From ''Mortal Kombat'' to ''The Fox and the Hound,'' we review the best and worst entertainment for kids

By EW Staff
Updated March 11, 1994 at 05:00 AM EST

Video Games
Everyone’s got an opinion about violent video games. Kids love them. Critics, from senior members of Congress to newspaper editorialists, see them as Public Enemy No. 1. Some people say they send the wrong message; others think they’re more silly than scary. Parents, no doubt, have been left thoroughly confused by the controversy. So Kids Extra decided to evaluate the 10 video games that have been singled out as the most violent. Here, we settle the debate.

1 Night Trap (Sega CD) Violent Content: Ninja-like vampires stalk scantily clad coeds. Victims get drilled through the neck with a power tool. Is the Violence Realistic? This full-motion video game is more lifelike than traditional animated fare; it plays like a movie and features human actors (including Dana Plato from Diff’rent Strokes). Is It as Bad as It Sounds? This is intended to be a campy B movie in video-game form, but frightened kids won’t get the joke. Sega, which appropriately rated it MA-17 (not for players under 17) for its graphic violence and mature story line, announced in January that it would halt production of the game until the violence is scaled down and an industry-wide rating system is in place, but it will not pull games from the shelves.

2 Mortal Kombat (Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega) Violent Content: The most infamous title in the hand-to-hand fighting category is bloodless on SNES; the Sega version has an unpublished, but widely known, ”secret” blood code that players can punch in. This allows them to rip out their opponent’s still-beating heart, decapitate him, or pull out his bloody spinal cord. Is the Violence Realistic? Very; both versions use live-action video animation. Is It as Bad as It Sounds? If your children don’t have the blood code, Mortal Kombat is your basic fighting game. But unless they live under a rock, your kids have the code.

3 Lethal Enforcers (Sega CD) Violent Content: Although the game has little blood, it is violent and comes with a large pistol called the Justifier that players fire at the screen. Is the Violence Realistic? Yes; the game uses photo-realist images of actors pointing guns. Is It as Bad as It Sounds? Definitely. Sega has rated the game a justly deserved MA-17. Lethal Enforcers puts a gun in kids’ hands and teaches them to shoot first and ask questions later.

4 Ground Zero Texas (Sega CD) Violent Content: This shooting game has players blowing away human-looking aliens in a Texas border town. Is the Violence Realistic? Full-motion video footage makes this the most true-to-life game on the list. Is It as Bad as It Sounds? There’s no blood, but kids are shooting at real people and watching them die.

5 Splatterhouse-3 (Sega) Violent Content: A hockey-masked man trying to save his family wields knives and cleavers against flesh-eating ghouls; gallons of blood. Is the Violence Realistic? Typical game animation, with harrowing graphics of the wife fearing for her life. Is It as Bad as It Sounds? Worse. Although the blood is cartoonish, the slasher story could be troubling for young kids.

6 Prize Fighter (Sega CD) Violent Content: This boxing video game doesn’t show blood or actual violence — except boxing, of course. Is the Violence Realistic? The game’s selling point (picture-perfect graphics) is the very thing that makes it problematic for children under 13. Is It as Bad as It Sounds? The best litmus test: Do you let kids watch boxing on TV?

7 Street Fighter II (SNES and Sega) Violent Content: The granddaddy of hand-to-hand fighting games features flying head-buttings, torchings, and electrocutions. Is the Violence Realistic? Not especially. Is It as Bad as It Sounds? Not really. For kids ages 13 and up, the creativity and challenge of Street Fighter II make it the best of its class.

8 Terminator 2: The Arcade Game (Sega) Violent Content: A very standard shooting-game tie-in to a very violent film. The problem here is the Menacer — a shoulder-mounted gun used in place of a joypad. Is the Violence Realistic? No; graphics are run-of-the-mill. Is It as Bad as It Sounds? Worse. Learning how to fire the Menacer isn’t a skill a child needs to develop. It is possible, though, to play T2 with the joypad instead of the gun.

9 Mutant League Football (Sega) Violent Content: The field is dotted with land mines, players get to kill the referee after a bad call, and deaths are listed as a halftime statistic. Is the Violence Realistic? Average animation, with a cartoonishly high body count. Is It as Bad as It Sounds? Older kids may find it a funny twist on the basic sports game, but it may be too much for younger children.

10 Clayfighter (SNES) Violent Content: Not much in this toned-down fighting game. Is the Violence Realistic? Nah — the warriors are wacky digitized characters (Bad Mr. Frosty, Blue Suede Goo). Is It as Bad as It Sounds? Far from it. Although still a brawling game, this clever newcomer is a more suitable alternative for parents who don’t want to expose their kids to too much violence.

This month, mother animals cuddle their babies, a rhyming game teaches about 26 critters, and a couple of chimps make do in the jungle.

Baby Lion Patrick Yee (Viking) This gem of a board-book series (which includes Baby Penguin, Monkey, and Bear) sparkles with affectionate play between animals and their adorable offspring. Radiant colors, bold outlines, simple text — perfect for baby readers. AMichele Landsberg

My Son John Jim Aylesworth; illustrated by David Frampton (Holt) The author takes an old Mother Goose rhyme about a lad named John (who ”went to bed with…one shoe off and one shoe on”) and adds 14 new, though mostly less fanciful, verses describing other kids’ assorted activities. The best of Frampton’s folksy woodcuts are spunky, but the children they depict blur together. BLeonard S. Marcus

The Alphabet Tale Jan Garten; illustrated by Muriel Batherman (Greenwillow) In this rhyming game, kids are bound to guess the answer (”At parties you pin it on him/Your blindfold won’t let you see/This is the tail of a braying…”). But it’s always worth turning the page for the artist’s clowning, colorful rendition of each animal. ALSM

Tano & Binti Andy and Linda DaVolls (Clarion) What happens to zoo-bred chimpanzees when they’re released in the wild? Well, you’d think a crash course in survival would be in order; yet this oversimplified account makes life in the jungle look like a walk in the park. The well-intentioned story is bolstered by large, lush, keenly observed pastel drawings. B-LSM

AGES 8 TO 12
A Game of Catch Richard Wilbur; illustrated by Barry Moser (Harcourt, Brace) Two boys caught in the spell of an absorbing game of catch become annoyed when a third wants to join in. The newcomer retaliates with unsettling wisecracks, and suddenly the game becomes a darker contest of raw nerves and bruised feelings. The author, one of America’s most honored poets, captures the drama of the kids’ clash of words perfectly; Moser’s edgy watercolors help turn up the tension. A+LSM

For March, something wild: a fox and a hound, spellbound swans and…Pauly Shore. (All reviews by Kenneth M. Chanko.)

The Fox and the Hound (1981, Disney, G) The 13-year-old animated epic about an unlikely but steadfast friendship finally makes it to video shelves. Although it’s not a classic, hints of the emotional resonance found in Bambi and shades of 101 Dalmatians‘ jazzy insouciance make this another Disney keeper. B

The Wild Swans (1994, Lightyear, unrated) Sigourney Weaver narrates this handsomely animated Hans Christian Andersen tale, in which Princess Elise rescues her brothers from the evil queen-stepmom, who has transformed them into swans. Although it’s always nice to find a female hero, Elise saves the day by mutely knitting shirts for her male siblings. B+

The Secret Garden (1993, Warner, G) The latest version of the classic Frances Hodgson Burnett story is both faithful and fresh. Mary, a lonely 9-year-old orphan, brings the occupants of a dark English manor back to life; her discovery that she can make a difference in peoples’ lives is truly poignant. Burnett’s Garden has never bloomed more beautifully. A-

Speed Racer: The Movie (1994, LIVE Home Video, unrated) The plucky road warrior from mid-’60s television fame has recently become retro-hot. But this ”movie” is just a three-episode compilation from the original cartoon series with an updated version of that catchy theme song — and, of course, the vintage mix of drive-safe moralizing and fiery crashes. C

Undercover Blues (1993, MGM/UA, PG-13) Dennis Quaid and Kathleen Turner star as yuppie Nick and Nora-style spies who capture international terrorists and foil bank robberies while tending to their 11-month-old baby. A likable, goofy cloak-and-diaper adventure comedy that hits as often as it misses. B-

Son-In-Law (1993, Hollywood, PG-13) A predictable fish-out-of-water tale in which Pauly Shore, the MTV veejay-turned-actor (Encino Man), plays a zoned-out college student who flips for a farmer’s daughter. Slapstick barnyard antics in the Green Acres vein— only dumber. C-

All over the map: children’s albums from Broadway, Latin America, South Africa, and Carmen Sandiego (wherever she is).

AGES 1 to 3
Comin’ Round the Mountain Phil Rosenthal (American Melody) The former lead singer of the bluegrass group the Seldom Scene offers a passel of mostly traditional songs, from ”You Are My Sunshine” to ”Happy Birthday to You.” Simple, warm, and understatedly witty. A — Ken Tucker

Broadway Micky Micky Dolenz (Kid Rhino) Dolenz, always the wackiest of the Monkees, teases silliness out of familiar show tunes such as ”My Favorite Things” and ”Put On a Happy Face.” Sometimes he’s too silly, sometimes the song is too familiar (the world doesn’t need another version of The Wiz‘s ”Ease On Down the Road”), but this is mostly good fun. BKT

AGES 3 to 6
Gift of the Tortoise Ladysmith Black Mambazo (Music for Little People/Warner Bros.) The same smooth, swaying rhythms that graced Paul Simon’s Graceland play equally well for a younger audience in Ladysmith’s debut kids’ album. Zulu verses alternate with English to create a vivid portrait of family life in South Africa. AAnne Reeks

Old Dogs, New Tricks Barry Louis Polisar (Rainbow Morning Music) Prolific children’s entertainer Polisar has rerecorded a batch of his favorite older compositions. As always, the music is well-performed acoustic folk-pop, heavy on the cornball. BKT

Fiesta Musical Various artists (Music for Little People/Warner Bros.) Emilio Delgado, Luis from Sesame Street, narrates in English and Spanish on this sprightly audio tour of Latin America. The snappy songs about crawdads, baby chicks, and escuela (school) are in Spanish, but even if you don’t speak the language, the infectious beat makes them hard to resist. B+AR

AGES 6 to 9
Carmen Sandiego: Out of This World Various artists (Zoom Express/BMG) The second album from the contributors to PBS’ geography show includes clumsy rockers and soulful blues. Highlights: a tuneful science lesson from They Might Be Giants and the zingy ”Cherry in Your Tree” by British group XTC. BKT