Top 5 Best and Worst Educational Games
We don’t need no education!
Well apparently you do need an education Pink Floyd, because that was a double negative. Nevertheless, the school year is quickly approaching and that means it’s time to learn something.
Did you know that I’m actually an elementary educator myself? It’s a secret to everybody. So, the teacher (me) decided to count down my top 5 best and worst educational games. If you want to get a head start on your scholarly pursuits then be sure to play the games on this first list, if you want to continue being a dunce then play the games on the second list.
Also, before you yell at me about the lack of Portal, please keep in mind that all games are from the fifth console generation and prior.
Top 5 Best Educational Games
5.) Mickey’s Ultimate Challenge
I will admit that this choice is based solely on nostalgia.
Mickey’s Ultimate Challenge was a game released for the Super Nintendo, SEGA Genesis, Master System, Game Boy and even the Game Gear. The game was met with mixed reviews, but it’s one I played all the time as a child. In this game Mickey falls asleep while reading a fairy tale. He then dreams he’s in the fairy tale world of Beanswick and must solve puzzles in order to figure out what is causing some strange rumblings across the land.
The game isn’t really educational in that it’s teaching you math, history, science, or some other subject. Instead, Mickey’s Ultimate Challenge consists mainly of logic puzzles. There is a game where you alphabetically sort books, one where you push potions into a mirror on a grid, a memory game, another memory game similar to Simon, and a logic-based guessing game. The finale of this game is nothing special as it’s revealed that the rumblings are caused by a giant snoring. A giant in a fairy tale? I couldn’t believe it either. To save Beanswick all you must do is unscramble a sliding block puzzle of an alarm clock, and the day is saved.
Mickey’s Ultimate Challenge isn’t all that educational in the end. However, my nostalgic ties to the game and the multiple difficulty settings keep repeated playthroughs from getting boring. It’s enough to just sneak it’s way on my list.
4.) Gizmos & Gadgets!
If you never played Gizmos & Gadgets, you’re surely missing out. It’s like if you never played Bridge Builder! I just feel sorry for you.
Gizmos & Gadgets was a computer game designed to teach young children science and engineering. That’s right! This game was designed for 7-12 year old children and it’s made to teach them about engineering. Not just simple engineering either, this game goes into balance, electricity, force, and so much more.
In Gizmos & Gadgets you play as The Super Solver who must defeat Morty Maxwell in a series of fifteen races. The races range from regular vehicles, alternative energy, to aircrafts. The gameplay itself consists of two modes. You travel across a maze-like warehouse looking for parts for your racing vehicle. While you are in the warehouse you must collect the parts while avoiding cyberchimps that wish to steal your parts. Then you put the parts together and use them to defeat Morty.
This game is a great educational game because it succeeds as a game and as a teaching tool. Gizmos & Gadgets will teach you mechanical engineering, and you’ll have fun doing it as well.
3.) The Oregon Trail
You have died of dysentery!
I’m sure many of you thought this would be in the number one position, mainly because it’s in everyone else’s number one spot. However, I’m not everyone else. The Oregon Trail was originally developed in 1971 and since then has had numerous sequels, spin-offs, and remakes. You assume the role of a pioneer wagon leader who must safely traverse the entire Oregon Trail.
The game was originally designed to teach children about the hardships of pioneer life on the trail. That might explain why the game was so tough. Sure I skipped the majority of the menus and just wanted to hunt, but I never made it to the end of the trail. If you play the game correctly you truly learn about life on the trail. You must manage your money to purchase resources, and then manage those resources on the trail. You must learn how to deal with various environmental hazards and illnesses. It’s a game that will teach you a lot.
Or you can just spend all your money on ammunition and kill some bison.
2.) Logical Journey of the Zoombinis
Logical Journey of the Zoombinis is an educational game that is left off many other gamers’ lists.
The Zoombinis are small blue creatures that remind me of the love child of a Smurf and a Goomba. They are somewhat different from each other though because Zoombinis have different combinations of facial features and hair styles. Your goal through the game is to guide groups of Zoombinis across various logic puzzles so that they can escape the evil Bloats and find a new home.
Even though it’s similar to Mickey’s Ultimate Challenge, Logical Journey of the Zoombinis is the far superior educational game. It consists of logic puzzles, but these puzzles cover anything from trial and error, to sequencing, to forward planning. This is not just a memory game. The main focus of the game is to take groups of Zoombinis over a logic puzzle. This is where the various facial features come into play because the puzzles involve the features. For example, if a zoombini has a certain combination of features it may have to take one path while a zoombini with a different set of features would have to take a different path. It’s like segregation, but much cuter.
The best thing about Logical Journey of the Zoombinis is that it has character. The game is bright and cheery, and the Zoombinis have their own unique personality. It’s a game that sticks with you.
1.) Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?
There she is!
Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? is my all-time favorite educational game. In this game you play as a gumshoe that must travel to different locations across the world to stop a V.I.L.E. henchmen who has recently committed a crime. If you stop enough henchmen you then try to capture Carmen Sandiego herself… which I did! As you can see above in that totally not edited image.
The game begins with a V.I.L.E. henchmen performing an impressive caper. You must travel to the scene of the crime to search for clues and question witnesses. Once that is completed, you will have hopefully learned where to go next, or you can take a shot in the dark. If you are correct you will find more clues and eventually arrest the subject, but if you’re wrong you must retrace your steps and try again before time runs out.
Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? is my all time favorite educational game because it inspired me to be a lifelong learner. I was terrible with Geography, however this game taught me much and when I was done with the game, I wanted to learn more. It’s why I can’t tell you anything about the actual Oregon Trail, but I know tons about Lima, Peru and other locations.
Top 5 Worst Educational Games
5.) Team Xtreme: Operation Weather Disaster
This game almost made it in the Top 5 best column just because of how strange it is.
Team XTreme: Operation Weather Disaster is a game about trying to stop an evil weatherman (pictured above) who uses science to change the weather in radical ways. You play as a member of the disaster task force who must stop the evil weatherman.
How do you stop an evil weatherman? Well mostly through pointing and clicking as this game is one of the numerous Myst clones that came out during this time, however there are also some arcade-style action games. There is a ton of bad acting, but there is also some creativity, like a frozen Egypt. However the game fails because it gets quite boring quickly, and it teaches you nothing. The game is meant to teach you about weather, but I still have no idea what a barometer is.
4.) I.M. Meen
You know an educational game made by the same people behind the CDi Zelda games is going to be terrible.
Ignatius Mortimer Meen or I.M. Meen is an evil librarian who loathes learning and detests children. When two children are in his library one day, he uses a magical book to suck the children into a labyrinth and prison. One of I.M. Meen’s henchmen decides to help to children and tells them to free the other children and take down I.M. Meen.
I.M. Meen is an educational game focused on grammar, but oddly it uses similar graphics and engine of the original doom game. The doom part of the game is fun as you go through the dungeon defeating monsters, but then you find a scroll. Scrolls are the educational part of this game. You have to read through each scroll and correct the grammatical mistakes in them. This game doesn’t teach grammar, it instead assumes you already know it and forces you to play teacher. No one wants that.
3.) Prince Interactive
Another Myst clone, but the last one on this list.
Ever since video game emerged there have been company and celebrity tie ins to go with them. Back in the day the Kool-Aid man had his own game, and now 50 Cent does. Most of these games are terrible, and this educational game that follows the Artist Formerly Known as Prince is no exception.
In Prince Interactive you get free roam of Paisley Park Studios (a recording studio, built and owned by Prince). You travel from room to room solving idiotic logic puzzles, and are rewarded with Prince photos, videos, songs, and much more. Not only does this game fail to teach anything, but it also punishes you by showing you more and more Prince. No one wants that.
The worst thing about this game is that it’s a game that is made just to stroke Prince’s already enormous ego. Besides the fact that the game is entirely about him, it also contains famous artists talking about Prince. It’s a giant ass-kissing of Prince, and by Prince.
2.) Mario Educational Games
While Nintendo is guarding their portly plumber now, he used to be whored out nearly nonstop. Mario was a huge name, and others used that name to rake in the money.
Therefore, for the number two spot on this list I’m counting all educational games that stamped Mario on the cover. This includes Mario Teaches Typing, Mario is Missing, Mario’s Early Years, Mario’s Time Machine, and much more.
On the surface, these are just mediocre educational games. They’re meant to teach spelling, history, typing or other simple subjects. The gameplay and controls are all mediocre as well. What propels the Mario Educational Games into the number two spot on this list is the shameless deception. The only reason games played these games was because Mario’s name and likeness were attached. We were tricked into playing it, and then we weren’t even taught anything.
The Mario educational games screwed us over as gamers and as learners, and that is unforgivable.
1.) Raya Systems Games (Rex Ronan: Experimental Surgeon, Captain Novolin, Packy and Marlon, Bronkie the Bronchiasaurus)
It’s a four way tie for the number one spot.
Raya Systems was a game publisher for the Super Nintendo. They were commissioned by the US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to use video games to teach children about health issues. The games included Rex Ronan: Experimental Surgeon, Captain Novolin, Packy and Marlon, and Bronkie the Bronchiasaurus.
These games were made and sold on the lie that they would actually have an impact on the health and lives of children. Rex Ronan was supposed to teach children about the dangers of smoking, Bronkie the Bronchiasaurus taught children how to take control of their asthma, and Captain Novolin/Packy and Marlon taught children to stop eating junk food and how to deal with diabetes.
The problem with these games is the way they tried to teach children. Rex Ronan was basically Innerspace where you go inside a patient’s body and use a ray gun to destroy tar and miniature robots. Captain Novolin had you eating a balanced meal while avoiding anthropomorphized junk food, and the other games were no better.
The Raya Systems games were shown to lead to positive health changes in children. These studies were either a coincidence or made up. The Raya Systems games aren’t educational games. They are poor excuses for games with an educational message so obscured, that the games do more harm than good. They’re actually anti-educational games, and that makes them the worse.
Now these are the best and worst retro educational games out there, but that’s not the end of it. There are still educational games being made today, and with the internet and Flash being readily available, nearly anyone can make a game now. One of the weirdest I’ve found while doing research for this list was Adventures in Sex City. The first game involves defeating the evil Sperminator by answering trivia questions about STDs and the second game involves defeating the evil Bloody Mary by answering questions about substance abuse and sex. Both of these games need to be seen to be believed.