Imagine you're taking part in the Crystal Maze, but there's no Richard O'Brien, no cackling band of middleclass, middle management types all shouting different instructions at you and you don't have to wear a sweatsuit in a used bin bag. Sounds good? Well throw in (what seems like) a three hour wait between each puzzle and a control system that makes those robot arm lucky dip thingies at the seaside look advanced and you've just about got the recipe for The Castle of Doctor Brain.
Now let's see: puzzles, slow loading times, muddy controls... yep, it's a Sierra adventure. But there are a couple of differences this time. It's an educational game designed to introduce kids to some basic scientific principles, but it's no doddle. No way.
Even on the novice level, some of the puzzles are a fair old challenge. So, unless you've got a photographic memory, a pen and paper are essential to make notes and keep track of where you are in mazes.
Basically, it forces you to think. Very hard. In fact, if you buy it for your kids you could find yourself spending ages in front of the screen trying to help them out and getting hopelessly frustrated as well.
OK, so the mechanics of the thing can be downright irritating, but, if you're the sort that likes working out logic puzzles, it does provide a tough challenge in an entertaining and intriguing environment and you could find it as much fun as your kids will.
Gone is the normal convoluted Sierra plot - usually packed with all sorts of half-baked SF ideas or the most hackneyed of fantasy cliches - in which you have to work out what the hell is going on before tedium forces your brain to shut down.
It's replaced by a series of IQ-test-type puzzles linked together by a pretty loose basic premise. You are unemployed and Dr Brain is looking for tis lab assistant so you go for the job. You arrive at his castle for an interview and have to undergo a series of tests before you even get to meet him. (Rather like the way we check out people for jobs with AMIGA POWER - Ed.) These include things like sliding tiles to get them in the correct order, code-breaking, finding your way through 3D mazes, that sort of thing.
For every puzzle you get right you receive hint coins which can be used later on to help you out if you get into difficulties. Also, things earned in early puzzles may be of use in later ones. The control system is pretty much the same as for all Sierra adventures, and you can look at things, pick them up, use them, etc. But you don't actually have much of a choice about where you go or what order you do things in. Interaction with other characters is also pretty limited, so it's not really an adventure at all. You just go from one room to the next completing the puzzles in order.
But while some of the puzzles are presented as they would be ina book - word grids, for example - others are wrapped up in more traditional adventure-style trappings. The robot heads, which control an electronic arm that has to pick things up - and you have to do the programming - are an especially good example of this approach,
The graphics vary from the amusing and impressive to serviceable and downright obstructive. The 3D mazes are especially bad presented - you can hardly work out what are walls and what aren't, and some of the word grids are so hideous they're almost impossible to look at for more than a few seconds at a time. But there are some nice touches and some witty bits of animation, just to balance things out a bit.
The only other drawback is that it's not a very large game, and all the difficulty levels present you with the same problems - the harder levels just give you fewer hints of throw a couple more industrial-sized spanners into the works - which doesn't exactly encourage you to play again when you've played it once on an easy level.
So if you want to expand your kids' minds this is no bad way of going about it. Just be prepared to throw a quick party or have some cinema tickets ready to keep them amused while the thing is loading.