Friday 23 November 2018

Island of Dr. Brain - From Beach to Beach

Written by Reiko

We are on the hunt for Dr. Brain's special battery for his latest secret project. His pilot has dropped us off (using a parachute!) onto Dr. Brain's private island, and we must now tackle the piles of puzzles between us and our goal. The copy protection requires that I enter map coordinates every time I start up the game, but of course with the manual that's trivial. In fact, I think the version I have has had the puzzle nerfed such that clicking anywhere is automatically considered correct.

Instructions for the first real puzzle.

On the beach, I face a blank stone wall with a border, flanked by odd stone statues and palm trees. Some of the objects in the vicinity have funny comments or jokes, in the usual Sierra tradition of gratuitous humor, but none are particularly noteworthy or relevant to the quest. Immediately, Dr. Brain pops up on the watch (we appear to be anticipating video phones and smart watches, here, which couldn't really have been a thing in 1992) to remind me (with spoken audio!) that the battery is located deep within the island, but if I need any help, I should call him. This will use up a "hint call," of course, of which we have a limited number, and anyway I don't plan to use these.

Clicking on the blocks below the wall is the trigger to bring up the Polyomino Puzzle. This is the introductory puzzle, corresponding to the "Simon" puzzle at the front door of the Castle. Here, I have twelve stone pieces of various shapes that I have to rotate and place into the rectangular area. It's a fiddly puzzle, involving some trial and error as I work out what fits with what.

One solution for the given puzzle...

...and a completely different solution with different pieces.

Geometric puzzles like these aren't my strongest area, but eventually I've placed all the pieces. I think Island starts at a higher difficulty level than Castle, but we'll see how much the difficulty jumps around. Also, I notice that if I restart the game fresh and get back to the puzzle, the available pieces (and therefore the solution) are different, or if I return to it later. The puzzle is randomized, in other words.

When I finish the puzzle, Dr. Brain reappears to congratulate me on my first success and credit me with a gold plaque in Shape Manipulation. The puzzle disappears, the stone door slides open, and I step into the next room, a cave-like area creepily decorated with a sarcophagus, a little idol statue, and several old urns.

Why do we need to separate these microorganisms?

A large microscope in the foreground catches my eye. It's a microorganism sorter. I can't think why microscopes would ever work this way, but this one apparently uses polynomial equations to separate microorganisms by their colors. Clever puzzle, nonsensical setup. One equation is linear, so it only has the form of ay = bx + c, and I have to decide what a, b, and c should be to place the line in the right place. The other equation is parabolic, so it takes the form ay = bx^2 + cx + d.

An upside-down parabola needs a negative x-squared factor.

Trial and error is sufficient to solve the puzzle, because it's visually obvious where the lines have to go. Though knowing how polynomial equations work helps me zero in on the solution faster. Dr. Brain awards me a gold plaque in Algebra. When I close the puzzle, I find that the microscope also awards me a yellow receipt of some kind.

The initial state for this puzzle looks the same except for the blue squares being blank.

I slide the receipt into the slot on the front of the creepy sarcophagus to move on to the Sarcophagus Lock puzzle. Continuing with the math theme, I find five sets of numbers arranged in sequences, with a missing number in the middle. This time, one is a sequence of square numbers from 14 squared to 20 squared, so that one's easy to fill in. Some of the others jump forward and backward, but always with a mathematical pattern. It's not too hard to work out the patterns. When I fill in all the numbers, Dr. Brain awards me a gold plaque in Numbered Series.

Inside the sarcophagus, a friendly (and smelly!) skeleton hands me a set of stone disks. Naturally, I have to use them on the Tower of Hanoi puzzle in the corner. Now, Tower of Hanoi is one of the cliched and overused puzzles of this type of game, but it wouldn't have been so bad in 1992. Anyway, I happen to like Tower of Hanoi puzzles - I've played variations with four poles and multiple colors of disks, which can get pretty interesting, and I even coded my own version of it in a multiplayer text adventure environment. But this one is just the straight vanilla version: three poles, a stack of seven disks, shift them from one side to the other.

In case there's anyone out there that isn't familiar with solving the Towers of Hanoi, the trick I always keep in mind when I'm doing these is that when you start moving a stack, you put the smallest disk on the pole where you want the stack to go if you're moving an odd number of disks, and you put it on the other pole if you're moving an even number of disks. So with a seven-disk tower, you shift the first three disks over to the final pole (I lump the first three together in my head because it only takes seven moves to shift the stack of three), shift the fourth disk to the middle pole, shift the first three onto the fourth disk, and then the fifth disk (odd-numbered) is free to move to the final pole.

Ready to move the sixth disk.

Shift the first three back to the first pole, then put the fourth on the fifth and shift the first three on top of those. The sixth (even-numbered) then moves to the middle pole. Then you have to repeat the earlier sequence, mirrored, to move the stack of five on top of the sixth. Finally the seventh disk (odd-numbered) goes on the final pole, and you're halfway done. Shift the top five over to the original pole (temporarily placing the top four on top of the seventh), and the sixth goes on the seventh. Then the top four shift to the middle pole again, and then follow the fifth onto the final pole.

Not hard, just tedious.

The minimum number of moves for a seven disk vanilla Tower of Hanoi is 127 moves (one move less than 2 to the power of the number of disks, or 2^n - 1 where n is the number of disks), which I successfully managed. Dr. Brain awards me the gold plaque for "Logic Sequence" (although the Achievement Board says "Logic Pattern"). It doesn't really matter if you do it in more moves; you just have to get all the disks where they're going. But it's tedious watching the little animation of the disk rising up and over and down onto the selected pole each time, so I didn't want to take any longer than I had to on it.

The sarcophagus room is completed (note the skeleton!).

I completely forgot I could see the complete image by clicking on the background...

With that completed, the door at the far end opens, revealing a beach scene with a treasure chest. This is familiar from Castle: it's a jigsaw puzzle! Like in the Castle version, the pieces come out of the treasure chest.

Separate record times for different difficulty levels.

On Expert difficulty, the pieces are quite small, so it takes me around twenty minutes to finish the pretty beach scene with several curious flamingoes and also a path winding up the mountain. Once that's done, I can step into it and activate additional puzzles in the area. Dr. Brain also awards the gold plaque for Pattern Recognition.

The topography of this island seems a little odd at the moment. I started out on an external beach, with a stone entrance to the sarcophagus room, and then the opposite door goes out to another beach area off a lagoon. I guess the part of the island you go through is rather thin, with a small area of land extending off to the right, and an indefinite area of land off to the left. There’s a path heading up the mountain in the background, so the next area is up there, which implies that future screens head down the far side of the mountain. The box art and the title screen both show a rather internally consistent topography, actually, but as a real island this seems very strange. Maybe Dr. Brain altered the shape of it in the process of setting up the puzzles?

Birds plural, actually, at least on Expert level.

Dr. Brain certainly seems to like his flamingoes. You see them first right at the beginning of Castle at the front door, but they seem to have turned into a running gag. If I click on them, I start a slightly annoying pattern puzzle. The game shows you a 3x3 grid of flamingoes and then indicates three of them which need to be changed to a different color than the default dark pink. The catch is that each flamingo, when clicked, will change the colors of 1-3 flamingoes in the grid in a specific way.

So the trick is to determine which flamingoes will change the colors of the indicated flamingoes the way you need, and then which ones will reset any others that were changed back to default. If you had to, you could write down exactly which flamingoes do what, and then determine the correct sequence, but it wasn't so complicated that I needed to do that.

Dr. Brain awards me the gold plaque for "Logic Pattern" (although the Achievement Board says "Logic Sequence"). So the puzzle types for this and the Towers of Hanoi were switched in the audio lines relative to the Achievement Board labels. A flamingo also gives me a scroll of written music, which will presumably be useful later.

The French outfit only seems distinctive because of the beret.

Next up is the Coconut Tree Word Search puzzle, triggered by clicking on the sign near the path on the far side of the screen by the mountain, currently blocked by palm trees. The game generates a puzzle for you with words in a foreign language of your choice, either Spanish, French or German. The selection box displays a person dressed in somewhat distinctive clothing for each country, which is a colorful way to make that kind of selection.

It doesn’t even matter that the words are translated.

I suppose the idea is that searching for words in a foreign language is supposed to be more difficult than your native language. I always chose Spanish, and while I don't really speak it as a language, I'm familiar with most of the words, and I can still use all the tricks I would use in English for pattern recognition and such. In fact, Spanish (and by extension French and German too) is arguably easier in some ways because of the special letters (vowels with accents, etc), and also this particular word set uses phrases with spaces. So it's easy to look around the spaces and special characters to zero in on many of the words.

The Achievement Board after eight puzzles.

Completing the word search results in the gold plaque for "Foreign Languages." Plus the crossed palm trees uncross, allowing progress along the path. So next time, we'll see what's further up the mountain and solve some wordplay and science puzzles. At the end of each post, I’ll show the updated Achievement Board to show my progress.

Session Time: 2 hours 0 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours 0 minutes

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There’s a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no points will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. Please...try not to spoil any part of the game for me...unless I really obviously need the help...or I specifically request assistance. In this instance, I've not made any requests for assistance. Thanks!


  1. not nerfed, you probably have a pirated version in which you can click anywhere to progress

    1. Sometimes, rarely, publishers ditch copy protection on re-release, knowing it annoys people more than it protects their profits. And sometimes the easiest way to skip copy protection (especially if the game code has been misplaced) is to just throw in a crack... this is true at least of some GOG games.

      Pretty swift progress through the puzzles so far!

  2. I think the translations in the word search puzzle are to justify it being a "language" lesson instead of just a straight-up word search with foreign words. I do find it funny that they included phrases with spaces in them like they just couldn't come up with enough common one-word phrases in Spanish/French/German. I guess the puzzle works fine, it just seems odd to have spaces in a word search. I feel like there may have been a more effective way to have a "foreign language" puzzle than a word search, but I can't think of one that isn't either rote memorization and/or some sort of quiz that requires weeks of study first.

    Also, holy cow, that board is weighted towards math categories! Though I feel like they could have changed it a bit (putting, for example, the pentomino and jigsaw puzzles under "Art") to balance it more. I also find it amusing that the "Ref" category basically looks like it means the "copy protection/look it up in the manual" category.

    1. It could also be that the arrangements were influenced by the want/need for symmetry on the board, if you added an Art puzzle you would need another Ref puzzle to get the symmetry back.


Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There's a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no points will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of the reviewer requiring one. Please...try not to spoil any part of the game...unless they really obviously need the help...or they specifically request assistance.

If this is a game introduction post: This is your opportunity for readers to bet 10 CAPs (only if they already have them) that the reviewer won't be able to solve a puzzle without putting in an official Request for Assistance: remember to use ROT13 for betting. If you get it right, you will be rewarded with 50 CAPs in return.
It's also your chance to predict what the final rating will be for the game. Voters can predict whatever score they want, regardless of whether someone else has already chosen it. All score votes and puzzle bets must be placed before the next gameplay post appears. The winner will be awarded 10 CAPs.