When I was a kid, I filled my time with three things: (1) roaming the mountains behind our house, (2) playing video games, and (3) reading. As I couldn’t do the first two away from home, I read a lot. I read basically anything I could get my hands on. This included a collection of books I got for Christmas called Illustrated Classics. These were, as you may guess, classic novels that were edited for young readers and included pictures. As I got older, Wal-Mart became my best friend as they offered the unedited versions of many of the classic novels I’d read for $.50 (technically, two for $1.00). One such book I read is the legendary Robert Louis Stevenson novel, the Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. As I also loved video games, if I had had $1.00 for every time I thought this horror classic should be adapted into a game, I’d have no dollars because that’s an insane idea. Apparently though, not everyone thought so, and in 1989, Bandai released Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde into the world.
The NES is no stranger to oddball games based on intellectual properties. Can’t believe I’m mentioning this for a second time, but the NES got the Adventures of Gilligan’s Island. It also got Jaws, which is a game I do kind of enjoy. Still, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde may be the oddest choice for a game based on an existing property. I mean, at least Gilligan’s Island and Jaws had been new at some point the previous twenty years prior to their releases.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was developed by Advance Communication Company in 1987/1988. While this was only their second game, ACC did have some talented people at the company as they also worked on the first three Ys titles, Dynowarz, Circus Caper, and Super Godzilla. Not all of these are classics, but you can do worse on the NES than Dynowarz or Circus Caper. I’ll defend Super Godzilla against all-comers. And anyone that has read this blog even passingly should know of my adoration for the Ys series. Unfortunately, be it lack of experience, bad planning, or just bad luck, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde would not be a high point for the company.
The gameplay of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at least sounds intriguing. You, as Dr. Jekyll, are trying to walk to your wedding. As you progress through the stage, you’ll encounter people and enemies trying to stop you (apparently every living thing in this region just wants Jekyll dead). As you encounter these people, your anger meter will slowly fill up, much like me in Wal-Mart during the weekend. Once it is full, you’ll will transform into the Incredible Hulk…no, sorry, you’ll transform into Mr. Hyde. When this happens, the level becomes a strange demon world and begins auto-scrolling from right to left. You, as Hyde, must defeat enemies with your fist or psycho-wave to decrease the meter, allowing you to return to Dr. Jekyll. This isn’t exactly how I remember the book progressing. Should you progress backwards as Hyde past a spot where you last turned back into Jekyll, you’ll be struck by lightning and die. I don’t think the developers read the book. The point here is that you need to revert as quickly as possible so as to avoid dying by lightning, then progress as far as possible as Jekyll again. It’s worth noting that Jekyll is essentially powerless and must utilize the Solid Snake tactic of avoiding enemies whenever he can. As Jekyll, you also have a life bar and will die should that decrease prior to you becoming Hyde. I think I got all of this correct, but I’m not 100% sure.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was published by Bandai in Japan in 1988 and North America in 1989. While reviews were very middle of the road upon release, they’ve gotten progressively worse as time has passed, with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde now considered one of the worst titles ever made.
- 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. (Just Games Retro)
- Switching back-and-forth between the two characters is an idea with a certain amount of potential, but unfortunately the game is little more than an excuse to use Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous creations. The music and graphics are tolerable, but the controls are sluggish and the action is exceedingly dull, rendering Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde almost unplayable. (Allgame)
- You don’t actually do anything in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. You don’t have an attack, you just avoid everything. Getting hit by a bomb is the worst because it will automatically reduce you to Hyde status. Once in Hyde status, the scenic world as you know changes into an obscene hellhole. The Snooty McSnootersteins are revealed for the misshapen ghouls they really were, but hey, you can punch them now without fear of reprisal. Once you progress to the place you were as Jekyll as Hyde, the game ends and Hyde collapses on the ground, dead. What?! (Questicle)
- You spend most of the game strolling along brick walls as Dr. Jekyll on his way to church and dodge cats, dogs, spiders, and bird turds like a total pansy. Then if your anger meter gets too high, you turn into Mr. Hyde for about thirty glitch-ravaged seconds and throwing Hyde’s PSYCHO-WAVE (a mediocre boomerang advertised on the original box as the most amazing feature of the game) at demons until you either kill enough to transform back or just get struck by lightning arbitrarily. It is as dull, repetitive, and bereft of imagination as a month’s worth of daytime soaps. (NintendoLife)
Frankly, I don’t have much left to say. This game is not available outside of the NES/Famicom release. It’s never been put on an e-shop or digital store front. It’s mostly been forgotten. And, based on the quality of the game, that’s probably not a bad thing. Perhaps the worst offense of this game is that it may have scared people off of reading Stevenson’s novel, which has aged very well and is still a great read. We have a little evidence that literary works can become very good games. Dante’s Inferno comes to mind, for example (honestly, it’s also the only good example I can think of). That did not happen here. I am happy to see that ACC moved on to better games and lasted for about a decade. It’s just a shame that for whatever reason, they couldn’t make this title come together into something that wasn’t remembered for all the wrong reasons.