Stupid and Stubborn, and Therefore Dangerous
“The less I understood of this farrago, the less I was in a position to judge of its importance.” ~ Robert Louis Stevenson
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde began life as a novella, penned by Robert Louis Stevenson and first published in 1886. It is the case study of a seemingly good-natured Dr Henry Jekyll battling his inner demons, who turns to science in an attempt to purge himself of his immoral urges. A concoction he produces – meant to repress his darker thoughts – inadvertently causes his dark side to manifest itself in the form of a split personality, taking the name of Edward Hyde and generally causing problems for everyone in town. Eventually, this evil persona becomes his dominant personality, leading a temporarily sane Jekyll to take his own life in order to prevent himself from committing further atrocities as his uncontrollable alter ego. The novella was an instant success; soon inspiring stage plays beginning in 1887, film adaptations as early as 1908, as well as radio and television presentations as the technology became available. Of course, we’re he to discuss one piece of media in particular: The first video game adaptation of the story.
1989’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – or 1988’s Houma ga Toki as it is known in Japan – has earned a bit of a reputation for itself in recent years. Along with Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, it was a subject of James Rolfe’s early proto-”Angry Nintendo Nerd” game reviews. A relatively obscure game up until that point,** the rise in popularity of the Angry Video Game Nerd would lead to a rise in popularity of the game itself, earning it spots on “Worst Games of All Time” lists and appearances in many a copycat video review. James’ revisiting of the game some years later only served to reinforce his original point: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is most certainly, undoubtedly, one of the worst games of all time. I mean, if a completely exaggerated character who shouts at an animated pickle covered in feces said so, then it has to be true!
The story of the game’s development, like many Nintendo Entertainment System titles, is something of a mystery. With publishing / development credits given to both Bandai and Toho Corporation (credited as “Toho Cinefile-Soft Library” in the Japanese release), as well as Advance Communication Company, it’s difficult to ascertain who exactly had what part in the creation of the game. A lack of credits does not help matters, leaving us only with speculations as to the members of the team (such as composer Michiharu Hasuya, who is often credited for the soundtrack). There was enough faith and / or marketing budget behind the title to warrant a 15-second commercial spot for Japanese television, but the American release a year later seemed to go almost entirely under the radar, not warranting so much as a Nintendo Power review.
Perhaps Nintendo knew from the game’s reception in Japan that they had a stinker on their hands, and didn’t want to waste the time or money on promoting it? If that was the case, why go through the trouble of localizing it to begin with? Unfortunately, we don’t have the information available to solve that mystery. What we can do is take a look at the game itself, and see if it deserves its evil reputation.
** It did see a brief spike in popularity in 2000, as it was the subject of Something Awful’s first game review.