Monkey Island for kids?
Infogrames Europe SA,
Etranges Libellules Studios
Publisher: Digital Theory Ltd.
Release date: 1997
Voodoo Kid is a children’s point & click adventure game from 1997, back when monitors had a 4:3 aspect ratio and games coming on multiple CDs was something publishers would brag about, that’s been re-released on Steam & GOG after nearly 25 years.
Why released a mildly obscure children’s game from 1997 in 2021 though? Is it a cynical cash grab meant to entice people with nostalgia for it to part with their cash, or is this a hidden gem that deserves to be played both by kids and adults today?
Reviewing older games can be a bit tricky. Nostalgia is of course something worth keeping in mind, people who played a game when they were young are likely to have fond memories of it. And there’s also the question of if you should review it by the standards of today or when it was released. I’ve never played this game before and don’t think I’ve even heard of it, and I’ll be reviewing it as a 2021 release. Is it worth playing today for someone who did not grow up with it?
Story & Setting
A young boy or girl (you get to chose) is reading a terribly boring book before going to sleep. What they don’t know is that they’re actually reading a cursed book, which threatens to trap them in another world, and as they fall asleep they find themselves drawn into the world of the book. A world of zombie pirates and sea monsters.
Voodoo Kid takes place on the pirate ship owned by the zombie pirate Baron Saturday (not related to LeChuck), a ship where you’re the only one who’s still among the living. The rest of the crew are all undead, or just plain dead, and the ship is heading towards the Island of Lost Souls, that is unless you can change its course and get rid of the evil captain. That’s really the extent of the story in this game. It’s a pretty light-hearted horror-ish themed children’s story, that has more silly than scary elements to it. The story is fine for what it is, but it’s not very memorable or interesting. The games writing are in a similar situation to the story, it’s fine for what it is, and it’s not groan-worthy, but it’s really nothing special.
This is a game from 1997, and it shows. The game uses pre-rendered 3D backgrounds and objects that were most likely made for a 640×480 resolution , so everything looks a bit grainy by modern standards. Even for 1997 it’s not amazing, this was after all the same year that we got games like Curse of Monkey Island and Riven, and Voodoo Kid does not hold a candle to those, let alone more modern games. That said there’s some neat looking areas in Voodoo kid, and the artist clearly had some imagination.
As you can see from the screenshots there are large black bars on the sides of the screen, and the game is in a window. This is what the steam release looks like. You can chose to play without the black bars and with a stretched image, but that looks worse. It’s nice that you’re actually given the option though, and that the game is able to run at a native 4:3 aspect ratio, something that’s really not a given with old games released on steam.
In terms of sound design this game is okay. The game is almost fully voiced and the voice actors they got for this game are fine. This is not a game that would win any prizes for its voice acting today, but nor is the voice acting so bad that it’s distracting. The music works as background music but it does not stand out in any real way and none of the songs are particularly memorable. Most of the sound effects are also perfectly fine, though there are a few that sound oddly cartoony and stick out.
Have you’ve ever played a point & click adventure? Then nothing about the gameplay in Voodoo kid should come as a surprise to you. You play as a kid who need to solve simple inventory puzzles and navigate an oddly designed ship. You click on things to interact with them, open your inventory and click on an item to select it and then click on other things in the world to use the selected item on those and you click on flat ground to move there. There’s been countless games released over the years that work just like this, from the aforementioned Curse of Monkey Island to more modern games like Deponia.
As Voodoo Kid is aimed at children the puzzles here are really easy, and there’s hardly any backtracking going on. Each room is mostly self-contained, and is usually made up of two to three screens. You never have a lot of items in your inventory, and the number of things you can interact with in any given room is limited. The game is pretty good at telling you if an object you can click on is one that you can do something with, or if it’s just there to give some flavour to the world. There are also hardly any moon logic puzzles, that is puzzles that don’t make any real sense. Some puzzles have silly solutions, but the game tends to tell you what the solution is in those cases. There’s for an example one puzzle where you make a bird cracker from bone dust and puke jelly (whatever that is), but the game outright tells you what the combination is.
There are a few minigames and self-contained logics puzzles scattered through the game. The old classic of “put gears of varying sizes on a board so that when you rotate one all of them moves” is here, and there are a handful of other puzzles like this, and there are also two minigames based on reflexes, one where you stomp bugs with a boot, and one where you shoot zombie pirates. None of these are particularly hard, and even an 8-year old should be able to get through these.
Voodoo kid is not a very long game. it took me right around 1 hour to get through the entire game, and a veteran of the genre might be able to do it even faster. It’s a very easy game for an adult. But then again, it was never meant for adults, this is a kid’s game. The question is though, would a kid these days want to play an old game like this? I’m not so sure about that.
The steam release of Voodoo kid is pretty good. I had no issues with it, no crashes or sound bugs, nor did it mess up my desktop resolution, something that can at times happen when running games made for Windows 95. Digital Theory, the current publisher, overall did a pretty good job with this game. The big issue here though is that Voodoo kid is just not an outstanding game. It’s fine, but adventure game veterans will probably find it far too easy, kids who are used to modern games might find it archaic, and people who don’t care for point & click adventures will probably not care for this one either. It’s an okay game without a real target audience, beyond those who grew up with this, or are feeling nostalgic for mid-late 90’s PC point & click adventure games. If you belong to that group then Voodoo kid might well be worth getting, it’s a competent re-release of the game, but if 90’s point & click adventure games don’t hold a special place in your heart then you can probably skip this one. It’s not a hidden gem or an all-time classic, it’s just a decent point & click game for children from nearly 25 years ago.