Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A Bit of Science: The Lost Mind of Doctor Brain

Apparently, unbeknownst to me, there are other games exactly like this one out there--in fact this is apparently the third in the series. That being said, in my world as a young kid playing PC games, The Lost Mind of Doctor Brain was the only one in existence. And I loved it. This kind of follows the same trend as my post about Zoombinis, so if you didn't like that game, don't like this one, or don't like logic/puzzle games you should probably just kick rocks before you get too frustrated.

The Lost Mind of Doctor Brain was a series of science and language puzzles based around the loose framework of a very intelligent scientist (Doctor Brain), his niece and mouthpiece Elaina, and the hyper-intelligent, Einstein-esque lab rat Rathbone. According to the interwebs, this was actually a continuation of two previous games that, apparently, had a free-roaming structure based on an island? I never played those so I can't really speak to how well this stands up to them--if you did play them and have also played this game, please let me know! I'd love to get some outside perspective on that, and don't really want to purchase them if they aren't terribly enjoyable.

Okay. Tangent. Sorry about that! The Lost Mind of Doctor Brain focuses on ten science based puzzles that allow the player, guided by Rathbone and Elaina, to travel around to different sections of Doctor Brain's mind and try to repair damage by solving them. Through these, Elaina serves as a guide to the rules and expectations of each puzzle, whereas Rathbone provides a very cheeky commentary on what you might be doing wrong--he was my favorite part of the game. He does a bunch of different voices and changes personalities through each of the different puzzles, including becoming a brogued Irish train conductor during one level. Pretty funny and unique, I thought at the time--and still do now.

Each of the levels can be played on Easy, Medium, and Hard. Beating the level on medium or hard will get you through the puzzle much more rapidly and enable you to move on to the next levels if you can succeed at beating it. I usually just took the puzzles as they were served to me, as I found them decently challenging enough that I didn't feel like I had to really push myself any faster than the game was progressing. It was pretty well designed in terms of learning on the fly. Here's a breakdown of the various levels, which are based on various sections of Doctor Brain's brain that you must get up and running again through puzzles. Once you've completed a level, it will turn blue to show that you have completed it. As a side note, ShadyParadox on Youtube has awesome run-throughs of each level, that I have linked in the titles of the levels. You can also check out his channel here.

Word Surge; in this one, Rathbone dresses up as a Shakespearean actor, and the goal is to make a "word square" out of the words listed on a board on the side. While this is pretty easy on the beginning levels with only two words, it becomes much more difficult when the grid multiplies and the player has to shift multiple rows in order to succeed at the game.

Synaptic Cleft; Rathbone becomes a southern cowpoke (Rathbone Joe-Bob), and the player is required to corral the neurotransmitters (looking like cows) by clicking on the screen and creating a force that drives them like a brand. This doesn't really seem that difficult or puzzle-like, but in the higher levels, it is quite frustrating. The neurotransmitters will die upon impact with each other, or with obstacles-super annoying.

Music; Rathbone is a Mozart-wannabe, and plays through measures of musical notation. It is the player's task to select measures and put them back in the right place. I always found this very interesting, but suspect that was because I am a pianist and have a better understanding of music notation. In the higher levels of the puzzle you can not only switch measures, but also flip them horizontally and vertically.

File Sorting; Rathbone here plays the presenter from the Twilight Zone, and is a memory game. You are able to put items in various drawers, and are then required to be able to remember which drawer you put it in when Rathbone asks for it later. Similarly, the drawers in the higher levels are able to swap with other drawers, which makes it even more challenging.

Motor Programming; This was pretty basic computer programming--Rathbone is hardwired into the computer and plays "Rathbot." You need to select various program commands and put them in line ahead of time to get the Doctor through the puzzle, such as "Turn," "Pickup," and "Move." In the higher levels there are timed obstacles which can kill you.

Pentode; No real Rathbone character here--just a snobby dude. The screen will play sounds that you then have to associate with a symbol, the symbol appears on your screen. It's essentially like a complicated tetris board--you need to put matching symbols next to each other based on the sound that plays. You do not see the symbol before you put it down, and only know it by the sound that Rathbone says. As you put more matching symbols together, you get more points to beat the level.

Train of Thought; This is essentially a switch level--you start trains on various tracks, and are required to maintain them successfully to avoid them crashing into each other. You do this by paying attention to pathways and switches, just like you would with a model train set.

Dreamland; There is no Rathbone in this level, which is a bummer. It is also the last level, and only available after you have beaten all the other levels. If you have ever played those marble wooden maze games, this is basically the same. There are teleport plates in each level that you must roll over in order to get to the next level. There are also different attractors and deflectors that will mess with the trajectory of your marble, and potentially send you in the wrong direction.

Neural Maze; I used to kind of like this one, I think, though looking back on it I'm not sure why. Rathbone acts like an angry New Yorker (complete with Youse). The player must successfully navigate Rathbone through a series of tubes using their mouse to go through tubes, and navigate from one level to the next. This is pretty easy on the easy level, but on the hard levels you get a ton more levels which is pretty annoying.

3D Construction; If I had ever had geometry at this age, this level would have been a breeze. Essentially you need to recreate a 3D model based on the object shown to you in the level. Rathbone plays a Swedish designer/architect, I guess. I love this level, and even in the harder levels it proved to not be much trouble. You build the 3D object on a grid out of items.

Overall, this game is awesome. Even reviewing it now reminds me of what a stellar work this was. The levels are pretty varied, unlike Zoombinis which are all based on similar principles, and would probably still pose a challenge to me now if I hadn't played the levels through so frequently. That is the one thing, the levels don't really change even if you play them multiple times--I am pretty sure that they will always remain the same as a product of that old school computing. If reading this review has made you want to play this game or you are rife with nostalgia, it looks like you can play The Lost Mind of Doctor Brain here.

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