Kids these days, am I right? No really. I don’t understand kids. If I went into a school right now I bet it would be different in the way they interact compared to my youth. Technology has come pretty far since I graduated. That was just before the first iPhone came out. If I had any nearby younger cousins I would have asked to sit in on a daily routine for research. That’s why invisibility would be such a great power for a journalist. I need to get some scoops! I’m veering off track here so let me tie this rambling into today’s subject: educational games.
Now I know they were a big part of my childhood, but I don’t know if schools still use educational games today. The choices, if they do, are also more vast thanks to the introduction of Apps. If anything I would venture that’s how they’re sneaking in video games to the classroom. I went down the rabbit hole that is my nostalgia and looked at some games that tried to pass themselves off as educational specifically in the 90s. By games I pretty much mean garbage. They weren’t fun and I sure didn’t learn anything from my experiences with them. If you’re still in school let us know in the comments if you still use any of these, or if educational games are still used in some capacity. Thanks!
29 Mario Is Missing!
This game was in my dentist’s office as a kid. The Super Nintendo and the Mario game inside fooled me. It looked like Super Mario World, but it sure wasn’t. As the name suggests Mario has gone missing and Luigi has to go on a quest to find him. You’ll do this by going to towns and searching for clues, which just so happens to correlate to real-world history and geography. Luigi’s sprite and the backgrounds look off. It feels like a cheap hack.
28 Star Wars: DroidWorks
Oh boy! Is this game about making battle droids and fighting off evil aliens? Nope. While you do make robots it’s actually kind of a math game. You have to learn how to balance the weight of the droids before they can take off.
The prequels were better than this.
It’s tediously boring and even after you make something there’s not much to do. It’s a cheap cash in on the billion-dollar popularity that is Star Wars. How dare they.
27 Sonic's Schoolhouse
Not to be outdone by Mario, Sonic also has several education games. Let’s begin with Sonic’s Schoolhouse for PC. So what if I told you this was DOOM meets Sonic the Hedgehog? Sounds like a Shadow game, right? Well in terms of perspective it resembles DOOM, or Wolfenstein 3D. Unfortunately, it plays nothing like them. Imagine this as basically a digital tour through museum-like exhibits. There are also learning stations with mini-games. Not sure how one could pay attention though. Everything is distractingly ugly.
26 Sesame Street: Countdown
No, this is not a Sesame Street rendition of Europe’s “The Final Countdown.” It’s actually a platformer starring the Count. Basically, you start a level by hitting a number, which then becomes that stage’s goal. So if I hit three I would have to hit the number three, or objects gathered together in counts of three. If you get it wrong, you get a check against you. The platforming is stiff and the backgrounds are very uninspired. I do like the Count’s voice sampling though.
25 Wally Bear and the NO! Gang
We all know the slogan of “say no" and all that, right? I learned it from D.A.R.E., in school. That’s the general message of this game. Gang peddlers are out to offer illegal stuff to Wally Bear and his friends.
Your mission is to fight them off. I know, on paper it sounds cool, but it isn’t. It actually sends the wrong message because of how monotonous it is. Maybe doing some illegal substances would help ease the pain of playing.
24 Mario's Time Machine
Mario's Time Machine? That sounds amazing, doesn’t it? Well, hold your horses because this is not the time traveling Mario platformer you think and or hope it is. Instead it plays very similarly to Mario is Missing. Mario can plug in important dates into a time machine to then be warped to said period to learn about history. Oh, and you need to take back important artifacts from Bowser like Sir Isaac Newton’s apple so he can discover gravity. It feels just as broken and fan-made as Mario is Missing.
23 Awesome Possum Kicks Dr. Machino's Butt
“I’m awesome, “ exclaims the titular rodent as you start this cartridge up. No, my odd possum friend, you are not. Saving the rainforest was all the rage in the 90s so the idea of a furry superhero fighting robots who are trying to destroy the environment sounds weird, but fun in an over the top way. Well, as you can guess, it’s not done right here. Gameplay wise it tries to be like Sonic the Hedgehog only with a terrible frame rate. It is literally nauseating to play.
22 Bronkie The Bronchiasaurus
Dinosaur games came out in droves in the 90s so of course there was going to be an educational title, or two in there. So the premise is you have to platform through a polluted city, gathering inhalers to keep Bronkie alive. At the end of each stage, you get a little factoid about bronchitis. It’s a real bummer. I learned something, I'm just not exactly sure what.
21 The Amazon Trail
The Oregon Trail was the first big “smash hit” in the video game world of education. It came out in the 70s though so it’s not really applicable here. There were several spinoffs I can talk about in a 90s connotation though. The Amazon Trail took explorers along the Amazon River, duh. While there was some education behind it, the game felt more of a sim. It was less fun due to the more photo-realistic graphics digitized into the game. It was less kitschy and random.
20 Packy and Marlon
If you thought Bronkie the Bronchiasaurus was upsetting, wait till you hear about Packy and Marlon. It’s also a platformer starring a lovable, but disease-ridden creature. Packy has diabetes and like Bronkie you have to collect glucose medicine for him, or else he’ll keel over. Also like our last example, there is some medical science toned down to a child’s level at the end of stages. I get the thought behind games like this, but kids with this don’t want to play a game about it. They have to live with it. Kids without it don’t either — it's upsetting.
19 Mario's Early Years: Preschool Fun
Unlike the previous two Mario “games” I didn’t discover the Mario Early Years series until I started digging into emulation. Mario's Early Years: Preschool Fun is just one example from this franchise.
Get ready for Mario Plumber Babies.
Since I have other examples that focus on the alphabet and numbers I chose to play around with this edition for a broader scope at “education” through Nintendo’s eyes. It covers the basics for Preschool children i.e. identifying letters, numbers, colors, shapes, and so on. No platforming here.
18 Rex Ronan: Experimental Surgeon
Rex Ronan is actually a pretty sweet name and one that will eternally link him to the 90s. So, uh, this is about Rex shrinking down and going into a father’s mouth to scrape away gunk that has built up from smoking since he was fifteen. Imagine Thank You For Smoking, but with a tiny man fighting plaque and weird creatures inside Aaron Eckhart’s mouth off-screen. That’s basically what this game is about. Creepy doesn’t even begin to describe the horror.
17 Barbie Fashion Designer
Haven’t we gone beyond the Barbie imagery for young girls? It just seems so old fashioned now with how our culture has evolved past gender norms. Anyway, besides dolls, Barbie has infested video games too. There are a lot. Think of a number and then double that. Nope, your guess is still too low. It’s insane! Educational versions like Barbie Fashion Designer tried to teach girls how fashion works. Well, not really. It was basically an excuse to play dress up.
16 Sonic the Hedgehog's Gameworld
Our second Sonic game is Sonic the Hedgehog's Gameworld for the relatively obscure Sega Pico. This device was basically like one of those child laptops. Extremely colorful and kid safe, but at the same time, it was a bulky plastic nightmare. So, of course, Sega wanted to promote it with a Sonic title, but in the worst way possible.
Welcome to Sonic’s cheap plastic knockoff.
Thanks to the poor quality of the system the sound effects, graphics, and everything in between made playing through these learning exercises the opposite of educational. What a cheap way to make a buck.
15 The Magic School Bus
Video games (in all of these examples and more) never taught me a thing. I wasn’t against educational programming for kids though. Video games just weren’t a good medium. A product that did teach me about science, history, biology, and so forth was The Magic School Bus. I loved that show! The game for the Sega Genesis, uh, not so much. It’s such a weird hodgepodge of game mechanics. There are flying segments akin to Star Fox, Landing portions like Lunar Lander, platforming areas, shape-shifting puzzles, and more. It fails the series on which it is based.
14 Mario Teaches Typing
This is a genre I’m extremely curious about. In my day we had several typing games that were supposed to make the class fun, but none of them were. They were stressful. PAWS, you still haunt my dreams. Maybe I would have felt more engaged with Mario Teaches Typing. Basically, you can guide Mario and pals through Super Mario World like stages. Words appeared on the bottom and if you were correct and fast enough with your spelling, the chosen hero would move on. This process took forever just to get through one level.
13 Treasure Mountain!
That exclamation point is misleading. This is not an exciting adventure into a mountain sprinkled with loot. Basically, you’re tasked with retrieving the King’s crown and some other treasure a mischief-maker stole. On the way, you’re asked a series of riddles.
Answer correctly and you continue and if not well then you’re banished to the underworld. The underworld of shame that is to losing out to a basic logic puzzle. The game isn’t actually that dark, but I’d respect it if it were more hardcore.
12 Barney's Hide & Seek Game
Barney was definitely a thing I grew up around, but thankfully I never had to watch it at school. I was way too old for that demographic, but I was definitely aware of how creepy he and his cousins made me feel. He just looks like he’s up to no good. I played Barney's Hide & Seek Game for the SNES, which is just a basic Where’s Waldo-like set of puzzles. I’m still not convinced there isn’t a secret message hidden in here. That dinosaur is up to no good, I swear it!
11 Captain Novolin
One thing I should have mentioned with Bronkie, Rex, and Packy earlier is that they were all developed by WaveQuest. The last one I’ll mention was also my first: Captain Novolin. When I started writing about video games and making videos on YouTube I wanted to try and uncover games I missed growing up. I like the weird stuff and it doesn’t get stranger than this. Words can’t do it justice. You need to see this in action.
10 Troggle Trouble Math
Do you have any video games from your childhood that you have vivid memories of, but you can’t think of the name? It happens to me all the time. In the case of Troggle Trouble Math, I’m going to chalk that forgetfulness up to trauma. My class played this a lot.
It’s a spinoff to the Muncher series of games, which were also educational but simple enough that I liked them. Playing through this game again what with its slow dialogue brought back a lot of bad school days.
9 Blue's Birthday Adventure
Blue is a condescending troll. Uh, actually I guess Steve was the troll. I watched Blue’s Clues at an age I was way too old for just because I had to watch something. The way the show paused on obvious answers was just infuriating at times. It treated kids like idiots. This PS1 game is no different. It plays out just like the show except you can thankfully make it go faster by skipping through obvious stuff.
8 Tails And The Music Maker
The last Sonic-related educational game we’re going to look at today is Tails and the Music Maker. If you thought Wii Music was an embarrassment, well then you haven’t checked this out. It’s another Sega Pico game and as I said before the sound quality is terrible on it. Put two and two together and I think you can figure it out. Yep, this game will make your ears explode (and not in a good way). Even if this was for a console I bet it would sound just as bad. I always thought the Genesis sounded like a Nickelodeon fart machine.
7 Math Blaster Episode I: In Search of Spot
With an epic name like that this has to be good. Not! What a clunky name for although I will admit it describes it pretty well. An alien stole your partner, Spot, and you have to track him down in your spaceship.
Instead of firing at aliens you instead blast answers to math equations. Fun? I like how these types of games try to take the coolest things possible and make them cruddy. That takes talent.
6 Mickey's Adventures In Numberland
This is more like Mickey's Adventures in Copyright Infringement. Why do all these educational games look like bootlegs? This is an honest to goodness platformer wherein Mickey has to track down missing numbers Pete stole. You can choose from a variety of levels at the start like a factory, or museum, but they all boil down to the same thing: find the given number. If you touch the wrong one Mickey will comically shake his head. I bet so many kids were tricked on Christmas morning with this NES nightmare. Coal would be better.
5 Gizmos And Gadgets
Gizmos and Gadgets is sort of like that Star Wars droid game, but instead of using math to build robots you instead need logic to solve puzzles. Kind of clever ones too. I never played this as a kid, but I was surprised how competent this was as an honest to goodness puzzle game. You need to find the right amount of gears to get a crank working for example. It teaches you nothing about the real world so in that regard it’s not great, but again as just a puzzle game, I found some enjoyment.
4 JumpStart Kindergarten
My school was never privy to the JumpStart series of games. I think they were more expensive at the time since they were newer, Why buy a new game when ancient software like The Oregon Trail and PAWS exists for pennies? Yeah, my school wasn’t that rich.
JumpStart was the rich kid’s The Oregon Trail.
I do have fond memories of playing JumpStart Kindergarten with my younger cousin on his Mac laptop though. It didn’t educate me, but it was novel.
3 Eco Fighters
Eco Fighters is actually an amazing arcade shooter from Capcom. I know this list is primarily aimed at bad educational games and Eco Fighters barely counts as one, but it does just enough. Like Awesome Possum, it’s about environmentalism. You’re tasked with stopping an evil corporation from harvesting the planet’s resources. Unlike that dumb platformer, this is actually fun. To tie it back into this list though I didn’t learn how to stop conglomerates from taking control of Earth.
2 Elmo's ABC’s
Now you can learn with Elmo on the go! You’ll dive into amazing puzzles like choosing a letter to spell a word while Elmo juggles, or finding the right letter while he juggles, or blank blank blank as Elmo juggles. You get the point. Whether it’s spelling, or vocabulary related all you do is choose a letter while this Muppet throws balls around. It’s super repetitive even for an educational game. I guess it looks nice for a Game Boy Color title, which isn’t saying much.
1 The Oregon Trail
Ha, I got you! Even though this did come out in the 70s, 1971 to be exact, my class certainly played it like it was a 90s game. I also had to represent it because this was made in Minnesota, my home state. It is the best worst game on here.
Did I learn anything from it though? Heck no! I guess that’s not totally true. Writing on gravestones is hilarious, dysentery is the funniest disease, and bullets are an amazing resource. Huh, I guess I did learn something after all.