My dear Dr. Jekyll has several personalities, and they’re all terrible

dr jekyll and mr hyde

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1989) 

The ‘Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’ is no strange case at all. We all know the ending by now, of course, since it’s become a byword for every bipolar ex you’ve ever been with. The novella itself isn’t much to write home about. It’s nineteenth century, and set in Victorian London, so it’s all stiff upper lips and gollys, and my butler’s given me the incorrect fork for my liver and onions.

“Crivvens, Mr. Utterson, mayhaps I heard you ruminating in the drawing room” “I say, I wonder why you seem to be associated with a monstrous individual?” “Pray we shall speak no more of this” “I understand, old friend, though I don’t seem to be able to put two and two together for love nor farthings” – all that lark.

The novella carries on like this for quite some time, roughly 100 pages in fact, and you’re left thinking, come on. Let’s get some more grisly murders up and running here, or let’s have the hideous Hyde meet with the hopeless protagonist and have a fight to the finish. Certainly I don’t recommend you buy the book and read it, unless you had a far more exciting idea in mind for it. Using it to prop up your shaky gun-rack, for example, or throwing copies of it at your local, insincerely friendly politician.

Well, either way, a novel that’s centered on a few days in London back in the 1800s would hardly seem like a good starting point for a game. Look, if you ask me, a game is on a severe handicap right from the off if there’s no jets, machine guns, explosions, or ridiculously proportioned women.

But it was the NES days, and you could throw any old rubbish on there and see it sell. The Nintendo Seal of Approval? You might as well frame it as you’d frame a bouncy cheque, because it was worthless. It played on your NES, just about. That’s all that Seal meant.

Even with all of that said, I’m prepared to overlook the fact that there could hardly be a more ridiculously boring or stupid premise for a game than Jekyll and Hyde. And that is saying something, considering Garfield Kart, Crazy Frog Racer and snooker all have games based on them. It’s a rare show of generosity from me, but I’m honestly prepared to give this “game” that concession.

I just wish the wretched NES cartridge would give me back something in return. When you turn on the game, a little ditty plays that almost sounds like it’s trying to be horrifying. Ah, how fitting. Not much else to do beyond pressing Start – and that’s where the trouble begins.

You are the affable Dr. Jekyll, out on business to get somewhere in what looks like a very rural London. None of that is conveyed in the game, of course, because when have you ever seen an “affable” sprite? I’m just drawing on my literary expertise here, so please get on my level.

Every so often, well-to-do fellows will approach you on the street, then lay a bomb right near where you’re standing and quickly scurry off. Well, there were no terrorist bombers in the novella, more’s the pity, so that’s quite a bit of a creative liberty. You won’t even have time to get agitated over this lapse though, because the bombs will drive you crazy.

You’ll be there walking at a mile a fortnight, trying desperately to get to wherever an efficacious doctor needs to go, when suddenly there’s a bomb at your feet. You’re finished, at this stage. You can turn back, or you can keep ambling past at a snail’s pace, or you can be really bold and try to pre-empt the bomb’s explosion by jumping.

Whatever happens, there’s a more than evens chance that you’ll get caught right in the blast and get blown from Central London right out to as far as Slough. You’ll lose a massive chunk of health, but also build up the Anger meter. That’s interesting – the game has the self-awareness to know that you’re going to be pretty irate at this stage.

Doesn’t it make you pretty furious to be the target of a discrete bombing campaign in your own backyard? It’s pretty damn dangerous out there, doctor – someone’s caught wind that you may have an alter ego, and they’re trying to kill the two of you before you cause any more aggro to the gentlefolk and peasantry alike.

Run out of health as Dr. Edward Jekyll and you start playing as Mr. Henry Hyde. It’s now dark, and there’s monsters everywhere, and you play the level all over again except you’re going from right to left this time. You’ve got to kill enough monsters to reduce your Anger meter before you reach the spot where you perished as nice, bright-eyed Jekyll. Fail to do that, and you’ll be struck by a friendly bolt of lightning, friendly enough to give you a Game Over and put you out of your misery.

Of course, such a dreadful fate is impossible to avoid when you have a projectile that flies wherever it wants, usually straight through enemies, and you’re getting smacked around from all angles. Sometimes, in the light world of Jekyll (pronounced ‘Jeeeekle’) a stray bomb, or screeching cats or mentally deranged dogs, will have sapped so much of your health that you just die instantly mere nanoseconds after you fully turn into Hyde.

I love that one, when it happens. You think you’re angry, you might even think you’ve experienced true fury before. But now your brain and every fibre of your being has invented an entirely new emotion. Apoplectic would be putting it mildly. So would incandescent, fuming, even bulling. What you’re experiencing right now goes beyond all that. It’s a bit immersive actually, it makes you feel like the angry, inhumane Hyde himself, if he wasn’t now convulsing on the floor, lame and deathly.

The graphics are OK, they’ll serve. The music is just this subdued little creepy number, and there’s what sounds like some attempt at an 8-bit roar of anguish as you make the devilish transformation into Hyde. That’s all you can say there. What more would there be, anyway? I know I said I’d give the concept a pass, but Christ, I could hardly think of a worse prospect for a game than this. They could never have made it work.

I’m reminded of Martin from the Simpsons trying to play the My Dinner with André arcade game. At least there he had a few options, the opportunity to make a trenchant insight. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for NES doesn’t want your insight, it could do without hearing any of your bon mots, and it certainly won’t tell you more.

It is evil, a kind of liquid evil that you might get as an offshoot of magma after it’s melted through rock and slag. Somebody went to the source of the volcano, shovelled up this hateful mixture of rock and liquid, squashed it down onto a NES cart motherboard, and slapped what appears to be a Poundshop version of Batman’s Two-Face onto the cover with a revolting purple and green colour scheme in order to try to make it look appealing. You wouldn’t wish this game on your worst enemy, or even his worst alter-ego.

10 January 2020

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