The Learning Company is responsible for a number of edutainment games that, if nothing else, helped countless children distract themselves from the unbearable mundanity of elementary school, deceiving them into learning when they thought they were getting one up on the ol’ adults by having fun and not practicing their spellings.
Alongside the likes of Reader Rabbit, The Journey of the Zoombinis is probably their most well-known work, putting the player in the role of a caretaker for a bunch of little customizable blueberry looking things that can have springs and roller skates for feet and wear sunglasses and wigs. Your job was to guide the wandering Zoombinis across several zany puzzles in order to reach their new home. If you weren’t trying to figure out which Zoombini would get past the stone guard and onto the next segment, you were attempting to appease a wood troll by making him his favorite pizza (easier said than done) so he’d let you by. Screw up enough times and several—if not all—of your little blue folks would get sent back to the start of the game, forcing you to bring them back through the gauntlet of puzzles you already solved.
The remastered version of The Journey of the Zoombinis, simply titled Zoombinis, has been given a colorful facelift and is now playable on mobile devices, but it remains more or less the same game it was in 1996. This is a good thing. As both an entertaining game for kids and as a nostalgia churner for adults, Zoombinis works. Though I solved many of these puzzles almost 20 years ago, I still had to think my way through some of them once again, not being able to rely on dusty memory. Many of these are mostly trial and error but that doesn’t stop them from being amusing and even challenging, especially if you turn up the difficulty a few notches, which adds extra components to the puzzles, like having to make three creatures pizza instead of one.
The only real frustration here is that it’s a bit difficult getting used to the drag & drop interface, especially since the game’s hint messages don’t tell you what to touch to go to the next level, so you might spend some time in early segments pressing your fingers all over the screen until you understand how the game functions. A small tutorial or even a little guide would have been a nice addition. Still, this is a delightful game that’s good enough to deserve its polished rerelease, which is something that can’t be said for the majority of rereleased nostalgia grabs, and it’s likely to make you chuckle just as it will test your problem-solving abilities. Zoombinis is easily worth the handful of hours it will take you to play it, especially if you’ve got a youngster along for the journey.
Zoombinis was developed by TERC and is available on iOS and Android.
Javy Gwaltney devotes his time to writing about these videogame things when he isn’t teaching or cobbling together a novel. You can follow the trail of pizza crumbs to his Twitter or his website.