Eight-Bit Junkyard

Rediscovering video games of the past

Is there, in recorded human history, an example of an adjective that so despoils a noun as thoroughly as “educational video game?” No, there is not. As a new school year begins, let’s review the eight- and 16-bit educational offerings of the past and see if they make the grade or fail miserably.

Donkey Kong Jr. Math
(Nintendo, 1983)

The worst-selling of Nintendo’s launch titles takes the most aggravating game of the “Donkey Kong” franchise and grafts it on to the most hellish academic subject. Did you like constantly falling off vines in “Donkey Kong Jr.?” You’ll love doing it all over again while you collect numbers and symbols to complete the required calculations. The negative reaction to this game caused Nintendo to temporarily suspend plans for further “edutainment” games. Grade: D

Big Bird’s Hide & Speak
(Hi Tech Expressions, 1990)

Caroll Spinney provided his voice as the digitized title character in a game that tests even a toddler’s patience. However, it takes place on Sesame Street and Grover is involved. Grade: B

King of Kings
(Wisdom Tree, 1991)

Attack your enemies with camel spit and donkey kicks in what purports to be an accurate retelling of “the early years of Jesus.” You know, especially that part where Jesus rode a camel that he trained to spit at King Herod on command. Grade: F+

Captain Novolin
(Raya Systems, 1992)

You know you’re in for a treat when the first three words you see when you turn on your Super Nintendo are, “Novo Nordisk Presents.” With skintight lycra, rock hard abs, and a burning desire to continuously check his glucose levels, Captain Novolin lives to protect you from the scourge of diabetes. Raya Systems is also responsible for the games “Bronkie the Bronchiasaurus” and “Rex Ronan: Experimental Surgeon,” in which players battle asthma and teenage nicotine addiction, respectively. Grade: F

Color a Dinosaur
(Farsight Studios, 1993)

Tired of the feel and smell of crayons and the sense of accomplishment as you color? Then it’s time to crack open this assault on creativity. Mode one: Decide which color you’d like for your dino (based on the inexplicable palette of red, hot pink, pink, and light pink); for you more adventurous types, jump to mode two, in which you watch as the game colors the dinosaur for you! Grade: D-

Mario Teaches Typing
(Interplay, 1995)

This game features actor Charles Martinet voicing Mario — whose voice hadn’t officially been heard until this point — for the first time (a role he still currently provides). Also, Mario teaches typing. If you don’t keep up, a Thwomp falls on you. Schools should adopt this policy in real life. “Oh, you don’t want to use the home row, Jimmy?” THWOMP! Grade: B-

Extra Credit:
Super Mario Sweater
(Royal Kougyou, 1986)

A Japanese-only release (because there is no justice in this world), “Sweater” is a sewing machine simulator that shows what your clothes would look like if Nintendo characters were sewn on to them. Grade: A+