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Dr. Chaos (NES) artwork

Dr. Chaos (NES) review

"This could have been one of those forgotten 8-bit classics, but the poor controls, repetitive item farming, and awful music keep this decidedly in the B-tier of NES games."

With any media, there are the classics and there are the also-rans. It can be difficult to know if a given B-tier creation was made that way with a knowing wink and a nod, or if it simply couldnít stack up to the competition. After playing copious amounts of Dr. Chaos, Iíve decided on the latter. This isnít some sort of intentionally campy romp; itís just a badly made game.

With the gameís title, it seems safe to assume that your goal as you play is to stop an evil man who didnít go through seven years of chaotic medical school to spend life as a ďMr.Ē In actuality, Dr. Chaos is the person that needs saving, after his experimentations with Warp Zones brought monsters into our world. Itís up to his brother Michael to traverse these tears in reality and assemble a laser weapon that can shut down the Warp Zones for good.

This is a game based heavily on exploration, and on an ambitious scale. The doctorís mansion has three floors that each feature multiple rooms, any of which may contain items, secrets, and of course Warp Zones. Your first experience with this game will likely be one of total confusion and frustration. The actual side-scrolling section of the mansion is merely a means to get from room to room, with the real exploration being found behind the many doors placed throughout the vast estate.

Once you open one of those doors, the perspective switches to a first-person adventure mode. Michael can then search for helpful items like health boosts and ammunition for his pistol or machine gun. Hitting walls may reveal even more goodies or hidden passages. Most of the gameís exploratory mechanics come into play as you make your way around those rooms, and I found myself quickly tiring of these sections.

Even though the game revolves around getting to know the ins and outs of the environment, itís nearly impossible to progress unless you tackle the Warp Zones in the correct order, which boils down to tons of trial and error along the way. Warp Zones are only found in the first-person rooms, and until you get an item that indicates when one is near, itís a real chore to find them. On a personal level, I had a tough time wrapping my head around the switches from 2D to 3D progression. Even after hours of playing the game, I still found myself becoming lost in these rooms far too easily.

Unfortunately, youíre going to be exploring these areas ad nauseum, because doing so is the only way to build up sufficient health and ammo to survive the Warp Zone levels and boss fights. There are enemies in the mansion, but they exist only as an annoyance. They re-spawn almost instantly (often right on top of you) and donít drop any items to aid in your search. While this forced backtracking eventually allows players to get a firm grasp on the mansionís layout, it also ensures that the overall experience is boring and repetitive.

Iíd like to tell you that the action in the Warp Zones makes up for all of this mind-numbing item scrounging, but Dr. Chaos features some really awful levels that are compounded by horrific controls.

Like the side-scrolling mansion levels, the Warp Zones are populated with repetitive enemies that infinitely re-spawn (again, almost immediately after you first defeat them) and serve more as obstacles than a source of anything challenging. Really, the only reason Iíd run into trouble in these sections was if enemies managed to juggle Michael for tons of mid-air damage. Thatís possible only because Michael has one of the absolute worst jumps Iíve dealt with in an NES game. Itís a floaty, imprecise jump that usually sends him careening towards danger instead of allowing him to soar over it. Compounding that problem is the fact that he canít change direction mid-air. This may be more realistic, but any time youíre dealing with obstacles and tricky jumps where enemies attack while youíre airborne, you need to be able to turn and shoot mid-jump. Michael is only slightly easier to handle on the ground, but poor hit detection leads to an aggravating cycle of missing enemies, getting hit, and then being knocked into more enemies. During the underwater levels, I would commonly find myself trapped in damage loops that depleted more than half my health meter before I could recover.

The good news is that youíll have an easier time navigating Dr. Chaos as you spend more time with the game. As in Metroid, health tanks significantly increase your odds of survival, and the jump boots make it a lot easier to avoid enemies in the Warp Zones. Still, I never got over my annoyance with the compulsory backtracking through the same few rooms. Once I started to work out how the rooms were connected and I could get where I wanted to go at will, I started to have a little fun with this one. Let me stress, though, that it was still a very small amount of fun.

I applaud Dr. Chaos for implementing some unique ideas. There are elements of Metroid and Castlevania II: Simonís Quest here, and even some survival horror elements due to the item management. This could have been one of those forgotten 8-bit classics, but the poor controls, repetitive item farming, and awful music keep this decidedly in the B-tier of NES games. Dr. Chaos is destined to forever remain that one game with the really cool box art that very few people ever played, and thatís really for the best.


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Freelance review by Julian Titus (April 24, 2013)

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