Last weekend something interesting happened.
I came out of my bedroom to see my 12-year-old daughter Megan playing Ico on the PS2. I knew she’d pulled it out recently to play again (we’ve both played it through many, many times) so I wasn’t surprised.
Then I looked again and realized that it wasn’t Megan playing, it was my five-year-old David! I knew he had been watching Megan play Ico but I hadn’t realized that he’d gotten interested in it enough to try it himself! Needless to say I was very happy.
Of course, Ico is a terrible game for a five-year-old. (You can watch this movie to familiarize yourself with the game if you have not played it…you heathen, you.) The control scheme is confusing and having to drag Yorda around everywhere is a pain. Plus he was terrified of the shadows – when they appeared he would actually jump off a cliff and kill Ico to end the game rather than fight them. But he kept going back to it. He eventually got to the point where he could move around well, pull switches, jump up ledges and even climb chains.
But I really wanted to find him something he could play. I thought about Katamari Damashii, and while that game is charming and upbeat, its control scheme is even more confusing than Ico’s is. I really didn’t have anything suitable for him.
Now, longtime readers of this site might remember that I used to work for a company called Human Code. At Human Code we made a lot of money making very pretty dreck based on very popular licenses. I personally was the tester on Barbie Pet Rescue, which was released the same year as Deus Ex and outsold that game, thus proving to some pundits that the PC game industry was doomed.
Thus, I have very little tolerance for licensed kiddie crap. And yet I needed a game for David…
On the recommendation of Tom, I bought Dora the Explorer: Journey to the Purple Planet. He said he was surprised at how good it was, and the fact that new copies were still available at Fry’s seemed to bear this out.
And I was also surprised – it’s a good game. It’s fully 3D, but the controls are easy to master. The graphics and animation are good and seem more fluid than the original cartoon. And it’s set in outer space, which David loves (although he hasn’t actually gotten the rocket ship working yet). I couldn’t pry him off it all weekend.
If I’ve got a complaint about the game, it’s that the makers were forced to conform to Sony’s standardized interface requirements which state that you must provide multiple save slots that the player can switch between, you cannot create a save file without prompting the player, you cannot override a save file without prompting the player, you must have options for volume and subtitles and mono/stereo, etc…the kids this game is targeted at can’t read yet; why are you making them deal with all this text?
But that’s a fairly minor point. Global Star Software, the makers of Journey to the Purple Planet, appear to be another incarnation of Human Code – practically everything they do is licensed. I’m just glad they are taking games for small children more seriously than most companies.
I’m glad to here he liked it. I know my son (3) has played it through about 20 to 30 times.
I know that the Debian Project has a few kid games and edutainment software.