The Secret Island Of Dr. Quandary
We’re grown up gamers you and me. I know you never cared about educational games, not even the Ron Gilbert ones — there’s no denying it. They simply aren’t made for us, most of them are (as expected) way too childish and easy, and not even hardcore adventure gamers waste their time with admittedly quality educational adventures. As always, there are exceptions to the rule: a few games have managed to include a strong educational content with a challenging and even mature gameplay. Byzantine: The Betrayal comes to mind, for instance. Then maybe Biosys or Physicus… But these are games that are clearly intended for much more adult audiences. I can only think of one game that was primarily made for kids that I really, really loved and still play to this day… The Secret Island Of Dr. Quandary.
If I had to use one single word to define Dr. Quandary, that would be “quirky”. This is truly an odd little game released by MECC in 1993 but very charming and addictive. The beginning couldn’t be any stranger: you appear in a carnival and a freakish man lures you to his booth — it’s Dr. Quandary himself and he invites you to play a FREE game of Troggle Shoot! Basically, it’s a shooting gallery with the added difficulty that you must aim for a specific creature with a limited amount of bullets. Of course, Dr. Quandary tempts you with a doll – err, Lifelike Action Figure – if you win the game. It doesn’t matter if you can’t win because after three tries the Doctor will allow you to pick a doll anyway… But beware! The doll you pick will have a dramatic effect on your future. Their names themselves should give you an idea of what to expect: B. Ginner, O.D. Nary and D. Feecult. And no, I’m not going to explain that to you… As soon as you grab the doll with your hands you experience a LIFE-ALTERING EXPERIENCE. Or rather, you become the doll and are magically transported to the mysterious Secret Island Of Dr. Quandary(tm)!
Anyway, there goes the fancy intro. The gist of the game is to find a series of ingredients to make the Fixer Elixir. Allegedly, drinking this Elixir will take you home and the ingredients you need are eclectic to say the least: gum, sunscreen, moss, frog eggs, a tax refund, a rose and even a lit candle, to name a few. You get these objects after solving several puzzles scattered around the island, which you bump into as you walk through many locations. The ingredients are related to the nature of the puzzles themselves so it’s not like they’re totally random — for instance, after solving a puzzle which a beach theme you will get the sunscreen. However, the amount of these ingredients you find throughout the game is much more than the required number to make the Elixir. Thus, depending on the difficulty level you chose at the beginning, you are given some increasingly abstract hints as to what objects must be tossed into the Elixir, making that last step a whole game by itself. Going back to the puzzles themselves, I can tell you they are very appealing. Many involve mathematics and logic, which would be the educational angle of the game, and range from familiar (tangrams, tower of Hanoi) to very unique, never seen before or after. The characters and situations you meet get weirder and weirder as you progress, and the whole experience, combined with catchy and memorable tunes, has a dreamy feel to it. Also, the most difficult level is very challenging but fair, so much that any educational aspects are almost defeated. Needless to say, every gamer can enjoy Dr. Quandary, even the masochistic ones.
All in all, an extremely fun and very creative diversion. It is my understanding that MECC was able to put this in many American schools, so maybe learning can be entertaining after all. Make sure you pay a visit to Dr. Quandary if you never did, and please, do send him my regards.