I played a pretty good amount of PC games as a kid – not large ones like World of Warcraft (’cause high-speed internet didn’t happen yet), but ones that ran on CD-ROM, like Carmen Sandiego (spoken for earlier) the PC adaptations of Jeopardy! (2nd Edition!) and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire and crappy versions of Madden.
But most of my time in the PC children’s game world was spent playing games from Humongous Entertainment (which I think still exists – the rights are currently under the purview of Atari (really Hasbro, which in turn has the rights to Atari), if that means anything – but have turned their attention more to console gaming), which produces some pretty fun games for kids. They were relatively highbrow – they certainly didn’t talk down to children, yet maintained a sense of fun – and they had a very distinctive animation style that spread throughout their main franchises. Here were and are my five favorites:
5. Putt-Putt Goes to the Moon (1993)
Let’s just get this out of the way right now: I never played a full game of Pajama Sam or Freddi Fish. I definitely played demos of both of them that came on other Humongous Entertainment discs, just not an actual complete game in that franchise. However, I played a relative crapload of Putt-Putt (along with Buzzy the Knowledge Bug as part of the Junior Field Trips series, though that didn’t make the cut for this Top 5). Moon was the second game in the Putt-Putt franchise, and it featured our eponymous automobile hero and his (her? its?) pet dog Pep…well…going to the Moon. The animation was 16-bit, and it was the first Putt-Putt game to feature a MIDI soundtrack; not only does it harken back to my childhood, it harkens back to a long-lost age in gaming. It may not have been the best game story-wise, but for its time, it was quite enjoyable.
4. Backyard Baseball 2001
I freakin’ loved the Backyard Sports games as a kid – hell, I still love them. If I had any clue where my favorites were, I’d still be playing them (provided they were cross-platform – frankly, I don’t think they’d work on my Mac.) And while I loved playing with the likes of Dmitri Petrovich, Pete Wheeler, and Lisa Crocket (and to this day am confused by the fact that Jocinda Smith was always touted as, but never really was, a good player – kind of the Christian Laettner of the Backyard Sports games) – not to mention with Sunny Day and her rotating team of punnily-named color commentators on the call – bringing Major Leaguers as kids into Backyard Baseball really made it a great game in my mind. While looking back, it seems really weird to see Sammy Sosa and Jason Giambi as kids whilst they were packing their bodies with myriad chemicals, I was innocent and naive back then, so I didn’t care.
3. Putt-Putt Travels Through Time (1997)
Remember how I said that the animation in Putt-Putt Goes to the Moon was a little…um…vintage? Putt-Putt elevated itself to bigger-kid status on Putt-Putt Travels Through Time. Featuring improved animation and a surprisingly suspense-filled storyline (Putt-Putt loses all his favorite belongings, along with Pep, in a time portal and has to go to different eras to find them), Putt-Putt
2. Spy Fox in “Dry Cereal” (1997)
As much as I loved Putt-Putt, Spy Fox was at least the most interesting, if not simply the best, franchise in the Humongous line. It only had three games, and only the first of which, “Dry Cereal,” I played (and I’m pretty sure I never actually beat the game). For a kid interested in video games, even today this is the perfect way to steward them from the games for kids to the games for adults, ’cause this is like an eight- or nine-year-old’s GoldenEye. Featuring a suave (okay, not so suave, but closer to James Bond than Maxwell Smart) vulpine, an evil villain hell-bent on taking all the dairy milk in the world, and cool gadgets and mini-games, Spy Fox in “Dry Cereal” was and is a gem of a video game.
1. Backyard Football (1999)
I’m pretty sure I still played this game in high school. In fact, I’m certain of it. My Amazing Jets were the best of the BFL year after year – with Dmitri Petrovich as kicker/center/defensive lineman, Pete Wheeler and the amazing Pablo Sanchez as my wide receivers and defensive backs, and Drew Bledsoe (yes, Drew Bledsoe) as quarterback, each game was more or less a slaughter, but that’s still kind of fun.