Retro adventures for kids
When I’m not writing about the history of video games or computers, my days are completely filled by my other job—being the father of two bright and curious girls, both of whom are eager to follow in my retrogaming footsteps. The best way for them to do this, I’ve found, is to dig up older games for kids and show them the way things used to be. So far, we’ve played lots of retro console titles together, but sometimes the kids crave a more depthy experience, and a favorite genre of mine delivers that: point-and-click adventure games. So I set out to find the best ones for the IBM PC platform. I’d like to share what I’ve found with other parents who might want to pass down their love of the classics like I have.
Fatty Bear's Birthday Surprise (1992)
This colorful adventure title takes place in and around a typical suburban house, the night before a little girl’s birthday party. You control a friendly sentient stuffed bear (named Fatty, of course) in a quest to bake a birthday cake before she wakes up. The animation, graphics, and sound are very rich for a game from 1992, and it has aged surprisingly well. My kids and I have played this game through its entirety three times now; a single play-through takes about an hour or two. Aside from the typical find-an-object and complete-a-puzzle gameplay, Fatty Bear presents several nonintrusive educational opportunities along the way.
Best of all, you can buy Fatty Bear’s Birthday Surprise for play on a modern computer using Steam.
Mixed Up Mother Goose VGA (1991)
My wife fondly recalls playing the original Mixed Up Mother Goose (1987) as a kid, so naturally, this was one of the first titles I searched for. Created by Roberta Williams of King’s Quest fame, this game sends you on a Mother Goose-themed scavenger hunt to find various objects for nursery rhyme characters. After playing the original version several times, I’ve upgraded to the 1991 VGA remake, which retains the same gameplay as its precursor but upgrades the graphics, sound, and interface.
Sadly, this classic title isn’t available through Steam or GOG, but if you’re industrious enough, you can find it with a Google search and emulate it in DOSBox. Or, if you like to toe the line legally, you can buy an old copy on eBay and run it on a vintage PC. It’s still fun either way!
Pajama Sam: No Need to Hide When It's Dark Outside (1996)
Since my kids were old enough to walk, I noticed that if I didn’t mention the dark being scary, and didn’t let them watch TV shows about people being afraid to go to sleep, they wouldn’t be afraid of the dark. So I’m not a huge fan of the subject matter of this particular Pajama Sam game (for my kids at their current ages, 3 and 6), which is nonetheless a lushly illustrated and smoothly animated classic created by Ron Gilbert of LucasArts fame. But my kids do enjoy its sequels—especially the food-related Pajama Sam 3: You Are What You Eat from Your Head to Your Feet (1999). Age-appropriateness aside, you really can’t go wrong with any Pajama Sam title. Luckily, the games are all available through both GOG and Steam.
Mixed Up Fairy Tales (1992)
As a follow-up to Mixed Up Mother Goose, Mixed Up Fairy Tales does exactly what you would expect: It takes the Mother Goose scavenger-hunt formula and applies to it fairy tales. I find the graphics and audio to be slightly inferior to its precursor, and the interface can be a little frustrating at times. Also, the subject matter seems geared toward a slightly older audience than Mixed Up Mother Goose. It’s still a solid title if you’re hungry for kid-friendly retro adventure fare. Sadly, you’ll have to search Google or eBay for it because Mixed Up Fairy Tales is not for sale on Steam or GOG.
Spy Fox in 'Dry Cereal' (1997)
Upon its release, the first game in the Spy Fox series delivered what many had come to expect from Humongous Entertainment games: fluid animation, lovable characters, and incredible polish. The fact that it’s a humorous spy spoof on top of it all only adds to Dry Cereal’s appeal to kids. That’s probably why this game (which is available in its classic form through Steam) received a later port to iOS and Android.
EcoQuest: The Search for Cetus (1991)
If your kids are fans of nature and the ocean, look no further than EcoQuest, which blends a pseudo-mythological story of a whale king named Cetus with a cautionary tale about man’s impact on the earth’s ecosystem. The game provides just the right balance of science, education, storytelling, and adventure that kids will love, while providing the classic Sierra point-and-click interface that will (likely) please a 30-something mom or dad. Like other Sierra titles on this list, you’ll have to get it on eBay or resort to less legally clear-cut means if you want to get your EcoQuest fix.
Putt-Putt Goes to the Moon (1993)
I’m partial to space themes, so the fact that the second title of the famous Putt-Putt series takes place on the moon makes this game an undeniable classic in my eyes. Like Fatty Bear and other Humongous titles, the player guides a character (this time a talking car, Putt-Putt) on a quest that involves finding objects and applying them to screen-based puzzles. In this case, you try to rebuild and refuel a rocket ship so you can get back to earth. It’s very young-kid friendly, which I appreciate. All the Putt-Putt games can be found on Steam.
Pepper's Adventures in Time (1993)
While my kids didn’t find the interface of this title quite as intuitive as others on this list, they do enjoy the American history theme set in colonial times. The game is divided into separate humorously titled acts, each with its own goal. My kids and I have yet to finish this title, but I figure that any game that features Benjamin Franklin chilling in a wooden bathtub will be fun enough to hold their attention. Sadly, it’s not available on Steam or GOG, so you’ll have to search abandonware sites or eBay if you’d like to play it. Whomever owns the rights to these classic Sierra titles needs to get their act together with some re-releases soon—there’s a lot to that back catalog besides King’s Quest.
Now that we’re done, I’d love to hear about some of your favorite kids’ adventure games in the comments. My kids will surely thank you for it.