Genre: Children Developer: Novotrade Publisher: Sega of America Players: 1 Released: 1994
You’d be surprised at just how many children’s books are out there, fighting for parents’ dollars and the love of their impressionable children. I’ve had to avoid all things Dora the Explorer and Backyardigans almost everywhere I travel with my daughter, for fear of being sucked in by a cry of “daddy, I NEED THAT!” Yes, I now tread through the mall as though it were a minefield. Truth be told, I’ve lost count of all the different shows she watches, and her favorite characters seem to change with the weather.
Trying to find decent video games for her can be a challenge as well, as most of what’s available today is too difficult for her (though she is rockin’ Lego Star Wars). I’ve begun to amass quite a collection of 16-bit children’s games for her, and now that she’s done with Crytal’s Pony Tale, she’s moved on to one I only recently discovered: Richard Scarry’s Busytown. Apparently, it’s been around for quite some time, and the Genesis game was released at the peak of its fame, which included dozens of books and a sixty-five episode cartoon. The author, Richard Scarry, produced over three hundred children’s books and lamentably died the same year that Busytown was released for the Genesis.
As you can imagine, the game isn’t all that hard, and most of it is spent wandering around a relatively small Busytown, looking for things to do. The town is divided into six different areas, and the player simply zips over to a particular one in Lowly Worm’s applecopter and enters. Each has a specific task that needs to be accomplished, and for some reason no one in town is capable of doing anything for themselves. As Worm’s friend Huckle Cat, a series regular, players will do everything from building or delivering something to repairing a ship, and on-screen prompts are given to guide the young gamer along. My daughter especially loves the deli, where customers come in a order everything from a simple milkshake to a combo meal.
Busytown is quite short, and even the youngest gamers will complete all the tasks in about an hour. Fortunately, the diversity of the action keeps things from getting dull, and the briefness of it all actually makes it more enjoyable. In none of the tasks will players become lost or confused, and each is short enough to be completed quickly, allowing those with short attention spans to move on to other things. Should one ever be at a loss as to what to do next, a handy help box is prominently located in each area’s foreground, and a solution is but an audio cue away.
And if there’s one thing Busytown does well, it’s the audio. It’s light on the music, but this is more than made up for by a staggering amount of speech. Almost everything in the game is prompted via audio, and there’s hardly any text onscreen. What little there is to be found is accompanied by a picture, so this makes Busytown instantly accessible to preschoolers. The audio is a bit on the raspy side, but it’s clear enough to understand, and I must emphasize just how much of it there is. I don’t think I’ve come across another Genesis title with so much voice work.
Accessibility is center to Busytown, and Novotrade went the distance here by even making it compatible with the Mega Mouse (not Sega’s Pico, as so many online sources would have you believe). Computer mice are infinitely more intuitive for small hands, and the difference it makes here can be seen straight away. Through the audio cues, some brilliantly detailed and colored visuals, and the mouse interface, Busytown is a game that requires almost no explanation or tutorial, which is perfect for gamers who don’t know how to read (regardless of age).
If I had to find a fault with Busytown, it’s that there isn’t enough of it. My daughter was really into it for a few days, but she soon completed all the tasks multiple times, and she soon found herself with no new territory to explore. That’s the fine line that children’s games walk though, and if a game drags on too long, its audience becomes bored or frustrated. If it’s too short, they don’t feel challenged. Your mileage will vary as to how this will affect your decision to track it down, but know this: a full copy of the game commands about $30 on eBay, so you should evaluate whether or not your little gamer is going to plow through it in a few days. I didn’t consider this beforehand, so now I’m now stuck listening to how wonderful Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends is while Busytown languishes on the shelf. Needless to say, lesson learned.
Aside from the length, there’s nothing really to complain about with Richard Scarry’s Busytown. The presentation is terrific, and the gameplay is perfectly pick-up-and-play in its execution. The characters are diverse and endearing, and a simple trip to the local library before playing will set up the child with all the background knowledge necessary to glean maximum enjoyment. Think of Busytown as the perfect rainy day game: short enough to not take all day, but long enough to kill some time. You can’t go wrong with a game like that. Find a copy and spend some time in Busytown. Your kids will thank you for it.