Who Framed Roger Rabbit Brings Terror to Detective Work
Fighting near-unkillable enemies makes for some tense, terrifying experiences. Getting dogged by Mr X or Nemesis in the Resident Evil games are some of my most vivid, frightening memories of those games. Firing shot after shot into them while frantically dodging, knowing I could only take a few blows. Watching as they soaked up damage without showing any sign of weakness. Kind of like fighting Judge Doom in the old NES game Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Which was a delightfully tense game for its time for a bunch of reasons.
I hated this game as a kid, but it grew on me as an adult. Exploring 1940’s Los Angeles while gangster weasels hunt you down? Being in danger from all kinds of wildlife? Dodging death from “accidents” as you gather pieces of a lost will? Puzzling out which items will get you deeper into a sprawling cartoon and real world? It took the premise of the movie and created a large-open world detective game filled with people to interrogate and lethal trouble around every corner. It’s an ambitious title, to say the least.
I’m always carrying a little fear as I play through Who Framed Roger Rabbit, though. The final boss of the game, Judge Doom, is an utter monster. Massive health pool. Can kill you in a few hits. And you’re as effective in a fight as you think you’d be as a depressed alcoholic detective. And that’s not even taking many of its other unsettling elements into account.
The game does a great job of setting up this sense of danger to your journey. As Eddie, our detective, and Roger, the cartoon rabbit, the pair of you will explore LA looking for clues and items that will lead you to the missing will that you need to complete the game. Death is usually right around every corner in the game. As you explore the streets, cars can run you over, birds can swoop down and snatch Roger, or snakes can kill you. Step into a building to chat with folks looking for clues and you may have a flower pot fall on your head, or maybe a vicious cat will claw you up. You’re not a terribly durable pair.
You have greater troubles always on your trail, too. The weasels, a mixture of gangsters and unsettled killers, are always hunting you throughout Who Framed Roger Rabbit. They’ll wander the streets, and if they make contact with you, you’ll have to figure out the punch line of their joke or they’ll kill Roger. You share lives, so his problems are your problems. That’s assuming they don’t just run you over with their car, either. Or that they don’t just appear when you try to go into certain buildings, prompting a fistfight. I already told you how well Eddie handles those.
The mechanics of the weasels following you makes you feel like the investigation is always on a strict time limit. That you might have to duck into a building and hope to avoid trouble. It loans this unsettling sense of being hunted the whole time. That things can go south at any second. It adds just enough panic and danger that you never feel like you can rest while you investigate. It was a nice touch that really drew from the movie, and showed that, while LJN-published games may be clunky, they were usually ambitious and experimental.
With this sense of being a fugitive as you wander the streets, you’re always feeling this underlying fear as you explore Who Framed Roger Rabbit. It can get pretty silly, since you beat the weasels by telling jokes a lot of the time, but it was easy to die, too. Eddie can’t take too much of a beating, and a simple screw-up can get Roger killed. Life always felt like it was on edge as you worked through this lethal LA.
So, when you manage to crack the case and find the will, making your way to Judge Doom’s Warehouse, you’re already on-edge. You know, first hand, that your life is easy to snuff out. Also, that you’re clumsy in a fight. Eddie can punch, but he does a bit of a wind-up when he does. The timing is strange. He can also hop around to charge a punch to do more damage. That attack is also finicky, as it can be hard to move around while hopping and charging. You can easily get yourself smacked and lose your charge due to this movement and timing. Items you pick up, like exploding cigars, can help, but they’re in finite supply.
When you step into Judge Doom’s Warehouse, maybe you feel a little terror. You’ve had a hard, dangerous journey through Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Maybe you feel excited and relieved that the end is near. No matter what emotions you feel, you’re about to get overwhelmed. Nemesis and Mr X all wish they had a health pool like Judge Doom. This villain is an absolute beast and will likely require a ten minute brawl to beat. AFTER you use a full stock of every item in the game on him. And then you need to fight him AGAIN.
On one hand, this felt terribly unfair. You have to play extremely well against Judge Doom for probably a good ten minutes straight if you expect to win. He has ranged abilities and his own punches, and he can lay you out in only a few hits. This creates an incredible pressure on the player as they struggle to charge punches or hit with items. On the other hand, this makes for a fight that sets my pulse racing. Every near-miss sends your heart into a frenzy. Every time I fight him, I’m terrified for every second, because the simplest mistake could be the end of it. It’s captivating and frightening as I struggle to stay alive.
Judge Doom was a terrifying villain in the movie, though. The final battle involved dealing with Judge Doom’s cartoon powers put to murderous intent. A killer cartoon using Looney Tunes-like abilities to murder. All while Christopher Lloyd puts on the villainous performance of a lifetime, bouncing between calm/cold to unhinged/gleefully murderous. It’s a wild fight that’s both silly and scary (especially for childhood Joel). Who Framed Roger Rabbit didn’t quite capture the silliness, but it leaned in hard for that fear.
Who Framed Roger Rabbit created a clever game out of its movie inspiration. Having players do detective work as hunted fugitives in 1940s LA made for a clever, if unusual, game. Having them do so while being dogged by killers added this fantastic tension to the game. Capping it off with a battle with a monstrously-powerful villain made for a fearful experience, and yet another memorable villain to gaming.