Robert Louis Stevenson married a woman named Fanny. Can you imagine how embarrassing that must have been? Sure, his friends wish him and his blushing bride the best, but every now and then they get their digs in. “Hey, Rob, how’s your Fanny?” they say and run away snickering. Or when Stevenson is unable to make it to the poker game, the boys might ask “Fanny bothering you?” And if the author let’s his guard down, he might even say “I’ve got to get home, I haven’t seen Fanny all day,” to which John Addington Symonds would reply “YOU HAVEN’T SEEN FANNY IN YEARS, BITCH!!” Naturally this would cause William Ernest Henley to exclaim “AWWW SNAP!!” And the two would enjoy a hearty laugh at Stevenson’s expense. That’s got to sting. There are at least 100 more of these, and that’s not even including the implications that slang would have when the couple visited Great Britain. But his wife’s name was not the most painful thing in Stevenson’s life, and neither was his tuberculosis. It was having Bandai adapt one of his finest novellas into this game.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is about a respected doctor who develops a serum that transforms him into the embodiment of his darkest thought and desires. He becomes a slave to his alter ego and is ultimately destroyed by it. It’s damn fine reading, and its not very long either. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the Nintendo game, is not so engaging. In the game, Jekyll must make his way from his home to the church where he is to marry his sweetheart Miss Millicent. As you read this, I’m sure you’re thinking the same thing I was: Millicent is a better name than Fanny. True. He’s got to keep his life bar and “Jekyll to Hyde” meter in check, or he’ll find himself changed into the nefarious Mr. Hyde. If this happens, Hyde must then defeat enough baddies to raise the meter back up and allow the good doctor to continue his quest. By the way, none of that is mentioned in the game, so you better track down the manual or you’ll be even more confused than you’re about to be.
Apparently there is some back-story that I’m missing because for some reason every single resident of the town hates Jekyll’s guts. Playful children will sling rocks at you, prim and proper ladies will bum rush you, and respectable businessmen will casually plant bombs at your feet. Geez, he’s just trying to get to church. What are these guys, scientologists? But I kid. The fun doesn’t stop there, though. The entire animal kingdom feels wronged as well. Cats and dogs will assault you, bees will sting you, and yes, for probably one of the first times in videogame history, birds will crap on you. Not to mention special guest stars like strapping hunters who will actually shoot deadly fowl from the sky in an attempt to bonk you on the head, and the most random of them all: opera singers with deadly throat-emitted music notes.
As Jekyll, you travel toward the right side of the screen avoiding your enemies as best you can. You’re equipped with a “sissy-English-cane-poke” attack, but don’t even bother. It works about 10% of the time and doesn’t even kill anything. I should also mention that Dr. J is slow as hell, so don’t count on outrunning your foes. That pretty much leaves the brilliant strategy of jumping around like an idiot in a little waistcoat. If that doesn’t work, and your transformation gauge gets completely drained, you’ll double over and become Hyde.
As Hyde, you play through the same levels Jekyll does, only backwards, moving toward the left side of the screen. Since Hyde’s all strung out, he naturally sees the world darker, and full of creepy demons rather than rude townsfolk. The brute’s also better equipped than his nerdy counterpart. Not only do his punches land properly, he’s got something that’s apparently called the “Psycho-Wave”, wherein a giant fireball flies out of his head. Now it’s been a few years since I’ve read the book, but I can’t seem to recall the part where Hyde demonstrates his telekinetic powers. Nonetheless, it makes playing as Hyde a heck of a lot easier. The catch is that, Hyde can’t make it farther in the level than Jekyll did before the change, or evil wins and its game over. This means that everything you do as Hyde is counterproductive. And just to make sure you don’t dally, you’re shoved along automatically. So you’ve got to fireball enough critters to re-Jekyllize before you make it farther than he did and lose.
Essentially, you’re presented with a character ill-equipped to handle the game, dropped into a different game when you fail, and then punished for being better at the second one. Without the save state feature, you’ll die in three minutes. With it, you’ll get bored in five.
The graphics don’t suck, but they’re nothing to write home about. Hyde meets a few interesting demons, and Jekyll will occasionally pass a gazebo or something, but the rest is little more than average. The sound is sub par. Especially hilarious are the horrible midi animal noises and the “singing” of the opera gal. As for the controls, you might not find Hyde’s psychic wave unless you think to try pressing B and up, and Jekyll’s cane poke literally never lands. This is not a model for good gameplay.
There are about three levels worth of novelty here, I’ll admit that. But by the time you’ve got the feel of the game, it will have just about worn off. Looks like those of us who’ve been waiting for a thrill-a-minute British physician walking simulator will have to keep waiting.
All the excitement of being mugged on the way to church.
You’ll welcome evil’s sweet embrace.
“Our business in this world is not to succeed, but to continue to fail in good spirits.” — Robert Louis Stevenson