The cartoon Inspector Gadget is about a cyborg police inspector whose body contains tons of gadgets he can call upon at any time, essentially making him prepared for any challenge he might face. In practice though, Inspector Gadget is about a buffoon whose cybernetic additions only help him bumble into creative slapstick situations, with the actual case being solved by the secret help of his ten year old niece Penny and her dog Brain. It’s a fine recipe for a kid’s comedy, but sometimes when shows like this are transferred into video game form, the spirit of the source material is ignored in order to make a game that is fun to play. Having nearly any gadget you need on hand for any situation could make for an interesting game, but Inspector Gadget: Operation Madkactus is surprisingly faithful to the show, although that didn’t really help it to be all that interesting as a game.
Despite being a video game adventure, Inspect Gadget: Operation Madkactus’s story is surprisingly small in scope, almost like a single episode of the show rather than something trying to make a big splash. Dr. Claw and the MAD organization have cooked up a very unusual scheme. People who have bought cacti from a very specific cactus seller are being eaten by their plants and Inspector Gadget must go destroy the island where the cacti are being produced. It’s hard to imagine the cactus-buying community is large enough that his plan would have any sort of major impact, but it’s the exact kind of kooky joke plot that you would expect from the cartoon. The odder part of it though is that, despite the cactus plot being important enough to earn a spot in the game’s title, the only real presence it receives in the game are two enemies based on cacti, and those enemies barely show up compared to the agents of MAD and some weird jellyfish monsters you’ll see throughout the game. It would have been interesting to at least see a boss or level type based around the corrupted cacti, but the game is mostly just a battle against MAD agents in factory environments.
Inspector Gadget: Operation Madkactus is a platformer, and it’s immediately apparent that the developers expected to mostly have children playing it. Question marks float around every level, offering tutorials and reiterations of those tutorials, and levels all have floating signs that will point the player towards the end of the level. For the most part, this means levels are incredibly easy, with it being fairly easy to just race to the finish without receiving much resistance. Even ignoring the signs it’s not too hard to just move forward and find the exit, but the game does try and make it a little more complicated with some stages that are fairly tall and levels where you need to first bomb an area the game won’t guide you to before you can complete the stage. There are some stages that require a bit of platforming skill to beat, especially one that has a quickly rising water level that sends you racing upwards, but it never feels outside the realm of something a kid could deal with. Death will mostly come in the form of bottomless pits or from boss fights, as the bosses actually put up a bit of a fight with strong attacks and only brief moments of vulnerability. If you do end up losing your lives by one way or another, the password system will only let you start from the beginning of a world. Worlds consist of three levels and a boss, and the speedy levels make it fairly easy to get back to a boss who caught you unawares. It’s likely you might not ever see a Game Over, but it does lengthen a rather short game for the kids who might struggle with those slightly rougher moments.
Inspector Gadget: Operation Madkactus doesn’t only have you play as the inspector during the game. As long as you are standing on solid ground, you can swap between Inspector Gadget, his niece Penny, and the dog Brain to better suit whatever situation you’re in. Inspector Gadget himself is the most versatile. Gadget can find pick-ups in levels that open up his gadgets for use, giving him things like projectile attacks or the ability to fly for a short time, but his default hammer gadget is useful enough to handle most troubles you face. Inspector Gadget, as weird as it sounds, is the powerhouse of the group, the only one of the three able to deal significant damage with his attacks and able to take a few hits before going down. Penny and Brain both have about two hits before they croak and their attacks barely damage enemies, so the Inspector is best when it comes to dealing with trouble. However, Brain is perhaps the most useful member platforming-wise. Brain can double jump, making it easy for him to reach platforms, avoid danger, and speed to the end of a level. He can also squeeze into tight spaces, so even though he’s fairly weak, he’s a good bet to use most of the time. Penny’s uses are a bit more limited. She’s the only one who can swim and every now and then she’ll be called on to hack computers, so her usage is pretty dependent on the level layout. The hacking minigame is fairly simple, just make a path from one point to another by placing wire segments. There is a timer, but it’s not really hard since you can replace wires if you place them wrong, making it less a challenge and more just something different to do.
On the whole most things control fairly simply and about as well as you should expect. …All except for Gadget himself. Switching gadgets requires opening the same menu you’d use to switch characters, pausing play just so you can pick whichever gizmo best suits the current situation. The constant pausing to switch between characters is tedious enough, but making the weapons tied to it as well means the gameplay stops and starts far too much. This is somewhat softened by the fact that these gadgets are rarely needed, but it also hurts some potential variety the game could have had. Besides that, the game seems to try and capture some of the inspector’s klutzy nature with a very strange design decision. If you are moving forward too quickly while playing as him, roller skates pop out of his shoes. Rather than just being a cute way to represent a run animation, the Inspector will lose control of himself a bit, meaning if you want to come to a stop, you have to wrestle with Gadget slipping and sliding about for a bit before he’ll come to rest. I would not be surprised if this was done to try and keep the player from just racing towards easy victory in most stages, but switching to Brain means you have more mobility and no annoying limiter to worry about, so it doesn’t really achieve its goal, only making one of its more interesting characters have an unneeded restriction.
THE VERDICT: Mild annoyances and a general lack of challenge make Inspector Gadget: Operation Madkactus a fairly dull experience. It’s cute that it has an outlandish setup that matches the show and they managed to work in the fact that Penny and Brain are always helping the Inspector out, but mediocre level design that holds your hand too much means it’s not likely to find fans outside a younger audience.
And so, I give Inspector Gadget: Operation Madkactus for the Game Boy Color…
A BAD rating. Consisting of some fairly standard platforming with the mildly interesting complication of having to switch to the best character to handle the job, Inspector Gadget: Operation Madkactus ends up feeling fairly bland. That blandness is weighed down a bit by needing you to constantly stop and start to shift characters and items, and the need to do so feels mostly arbitrary with gadgets usually just being a bit better at a task and the skills of your companions being limited to one or two aspects that force them into play for a short bit. If Gadget had the double jump then most of the meaningful difference between characters would be gone, and the only gadget that ever felt necessary was the flying one because it had a little more reach than Brain’s second jump. This is certainly a game meant to entertain kids and they might find it inoffensive, especially since it has that extra bit of complexity so it’s not just hopping between platforms, but it’s not really worth a visit from someone more versed in games or old enough to make the effort to buy an old Game Boy Color game.
While it manages to capture some of the tone and structure of the T.V. show, Inspector Gadget: Operation Madkactus doesn’t quite match up to what a video game should be.