While many gamers fall into a certain age demographic, there are plenty of players younger and older than the average age. For games aimed at the young, the tradition has been to either create an educational experience or something dumbed-down and almost insulting to kids' intelligence.
If you've got a young one who is asking to take a turn with the controller, is Skunk Software's Games for Toddlers worth adding to your Wii U? As it turns out, this title holds four different games, so let's give each a mini-review.
First is A-Mazing, a game where you guide a boy through a top-down maze. Inexplicably, apples line the maze and make a sound like shaking dice in a cup every single time you touch one. The boy also grunts every time you tap the screen, which is irritating.
You're able to choose from three different sizes of maze — small ones fit on the GamePad's screen without scrolling, while the larger ones might take 30 or more seconds to traverse. What's strange about the stages, especially the smaller ones, is that they're more like running through a corridor than they are navigating a maze.
Of course, in a game aimed at children you don't expect brain-busting puzzles. However, the design feels peculiar — in some of the mazes half of the paths can't even be accessed, as they're on the other side of the goal. Even children won't have any problem simply following the only path available.
Aside from the mazes themselves, this game is nothing special overall. The music is a calming guitar track, which is probably the best feature of it. The art, however, looks like an early PlayStation game, with hideous textures on the boy and tiled grass on the ground.
The controls are all via the touch screen, and they're a bit weird. You tap a specific spot for the boy to run to, but it's easy to get stuck on corners and have to tap wildly to get him moving again. Overall, A-Mazing is pretty lacklustre; the mazes start to cycle after a few wins and following a straight path gets boring fast.
Next up is Icy Block Stacker, a barebones block-stacking game with an arctic skin. You simply tap the screen to drop a penguin block, wait a moment to ensure it won't tip over into the water, and repeat the process until your tower takes a tumble.
There's not much else to the gameplay for this one, other than mentioning that the physics are rather wonky. It can feel as if the stack is about to topple over even after dropping just two or three blocks in a straight line. Additionally, we ran into an instance where the game let us drop the next penguin block even though the tower was in the middle of falling.
This is a weak game. When you fail, the big restart button has an obvious shade around it that wasn't cut out properly in an image editor, and the music sounds like a child banging on piano keys at random. Kids won't want to stay on this one for more than a few minutes.
Third on the list is Happy Cat, a generic helicopter game where you control a smiling cat with wings. The cat falls steadily unless you press the touch screen to make it ascend. There's no variety to speak of in the obstacles; you'll be dodging trees from the instant you start to the moment you crash.
What's irritating about this one is the screen setup. The screen is divided roughly into thirds, with the left third showing your score and the right being darkened so it's hard to see what's ahead. Thus, you only have about 30-40% of the screen in the middle to work with, which doesn't give you much time to react to new trees in your path.
Of course, considering how bland this game is, this shouldn't bother you much. There's nothing here to hold a toddler's interest for more than a few tries, though the music playing while you pilot your cat isn't too bad.
This all-star collection is capped off with Egg Hunt, a game that tasks you with helping a rabbit collect eggs on a single screen. At the start, the game gives you 60 seconds to grab a single egg and bring it back to what we can only guess is a basket in the center of the screen. After that, you repeat the process with two eggs, then three, and so on. It's about as riveting as it sounds.
What makes this game worse is that you're controlling the slowest rabbit in existence — a snail should have been cast in this game's starring role. Stupidly, you can't pick up more than one egg at a time, so any small bit of strategy that would come from prioritizing the order in which you pick up eggs goes out the window in favour of a tedious fetch quest.
You'll see everything there is to offer in this mini-game in about three minutes (seeing a theme here?), including the annoying issue of eggs appearing under the level timer and being hard to see. The other frustrating facet is the controls — they're touch screen again, but pretty finicky. You have to be in just the right spot to grab the egg or drop it in in the basket, so there's a good bit of extra tapping.
So, that's the sum of Games for Toddlers' parts. A common theme of lousy graphics, sloppy controls, boring and repetitive gameplay, and a total runtime of about ten minutes pervades the title. The only other items of note are the logo on the title screen looking like it was whipped up using WordArt, and the fact that you tap the Skunk Software logo to jump back to the title screen in between games, which is not at all intuitive for the target audience.
We don't want to be unnecessarily harsh on a game intended for young children, but making a kids' game doesn't give the developer an excuse to employ lazy game design, which is exactly what Games for Toddlers boils down to. Each of the four games contains less content than the average online Flash game, and there's nothing interesting to keep kids playing.
You won't find any cool animated cutscenes or funny character interactions here (selling points kids would love), and the games aren't educational at all, either. Skunk Software hasn't made anything worth a passing glance here.
While the four mini-games in Games for Toddlers are barebones, they are functional, and for $4 you could technically do worse. However, these uninspired, sloppy, boring games won't entertain young children any more than they would an adult. Your kids deserve better than this — there are plenty of kid-friendly games on the eShop that would be far better choices when the time comes for your child to pick up a controller. Save yourself ten minutes of boredom and pass on this one.