Publisher: Advance Communication
Released: April 1989
US Cartridge ID: NES-JH-USA
Genre: Action Platform
Supported Peripherals: Controller
ROM Size: 1.2 megabit
Mapper: MMC1 (128k PRG, 32k CHR)
The novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, largely considered one Robert Louis Stevensons’ finest works, was originally published in 1886. Taking place in London at the height of the second industrial revolution, the short volume weaves the twisted tale of Dr. Jekyll, a highly regarded physician standing at odds with his very being. Cognizant of the darkness lurking deep in his heart, Dr. Henry Jekyll furtively concocts a tincture that he believes will rend his dueling identities in two. Attempting to isolate the halves of his polarized nature, Jekyll only partially succeeds, leaving himself fractured and broken. Though the good in him remains tainted by the evil that he both fears and embraces, his dark side is freed in the creation of Edward Hyde, an amoral proxy through which Jekyll, free of governance by his conscience, can live out his most perverse fantasies.
Bandai’s 1989 reinvisioning of the titular literary masterpiece begins with Dr. Jekyll ingesting the transformative potion in his laboratory. Deviating from the plot of Stevenson’s original work, the player’s task is not to aid the realization of Mr. Hyde’s murderous desires as one familiar with the text might presuppose, but rather to safely direct Dr. Jekyll to the church where his fiancée, Miss Millicent, awaits. Though this choice does render the premise as little more than a convoluted justification for a novel game mechanic, the game box’s teaser blurb (reading “Battle demons with Hyde’s PSYCHO-WAVE”) should be sufficient warning to those looking for an accurate adaptation in video game form.
Jekyll must walk through six areas of the city in order to reach Miss Millicent. Suffering the effects of the potion, he must avoid potentially the stressful and dangerous influences that surround him, lest they trigger a sudden and violent transformation into Henry’s alter-ego. As he walks the street, Jekyll will encounter preoccupied townsfolk who think nothing of running into him, pairs of dogs and cats chasing one another beneath his feet, a flurry of bird droppings that threaten from above, amongst a bevy of other strange obstacles. With no weapon but his walking cane (capable of killing only bees, though it will cause further stress if Jekyll strikes innocent townspeople), the majority of these impediments serve to drain the stress meter (marked “meter” on-screen). The more troublesome enemies (such as the mad bomber clad in pink) will additionally cause Jekyll physical harm, depleting his life meter. If the life bar is emptied, the game ends, but if the stress meter reaches the H end of the gauge, Dr. Jekyll will collapse and pass out. Reawakening as his evil-counterpart, Mr. Hyde must then traverse a distorted, ghoul-infested parallel version of Dr. Jekyll’s London, killing demons to reduce his stress level. After regaining a sense of equilibrium, Dr. Jekyll can then resume his walk to the chapel. It is extremely important, though, to note that if Hyde crosses Jekyll’s path at any given time before the final stage, lightning will strike, killing him instantly as a consequence for the intrusion.
Jekyll and Hyde’s respective views provide a surprisingly unique portrayal of the character’s dissociative tendencies, echoed by both environment and the obstacles that each face. Though cliché, the use of contrast is effective in mimicking the novella’s exploration of people’s willed subversion of their interior selves for the sake of social acceptance. Jekyll’s picturesque interpretation of London makes the city appear charming and quaint, but Hyde’s lurid view of the same streets paints it as a terrifying and brutal place populated by defiled and corrupted souls.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde’s aesthetics convincingly depict both ends of this spectrum. Though not the technical coup that several games proved to be on the platform, the artfully done background scenery is detailed and fits the character of the game well, and the use of perspective to vary the apparent depth of its elements help the game to avoid the “cardboard backdrop” that many NES titles subjected players too, especially given the parallax scrolling that allows Hyde’s full moon to smooth scroll behind clouds and trees. Dr. Jekyll’s daytime stages are certainly the more appealing than the nighttime stages that Mr. Hyde must fight through, though the latter’s liberal use of flat black tends to speak to the impenetrability of symbolic evil heart rather than to belie a lack of effort or technical prowess. The music is fittingly atmospheric, and the daytime theme, though overused, does an admirable job of evoking an age past, carrying its old-fashioned melody in a relaxed manner that suits the slow pace of the game compared to standard action platformers. The nighttime theme, however, is a fair amount more generic, keeping with the minimalist, repetitive style that is often adopted by games featuring darker themes. Rygar fans will immediately recognize the note-for-note verbatim copy of a popular theme used for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde‘s title screen.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is often unfairly lambasted for its stiff control mechanics and its overall level of difficulty. There is a fair amount of merit to the criticism that the game receives, but like most NES games, the majority of the issues are solved with familiarity and practice. With an understanding of the patterns that enemies follow and the timing required to successfully jump over moving obstacles, the controls capably steer the groom-to-be through most situations. Unfortunately, the controls begin showing their flaws on the final stage, and prove woefully lacking in the precision and response time necessary to consistently avoid the endless barrage obstacles.
Dr. Hyde is far more agile than his more reasonably-minded half, and the Psycho Wave attack, though odd in its trajectory, is reliable. The final Hyde level, however, can be extremely frustrating: each of Hyde’s stages scroll automatically, and if he is in danger of being forced off of a ledge, the game will make the character jump automatically – this jump is generally timed so that the player will involuntarily leap straight into an enemy, forcing a cheap hit that should have been entirely avoidable.
Bandai’s 1989 literary interpretation is a reasonable effort, but the fun is hurt by its occasional inconsistencies, unfair endgame, stiff learning curve, and the large amount of content cut from the original Japanese release. Despite these drawbacks, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde provides entertaining, slower paced fare, and its one-of-a-kind game play style combined with its appealing graphics and sound make it a game worth giving it an honest effort.
|Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
|ジキール博士の彷魔が刻 (Jekyll Hakase no Houma ga Toki)
Dr. Jekyll’s Moment of Evil Transformation