One of the most wonderful things about video games (of which there are many) is that they can be for anyone. No matter your age, gender, or skill level, there’s a game out there for you. And many players find their passion for games at an early age. It’s the same today as it was when Nintendo revolutionized the home video game market. Starting early will develop hand-eye coordination skills that make it so you can triumph over harder, more mature games when you’re older.
That’s not to say that people who don’t play games as kids can’t jump in as adults. But often, games aimed at children can spark a lifelong love. That doesn’t mean they’re perfect. As the following examples will show, they’re far from it. Whether it’s because they’re too difficult, inappropriate, or just plain bad, here are 20 old children’s games that wouldn’t fly today.
20 The Lion King
This 1994 platformer on the SNES and Genesis has seen a bit of a resurgence since the movie was remade. And people are remembering just how brutally difficult the game is.
It’s not a new story; tons of games in this era were really hard. But extremely difficult enemies, jumps that needed expert precision, and traps you didn’t see coming made it pretty unfair for younger players.
19 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Another famously hard licensed game was the 1989 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game for the NES. But where The Lion King was somewhat manageable, this was just straight up mean.
Enemies (who were already tough) would respawn the moment you left a screen, which made the already frustrating platforming controls harder if you fell back down to their area. It also features a notoriously difficult underwater level.
18 Mario Is Missing!
It may look like Super Mario World, but don’t let that fool you. Mario Is Missing! is an educational game released for the SNES in 1993 and was very unfortunately Luigi’s first starring role.
The perennial player 2 was tasked with visiting different cities where Bowser had stolen famous landmarks. And, after stealing them back from random Koopas, you returned them to tourist centers and answered trivia about them. Yawn.
17 Barney's Hide & Seek Game
In this 1993 Sega Genesis title, and what is undoubtedly the easiest game on this list, Barney plays a game of Hide & Seek with children.
But there is absolutely no challenge to this. Barney can’t be hurt and you can finish a level without finding a single child. He’ll still say you did a great job. I understand it’s for toddlers, but games need stakes.
16 Michael Jackson's Moonwalker
The reasoning behind this pick should be obvious, but sure let’s get into it. It’s a 1990 sidescrolling beat ‘em up (sort of) based on the movie for the Genesis.
Michael’s attacks resemble his dance moves and you progress by rescuing frightened children, some of which can be found hiding in closets, from goons. Even before the numerous allegations, this was weird.
The latest games in the Rayman series are incredibly well-balanced but the first game is wholeheartedly not.
The 1995 PlayStation title is much more difficult than its cartoonish art style would make you think. You only learn how to attack two levels in, you learn the “ability” to grab onto ledges much later, enemies appear out of thin air, and spike traps are abundant. It’s just not worth it.
14 Ecco The Dolphin
Sure, a game starring a happy dolphin may seem nice. Until you realize it’s a game made entirely of underwater levels and combat is incredibly hard to get the hang of.
Tack on obtuse puzzles and you’ve got a kids game that’s just no fun to play. Plus, if you’re beaten by the final boss, it makes you replay the entire excruciating last level which is utterly soul-crushing.
13 Batman Beyond: Return Of The Joker
Batman Beyond was a fantastic animated look at the future of Gotham City. It’s just a shame the game it spawned was terrible.
Released on the PlayStation in 2000, this beat ‘em up featured underwhelming gameplay and graphics, plus endlessly looping music. Superheroes are even bigger now than they were then. It’s hard to think a game based on an animated show of one would be so poorly produced.
12 Superman 64
But as poor as Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker was, at least it doesn’t have the legacy Superman 64 does.
The game followed Superman as he attempted to rescue his friends from a virtual world after they were put there by Lex Luthor. And while some children’s games are difficult by design, this was due to undeniably stiff controls and shortly-timed missions. Plus, it looked downright awful upon release.
11 Silver Surfer
Silver Surfer on the NES, while not necessarily a bad game, is unjustifiably hard. It’s a shoot ‘em up that switches perspective and it’s very, VERY easy to get a game over.
The Surfer’s sprite is so big that you’re bound to be hit by one of the many enemies or by running into an obstacle. It wouldn’t be quite as bad if he could take more than one hit.
10 The Oregon Trail
Educational games aren’t nearly as prominent these days and for good reason. Most kids want to escape into a game, not be taught.
The Oregon Trail is an old computer game that follows a group of pioneers in the 1800s. Not only was it dull, as gameplay focused on resource management, but your members could perish at any moment. It’s now best remembered as the “You have dysentery” meme.
The 90s were an odd time. Celebrities and mascots alike could star in their own video games. One of the strangest released was Shaq-Fu in 1994 for the SNES. It was also remarkably bad.
Shaq’s fighting game was universally criticized for poor graphics, controls, and a nonsensical story. It’s also the only game here already proven not to fly today as a sequel was released in 2018, which bombed.
8 Maniac Mansion
With its cartoonish art style, Maniac Mansion seemed like it was geared towards kids. Nintendo thought so too when a port of the PC adventure title was approved for the NES in 1990.
But it’s actually pretty disturbing. One of the most unsettling aspects is that players, at one point, can choose to microwave and explode a hamster. Nintendo forced the developers to remove the scene from future cartridges.
Today, there’s no way Disney would allow a game to be released starring one of their most popular characters that wasn’t of the highest quality. But in 1991, that wasn’t the case.
Enter the 1991 Genesis title, Fantasia. Sure, it looked great at the time. But it was criticized for bland, highly flawed gameplay mechanics that made it a bore to play.
6 The Wizard Of Oz
It’s a weird choice to make a game based on a 54-year-old movie. But in 1993, The Wizard of Oz was released on the SNES. Though the platformer also implemented elements of the animated TV show, it didn’t implement anything fun.
The controls were sloppy and the attacks barely did anything. The best attacker was the axe-wielding Tin Man—bBut he’s also the only character who can’t jump. In a platformer.
Not Frogger the arcade game. No, this is a little bit weirder. In 1997, the game was ported to the SNES. What makes it weird is that the Nintendo 64 was already out and a 3D remake had just been released for the PlayStation.
As such, not much effort was put into the port and it was seen as a quick cash grab. Today, ports are much more heavily scrutinized.
4 Golden Axe
Golden Axe, a fantasy-based arcade beat ‘em up, is a ton of fun, but there are elements of it that are products of the quarter-consuming arcade days.
The enemies are incredibly hard to put down, though that’s not the only problem. Because of the game’s design, it can be hard to tell if an enemy is in front of you or just close by, making it hard to land attacks.
3 Socket: Time Dominator
Many modern indie games will pay homage to classics by including certain mechanics. AAA games will often improve or mimic popular features of other games. But it’s unheard of for a studio to essentially copy their own game and release it.
Socket: Time Dominator is an obvious Sonic rip-off released on Genesis in 1993, just with a duck instead of a hedgehog. The gameplay even places emphasis on speed.
2 Space Station Silicon Valley
This cartoon-esque N64 game takes place on a space station where the animals overthrew the scientists in charge.
As a robot turned microchip, you can take control of many animal enemies, giving you various abilities. You can also find the severed heads of the scientists and the game concludes with the station crashing to Earth and you setting out to put down all the dangerous animals. So unnecessarily dark.
1 Super 3D Noah's Ark
Super 3D Noah’s Ark is essentially a clone of Wolfenstein 3D and follows Noah as he stops an animal rebellion by shooting sleep-inducing food pellets at the animals.
However, it wasn’t approved by Nintendo. So the cartridge was designed in a way that required you to stick a regular SNES game in the top before it would play. It has terrible controls and sound effects, so it’s not worth the effort.