The Secret Island of Dr. Quandary easily has the creepiest openings to a videogame. You (the literal eight-year-old intended for this piece of edutainment) are lured into a shooting gallery game run by the purple-suited Dr. Quandary himself, from the other side of a rather photorealistic monochrome carnival. Dr. Quandary tasks you with scoring enough points on his actually hard contest of shooting down rows of the bad guy aliens from Number Munchers. You often don’t even get points when you land hits, like this is all one big joke to the doctor. Each time you fail, he gets madder and madder, even calling you a nimrod at one point. Yes, this grown man is getting vocally pissed at a child. The reward is getting to take home one of the three dead children, I mean realistic dolls he keeps on the top row. Tired of your shoddy marksmanship, the doctor just gives you a doll, each with not-subtle pun names that reflect different difficulties.
But with doll (relabeled as action figure because Dr. Quandary has some toxic masculinity he needs to work out) in hand, the real fun begins! The doll comes alive and eats you (or your subconscious), teleporting you to Dr. Quandary’s hidden island. Hidden island is a stretch though. Did anyone ever get that second playthrough ending of Silent Hill 2? The one where James travels to this church on a stand-alone island in the middle of Silent Hill’s Toluca Lake? James needs a boat to get there because he’s carrying something, but he could probably just swim to either end. Dr. Quandary’s island is that level of hidden, but since you are a child, now in the body of a possibly smaller doll body, it might be a hard swim to dry land.
From there, Dr. Quandary’s challenge to you is beating enough of his minions/prisoners to collect enough random items to turn into a potion for escape. For such an unnerving intro, Dr. Quandary’s actual island is weird, but mostly tame. Yes, a monkey wants you to do a Simons Says game with them involving a soda fountain, and a lady wants to duel you in picking CD-ROMs out of beach tunes, but nothing too strange. I rather disliked the puzzles that just involved Dr. Quandary blowing up objects like a candle or a doorway, and having to put it back together out of triangles because they might take longer than three minutes.
Far too many games relied on reaction times from the player, which feels unexpected from an edutainment game. One game involves this mindless task of jumping up to hit music notes in the right order to help a living musical instrument finish a stage performance, and it felt more like the challenge was simply hitting the objects themselves. Not all puzzles underwhelmed, as there was a pretty great catapult game where you measure rocks, popcorn, and flies to launch into spaces like a monolith frog’s mouth.
What really stuck out was the factors multiplication game that I kept screwing up against the rather anti-Semitic-looking Tax Collector. He looks like Mort Goldman from Family Guy, an intentionally garbage portrayal of a Jewish dad, just stopped by the island to harass a child for coinage. By this point, Dr. Quandary’s menace only permeates the few puzzles he oversees, like making you go through a room filled with lasers where said room explodes when you leave. So, this entire Tax Collector section felt out of place for the rhythm the game established.
The ending is where things return to the game’s real weirdness from the beginning. To escape Dr. Quandary’s island, you must put some of the dozen random items left by the puzzles into a large pot on the beach. The game does not convey the particular combinations, as some items are worthless depending on what doll was picked in the beginning. The final part of the game involves a child-controlled Kewpie doll throwing random objects, like paper weights and frog eggs, into a pot, heating the pot past the point of boiling, and then drinking the purple liquid to escape. Since The Secret Island of Dr. Quandary is an old DOS game, the credits can be accessed from the top menu whenever, so the game does not have a traditional ending that plays credits. This means that when you escape the island, the game plays a cutscene of Dr. Quandary congratulating you for completing his challenge, but then starting the game all over again. You are stuck in an endless cycle of failing Dr. Quandary’s dumb shooting game, being kidnapped and turned into a different doll, and finally escaping Dr. Quandary’s island. More like The Secret Purgatory of Dr. Quandary.
Terrifying. This revisit to an old childhood game was made possible by the ‘DOS BOX in your browser site’ My Abandonware and by viewers like you. The internet has shown me that I am not the only person with a memory hole for The Secret Island of Dr. Quandary. Next is figuring out the name of this 90’s animated movie about two lion brothers who fight over control of their kingdom that was probably just ripping off Lion King.