Thanks to how accessible they are, mobile devices have become the one-stop shop for accessing information. As long as you own a reliable Android smartphone, you can learn just about anything on a whim. One small device opens up a world of knowledge, whether through books or podcasts, news broadcasts or educational games.
Games have been used in education for decades, with varying results. Some of them achieved their intended purpose. Others, however, suffer from poor visual and audio design or disappointing gameplay. Ironically, some of them are not even educated, and the majority have no doubt aged badly.
So get ready for a blast from the past, because this time we’re not covering the best games on Android. Instead, we’ve chosen to highlight the craziest educational games in existence, from the days of DOS, NES, SNES, and all your other favorite acronyms.
1 Captain Novolin
Have you ever imagined your medication as a superhero? After all, it saves you from unwanted nasty diseases. Meet Captain Novolin, a superhero with type 1 diabetes and a vibrant symbol for a Danish pharmaceutical company. Essentially, Captain Novolin is spreading information about diabetes, insulin and the treatment of this debilitating condition.
Aside from that, though, you’ll find it’s a generic side-scroller for the SNES. Captain Novolin begs the question: Is it actually intended to educate about diabetes, or is it just clever advertising from a for-profit pharmaceutical conglomerate? Either way, it’s been voted one of the worst games of all time for a reason. Not all heroes wear capes; some carry cardboard and are sold at your nearest pharmacy.
2 IM Meen
As a 3D adventure game with a catchy name, IM Meen had to teach its players grammar. Players were expected to defeat enemies and progress by correcting grammar mistakes in roles encountered throughout the game. With multiple locations spread across 36 levels of increasing difficulty, IM Meen covered a lot of ground.
That said, the game failed on multiple fronts. First, the players were none the wiser. For two, IM Meen looks awful. The cutscenes are animated by the same studio that did the animation for some of the hair-raising Panasonic CD-i Zelda games. The game was deservedly poorly received on DOS in 1995. Can you imagine how bad it is now compared to modern titles?
3 Mario is missing
We are used to tens of millions of Mario games being sold. Almost every game that stars Nintendo’s signature mustachioed plumber turns into a big hit or reinvents the platforming genre. Whether it’s one of Mario’s platforming forays in Super Mario 64, or one of the spin-offs in Mario Kart; the series constantly surprises its fan base. But not with this game.
Mario is Missing stars Mario’s greener brother, Luigi, and unlike other installments in the series, takes place in the real world. Mario’s nemesis, Bowser, has taken up residence in Antarctica. But Mario is Missing isn’t your typical Mario entry. Bowser plans to accumulate wealth to buy enough hair dryers to melt Antarctica.
What was Mario is Missing supposed to teach you? Mostly geography and locations of major landmarks. We’d venture to guess that most players have learned that melting Antarctica would be a bad idea, a fitting reason for Mario’s green brother.
4 Math Blaster
In the 1980s, many games required an exclamation point at the end of the title. This way you knew they meant business. Math Blaster, an educational game released in 1983, was one of these games. The goal was to teach his players basic math. Subsequent entries, and even the redesign of the original game, added aliens to the mix. Because why not?
Intended to teach elementary-level math, Math Blaster did quite well. It was even praised for its high-fidelity visuals. At least at the time. If you played it today, 40 years later, you’d probably wonder what people were thinking by investing their time in this.
Released in 1999, Missing is one of the more recent educational games on the list. The plot follows Zachary Taylor, who befriends someone online, someone named Fantasma. While the gameplay focuses on puzzle solving, the story takes a dark turn as you gradually discover the person behind the mysterious online monicker.
Missing is designed to make people aware of the dangers of chatting online with strangers. While the idea is still important today, it was especially relevant around the turn of the century, when the Internet was in its infancy. No one knew how to safely navigate the vastness. And yet the game’s “demo” has that 1980s commercial vibe. With a little more enthusiasm, it might as well convince you of the benefits of beam processing.
6 Sonic’s schoolhouse
In the 1980s and 1990s, Sonic the Hedgehog was the only video game character to ever compete with Mario. This was one of Sega’s ways of doing what Nintendo didn’t.
For some reason, Sega also thought Sonic could be a reliable teacher. As such, the company released several educational games starring Sonic and his friends. This included two titles for the little-known Sega Pico: Sonic the Hedgehog’s Gameworld and Tails and the Music Maker.
One of them was Sonic’s Schoolhouse, an educational game that is reminiscent of Doom in an unnerving way. You know, the bloody, demon-infested kind of Doom. Forget the fact that the game looked bad, even then Sonic looked even worse. He sounded like a dollar store version of Bart Simpson.
To make matters worse, Sonic wasn’t even a playable character, just your 3D guide in this lifeless world of meaningless knowledge.
7 The Amazon Trail
If you’ve ever taken an interest in educational games, you’ve probably heard of The Oregon Trail. It was a pretty good game for its time, though it has understandably aged badly. The Amazon Trail, on the other hand, is its lesser-known ugly brother.
As the name implies, the game taught you about the Amazon and surrounding areas and history. Despite not being much to look at, especially today, the game sold exceptionally well for its time: a million copies to be exact. It even got a sequel in the Amazon Trail II and was itself re-released in an improved package for Windows and Mac.
Between the many versions, The Amazon Trail looked slightly different. But they all had something in common: they looked awful.
8 Wally Bear and the No Gang
We’re around with drugs. Unlike Captain Novolin, Wally Bear and the No Gang focuses on harmful drugs. Endorsed by the American Medical Association, the game teaches you about the destructive consequences that substances such as tobacco, alcohol and marijuana can cause. Other than that, it’s your typical NES side-scroller.
The story follows Wally Bear as he crosses the city to go to a party at a friend’s house. Upon its release in 1992, the game received a mixed reception. Some praised the game as fun and rewarding; others shuddered at the horrible music. Unsurprisingly, even though the game was released on the NES, it was not licensed by Nintendo.
Not all educational games are bad
However, not all educational games were bad. Some were good or at least fun, like The Typing of the Dead, an educational version of The House of the Dead 2. Whether you could improve your typing skills is up for debate, but it was nonetheless a clever reinvention of the zombie shooter in the time.
Have you had the misfortune of playing any of the games on the list? Is there an obscure educational game we haven’t mentioned? Give it a shout, or tell us a story in the comments below.