Netflix Interactive Movies Let You Control the Adventure
SuperParent reviews the latest Netflix interactive episodes.
Minecraft. Captain Underpants. And now, as of March 10, 2020, Carmen Sandiego. All three have (at least) one thing in common: They’ve made the jump to interactive movies (or "games") on Netflix. Are they any good? What ages are they appropriate for? We’re going to tackle all that right now. So keep reading to become an instant expert on interactive fiction.
A Quick History of Interactive Fiction
Choose Your Own Adventure books – depending upon the age of the SuperParent in question – summon memories of dog-eared softcover books that you’d rip through. Or, maybe you chose the more hardcore flavors that had you rolling dice and tracking stats while reading. These (and D&D, of course) were the earliest days of modern interactive fiction.
Then came text adventures, graphic adventures….the list goes on. With the advent of laser discs, CD-ROMs, and Full-Motion-Video games, though, we got the first taste of what Netflix is now offering as part of its massive streaming service: Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-grade videos.
(How’s that for blasting through the past 50-someodd years of interactive entertainment inside of two paragraphs? Feel like you can now hold your own at nerdy dinner parties?)
Netflix has quickly ramped up on child-friendly interactive programming. So, let’s go through what’s currently on offer. From the perspective of an 8-year-old and the forty *cough* year-old looking over their shoulder.
How do you actually play these "games" on Netflix?
All of these interactive titles operate on the same premise: You get to certain decision points and you have a choice to make. The decision you make branches the story out in different directions. Take too long without picking something, and the story progresses along, making the choice for you. So, be decisive – this is no time to simply kick back, “Netflix and Chill.”
That said, you can always pause the game and see your previous choice points and pick a different course through the show.
What do you need to play Netflix interactive games?
Most likely, you’ll play these with your phone or tablet using the Netflix app.
iOS device owners, make sure you’re rocking iOS version 12.1 and up.
Android Nation: Your safest bet is to have OS version 7.41 and up.
Fair warning, though: According to the Netflix website, the following are not supported: Apple TVs, Chromecasts, Windows computers and tablets running the Netflix app, browsers using Silverlight, and Tesla touch-screen displays. And, really, if you’re trying to do this while in your Tesla, you should just keep your eyes on the road. Please.
Carmen Sandiego: To Steal or Not to Steal (2020) Mini-Review
The Breakdown: The age-old computer game that had you scouring the globe for a thief and her gang got rebooted on Netflix a year back. This time out, Carmen Sandiego is a thief – for good! She’s trying to thwart an evil organization (V.I.L.E.). All along the way, players learn cool facts about the places she’s going to visit and priceless artifacts she’s about to swipe. Potential spoiler as you attempt to save your kidnapped buddies in this game: If you're worried about having to explain brainwashing to your kids, give the show a try by yourself, first!
The Interactivity: This action-heavy show has a lot of Mission: Impossible-type thrills, but it never takes itself too seriously. It’s a fairly straightforward globe-trotting adventure that doesn’t let you get too mired down in details – perfect for watching with kids. This one feels the most like a classic cartoon, but where you get to steer parts of the story. Your friends have been kidnapped by members of V.I.L.E. and as the title suggests, you have choices to make – will you steal on the criminals’ behalf to free your friends? Or is there another way out of this mess? There’s one cool moment my kid stumbled upon here where he did a good deed, impacting another character on the show. Later on, that person remembered the kid's act and paid him back.
What an 8-Year-Old Thinks: Most of your choices boil down to how you’ll tackle the adventure sequences – which makes it a surefire hit with this kid. Get to a decision point about how you break into a site and you’re choosing between stealth or gung-ho action, for example. Suitable for kids, of course.
Captain Underpants Epic Choice-o-Rama (2020) Mini-Review
The Breakdown: Harold and George – as always – manage to get in trouble at school with Principal Krupp. That is, when they aren’t turning Krupp into the hypnotized, pantless superhero, Captain Underpants. This time, the book, film, and Netflix TV series get an absurd, choice-driven treatment as Harold and George try to save their treehouse from certain destruction. And, yes, there are plenty of fart- and barf-related gags.
The Interactivity: As you expect from the series, there’s a lot of fourth wall-breaking, mild bathroom humor. It’s loaded with a number of left-turn choices that can abruptly end the story or detour into a quick side-quest segment. Will you create a series of TV shows or hunt for treasure to advance the plot? What is your favorite kung fu movie? Many choices lead to completely off-the-rail tangents that are fun nods for longtime Captain Underpants fans. Like the show, even the choices are fully self-aware as Harold and George often vamp for time while you need to make your next decision. It’s actually pretty clever.
What an 8-Year-Old Thinks: Li’l Darren’s response to this honestly threw me for a loop. He burned out on Captain Underpants. Started watching it, was enjoying making the choices and everything for a bit, but he just stopped cold and put the tablet down. “I’ve liked the shows and all, but I think I’m over it, Dad.”
This, coming from the kid who read the books, and watched the movie and Netflix TV shows. The kid who quite literally was ripping fart jokes in the playground earlier that day. Welp, we clearly know who the mature one is in the Gladstone house.
Minecraft: Story Mode (2018) Mini-Review
Editor's Note: The trailer above is for the standard console/PC version of the Minecraft: Story Mode video game.
The Breakdown: The creative, block-building Minecraft franchise originally didn’t have a story. It was all about unleashing player creativity. Then, in 2015, it was turned into a series of adventure games: Minecraft Story Mode. In 2018, Story Mode came to Netflix. As well made and creative as it is, though, Minecraft Story Mode is decidedly not for little kids. We’ll get to that in a second.
The Interactivity: Starting with the basics, you get to choose a male or female hero in this story (and their attitude / answers vary). The choices throughout the episodes get odder – and have higher stakes the further in you play. It could be an innocuous conversation about zombie chickens or it could be about life-and-death decisions in the five-episode series.
What an 8-Year-Old Thinks: Honestly, this one is a little tricky as the show is rated PG. Your mileage will vary depending upon the age and maturity of your Minecraft-lovin’ youngin’. We did a test run ahead of time, and fair warning, there’s some rough stuff ahead: mild language to the tune of “Stupid,” “crap,” “Freak,” being called a loser, and more. It’s not gory or anything, but there is violence here…and creatures that are trying to off our heroes. We recommend that you give this one a try first before letting your kids in on the fun. At the very least, older Minecrafters in the room will appreciate the voiceover work of Patton Oswald, Paul Ruebens, Sean Astin, and many others.
Stretch Armstrong: The Breakout (2018) Mini-Review
The Breakdown: Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters is a by-the-book action cartoon that you’d expect to watch on TV or stream with your child. In fact, when I name-dropped this title to my kid, his eyes lit up because he’s already familiar with the show. So, he explained to me what it’s about: “The flex fighters are rubber people that fight off bad guys and protect Charter City.” Nailed it!
The Interactivity: This is a straightforward story and, like some of the other interactive experiences here, there’s that distinct feeling that while there are some in-the-moment action sequences, you’re largely charting the course of which bad guys you’ll be taking down.
What an 8-Year-Old Thinks: It was an interactive version of a show that he likes. So, in a nutshell, victory is ours! Just keep in mind it has some levels of basic superheroic violence. Punching, kicking….and, well, stretching.
Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale (2017) Mini-Review
The Breakdown: It’s Puss in Boots from the Dreamworks / Shrek Canon in his own interactive adventure. Honestly, this one is better suited for the younger kids in your family. And if your children never got into Shrek, they probably might not get much out of this one.
The Interactivity: The setup is that Puss in Boots gets trapped in a magical book. As The Storyteller semi-menacingly narrates the experience, Puss is talking directly to your kid, egging you on to pick the right answers that will help him get out of the book with minimal hassle -- which you are free to ignore. It’s a clever concession to move the story along. While it’s the same route - choose one storybook page or another - the choices provide different parts of the story, whether it's changing the demeanor of three bears or which challenges Puss tackles. So, basically, it’s a good taster of interactivity for your little viewers.
What an 8-Year-Old Thinks: I tried to get my kid to sit down in front of this one, but he Wasn’t. Having. Any. Of. It. He never really got into Shrek and he instantly tuned out upon seeing a cutesy cat dressed as a musketeer. I mean, really, unless this critter was a Meowth, this show never stood a chance. That said, I took it for a quick spin and if you have some Kindergarteners in the house, they might get a kick out of this.
Buddy Thunderstruck: The Maybe Pile (2017): Mini-Review
Editor's note: The trailer above is for the Buddy Thunderstruck Netflix series, rather than the interactive episode.
The Breakdown: A stop-motion animation kids series on Netflix featuring a truck-racing (instead of car-chasing) canine, Buddy, and Darnell - his fix-it ferret friend. Sounds simple and harmless, right? Well...mostly. There’s some cartoon violence on the scale of Road Runner and Coyote and a whole lot of creative wordplay on how the characters talk to one another. Think of how kids and their friends toss jokes back and forth on the playground, but in an interactive streamed show. With fart jokes.
The Interactivity: The set up for this story is that our heroes are pulling from their “Maybe Pile” of ideas to do something awesome. They pull out two concepts at a time and you, the viewer, get to pick which one they will attempt. So, if we’re boiling this down to the most basic level, think of it as Jackass for kids where your kids are choosing which wacky stunts the characters will attempt.
What an 8-Year-Old Thinks: The thing that stuck out the most, early on, is how some of the phrases my kid could hear might soon make their way to the playground ("Suck on an iceberg's butt!" springs to mind). Not that he hasn’t used words like that before. Because he has, but there are times that this show was a bit of a playground potty talk thesaurus. And he’d laugh at it. Look, we can’t fool ourselves. How did we talk at that age? The stop-motion animation looks cool, and the basic choices largely had him sitting back and enjoying the show. Even after he finished watching, kiddo was ready to rewatch this show to see the other choices and what would happen. Translation: The slapstick humor and fart gags.
Psst…hey, parents! Netflix has options for you as well. Fancy yourself a survivor? See how well you fare with Bear Grylls' You vs. Wild. Let’s just try to keep him alive, OK? Technically, this one is rated TV-PG, so use your gut on whether you want your kids to check it out. That said, it’s still interesting - and educational. You know, for when you’re trapped in a cave or something.
Also, you absolutely owe it to yourself to check out the Black Mirror: Bandersnatch movie. Definitely not for kids, but awesome for you. After you put the kids to bed.
As more interactive adventures pop up on Netflix, we’ll look to update this story (and try to get our kid to sit back down and give his two cents on each), so keep checking back with us!
Is there a piece of interactive fiction that you have fond memories of? Maybe a good book, arcade machine, video game or movie? Let us know about them in the comments, or tweet us at @superparenthq.
Top image via Netflix Futures.