There aren’t many games I’ve hated within a few minutes of picking up the controller. Dr. Chaos is definitely one of them. I’ll give it credit for being ambitious. For a game released in 1987 its attempt at a sprawling adventure along the lines of Metroid are largely successful. But whether or not you will actually want to go on this journey is another question and I can say the answer is no. Dr. Chaos is a confusing mess along the lines of Simon’s Quest but unlike that game it has few redeeming qualities. It might be even more obtuse if you can believe it. There are far too many better games in the genre to put up with this game’s faults.
Exploring the mansion is done in two parts. Structurally this is nearly identical to the Goonies II although both games were released fairly closely in Japan. Walking around the outside of the mansion and when entering a Warp Zone is done in the side scrolling view. Michael is armed with a puny knife by default but can pick up grenades, handgun bullets, and machine gun ammo along the way. While limited you can re-enter rooms to stock up on supplies although this is incredibly tedious.
As a platformer Dr. Chaos is adequate. The Warp Zones are where the action occurs and have a limited assortment of enemies that can mostly be avoided on the way to each boss. Although the enemies are repetitive they are annoying since they respawn immediately with the stronger types following you ceaselessly. You’ll need to conserve your supplies since there are no item drops in these segments. I’ll warn you right now that you can’t beat any of the bosses (except the first!) with the knife. The game takes a few cues from Metroid as there are secondary item upgrades that are mandatory for progress such as the jump boots, air helmet, and ultraspace sensor. Hell there are even energy tanks.
The comparisons end there and any faint praise I might have had disappears the minute you enter one of the numerous doors in the mansion. Here the game switches to a first person adventure mode. Navigating these rooms is an exercise in frustration not unlike the Goonies II. This similarities are uncanny, right down to the exact UI and commands. Each door is composed of four rooms of North, South, East and West. The confusion sets in when the windows and doors teleport you to a completely different part of the mansion. Since there is no map you are left to your own devices to figure out where each door leads. It is beyond frustrating.
Many parts of the mansion are completely inaccessible unless you find their hidden entrance. That means you must hit every open spot in each room to find the hidden doors necessary for progression. If that sounds stupid that’s because it is. And you would never know these exist unless you look at a guide. Now imagine doing this in 1987 when there weren’t any guides.
But it gets even worse! The game’s eleven warp zones have to be tackled in a specific order. However you would never know it as there are no hints or even any direction given at all. As much as I rag on Castlevania II (and rightfully so) it at least gave you some clues as to how to progress. Granted those clues read like they were written by someone in an ESL class but they were at least something. The Ultraspace sensor blinks whenever the entrance to a Warp Zone is present but that’s the only guidance you are given. How you actually get to each warp zone, where they are, even the order, you get nothing.
As you can imagine Dr. Chaos is difficult because it is so obtuse. Death places you back at the front of the mansion with no supplies except any special items collected. That means you’ll have to do some RPG style grinding for health and ammo just to continue where you left off. The side scrolling levels are tedious and full of annoyances such as being juggled for massive damage due to the stupid jumping physics. Each boss has a specific pattern you’ll need to follow to beat them and some of them are a god damned nightmare. God just thinking about it makes me wonder how the hell I tolerated this game all the way to the end.
I didn’t like Dr. Chaos back in the day and I don’t like it now. I approached this play through with fresh eyes and as sort of cleaning up unfinished business. Although I actually completed the game this time I felt no sense of accomplishment but instead the overwhelming feeling that I had just wasted my time. Avoid this one.