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The Doctor Brain series of games from Sierra are puzzle-based games and one of the few examples of educational games which are actually good games in their own right.
The series began with Castle of Dr. Brain. Here, the Featureless Protagonist is applying for an apprenticeship in Brain's laboratory. The entry exam consists of, well, reaching the laboratory, which is hidden deep inside the titular castle. Each step of the way is blocked by a puzzle or set of puzzles. The player must proceed through this linear maze, solving the wide variety of different puzzles in sequence, until the final puzzle lands the player in the laboratory. Puzzles in this game ranged from memorizing sounds and patterns, to jigsaw and word puzzles, and even rudimentary astronomy. It was also possible to change the difficulty of the puzzles, making it easier to finish the game if one or more puzzles proved very difficult. It also made the game accessible to both children and adults, who could experience roughly the same amount of challenge from what are essentially the same puzzles.
In the second game, The Island of Dr. Brain, the protagonist is now Brain's apprentice, and must travel to Dr. Brain's secret island to retrieve a massive battery, which is to be used to power Brain's newest contraption. Once again the island is a fairly-linear series of puzzles, each one requiring different skills to solve. Almost all puzzles in this game are either completely new, or are advanced versions of the puzzles presented in the original game. For the most part however, the Island is a more difficult game than its predecessor thanks to some truly devious puzzles. The use of a calculator can come in handy. In addition, the game keeps a scoring sheet of all puzzles solved within a single run. The game awards a gold "plaque" for solving puzzles on the highest difficulty, silver for medium, and bronze for easy.
The third and fourth games (The Lost Mind of Dr. Brain and The Time-Warp of Dr. Brain, respectively) went in a slightly different direction. Instead of offering a linear path through various kinds of puzzles, gameplay was made more "casual", with all puzzles available for play at any time. You had to complete each puzzle repeatedly a certain number of times to "finish" one area of the game, and the end-game puzzle was unlocked only once all areas were finished. However, you could keep playing the puzzles over and over again, at varying difficulties, at any time. While certainly more repetitive than the earlier games, these sequels offered both a more open-ended experience as well as more content for players who enjoyed one or more puzzles and wanted to play them repeatedly. Unfortunately for the more cerebral crowd, a good portion of the puzzles in both games were practically arcade games more than they were any sort of puzzle or at all educational in nature.
The first two games, Castle Of Dr Brain and The Island Of Dr Brain were made for MS-DOS using 256-colour VGA graphics, support for common sound cards and shipped on floppy disks.
The third installment, The Lost Mind Of Dr Brain was released on a hybrid CD for Windows 3.1 and Mac OS and included digitised speech in place of text instructions, although the game would only work if the user manually set their display colour-depth to 256 colours. The only files written to the user's hard drive were the saved games, requiring the CD to play the game.
Tropes in the series:
- Copy Protection: The "look up the manual to help solve a puzzle" variety for the first two games, and running the game entirely off the CD for the third game.
- Hints Are for Losers: Using the Hint System reduce your overral game score, and in the third game, it also reduces the value of the puzzles.
- Mad Scientist: That's a no-Brainer!
- Playable Menu: The Time Warp of Dr. Brain has the Space Invaders section.