In 1988, a weird movie was conceived that blended silly toons with investigative drama, as somehow the not-real bunny Roger was accused of cold-blooded murder, and needed a very-real toon-hating private detective to help him out. As is usually the case with cinematic success, it had to be franchised into several video games. This is Who Framed Roger Rabbit on the Game Boy.
Licensed games should be approached with caution, but Roger Rabbit starts out strong: instead of yet another watered-down 2D platformer, you find yourself controlling Roger in a top-down fashion, shifting screens like the Zelda series. In that sense, it’s much more interesting than the NES Roger Rabbit counterpart. Plus, there’s one more reason to be excited: the game is produced by Shinji Mikami, director and producer of multiple Resident Evil games, Killer 7, Viewtiful Joe, and Devil May Cry!
The town you’re in gradually opens up new locations as a train becomes available and you’ve managed to grab a ticket to access the harbor. Yet sadly, that’s also the biggest disappointment in this early Game Boy game: the game’s world is only deceptively big. Once you start exploring, you’ll find yourself running in circles pretty quickly: it’s about one tenth in size of Link’s Awakening. Perhaps the MBC1 memory bank of
128 kB is the culprit here.
The game is divided into six movie-like scenes and starts out with a phone call on the movie set. Once the guy dies and you’re framed, it’s up to you and your investigative friend to catch the Weasels and reclaim your love Jessica. In case you die trying—or get bored—there’s a convenient password system implemented.
Walking around in Toon Town is quite dangerous: Weasels are better equipped with guns while your hammer toy does little but temporarily stun them. Walking around dangerous blocks is usually the better option. As Roger finds clues, he’s also given a few more items such as a gun (only used in one bossfight, has very limited ammo) and a feather shoe (again only used in one specific situation). The inventory screen gives the illusion that, just like in Zelda' you’re in for a real adventure here. Alas, it’s very short-lived: the grid never completely fills up, and there are only three real “tools”!
The idea behind Who Framed Roger Rabbit is great: focus on the investigative part, throw in a few puzzle-like elements, and steal the representation from The Legend of Zelda (A Link to the Past is also from 1991, while Link’s Awakening on the Game Boy still needed two years of development). The chip tunes are appropriate and diverse, but after a few scenes, the game simply falls short of its implicit promise: there’s not a lot to explore. The later scenes just take you from point A to point B to face an adversary and that’s about it.
I wish Capcom put in more effort by expanding the memory and thus the longevity of the game. It starts out promising but ends up being over all too soon—were they out of ideas or was this yet another rushed effort to capitalize on the Roger Rabbit craze? For not being a platformer on the Game Boy, it deserves better. Case closed!
Just for fun, here’s a collage of all screens accessible in the first act. You start in the “STUDIO” building on the top left. The railway on the bottom suggests another accessible part in later acts, as there’s a part with all broken windows and a lot of Weasels completely destroying you upon entering that area.
Verdict:/5 It was OK.