There have been times in the history of video gaming where games have been accused of immaturity and being “for children.” While that’s hardly the case today, many early arcade games were designed with this logic in mind and tried to appeal to kids by using kids as the protagonists. Here’s a set of video games starring kids that are still fun for kids after all these years.
Kid Nikki: Radical Ninja (Irem/Data East, 1987)
This game was a personal favorite of mine and devoured many of my quarters at the local convenience store when I was a youth. The game is set in feudal Japan and is a standard side-scrolling action game with a boss at the end of each level. American translators tried to tie this game into the “cool” 80s trend of being “radical” (kicked off by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) by giving Kid Nikki a slightly different haircut than his Japanese counterpart, but otherwise the games are the same: standard side-scrolling action that for some, like myself, has massive nostalgia appeal.
Alex Kidd: The Lost Stars (Sega, 1986)
An arcade sequel to the Sega Master System game, Alex Kidd in Miracle World, Lost Stars is a platformer that features more variety in its stages than its predecessor. It would also see a home release two years later on the Sega Master System, though it never gained the popularity that the original Alex Kidd did, likely because Miracle World was a pack-in title with the Master System. Alex Kidd actually functioned as Sega’s mascot until the 16-bit console wars, when Sega developed Sonic the Hedgehog in order to compete with Mario. Sadly, the popularity of Sonic all but guaranteed that Alex Kidd would fade into the background, and there hasn’t been an Alex Kidd game since 1990.
Donkey Kong Jr. (Nintendo, 1982)
Considered by most to be a superior game to the classic Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr. ditched much of the jumping for vine-climbing, and DK Jr. himself felt much more responsive than Mario (aka Jumpman) did. Nintendo felt DK Jr. appealed so much to kids that they made him the star of a console-only edutainment game, Donkey Kong Jr. Math, which aimed to team young children basic arithmetic. That game didn’t match the popularity of Donkey Kong Jr., which remains a popular game for high score competitions with organizations such as Twin Galaxies.
Jr. Pac Man (Namco, 1983)
The “junior” phenomenon wasn’t exclusively in the realm of apes. After having his ladyfriend step up in Ms. Pac-Man, Jr. Pac-Man was birthed onto the scene (imagine how on your own time, please). The biggest innovation of the game was letting the mazes be larger than the screen displayed; scrolling made most of the mazes twice the size of those in Pac-Man or Ms. Pac-Man. Also notable, but not affecting the gameplay, the fourth ghost, Clyde, is now “Tim.” Use that next time you’re doing a video game trivia competition with your friends.