Brain Lord (SNES) Review

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Review by tankMage  (August 2015)

Score: D+

    If you read the description, you may be thinking “Hey, this game seems really cool, how’d it get a D+!?”. Well, Brain Lord is full of ideas that should make for some fun gameplay. Sadly, Produce! botched this title in epic fashion. So without further adieu, here is a breakdown of Brain Lord…

A giant roach ladies and gents…yeah that’s about right for this title.

Graphics

    Brain Lord’s visuals are a mixed bag at best. Some of the NPCs and monsters are cool looking, but Remeer himself is designed poorly and is probably one of the most awkward representations of a human being I have ever seen. Even worse, monster sprites are often reused without even the obligatory palette swap (with some exceptions). Near the end of the game there are several pitch black rooms that only display Remeer and nearby monsters. For some reason these rooms gave me a headache when a mob would pop on on screen and start moving around; so congratulations Brain Lord, you are the first game that succeeded in making me physically ill. To be fair, each dungeon has it’s own unique look, some of which are rather original. The layering capabilities of the SNES were also put to good use on a few occasions, but not over used. Effects like mist and the shadows cast by clouds floating over a field give this game a much needed sense of atmosphere.

The very memory of this stage gives me motion sickness.

Music/Sound

    The soundtrack for this game just isn’t good aside from a few rare exceptions and I found a few of the songs to be incredibly irritating after a few hours of crawling around in some of the game’s dungeons. I would have loved to have turned the sound off (I didn’t, because I try to experience theses games as they are. Yeah, I’m stupid.). Not much more can be said about the music so I’ll move on to sound effects…

    Usually I barely notice a game’s sound effects unless they are particularly good or pertinent to gameplay. That wasn’t the case for Brain Lord, however. I was painfully aware of this game’s sound effects. Monsters emit a bizarre yelp upon being dispatched, falling down pits produces another irritating sound, and the player is treated to a shrill beeping sound when Remeer is low on life, which is by far the worst sound effect. Overall this game’s auditory quality leaves much to be desired and I highly recommend hitting mute and playing your own tunes if you choose to pick this title up.

Bugs

This may be one of the most important issues I will cover in this review, mainly, because collectors who prefer game cartridges over ROMs have to watch out for one of the bugs I will mention… unless they specifically want the glitched out version of this title.

1. Defensive bonuses from armor were not added to the player’s total defense in the initial release of Brain Lord due to a bug. As a result most of the game’s armor was useless and enemies would trash Remeer with just a few hits or one shot kill him. This bug was fixed in a later version and as a result there are two different types of physical copies.

2. Another bug, inherent to both versions of the game concerns collision mechanics. To put it simply, Remeer has a magnetic attraction to pits. Stepping too close to a ledge or jumping before a platform is in the correct position results in Remeer getting sucked into oblivion. There were a few occasions where I fell through a floating platform that I was attempting to jump into. It goes without saying that this really drags down the quality of gameplay.

User interface

For the most part, Brain Lord’s play control is fairly tight. The inventory is somewhat tedious to manage, but I’ve seen worse. Using the in game map was also tedious as you have to go into your inventory and activate an item to view the map (which is difficult to read). The game does feature some nice shortcuts. For instance, the shoulder buttons allow the player to cycle through spells, which is always a welcome feature. There is also a portal item that allows the player to warp to a number of preset locations (in my opinion this is one of the most extensive teleporters I have ever seen and it’s very convenient). So overall, Brain Lord’s UI is not bad.

Gameplay

This is where Brain Lord suffers the most and in my opinion it’s the most important feature of any game. Unfortunately, Brain Lord just isn’t fun. The game is full of the buggy platforming I mentioned earlier and I quickly learned to dread the sight of pits and floating platforms. At some points, l felt as though the developers decided to troll players, because of all the pits and nasty tricks I encountered. One example of this developer trollery are the wall plaques found in dungeons. Generally these plaques are very helpful sources of information…except in the ice castle where they emit gas that poisons Remeer. To make the matter more complicated, most of the ice castle plaques were necessary to read and it was impossible to tell a legit plaque from a trap, so yeah… thanks Produce!.

The puzzles are irritating as well. Players are often required to open doors by pushing blocks onto switches, which becomes loathsomely repetitive after a while since solving these puzzles usually comes down to trial and error. Other puzzles are creative, but can be incredibly cryptic. In the twenty-first century this is not a big deal, since internet access is common now, but in the mid-nineties some of these puzzles could stump a player for some time. This is especially unfair considering the issues with the translation.

Enemies are also tremendously repetitive. Be prepared to encounter the same monsters in nearly every dungeon. Combat suffers as a result since most players will have learned how to deal with the majority of the game’s mobs in the first stage. Boss fights are not much better, but there was at least a bit of thought put into them. In many cases the player will need a special item or spell to beat a boss, but aside from that there is not much challenge to be found at the end of a stage.

Translation

SNES games are notorious for their often shoddy translations and Brain Lord upholds this tradition in fine form. There are several situations where it is hard to understand what NPCs or hint plaques are trying to say. For the most part this is a minor nuisance, but there are a few cases where the information is confusing or just difficult to interpret. As a kid I remember reading a plaque in the first stage that warns of a “dwarf” that stuns you if you strike it. Upon entering the next room I saw a metroid-like creature and thought “Hey that’s not a dwarf, I can stab it.” well, according to Brain Lord, dwarves look like metroids and I got stunned. All in all the translation issues aren’t a big deal, but they do serve to make an already flawed game that much more painful to play.

Story

Ugh, where do I start? At first glance the story seems interesting and the supporting cast that follows Remeer around is somewhat intriguing… but that’s as far a it goes. Brain Lord’s story devolves into the usual video game plot and fails to even do a decent job of narrating the story. There’s the usual plot holes (which are forgivable if the story is at least interesting) and a few tacked on twists and that constitute a rather disappointing story.

Redeeming qualities?

I spent a lot of time pointing out Brain Lord’s flaws in the preceding paragraphs, but I have to admit there are a few points of light in this otherwise bleak game. Produce! probably set out to make a good game when they dreamed up this title and under all the garbage there are elements of a quality experience waiting to be uncovered.

Jades are one of the coolest features I have encountered in a SNES game. There is a nice selection of helpers that can be summoned via jades and the player can even name the fairies contained within them. Having the ability to use two jades at once adds to this already interesting mechanic and I found myself testing out different combinations to see what I liked most or for a change of pace.

Brain Lord also boasts a nice arsenal of weapons that allow the player to choose from a variety of attacks. For the most part some weapons are generally better than others, but every weapon type in the game has a use. The various weapons also handle differently: Swords are fast, swing in a wide arc and do passable damage. Axes require the player to get very close to foes, but can be devastating if used well. Flails are slow, but have good reach and do excellent damage. Finally bows and boomerangs allow players to hang back and pick enemies off. All of these weapons had some serious potential to make for a fun game, but unfortunately Brain Lord did not capitalize on them. Spells also come into play in Brain Lord and testing out magical attacks was amusing, but once again Produce! failed and the magic system is not very meaningful.

Final thoughts

Brain Lord is a good game trapped in a bad game’s body. I really wanted to like it and I did up until the second stage where all of my complaints started to become obvious. This game also has some history with me; I rented it one Friday night when I was a kid, played the first dungeon, liked it and returned the game the next day with every intention of saving up my allowance to buy it. Some supernatural being must have been looking out for me, because it would be twenty years before I would see Brain Lord again. Of course I had to play it to the end and learn the horrible truth.

Recommendations

I can’t really recommend this game to anyone aside from serious collectors and masochists who like to play bad games. People looking for a Zelda style adventure game should probably avoid Brain Lord unless they are really desperate for a fix and even then it’s probably just best to pass up this title.

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