Monday, August 31, 2020

Game 40: Dr Brain: Thinking Games - IQ Adventure

Name:Dr Brain: Thinking Games - IQ Adventure
Publisher:Knowledge Adventure
Developer:Knowledge Adventure
Genre:Action Adventure/Top-Down
Time: 10 hours
Cutscenes are in a slightly lower resolution than the game. I suspect CD speeds are the reason for this.
Nostalgia for Dr. Brain is a funny thing. The series started in 1991 as a series of first-person puzzle games, masquerading as adventure games. Directed by Corey and Lori Ann Cole, of Quest for Glory fame. These, as far as anyone on the internet is concerned, are all that exist of the good doctor. That's not the end of the story. Lost Mind and Time Warp. These were made by a different team for Sierra. In these, Dr. Brain is a wise-cracker and the game is more obvious in its puzzle nature. Time Warp is the first game I knew the doctor by.
Enter Knowledge Adventure, children's shovelware extraordinares. You might remember them from that Jurassic Park cinematic platformer, a phrase rarely said, but true. Knowledge Adventure acquired the license...somehow...for some reason, and instead of continuing the legacy of our old, beloved Dr. Brain, he changed. Dr. Brain made two clones of himself, one good, named Pro, and one bad, named Conn. This deep story is explained in Puzzle Madness, which is a bad clone of the 1998 Scotland Yard game with mini-games thrown in. Those are a ton of sentences that were never before used in the English language. Which brings us to IQ Adventure.
You don't notice it when you're playing, but check out that group of vines on the left.
IQ Adventure continues the story of Pro, now claiming his original's name...I guess Dr. Brain figured out how to ignore that whole aging process* thing. I play as...well, myself, but the chosen avatar for the player is one ugly fella. I'm Pro's guinea pig, and I'm going on an interdimensional journey. As I am sent, the machine breaks apart, and I separate from the machine after entry, and several pieces break off miles apart.
If you can figure out the pattern here, you're smarter than me.
But before we hear what happens, I'd like to bring up how much of a pain it is getting this to run. I'm running this in Linux, ergo, I'm using WINE. Because this is 1998, I can't just use Windows 3.1 in DOSBox to get this bad boy running. Every time I enter the in-game menu, exiting it crashes. In fact, its a miracle I'm running this game at all, I remember the last time I tried to run this it didn't. Which is why I'm doing this now instead of later.
Talking is keyword based, and mighty simple.
The game takes place in an alien world. You wander around, hoping not to die. This is harder than it sounds. As weapons are in limited supply, there are often way more enemies than weapons. Any combat is usually quickly getting rid of an enemy or bravely running away. Its only in the early levels that you truly get to clear out a group of enemies. Most of the time, its about prioritizing what resources to use where. I guess its just like a survival horror game in that regard. But it can be said that that's all adventure games with action elements.
Picking up fish, for puzzle 8/9, not helped by the pieces moving all the time.
The adventure aspects are mostly limited to putting keys in doors and 9 reoccurring puzzles:
1)Match 2 out of 6 dolls perfectly. Repeat with the remaining dolls.
2)Get all the switches in the right direction.
3)Find the right path through a series of flowers/things.
4)Put together a pipe machine.
5)Match all the colors up in a series of 3x3 rotating squares.
6)Same as 5, except you can't rotate them and you have to put in the squares.
7)Same as 5, except you match any characteristic a square has.
8)Put a series of blocks/fish above water/void.
9)Same as 8, except its a grid.
Spiders are strictly linked to their webs, out of the web by a few squares, out of reach.
Not while they might be fun puzzles, they're not exactly educational. 1 and 2 seem useful for short-term memory, I guess. But as 3 gets harder it seems impossible to recognize what the right path is. Its like there's no real pattern.
Also, I haven't mentioned it, but 1 and 6 felt difficult to me. Now, I was playing on hard, but as someone older than the game's age-range, that falls flat. Am I stupid? Even when I figured out the trick for 6 it still took a while to beat. The difficulty doesn't seem to have made it more difficult to figure out, just more tedious. Its funny.
The Mutans, as the game call them, can't walk onto the grass. In this level, you get grass seeds.
But I would be remiss to not mention the player's constant companion. Pro takes the sarcasm from the latter days of the original. He basically tells the player about anything going on**. Its amazing that the good doctor can see such things yet cannot manage to send me back without the machine. I would think a constant communication stream would be harder than transportation, but then, I've seen too much Stargate SG-1. I'd complain that most of his observations are too obvious, but this is a children's game.
There aren't any NPCs here, probably because they're spider chow
NPCs do whatever they want if they're not hostile, which is annoying if they park their tushy in a chokepoint. They come as either plant people or molemen. For the first part of the game, they usually tell you interesting things, but after a while they're just window dressing. At one point, a moleman follows you around and beats up some robots, the main antagonist of the game and the one who carted off the machine. All the enemies honestly feel a bit intense for a children's game. Giant spiders, mutant plant people, robots. The game's ugly artstyle gives them all a certain sinisterness. That, combined with the aforementioned resource scarceness make the game feel a bit more spooky than other children's games I played.
Those trees are hostile, you have to be careful here. At least different kinds of enemies attack each other.
An interesting gimmick is that the levels rotate each time you play. This is in addition to changing the puzzles each time you play. Honestly, the gimmick is not great. Sometimes this makes things more difficult to see. Its not impossible, you can still mouse over things you can interact with and know you can interact, just annoying. Even as a child I wasn't too enamored by this, seeing then as confusing. Development time could have been better spent making a better level or puzzles that aren't tedious as all hell.
The things on the right of the inventory are armor, and that's something desperately needed on this level.
The levels take the player through a series of possibly radiation-filled jungles, big cave networks and robot fortresses. They do a good job of increasing in intensity and throwing interesting puzzles at you...when they're not just throwing the same 9 puzzles out. It gets to the point that in the final level, the game throws out most of the 9, mixed between other, more interesting puzzles. A tenth of the game's length was in that level alone. All for an ending that barely feels like an ending. The player returns home, the robots follow you back. Nothing comes of this, the final game in the series is about something else entirely.
No escape.
As every item is used the same way, only the end result really matter. Everything is really useful, including ones that work against only one enemy or special effects attacks. 3/10

There's a curiously well thought-out selection. While there's not much interesting going on in a single section, the three sections combined have enough interesting monsters to put it in a pretty good place. 4/10

They exist. They only get in the way. The dialog system is nice though. 1/10

I feel mixed. Up until the about the final two levels, there was some interesting stuff going on. The rotating level gimmick is just that, a gimmick. 3/10

Player Agency:
Its mouse-only, which is not necessarily a good thing. Sure, its simple for the kiddies, but even as a child I had trouble clicking on the right area. If you're running away in a panic the only recourse is to blindly click. If you click on an area that can't be accessed by the pathfinding, you stop. At least the enemies have the same pathfinding. 2/10

There's just the bare minimum of effort for an adventure game. Anything that isn't useful is completely unusable. 1/10

I have to say it does a good job of feeling like an alien world. 5/10

Its functional, but really ugly. Sometimes things get in the way, you'd think testing of the whole perspective flip thing would fix that. 3/10

Its a simple find the items plot. Doesn't get in the way, doesn't do anything. The cutscenes at the beginning and end serve their purpose, nothing more. 1/10

Sound is fine, nothing cuts out, everything sounds suitable for what its supposed to sound like. Most of the music tracks are around a minute in length and I think there are only around 5 of them. But I will say they're not annoying, just very moody. Dr. Brain is voiced, the other characters are not, and I have nothing to say about that beyond the functionality of his voice. 3/10

Before I go to the final score, let's put in a few comparisons. The last Knowledge Adventure game, Dino Defender, had a 20. Previous games, roughly with the same kinds of aspects, namely puzzles and adventure games; Inca 30, Bram Stoker's Dracula 37, Alone in the Dark 53. Only, all of those games had high-scoring categories, in, atmosphere music and graphics. This is only high-scoring in atmosphere, and not to the degree to make up for much.

Its 27. That puts it well above the current curve, but that's not exactly a recommendation. Its one point below Midwinter and I consider that game's strength to be skiing. I'd say that a 30 is a good recommendation point and this isn't that. Its only of interest if you played it as a child or you want to scare your own child. Mobygames has one contemporary review, unfavorable, 2 out of 5 stars. Curiously, the reviewer, an elementary school teacher, plays on easy, complains that the game is too easy. She also doesn't seem to know what level she's on. The rest of her criticisms are directed towards not being able to navigate, which, admittedly, I think is a reviewer problem rather than a game problem for the most part*** and not being educational. That criticism will not be criticized. She also seems to be naive, as someone apparently told her that Knowledge Adventure was just Sierra's current incarnation. She mentions King's Quest too, but doesn't seem to know that Dr. Brain and King's Quest were made by the same company. I have to wonder how good her teaching skills are...
Next time on stuff that isn't really a shooter, Dungeon Master.

*Clones are as old as the material they're cloned from. Since Dr. Brain is an old man, roughly 70-80 years old, his clone shouldn't have very long to live. Come to think of it, why did the original die?
**I found out...after beating the game, that the help button on the main GUI tells you about the inventory items. That actually would have helped a little bit with the weird items.
***Generally speaking, I feel such criticisms, unfairly leveled, are usually a sign the critic can't really navigate that well in general. See, the endless debates about why Resident Evil sucks and they're just not incompetent at video games.

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