tiistai 25. tammikuuta 2011

REVIEW - Frankenstein: The Monster Returns (1991)

Genre(s): Action
Released: 1991
Available on: NES
Developer(s): Bandai
Publisher(s): Bandai
Players: 1

Let's play Word Association. Dracula. Go. If you're into classic horror like me, I strongly suspect your answer would be Frankenstein's monster, since these two horror icons were the earliest and greatest distinct movie monsters of their time. Frankenstein's history dates back to the year 1818, when only 21-year old British girl named Mary Shelley released an initially anonymous novel entitled Frankenstein or the Modern Prometheus. One of the most controversial but critically acclaimed novels of its time, the book touched the subject of man playing God and building an artificial human being, only to find that he has made the biggest mistake of his life. The first known movie adaptation of the novel was made in 1910, with Charles Stanton Ogle as Frankenstein's monster, and the most famous one was released in 1931, starring Boris Karloff as the monster and Colin Clive as his creator. Over 25 movies have been made since then, that have prominently featured Frankenstein's monster in some shape or form, and almost every single one of them was made before 1991. So, my question is: what game was Bandai really working on when they made Frankenstein: The Monster Returns? Believe me, it has NOTHING to do with what Ms. Shelley had in mind.

Good brain, bad brain... no brain

The evil monster of Frankenstein has been buried in an old countryside cemetary for years. During that time, the villagers who killed him have been enjoying life in a small paradise; the sun has shined the whole time and crops have flourished, free from the evil energy of Frankenstein. One fateful night, a bolt of lightning hits Frankenstein's tombstone and resurrects the evil mastermind. A brave young man sets out to put Frankenstein back into his grave and save the life of an innocent little girl.

Luckily Death soon got his old job back in
Super Castlevania IV.
Whew... I'm not really sure where I should begin. Well, first of all, as it was revealed in the second movie starring Clive and Karloff, The Bride of Frankenstein, the monster did not die in the fire set by the villagers. Secondly, why in the hell would a crime against nature be buried in a cemetary close to the village he wreaked traumatic havoc in? How in the most dramatic fashion of fuck is Frankenstein's monster an intelligent, evil overlord? He was intelligent in the original novel, extremely so, but his naivete and incomplete talent to manage emotions made him angry and afraid, and that is why he turned to murder. In the first Karloff movie, which the game is somewhat based on, the simple-minded monster was accidentally given a criminal's brain, which made him aggressive. Aggression was the only emotion the monster felt, he was pretty much dumb as a boot and couldn't speak. Not in any adaptation of Franken-fuckin'-stein is the monster a tough-talking equivalent of Satan himself, who has full control over each and every evil, unnatural being in the big book of cliches, such as a horde of demons from hell and even the Grim Reaper. And sure, if we want to be even more specific and technical about it, the monster does not have a name. Frankenstein was the name of the scientist that created him. Are Dr. Frankenstein or the monster's origins even mentioned in the game? Take a wild guess. This American-Japanese collaboration is like a camp on camp; even Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein had more street cred. Did someone dare to speak Young Frankenstein's title in a negative manner? Fuck off, that movie ruled!

Now that the history lesson on Frankenstein's monster is out of the way, let's concentrate on the game. It's no surprise the game isn't very good, either... but it's kinda playable. The graphics are OK in a warped sort of way, at least the game doesn't fall in the same category as many cheap games of its time and look totally bland and/or spammed with two or three different background textures. The music is simply horrendous, really high-pitched "suspense" music, which suspenses nothing except for my nerves which are already still wrecked after playing Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. Luckily Frankenstein: The Monster Returns isn't quite THAT bad.

There is one well-known web personality that disagrees with me, though. You know, when I started playing this game, I had no recollection of AVGN doing a review of it. It was when I made it to the second stage and fell into a pond, and was forced to fight a merman ripped straight off Castlevania underwater, that a series of deja-vus hit me. I immediately paused the game and hauled my ass to cinemassacre.com. James indeed did a Halloween special on games based on Frankenstein's monster back in 2009. I watched the video, and found it a bit funny that not only was I indeed playing the "main feature" of the Halloween special, I also have James and "Franken-nerd's" warm-ups, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and The Adventures of Dr. Franken next up on my list of games to review... promising. The Nerd was wrong about one thing: you certainly CAN jump from one lily pad to another without ever having to face the merman. There's a boss waiting at the other end, who was totally skipped in the video due to the Nerd resorting to the use of a password; Medusa, who in my mind was one of the most irritating bosses in the whole game.

Everything else that the big N pointed out is pretty much correct. He summarized the game's problems quite well, and actually, there's a lot of stuff that I would've said even without the Nerd's influence. Let's get back on those issues in just a moment, but just in case you haven't figured it out, Frankenstein: The Monster Returns is a poor man's Castlevania game with a similar gallery of monsters ranging from the obvious main cheese to the Wolfman (or Manwolf...) and Dracula - we just can't seem to shake this guy. It's a very straightforward action game. An image of the Castlevania franchise's second game, which I will not mention by name for the millionth time in the course of two days (not yet anyway), is created by the game's occasionally cryptic and pointless nature. Like the Nerd said, pointless battles against even more pointless sub-bosses and random events might've been intentionally made to make the game seem more complicated. The gladiator-ish main character (who you can name yourself, ooh) starts out with his fists and a moderately effective jumpkick, but you gain more weapons as you go. The goal is to zap your way through a total of four stages and face the EVIL, MALICIOUS, DEMONIC DARK LORD THEY CALL FRANKENSTEIN... who's dressed in something that looks like Dr. Frankenstein's lab coat, to add to the confusion... and then, a ridiculous, giant, naked version of him. Simple.

Don't you worry, my silly, illiterate namesake
avatar of mine. I'm sure Emily is perfectly
Now I'm just going to quote AVGN more or less directly, 'cause nearly everything I'd have to say about the game was pointed out by him in the video; I'd sound like I'm copying him anyway. Let's start with the first stage. Actually, let's just go over the first two stages extensively, since I don't want to point out each problem of the game every time it rears. You start off on some medieval-looking (...) city street, with hordes of enemies running around. After a while, a "sub-boss" appears in the form of a few standard skunks (?), very easy. You can then enter a building which is inhabited by another sub-boss, a water dragon whose attacks are almost impossible to avoid throughout the whole ordeal. Your reward for beating the guy: a flask of potion to replenish the health you lost while fighting him. Very rewarding indeed. Then, there's YET ANOTHER sub-boss, Death, or the Grim Reaper, if you will. He's pretty simple to beat, but then a bat that looks more like a pterodactyl appears out of nowhere - you don't quite know what to make of his sudden appearance, since you can't go left or to the right, and he doesn't appear hostile. Even when he "attacks", he doesn't do damage, he just grabs you and flies off. Well, the thing is he's Death's little pet and he's taking you to the beginning of the stage. Well, cryptic, but no harm done, right? Wrong. You need to beat Death all over again, and when that damn flying rodent appears, you have about half a second to hit him before he grabs you to finally be done with Death and open up a new path. In case you're wondering - yes, Death's cycle is endless. The real boss is a demon horse that's in cahoots with Frankenstein - well, of course he is - and during the boss fight, the game actually feels playable, for a while.

You'll have dealt with a lot of practical problems up until this point. Enemies can hurt you even during their dying animations, and the physics, especially collision detection are non-existent. Your weapon, whatever it is you're holding, sometimes just passes through enemies and sometimes there's even a spark indicating that you did hit the enemy, he just didn't react to your attack! In turn, enemies' attacks can deal damage to your character in certain spots of the terrain, even if you're not in their range.

The forest's a buggerfuck. Enemies appear out of the blue behind trees, with no indication of danger. When you reach the end of the first screen, you might find yourself wondering where to go until you realize that hey, your character can climb certain types of walls. From the top of the wall, you'll find this wounded guy who gives you something you can destroy the ALMIGHTY FRANKENSTEIN with, he gives you a... what is it, what is it?... a potion. Yay. Well, what's next? You can't climb back down. If you try to approach the guy again and the obvious gap behind him, the screen cuts to him babbling again, this time something about the evil He and She Monster of the Trees. Well, OK. Let's take our chances and jump down the gap on the left side. Whew, I didn't die at least. I know this is the way back to where I came from, but perhaps the "Trees" was some sort of a clue. I'm trying to jump up and down the branches, climb a tree, anything, until I'm right back at the starting point. What the fuck?! Well, I climb the wall again, this time the guy doesn't say anything. I smell a cryptic bullshitter, so this time, I just walk past him, successfully jump down the gap on the right side, and voila, I enter a fight with the He and She Monster, and the final path of the forest's unlocked. Pull my finger.

No completely original enemy in the game. Well,
except for the skunks.
Well, AVGN's infamous lily pad bit comes next, and like I said, it's a piece of cake. Apparently, he didn't stand quite as close to the edge of the pad as he possibly could. It's still hard to avoid the merman, even if you make it to the other side it's up to the game to decide whether you jumped far enough or not, but it is possible to avoid being dragged underwater altogether. Remember the potion that guy gave you on the top of the wall? Well, the first form of the Medusa boss makes damn sure by taking advantage of the game's lacking collision detection, that you won't have the potion when you come face to face with Frankie. Not even in the next stage. The second form's a breeze.

The rest of the game is full of more and more ridiculous bits of dialogue and more concrete problems such as the whole last stage, but after you're done with all I've reviewed here, you're already done with half of the game, so with the awkward password system helping you out, you will finish this game eventually. You might have to struggle to maintain your interest in the game, but it isn't hard in any other sense than being immensely frustrating for most of its brief duration.

I knew I wasn't taking on any sort of a masterpiece here, but the game has so little to do with Frankenstein that it actually hurts my feelings. As a game, it's not the worst piece of trash I've wasted my time on in the last few days, but I can safely say the same thing I have said about all the others: I'm never playing it again. And God damn it, since some of you might be waiting for the moment I'll just blurt it out: I AM seriously considering writing a whole new review of Castlevania II: Simon's Quest. Its name has popped up way too many times already in the reviews of much worse games, such as this. We'll have to see if this plan ever comes to fruition... a part of me hopes so, another part of me wants to put a gun to my head.

Graphics : 6.7
Sound : 4.0
Playability : 4.9
Challenge : 4.5
Overall : 4.9


a.k.a. Frankenstein

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