1991's Castle of Dr. Brain is one of my favorite video games of all time. From the very first screen, the game wears its style on its sleeve, as lightning strikes a 256-color castle shaped like a mad scientist's head, playing a MIDI version of Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, and a doorway-and-lawn flamingo version of Simon, the tone and color memory matching game. The game is nothing but puzzles, with a tissue of sight gags and bad puns substituting for a plot, testing players on math, logic, cryptography, and more. The game really isn't very long -- there are a total of 13 rooms and 28 puzzles in all. The sequel, 1992's Island of Dr. Brain (rating: 76), had graphics and game design and several similar puzzles, and it was a bit longer.
From the description I've given so far, my endorsement may sound lukewarm. But I really do love this game, and it's because of the puzzles themselves. I first played the game when I was in elementary school, and the game's length is perfect to play during a class -- puzzles whose increments can be solved in a few minutes, and a game that can be beaten after coming back to it enough weeks in a row. The puzzles are the right length, and they're captivating in themselves, engaging twists on classic games like tangrams, jigsaws, magic squares, and mazes. For a smart 8-year old, it still beats the hell out of actual homework, no matter how far graphics have come in the last 20 years. Instead, think of it as an interactive version of those old Penny Press Logic Problems books that you see at airport gift shops, where every page has a different type of mimeographed black-and-white puzzle to solve. There are still kids who do those for fun. I was one of them. Castle of Dr. Brain is for all of us.
Because there's no plot, just puzzles tailored for an 8-12 crowd, older gamers have to approach it as more of a nostalgia piece nowadays than some of the other classic Sierra On-Line games of the era, like the Gabriel Knight and King's Quest series. But those puzzles stand the test of time. Play it with your kids. Or at least imagine how much they'd like it if you had them.
Crossposted on Remingtonstein.