keskiviikko 26. tammikuuta 2011

REVIEW - Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1994)

Genre(s): Action
Released: 1994
Available on: GEN, Sega-CD, SNES
Developer(s): Bits Corporation Ltd.
Publisher(s): Sony Imagesoft
Players: 1

By 1994, Irish actor/director Kenneth Branagh had developed himself quite a reputation as a Shakespeare specialist and one of the last real artsy-fartsy directors in the golden commercial era of Hollywood action, when suddenly he wanted to do a movie about Frankenstein. Considering Branagh's style, it was out of the question to do a strict horror film or another type of movie that would even remotely resemble the movies that made Frankenstein's monster famous, so he based his $45 million project on Mary Shelley's original novel, making the character of the monster a sophisticated and intelligent, but dangerously naive and sensitive, easily provoked being. I think the movie turned out decent, though it flopped at the box office. Any movie with Robert De Niro playing a main character can't be all that bad, now can it? I think the movie could've made for a decent game, too. Oh, there was a 16-bit game based on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein? I heard rumours of it coming up almost 17 years ago, I didn't think it was actually released. Who published it? ...Sony Imagesoft? Oh, Lord. Well, it was the year of the critically acclaimed Mickey Mania - maybe they got this one right, too. I mean, there has to be one decent Frankenstein game out there, right? RIGHT?

No, there's not a single decent Frankenstein game out there.

Overcome with grief over his mother's untimely passing, young Victor Frankenstein promises to find a way to cheat death. Years later as a medical student, he finds out of an experiment made by one of his professors at the university, which involved constructing a human being. Victor hides away in his apartment with journals stolen from the professor to be able to cheat death by reattempting his failed experiment, and creating artificial life from exhumed body parts. Victor is able to create a man, but he immediately realizes the mistake he's made, and abandons his creation. What he doesn't realize, is that the monster is very intelligent and it has emotions - and when provoked, it is extremely dangerous to everyone around it. It's out to exact revenge on its uncaring creator, and people would be wise to stay out of its way.

The movie isn't that well known, so I'd like to talk about a bit more before going into the game. I've always dug the vintage Frankenstein interpretation just as much as the next horror fan, but it was a high time long before Kenneth Branagh took his chances, that Mary Shelley's original novel was touched by someone. It was a horror story, but I think that moreover, it was a drama. Robert De Niro is one of the greatest character actors of our time, just to mention a few examples I'd have to bring up young Don Vito Corleone in The Godfather II, Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver and from his more recent roles, Max Cady in the 1991 remake of Cape Fear. I think he was the perfect choice to flesh out Frankenstein's monster, and his performance indeed was the driving force of the movie - I'm not a huge fan of Branagh's overtly melodramatic and romantic style in general. Although it was most of all a drama, when the first screenshots of the game were released, I thought it would've turned out pretty good if the right people were making it. I dug the idea of making the monster the villainous protagonist, beating up everyone who got in between him and his creator. The graphics also looked quite passable. What the screenshots did not tell you, is that Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is a clumsy and cryptic, utter waste of time that in my mind, just cannot be completed from the beginning to the end.

The graphics are indeed pretty good, although judging by the overall bland look of things, the game could've easily been released three years before than it was. Animation speed deserves some extra credit, though, it's very smooth - much smoother than the bad controls you must use to be able to admire it. The music's also basically bearable, but extremely repetitive and boring in the long run. I don't know if "long" is a correct adjective to be used here, since you'll most likely be done with the game forever after desperately trying to put up with all the shit it throws at you, making it to the end of the first stage just to greet almost certain death. That's right, I haven't even got past the first stage, but I think I've seen all there is to see. I truly hope so, at least, 'cause there's nothing good.

Are you going to put me out of my misery now
or should I come back later? I'd prefer the first
option, sir.
Getting through the first stage and to the first boss fight takes about ten minutes... if you know what to do. If not, it'll take something like 90 minutes. Let's take it from the start. You're Frankenstein's monster, or as he was referred to in the movie, "the creature". The character has a nasty limp, but he can still make quite impressive jumps and roll around like an armadillo. Your weapon is a stick. That's right, a pathetic freakin' branch - which you can set on fire to "enhance its attack power", which simply does not happen. Setting it on fire increases its pathetic range with half an inch, but that doesn't help a whole lot since enemies' weapons have much more impressive range. Just to be able to hit an enemy, you have to take damage yourself, since the bastards protect their personal space with their weapons constantly stuck in your chest, and you need to hit every on-foot enemy at least twice from close range to kill 'em. Well, at least they don't respawn, at all, but there are very few confrontations which you have the tiniest chance to escape unscathed.

The art of the cryptic sets in right after you start the game. You can enter buildings, but in most of them you'll just get your ass kicked and benefit nothing. In some, though, there are items for you to collect. What's the purpose of these items? I sincerely don't know. Some books give you unnecessary and retarded clues, but items which could stand in for much-needed equipment don't seem to have any use at all. GameFAQs has always helped to me to understand some of the most cryptic features of some of the most cryptic games, but 'FAQs doesn't have anything on this game, except for complete passwords. It has been my principle from the very beginning of writing video game reviews, that I will not cheat. Even if my potential of getting forward in this game depends on a password, I'll not use it. It's not how the game was meant to be played... but then again, if this is, Lord have mercy. It gets worse.

There are these ropes you have to pull, usually to summon elevators. Well, some of them simply have no practical use at all. The stage is practically filled with these enigmatic nooses. In the very first screen, I spent about 15 minutes trying to figure out what I should do. I double-checked each building, ran back and forth the screen to declare that yeah, there still were two ropes at the end of the screen. Why? Now I could see perfectly clear that there was a lift rail to the left of me, but I could not see what was at the other end. I deemed the lower rope useless and tried the upper one, again and again, to summon the lift. I almost gave up when I tried the lower one just for the fun of it and then struggled my way to the top with the awesomely bad controls, and there it was, the lift, which I had to struggle to get on, since the creature doesn't understand the simple concept of an adjustable jump. It's the same ridiculous haul every time, regardless of how long you press the B button. The upper rope controlled another lift at the other end - which simply cannot be seen from down below.

Well, another similar scenario and about 45 minutes later, I found myself finally grasping the cryptic and generally lacking nature of the game and making progress a whole lot faster. Since just about every enemy of the game had landed at least one attack on me, my health was at the absolute bottom and I really hoped there wouldn't be a boss fight. Well, then I got the first health item of the game and suddenly, I felt prepared for anything... except a guy on a horse with totally unblockable attacks and incredible speed, who was aided by a whole cavalry of standard enemies. I died before even getting a look at what hit me. Well, no biggie, I can do this. I made it to the boss, the gate I opened to get to 'em was an obvious checkpoint. Or maybe not. You apparently only have one life to spare. Game over. Sony Imagesoft, you can bet your ass the game's over. I didn't just spend the last 90 minutes of my life trying to figure out this game, just to be ravaged by a fucking cavalry for my efforts. I did it 'cause I wanted to believe that you fucking bastards had made a semi-playable movie license for once.

Bram Stoker's Dracula and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein have many things in common. Both are remarkable novels which gave birth to two of the greatest monsters in modern popular culture. Both were made into movies in the 90's, under these very titles - one is considered an all-star masterpiece in gothic horror, while one is hardly remembered. Both movies were also adapted into video games by two different companies, but these games were published by one and the same company, Sony Imagesoft - and both of them are some of the most atrocious crap that gave movie licenses a bad name.

Graphics : 7.5
Sound : 6.5
Playability : 3.3
Challenge : 3.0
Overall : 3.2


GameRankings: 20.00% (GEN), 59.50% (SNES)

The Sega-CD versions of Bram Stoker's Dracula and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein were released as a 2-in-1 bundle in late 1994. What a run for your money, don't you agree?

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