[5 April 2011]
No. No, no no no, no. You play a game like Jekyll and Hyde and two little letters keep coming out of your mouth.
No, no, no.
There’s nothing fun about this. The world of PC-exclusive games can so often be a source of hidden gems, of games that might not have the production value of the triple-A releases but offer good stories, thoughtful gameplay, and a sense of intimacy that a game trying to reach the entire world will never achieve. When a PC game falls into my lap that I only have a vague awareness of, I can’t wait to play it, to find in it the opportunity to talk about something that whoever is reading this might not have heard of.
The difficult thing here is that I’m also supposed to be honest. So honestly, there is nothing about Jekyll and Hyde to recommend. I want to tell you that it’s a diamond in a sea of coal, that it’s another entry in a line of recent PC adventure games that hearken back to the halcyon days of exploring, puzzling, pointing, and clicking, but it’s not. It’s simply a poorly made game that is only noteworthy for design choices that were bad ideas decades before its release.
Example: Checkpoints. No, checkpoints in and of themselves are not bad things. Checkpoints keep us from going crazy; they keep us from punching our screens and throwing our keyboards the way that King’s Quest did or Super Mario Bros. did when we fell unwittingly and suddenly out of a tree or into a bottomless pit. Get this, though: checkpoints are the only way to save your game in Jekyll and Hyde. You might find a new path, pick up a key item, or solve one of the game’s many fairly basic puzzles, but once you do, you can’t save your game. If you have to turn it off or the battery runs out or you just don’t feel like going on, well, you’d better hope you remember what you did because you’re going to be doing it again.
How can an adventure game—while admittedly designed with a surprising focus on action and platforming—get away with checkpoints being its only save mechanism? By being a shockingly linear experience. The player actually feels the checkpoints as play progresses because the game is so utterly linear. You need to obtain all of the relevant items and explore all of the relevant areas to progress to a new set of items and areas. When you start a game, you can start from any of the checkpoints that you’ve already reached. They appear in order, in a single order, and if you start from an earlier checkpoint, you will progress exactly as you did the last time that you played. There is no experimentation; there is no trying things in a different order to see if anything new can happen. It’s always the same.
I know that adventure games are often like this—that there is typically a fixed set of things that needs to be done in order to progress the plot. Still, most adventure games at least afford the feeling of exploration, of tinkering and playing with things until you hit upon a combination that works. There are a number of concurrent puzzles that can be solved, rather than a little bit of running and jumping combined with one or two menial little item-combination quandaries.
Even the game’s primary venue for innovation, the ability for Jekyll to turn into Hyde (and vice versa) at will, is stilted. Jekyll can only turn into Hyde (and back) at the points where one or the other is absolutely required. Try and do it elsewhere, and the potion that triggers the transformation is disabled.
There are recipes to be followed to make potions, but the recipes are so vague that you spend five minutes trying to follow them until you just trial and error it into something that flashes and says you got it.
There is platforming that makes the original Prince of Persia‘s controls feel like pinpoint precision.
Yes. I am piling on at this point, but there was potential here and that makes the game’s failings feel that much more unforgivable. This is a game called Jekyll and Hyde, but it’s only loosely (very loosely) based on Stevenson’s original text. While this would normally be a strike against the game, it’s actually the one thing the game has going for it; by allowing Jekyll and Hyde to be controlled by the player, an outsider, it tweaks the legend for the sake of an appealing mechanic. It sets the stage for puzzles that require careful manipulation of which “side” of the Jekyll/Hyde character is being controlled. At any given time, it opens up the possibility of puzzles that could be solved in different ways by one character or the other.
By squandering a good idea with awful game design and ham-fisted attempts at creating a deep new story, though, the deviation from the original source material is cheapened. Jekyll and Hyde feels like yet another recent example of the mining of a classic piece of literature for the sake of a derivative and underdone game experience. That it is of such a low profile (and done on what must have been a rather low budget) does nothing to alleviate the let down feeling that playing it for any length of time inspires. Let it disappear.