Rare-A-Thon: Who Framed Roger Rabbit

Who Framed Roger Rabbit is an amazing movie. The blend of live-action people acting side-by-side with cartoon characters was done so masterfully. You’d think the contrast would be jarring, but they pulled it off. It really looked like people and cartoons were somehow occupying the same world, in spite of abiding by entirely different sets of logic. I could ramble about this movie for hours, but we are here for something else. We are here to talk about the video game adaptation for the Nintendo Entertainment System.

Movie tie-in games have long had a poor reputation, but this is one was produced by Rare. If anyone could work a miracle and produce a good movie tie-in game, then it had to be them. Right?…

The game is kind of like a blend between the puzzle and action genres. You take control of private detective Eddie Valiant, who has to unravel a scheme that threatens the entire cartoon industry. Just like in the movie, this entails proving the innocence of cartoon superstar Roger Rabbit and finding the will of the late Marvin Acme.

When you fire up the game, you are dropped in Eddie’s office with very little context. Most players will then likely walk outside and promptly have a flowerpot dropped on their head; stealing 1 of their 3 total lives. First impressions are rough and the manual provides little help in making sense of anything.

What you actually need to do is explore LA in search of hidden items. You can approach any building and (usually) go inside, to then rummage through people’s dressers. If you’re lucky, you may find a useful item. You then move on to the next building and repeat. Some of these items are cartoon weapons, others help you circumvent obstacles, and some are required to advance the plot.

I can’t exactly tell you how to make a detective game work on the NES, but this has to be one of the most tedious ways to go about it. You are just slowly trudging from one grey building to the next, just to then walk into every copy & pasted room to check every generic drawer. 90% of the time it’s empty and you walk away, feeling like you wasted another 10 minutes. The various NPCs can tell you if a building has an item or not, but half the time they will refuse to do so. Even then, you’d still have to look for it and there’s no guarantee that said item will actually be of any use. You might find an item pivotal to progression or a generic weapon that you already had a full stack of.

Trying to keep track off where to go and where you’ve been is also a hassle. All the buildings look the same on the map and constant interruptions make it difficult to recall which identical streets you’ve already been through. I ended up getting a map of the game online and crossing out every building I’d been to and which ones I need to revisit. I recommend doing the same if you want to keep your sanity.

Every item in the game is randomized with each new session. An idea that sounds neat on paper, until you actually have to play through it. You might get into a deadlock because items you need spawned in places that you need other items to access. Or you might get the 1 item needed to circumvent an obstacle, only to find that there’s nothing beyond it. Locked buildings that you need to break into might be empty and special enemies may be guarding nothing. Now you’re stuck with items that are literally useless; knowing all too well that you may run into more of them as you resume your tireless searching.

While working through this process, you will be harassed by everything all the time. On the overworld map you’ll be constantly dodging cars and birds that will instantly rob you off a life. The weasels will hunt you down and force you into a quiz section if they capture you. Even when you’re at or inside a building, animals will constantly be looking to attack you. Not to mention traps like the aforementioned flower pots. You also have a chance to be locked into a fight literally anytime you access a building. This is the exact same fight with a weasel every time, which takes way too much time even when you’ve mastered it.

Not helping matters at all is that all kinds of technical issues permeate the design. Those angry animals will continue to move even when you are in a conversation. This will cause you unavoidable damage and interrupt the dialogue. Items can spawn in such a way that Eddie walks out of the screen when trying to pick them up. And those quiz sections begin their countdown timer before you’re even allowed to browse the answers. All this makes a game that is already quite tedious needlessly frustrating.

The controls are also below par compared to Rare’s earlier titles. Usable items are ambiguous in their purpose and difficult to utilize correctly. Hit detection on items like the crowbars is so off that I genuinely thought I was using them incorrectly. Meanwhile, the items that deal with certain animals only work on the special variants of them. Try to use them on the normal enemies and they’ll walk right through to attack you instead. Using items also requires that you cycle through them by holding select and pressing the directional keys. This sucks, because you frequently need to switch to a certain item on incredibly short notice. There are just too many different ones to reliably pull that off.

Alas, even Rare could not turn a movie tie-in game into gold. While Who Framed Roger Rabbit captures some of the charm of the movie, it has no clue whatsoever on how to make an engaging detective game. Its core gameplay is boring and frustrating, with mechanics that feels incomplete or poorly put together. Even the biggest fan of the movie will find little to appreciate here.

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