game, and appreciate the design too. These games are more than just distractions, they’re fun games. You want to have some fun, right? Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go make a zoo that entirely consists of red panda exhibits now.
~~And polar bears. They’re pretty cool too.~~