Even when children's games tack more toward reality, they do so in unexpected ways. LittleBigPlanet offers players a homemade world where boots are boots instead of buildings, but they've been rigged up with yarn and crayon-covered cardboard so that they swing and stomp like standard platforming hazards. Enemies are made from feathers and buttons and other craft store parts. "We all have a soft spot for that look because it reminds us of our childhood," says Khareem Ettouney, the game's art director. "It's like when you are in school and you've got a school play. You don't have a multimillion budget to do your production, so you just go in the garage and see what you have. It's very practical."
Environments and props that are common in adult games are different when designed for a kids' game. 2009's overlooked gem A Boy and His Blob wanders through forests and caves as many adult games do, but its lovely hand-painted artwork shows you those places how you saw them as a child - the way they were mysterious and dark without being threatening. How you longed to explore deeper into them because they were vast, almost endless, and there absolutely had to be an adventure in there.
Mixing a few children's games into a stream of adult games can break the monotony of warzones and space stations and can even make some of those places feel fresh again. Unfortunately, adults have a tendency to turn their heads at the prospect of playing games made for younger players.
Some of the most memorable, imaginative places in popular culture have come from works intended for children: the bathhouse from Spirited Away, Halloween Town in The Nightmare Before Christmas, Harry Potter's Hogwarts Castle, and the grandfather of them all, the great Emerald City of Oz. But while it's acceptable for adults to anticipate the next book by J.K. Rowling or to go out to see the latest Pixar release, there seems to be a stigma in the gaming community against children's games. A select few franchises are spared from this (mainline Mario and Zelda games get a pass) but at times, kids' games feel like the best kept secret of gaming.
Children's games aren't categorically less difficult or less sophisticated, mechanically and emotionally, than adult games. There are surely people who will say, for example, that the high-level zones in Rune Factory Frontier weren't hard for them, but most players will find those areas to be challenging. Likewise, that game's relationship and crafting systems are as intricate as any found in role-playing games aimed at older audiences.