Who Framed Roger Rabbit is a 1989 Nintendo Entertainment System videogame based off the 1988 movie of the same name. The movie tells the story of an alternate 1940s Hollywood in which cartoon characters are real and our hero, the washed up Private Investigator Eddie Valiant, reluctantly takes on the case of one cartoon character who is being accused of murder. The movie is full of mystery, intrigue, and hilarity. The game, developed by Rare and published by LJN, does not have any of those elements. This game is full of frustration, confusion, and groans. Frustration from the horrible controls, confusion over what is happening on screen, and groans from really horrible puns during joke-related minigames.
The game beings with a MIDI version of some generic, fast-paced cartoony song. A song one would normally hear during a goofy sequence in an old cartoon. One that fits perfectly into the world of Roger Rabbit. It makes the player feel that maybe this could be a good licensed game. Very few of them exist, especially for the NES. However, the player is then greeted by two horrible looking sprites meant to be Eddie Valiant and Roger Rabbit themselves. In fact, this author had to stare at the screen for a few moments before realizing that the brown blob shaped object on the left of the screen was meant to be Valiant. Bob Hoskins definitely was not in the best shape, but he was actually shaped like a human. This is not the only confusing sprite to be found in the game. None of the humans have facial features, many of the animals look similar, and pretty much everything is brown. People are brown, except for their clothing which is almost always one solid color (nobody wears a lime-green shirt AND lime green pants. NOBODY.). All of the collectable items and animals are brown. Not different shades of brown, just the same exact color. Not a pretty brown either. This is especially confusing since Roger himself looks very similar to the character in the movie, very detailed and colorful. Almost as if 99% of this game’s graphic budget was just put towards his design. Even some of the backgrounds are brown, making items or animals disappear behind the random NPC walking around town. Oh, and those animals want nothing to do than to kill Valiant at every opportunity. This gets to be very frustrating when the controls and gameplay do not do any good in trying to avoid being attacked.
The gameplay consists of the player controlling Valiant as he investigates the mystery of who framed Roger for the murder. However, his investigation skills are a bit sketchy, as all he really does is search random desk drawers and garbage cans for crowbars, wallets, and bombs. This is where the frustration over the controls begins because to search these objects the player must be in a specific area of the item to actually search it. This causes the player to button mash while walking up and down an item until the search pattern begins. There is also no on-screen animation from Valiant while he is searching. He only turns his back to the player and the word “Searching” appears at the top of the screen. The results of which are either text saying the item is empty or an object the player found. These items, such as the crowbars and bombs, are used to either distract or attack the various enemies littered throughout the game. These items are found in random apartments and office buildings located around the game’s map. All of which have some random NPC aimlessly walking around in them. All of which do not really care that Valiant is rifling through their personal belongings, only yelling at him if the player punches. However, do not bother actually trying to use the items, as most of the enemies will spawn in areas on the screen that will not give the player enough time to use said items. What makes matters worse is that the game does not pause when the player scrolls through his or her items list to find the correct one to use, making Valiant open to any and all attacks. This author’s favorite enemies are probably the vultures that swoop down and attack during the overworld exploration sequences. They will swoop down, grab Roger, and fly away. Causing Valiant to fall over on his back for some reason. The reason for this is never explained.
Valiant can also punch enemies to attack them. However, just like the items, it does not really do anything as the enemies are usually too fast to allow the player to gather Valiant’s strength to attack or the enemies are too low to the ground. Valiant can also speak to the random NPCs walking around the world for hints and tips about where to go next or if a certain building has any items left in it. This can get a bit confusing at first, as the text screen for both Valiant and the NPC look almost exactly the same, the only difference being a cloud quickly appearing from the character’s head to their corresponding text box. However, this cloud disappears very fast so the player must not look away or blink during these times. Here is a pro tip: Valiant’s text box is always the one asking, “Can you help me?” That is all he ever asks. Another find investigation skill from this crack P.I.! The game also features a minigame in which the Toon Patrol, a quintet of cartoon weasels working to actively stop Valiant and Roger from finding the truth, randomly capture Roger and Valiant must give them the correct punchline to a joke. This includes such “hilarious” jokes as “What tuba can’t you play? A tuba toothpaste.” If the reader now needs to gather himself or herself from that side-splitting joke, please do so. This review will still be waiting when one returns.
One of the most confusing aspects of this game is Valiant’s animation when he is injured. As mentioned previously there are multiple types of hazards in this game: dogs, cats, rats, and even falling potted plants. It also seems that the damage these hazards do to Valiant is random. A cat can attack him and do nothing but slow the player’s progression down a bit, but a falling plant will knock Valiant to the ground where he will sit there shaking his fist in a very cartoony way. This is followed by the loss of a health bar, indicated by movie clapperboards in this game. Roger will constantly follow Valiant around, however the player does not control him. This does not mean Roger cannot be attacked, as he is often flattened by the random car or attacked by the same enemies Valiant must avoid. However, when Roger is attacked he just falls face-first to the ground and gets up a few seconds later. This less comical animation is confusing, as Roger is the cartoon character and Valiant is the human being. Perhaps the developers were trying to make a statement about the subtle differences between us and cartoons? Perhaps not, as this game is garbage. More likely, the developer just did not care enough about this game.
The only good thing about this game is the music. Which, to be honest, is not even that good to begin with. It is all MIDI songs that sound like any generic song one would hear in a videogame, and they all repeat over and over. The beginning title talked about at the top of this review sounds like something one would find in any random old cartoon. The song that plays while Valiant explores buildings sounds like something out of a detective movie, but it plays in EVERY building both inside and out. There is also a song that plays while exploring the game’s overworld that sounds like something out of a Final Fantasy game: very fast paced and does not match the game whatsoever. This author now realizes that not even the music is good in this game. There is nothing good about this game.
Overall this game is complete garbage. The “story” only vaguely follows the plot of the movie. The graphics are so bad that everything pretty much looks the same, but that does not matter as the gameplay is so bad nobody will want to play this for more than five minutes. The controls also make no sense and often hinder the player from completely whatever dumb objective he or she is meant to do, which is also never really explained. The most fun that can be had out of this game is to make fun of it, but that quickly vanishes as the game will slowly suck the lift out of the player the more it is played. For anyone who is a fan of the original movie stay far away from this title. For those looking for a crappy game to make fun of: enjoy it at one’s own risk.