Important Importables: Doctor Who video games

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When people think of import games, they usually look to Asia. After all, Japan is the birthplace of many successful games and series and Korea is making quite a name for itself when it comes to free-to-play MMOs. However, Europe has a few surprises as well, and one of the import series its known for is based on the cult classic science fiction series Doctor Who.

Even though Doctor Who‘s fanbase in other countries is steadily growing, the Doctor Who video games have typically been a British thing. That’s starting to change now, what with the release of the Doctor Who: The Adventure Games series and some other forthcoming games. So it’s worth knowing what the series is about and if it could be something that would interest you.

Doctor Who?

The star of Doctor Who is an alien known as the Doctor. He’s an alien from the planet Gallifrey. During the Last Great Time War, which pitted the Time Lords against the Daleks, the Doctor stole a TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space) and found a way to end this war that could possibly destroy the universe. At the same time, it (supposedly) wiped out the Daleks and Time Lords, leaving the Doctor as the last survivor. As a Time Lord, the Doctor is capable of regenerating after death, which makes it really easy to replace the lead actor when necessary.

The show first began its run in 1963, and then went through seven different doctors until its run ended in 1989. Shortly after, there was a movie with an eighth doctor in 1996. In 2005, the series was rebooted with Christopher Eccleston appearing as the ninth Doctor. Since then, David Tennant and Matt Smith have respectively played the tenth and eleventh Doctors.

The TARDIS is a ship capable of traveling through both time and space. The Doctor is quite fond of Earth and humans though, so he’s there quite often. Also, his fondness for humans means he usually travels with one or two human companions. The party then goes around the universe, exploring. Of course, most adventures aren’t quite peaceful as the TARDIS has a tendency to occasionally drop them off in the wrong time or location and the Doctor has a way of getting involved in situations where people or aliens are being persecuted or attacked by unknown forces.

The Doctor gets into games

Now, the first thing you need to know about Doctor Who-inspired games is that they’re usually bad. And I’m not talking, “So bad they’re good” bad. I mean really, absolutely absymal. Which is pretty sad, really, considering how good the show is. Fortunately, some of the more recent games have taken towards rebuilding the Doctor Who video game reputation. They have a lot of work ahead of them though. especially when you consider how ridiculous some of the older games were.

Most of the first Doctor Who games appeared before 1997, and starred Doctors from the original series. Some of the earliest games from the 80’s are difficult to find information about simply because of their age. The first game ever was Doctor Who: The First Adventure for the BBC Micro in 1993. It was a rather unspectacular mini-game collection with four episodes, each offering a different kind of game (based on other arcade games) to complete. Doctor Who and the Warlord came next in 1985, also on the BBC Micro, and was a text-based adventure game. After that was Doctor Who and the Mines of Terror for the a BBC Micro, Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC. It featured an extremely fragile Doctor character who could die really easily as he wandered around some cavernous mines. Think of it as being similar to Castlevania, but a lot less interesting. Doctor Who: Dalek Attack was next in 1992, and was a 2D action game like the previous title. This Commodore 64, Amiga, Atari ST, ZX Spectrum and MS-DOS game was also not well received.

In fact, it wasn’t really until Doctor Who: Destiny of the Doctors that the Doctor Who games really started getting good. In this Windows game, which blended action, puzzle and adventure elements, players had to help the first seven incarnations of the Doctor defeat the Master. All seven versions of the Doctor have been captured and placed in the Determinant, which the Master created after taking control of Siralos. Players are the Graak, a creature created by the Doctor before he was captured, who has to use the sonic screwdriver to get past aliens and free the Doctors. It was notable for all the voice acting, most of which from the original actors who played the Doctor, as well has having newly recorded video for the game and a huge database with information on all things Doctor Who.

Unfortunately, when Doctor Who games started appearing again after 2008, they weren’t all that good again. The first offender was easily Top Trumps: Doctor Who, a Doctor Who-themed game where players played the card game Top Trumps. Sadly, this atrocity was spread across the PS2, DS and Wii. It only got worse though. In 2010 Doctor Who: Return to Earth was released on the Wii and dubbed an instant failure due to a horrible camera, terrible graphics and not being fun in any way possible. It was an adventure to absolutely miss. At the same time, Doctor Who: Evacuation Earth was released for the DS. It was a designed to play in a manner similar to the Professor Layton games, only its puzzles were insultingly easy and it was both bland and formulaic. As someone who’s actually played both the DS game, I can wholeheartedly say it’s an insult to any fan of the series over the age of seven.

However, there was a slight sign of hope despite the initial fumbling of new Doctor Who games. The iOS entry, dubbed Doctor Who: The Mazes of Time, actually had its moments. The controls were terrible, but it had an interesting story involving the 11th Doctor and Amy Pond going to rescue a family and then stopping Daleks, lots of puzzles and eventually extra level updates with new adventures. Even better was the Doctor Who: The Adventure Games (Windows, Mac) series. It is a point-and-click adventure game following the 11th Doctor and Amy as they go through various adventures in time against new and familiar enemies. The first series had four episodes to playthrough and, best of all, anyone who lived in Europe could download them for free. If you live outside of Europe, you actually have to pay for the episodes.

Surprisingly, the future of Doctor Who video games looks promising. Series 2 of Doctor Who: The Adventure Games has just begun, with one episode released so far. There’s also a free-to-play MMORPG for Windows and Mac coming out in 2012 called Doctor Who: Worlds in Time that will allow people to create a custom avatar who will work together as companions of the Doctor to save the universe. The most intriguing prospect of all may end up being Doctor Who: The Eternity Clock though, as it will be a PS3, Vita and Windows adventure. In it, Doctor Who and River Song will have to save Earth by traveling through time, and their actions in various time periods will influence other areas of the game.

COMING NEXT WEEK: Important Importables samples and suggests awesome Japanese beverages to try.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: Last week Important Importables talked about the first four Phantasy Star games.

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