Adapt And Die

Jekyll And Hyde

Internal Affairs

Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde presents two sides of the same awful coin.

By Jason Reich • January 8, 2013

Adapt And Die is an ongoing look at how seminal (or at the very least semi-interesting) works of film and television have crashed and burned in the gaming world.

Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (1988)

There is a duality in all of us. Though our intentions may be virtuous, something within us aches to act on our basest impulses, society’s moral conventions be damned. Even as a child, I was aware of such a battle raging inside me. Oh, I tried to follow the righteous path, to play NES games that were well-made, interesting and fun. But deep inside me grew a dark power I could not ignore, a power that had an inexplicable and unquenchable thirst for absolute crap. It’s what led me to purchase the miserable “video board game” Anticipation despite having no one to play it with. It’s the reason I wasted hours trying to buy my stupid girlfriend her stupid yacht in Wall Street Kid. And it’s why I woke from a fugue state one morning to discover I somehow owned a copy of Bandai’s Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde. My evil side must have been drawn to the box art.

If you have to pick one classic work of Victorian literature to make the leap to video games, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde is a pretty good choice in theory. You already know the plot: A mild-mannered scientist creates a formula that he hopes will separate the moral part of himself from the evil within, and instead he unleashes a dark persona that eventually destroys him. The internal clash of good and evil is a powerful concept, and one that obviously resonates in pop culture; the story of Jekyll and Hyde has been retold and parodied in everything from Broadway musicals to Bugs Bunny cartoons to Australian pop songs.

As a Nintendo game, however, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde displays no such duality. It exists only as a black nugget of unadulterated malevolence. The setup: You, Dr. Jekyll, have opted to take the Shoe Leather Express to your own wedding. As you walk from left to right at an excruciatingly slow pace, you are besieged by all manner of irritations. Some are minor, such as dangling spiders or wayward, slingshot-wielding ruffians. Other distractions are more problematic, like the elegantly dressed pedestrian who drops hissing black bombs along the path. As Jekyll suffers these indignities, his nondescript “meter” rises until it reaches the dreaded “H” mark, at which point he clutches his head and transforms into Mr. Hyde.

In a stunning twist, Hyde moves from right to left, which for players of the era must have elicited the kind of shock the original novella did when it was published in 1886. In Hyde Mode, the sky is a darker shade of blue, and the citizens of London are replaced by grotesque monsters who try to kill you. Hyde can only return to his original form by blasting the bejeezus out of these creatures with something the box refers to as a “psycho-wave.” (Stevenson’s work comes in at under 100 pages, but just in case I missed something, I used my Kindle to search the text for “psycho-wave.” No results.)

Lest this description mislead you into thinking the game delivers anything resembling entertainment, let me assure you it does not. The most impressive thing about the title is how little effort seems to have been put into it. The stages through which Jekyll wanders include such diverse environments as Town, City, Alley, and Street. The controls are atrocious. Jekyll has two moves, a standing leap and a meek stab with his cane, neither of which seems to have any effect on his tormentors. The only vaguely interesting parts of the game are the Hyde sequences, but let Hyde trudge a little too far to the left, and he’s struck by lightning. Game over.

Video game heroes have a reputation for being stoic and unflappable. It’s a nice change of pace when a title lets you experience a character’s inner turmoil, and games have come up with some nifty tricks for getting into their protagonists’ heads. In the criminally underplayed Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem for Gamecube, players have to keep an eye not just on their health and magic gauges, but also on a “sanity meter.” As it depletes, the game unspools a variety of unsettling effects, including wild shifts in perspective, screams and footsteps, phantom enemies, and most famously, a fake system message that makes it appear as though the console is deleting your save files. The Scarecrow episodes in the recent Batman games create a similar feeling of disorientation. And each giddily surreal environment in Psychonauts is the manifestation of a different troubled mind.

By contrast, there’s nothing revealing about the two mental states represented by Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde. Jekyll is assaulted mercilessly and without explanation, but otherwise he has no interaction with the world around him. Mr. Hyde indiscriminately attacks creatures that have stepped out of another game entirely. Is Hyde’s ordeal some kind of karmic punishment? Wouldn’t killing demons be considered “good” behavior? Nothing links the game’s two halves other than similar graphics and a pervading sense of boredom.

In the confession that ends the novella, Dr. Jekyll admits he has grown frightened of his alter ego’s brutality. But like Lindsay Lohan at a pharmacists’ convention, the good doctor backslides, continuing to slam down shots of Hyde juice until he’s no longer able to control his transformations. Open that cellar door to your soul just a crack, he learns, and it’s hard to close it back up. This is not the message of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde, the game. The digital Hyde is encouraged to cause as much destruction as he can, as rapidly as possible. His reward? Renewed stability as Dr. Jekyll.

For most people, being warped into a horrifying bizarro world populated by sentient brains-on-legs might be a stressful experience, but it seems to have a calming effect on Mr. Hyde. One man’s hellscape is another man’s Club Med, I suppose. In this sense, Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde probably has more in common with games that explore catharsis through violence, like the Grand Theft Auto series, than it does with its source material. But testing that hypothesis might require another playthrough, and that’s a notion that would terrify anyone’s dark side.

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73 Responses to “Internal Affairs”

  1. Krokamo says:

    I never owned this game but I do remember playing it a few times at a friend’s house. The best I can say about it is that it was easier to understand than NES Superman. 

  2. caspiancomic says:

    Ahhh, yes, I’ve heard tales spun wide and tall about the infamous Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for the NES. The AVGN did his own take on it, but I prefer the mini treatment Egoraptor gives it in his Sequelitis episode on Mega Man X (The relevant part is here, but I highly recommend the entire video.)

    Actually, funnily enough, the whole Jekyll/Hyde formula is really pretty popular in video games. If you want to talk just straight transformations you could pick from damn near any game with any sort of “special” mode (I’m thinking Power Stone, Devil May Cry, and FFIX off the top of my head). If you wanted to adhere more closely to the spirit of the original work though (with the “transformed” state as antagonistic towards the natural state) you could go to titles like The Suffering, or Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones.

  3. LoveWaffle says:

    Why don’t weapons work?

    • H00siersWaitress says:

      Because Toho hated us.

      Seriously–Jekyll’s cane did nothing.  Collision detection was flawed as well, so you could very rarely avoid the enemies.  Your life meter and your anger meter were separate, so it was entirely possible for the enemies to kill you before you became angry enough to become Hyde.  I’m getting angry just thinking about it now.

      • Fyodor Douchetoevsky says:

        Whoa, meta.

      • tedthefed says:

        I’m pretty sure that the developers legit wanted Jekyll to be completely nonviolent, especially toward other humans (who mostly are trying to annoy you rather than hurt you).  They wanted you to associate violence with evil.
        I think this game actually had one person on it who had these incredibly ambitious, thematic ideas.  That person was of course surrounded by stoned monkeys, but I do appreciate the attempt.

  4. conditionals says:

    The ‘good ending’ in that YouTube clip is amazing. Hyde survives a bullet hell style showdown, then Jekyll strolls like a boss down the aisle is an unattended, nontraditional wedding ceremony, before leaning in for the most staggered kissing of the bride ever.

    • John Teti says:

      I also like that in the “good ending,” Jekyll’s walking pace is even more excruciatingly slow than in the main game.

      • O Superman says:

        Speaking of excruciatingly slow, that final boss fight seemed to last at least half an hour.

    • Girard says:

      I enjoy how Hyde gets his own little backwards “the end” screen.

      It’s also great how there is pretty much zero reasoning behind what unlocks the good vs. the bad ending. The implication seems to be that that floating red demon head stole your (the player’s) invitation to Jekyll’s wedding, and if you beat it without first killing the head, you simply don’t get to attend and have to sit outside the church like a chump.

      • lokimotive says:

        I wonder if what the designers were going for here was that you needed to find some sort of catharsis before getting married. In that case, entering the church without defeating the demons of Hyde would presumably produce an unstable and horrible marriage… I guess? But finding some peace by defeating the demon head would produce a happily ever after type effect. I don’t know, that’s the only thing I can come up with.

        But the shot of the church in the “bad” ending is pretty inscrutable. Perhaps it is there to suggest that not knowing the fate of Hyde/Jekyll is more horrible than certainty. Or maybe they just didn’t know what they were doing. I don’t think they really put a lot of work into making this a coherent game.

        • Hoosiers_Wai1ress says:

          I’m pretty sure you’ve now thought about this game more than the designers ever did.

        • caspiancomic says:

           Goddammit, @lokimotive:disqus, now this game actually sounds kinda good.

        • Skywarp79 says:

          For most of the game, the rule is that if Hyde gets further in his quest than Jekyll–or if evil has overtaken good–God will stike Hyde down with a lightning bolt, killing both Jekyll and Hyde.

          If Jekyll gets all the way to the end by himself, fine.

          But what the ending video doesn’t show you is that if you switch to Hyde at the level you’re supposed to, Hyde actually goes up to the rooftops. His path DIVERGES from Jekyll’s.

          Not sure what the ending means. It seems that as Hyde, the demons were conquered and Jekyll could leave them behind? But there’s that ominous last few seconds…

  5. jmiland1 says:

    This fucking game.  The only thing worse than having spent forty bucks on this game was keeping it, forgetting how bad it was, and popping it back into the console every eight months or so to see if it was any better.  It never was.  Robert Louis Stevenson can go to hell.

    • George_Liquor says:

      This miserable, spat-out bolus of a video game frequently  turns up in the bargain bin of my local Old Game Store, but I just can’t bring myself to buy it. I can’t even enjoy it ironically, and I own a copy of Pac Man 2.

      • H00siersWaitress says:

        You can easily download an emulated version for free.  Even then it’s not worth the money.

        • George_Liquor says:

          I’ve seen it pop up & disappear a few times now; I’d love to know who actually is buying this game, and does he know what he’s getting into?

    •  I use to do that occasional pop-in of this game as well, just to be filled with rage every time.  Same thing with The Three Stooges game.  I had a bit of a love/hate relationship with the JAWS NES game, however.

      • Hoosiers_Wai1ress says:

        Three Stooges! I actually really loved that game; I rented it several times but never did own a copy.  I think mostly I was just taken with the idea that someone had made a Three Stooges video game in the 80s. 

      • Jason Reich says:

        I’m just glad to hear that other people have played it. I really thought I had somehow ended up with the only copy but once I started asking around a bit, I found experience with this game was more widespread than I first thought. We’re like former cult members who have found each other years later.

  6. EmperorNortonI says:

    I totally remember this game, but in an odd way – I never actually played it, but for whatever reason, the pre-release writeup in Nintendo Power has stuck around in my mind.  It was the typical fluff piece, in which all the game’s horrible flaws are completely ignored and every design decision is glowingly described as novel and groundbreaking.

    I also read the original novel in an English History class, in which we thought for a while about what exactly the good doctor’s “unspeakable urges” were.  The book is incredibly vague about what exactly Hyde gets up to, which lead many in the class to read it as a rather risque (for Victorian times) look into the psyche of a closet case.

  7. EmperorNortonI says:

    Off topic, but I simply can’t trust those “Around the Web” links that taunt me as I type my entries.  I just looked at GameDynamo’s “Top 10 Most Complex and Involved Games.”  Before opening, I wondered to myself, “What’s the bet that they don’t include Europa Universalis?”  I would have won that bet with myself, were I a betting man and were I willing/able to pay out.   Europa Universalis was beat out by such mind-bendingly complicated titles as Ocarina of Time and GTA IV.  Several JRPG’s made it on to the list, and I cannot begrudge a JRPG in the category of complication.  But still.

    Hell, compared to something like War in the Pacific, Europa and the other Paradox titles are child’s play.   

    • HobbesMkii says:

      Maybe it’s because I started on EU, but Paradox’s games have always seem to me to involve a progressive scale of complexity over the passage of time, with Crusader Kings as the easiest and Hearts of Iron as the hardest, with EU and Vicky falling in as 2nd easiest and 2nd hardest, respectively. Especially Hearts of Iron III, which has the added benefit of being a war simulator in the way the other games are not, so that you have to consider hundreds of units over 3,000 provinces while simultaneously managing your country’s economy. I know a lot of people knocked the theatre feature as playing the game for you, but I was glad it was there.

    • That’s just SEO farming man.  Now when Johnny Q 7th Grader googles ‘Ocarina of Time’ to see what his older brother is always talking about, that particular website will be a little closer to the top, and closer to those sweet sweet AdSense pennies.

  8. Captain Internet says:

    It may fail as a game, but as a description of what giving up cigarettes feels like it’s just about right.

  9. The video is worth watching in just to see the quivering cat that follows him in Jekyll mode. I initially thought it was his companion but instead it was …a cat astrophe.

  10. stakkalee says:

    The Mr. Hyde portion of the game at least seems like a little fun – at least you move faster than your alter ego, and you can jump and shoot a weapon.  On it’s own it would simply be forgettable.  It’s the Dr. Jekyl parts of the game that really move this from ‘mediocre’ to ‘terrible.’  From your sllloooowww walking to your anemic jumps to your laughably powerless gentleman’s cane, the whole thing just exudes a lack of effort.  And I’ll take hopping brains over pooping birds and shovelfuls of dirt as enemies every time.

    • Effigy_Power says:

      I was wondering what they fed crows in Victorian times…
      Caustic tar apparently.

      Also, only a true sadist would make a game this crushingly boring and then make the better part (by comparison at least) infinitely shorter than the truly tedious one.
      This game may require an addendum to the Geneva convention.

      • I’m actually really confused by Hyde’s attack. Why does the psycho-wave move in such a bizarre arc like that? That actually frustrates me more that slow-ass Jekyll.

  11. Finely dressed gentleman leaving bombs all strewn about you say?  Where have I heard that before…

    • Effigy_Power says:

      And the book was released the same year (alas a bit before that)… Uncanny.
      Of course the press held back all the reports of bombings as a result of the release of the titular NES game.

  12. zhisdf says:


    ^-^  ^-^  ^-^

    • Effigy_Power says:

      Don’t you dare feckin’ appropriate my smilie face, you off-brand poop-stain!

      • PaganPoet says:

        THIS kitten’s got claws!

      • Merve says:

        I’ve seen this very same spambot over at the AV Club too. It seems too happy to be spamming. Something is amiss…

        • Moonside_Malcontent says:

           What you fail to understand is the soul-searing conflict that this spambot is enduring.  Its Jekyll protocols wish only to bring the ^_^ joy of Puritan ethics to the masses, while its darker Hyde subroutine is powerless to resist the sensual siren call of free China Nike Discount Shoes Gucci Prada Number One Clothing China Brand.

  13. PaganPoet says:

    You just have to shake your head at some of adaptations people somehow were thought were good ideas.

    Is there also an NES adaptation of Wuthering Heights? You play Heathcliff, hurling insults and obscenities at Catherine’s ghost to keep her from trying to enter the manor.

    • HobbesMkii says:

      Ethan Frome’s Sledtastic Adventure!

    • Is it time for one of those chains? Yes!

      Pride and Prejudice: An incredibly difficult QWOP clone where you must enter the ball without tripping over your massive dress and spoiling the whole season.

      • PaganPoet says:

        The Great Gatsby: Set at the climax of the book, you play as Daisy, fleeing from your angry, jealous husband in Gatsby’s car in a racing/survival horror hybrid. To get the good ending, you have to be sure to run down your husband’s mistress.

        • George_Liquor says:

           Sounds easy enough: Just redo the sprites in Road Rash and wait for the literary accolades to roll in.

        • PaganPoet says:

          @George_Liquor:disqus Wow, that’s pretty much exactly what I was thinking. Do you think it will be hard to redo the backgrounds to look like Long Island in the roaring 20s?

      • Moonside_Malcontent says:

        The Adventures of Tom Sawyer game is mostly comprised of poorly translated truisms and the fence-painting minigame.

      • Merve says:

        One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: A real-time strategy game where you have to mobilize the patients of the mental institution against the oppressive nurses.

      • PaganPoet says:

        The Canterbury Tales: An open-world medeival RPG; The customizable protagonist gets mixed up in all kinds of crazy hijinks with those citizens of Canterbury!

        Also, the script is entirely written and recorded in middle English, ensuring that you’ll never know what is going on!

      • Hoosiers_Wai1ress says:

        Anna Karenina Teaches Typing

      • HobbesMkii says:

        D. H. Lawrence’s The Rocking-Horse Winner, an extremely suggestive resource management game about a boy with magical gambling powers.

    • George_Liquor says:

      Coming soon on Atari 2600: Nicholas Nickleby: The Game! Collect all the orphan kids in London and sell them to Squeers, but beware the voracious and deluded Fanny.

    • caspiancomic says:

       Waiting for Godot: a Streets of Rage/Final Fight style beat-em-up with no enemies. Periodically the little “Go! Go! Go!” arrow appears- but they do not move.

    • Dante’s Inferno – a God-of-War clone that is surprisingly better than God of War 3, where you fight not-so-clever monsters based on the level of hell that you’re currently fighting through.

      Never mind. That idea is just -stupid-.

      • PaganPoet says:

        We should make it as ~edgy~ as possible. How about one of the bosses is a giant, naked, demonic Cleopatra who spawns demon babies from her nipples?

        No? You’re right, that just sounds silly.

    • Effigy_Power says:

      War(fighter) and Peace.
      A 300 hour epic of love, betrayal and chest-high walls all set across historically inaccurate battlefields across the world.

    • HobbesMkii says:

      The Old Man and the Sea. It’s like Reel Fishing, complete with its own reel controller, except there’s more pained suffering and the sharks take most of your marlin.

    • His_Space_Holiness says:

      I’m still waiting for Super Karamazov Bros.

    • Girard says:

      No matter how many times I blow out the dust in my Slaughterhouse Five cartridge, it always glitches out and plays the levels in random order…

  14. The_Tender_Vigilante says:

    Great article, and one of the more bizzare NES experiences i can recollect.  Also, i now note that Mr. Hyde looks a great deal like Buckle from American Dad.