I’m beginning to think the guys at Bandai can’t read. First they disappointed me with their novella-to-game version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde which reduced the classic tale to a boring sidescroller. The original story of a good man consumed by the inner evil he tries to expunge was tossed by Bandai in favor of some malarkey about Jekyll getting to his wedding on time and Hyde shooting demons with his psychic brain lasers. Disappointing in every respect. But, maybe it sold well or maybe Bandai just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to milk another public domain property, because a year later they unleashed Frankenstein on the unsuspecting NES.
This game is occasionally subtitled “The Monster Returns”. This combined with the lack of any backstory on the monster’s origin indicates that this is supposed to be a sequel to Mary Shelley’s original. On its surface, Frankenstein seems to lend itself to a game adaptation fairly well. You’ve got a mad scientist playing God and a horrible creature running amok. But Bandai completely misses the point by overlooking that the monster wasn’t a bad guy. Okay, he wasn’t totally innocent either, but he was mostly the victim of Dr. Frankenstein’s megalomania. You’re supposed to feel sorry for him. Bandai makes that difficult since their game opens with Frankenstein showing up, snatching a little girl, and setting the fucking town on fire.
You play as valiant hero, INPUT YOUR NAME, who for no explicit reason takes up the quest of tracking down Frankenstein (yes, they confuse the monster for the doctor, the cardinal sin of Frankenstein discourse) and rescuing young Emily from probable rape, or at least from being thrown into a river when all the flowers are gone. Displaying heretofore unseen power, Frankenstein has brainwashed hordes of minions into impeding your progress. And when I say minions, I’m referring to the normal folk you’d find running around 19th Century England, like ogres, giant wasps, tree people, gelatinous purple doppelgangers of you, and Medusa.
Actually, as much as I hate to say this, the enemies in this game are kind of creative. They’re completely illogical and incredibly annoying to fight, but they are sort of inspired in an off-the-wall way. When the Grim Reaper showed up as a boss in the FIRST level, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Two levels later, when I was facing off against Master Shredder and his gang of Predators, I had to give Bandai a hand. If JGR had a scoring category for “Bat-Shit Insanity”, Frankenstein would get a 10.
To battle these beasts, you’ve got two signature moves: a punch that later upgrades to a sword attack, and a Chuck Norris flying kick that matches the atmosphere about as well as the giant wasps do. Occassionally you can pick up some long-range temporary powers that shoot sparkly death at your foes. Frankenstein is a pure beat-em-up sidescroller. You’ve got your enemies that attack low, those that attack high, and your flyers. What I hate most about these games is the enemies that, without fail, jump at you at the exact same time as you jump at them. You can’t quite get under them in time and you can’t move faster, so it’s a choice between colliding mid-air or letting them land on top of you. Of course the third choice is to not suck at these kinds of games, but that’s a choice unavailable to me. However, even if you’ve got the mad skillz, you won’t be playing very long.
Like your mom without her heels, this game is short and cheap. There are a grand total of four stages present. Rather than lengthening the game through legit means, like adding some puzzles, Bandai chose the much simpler route of punishing you for playing. You can’t just punch the Grim Reaper, you have to punch just the right pixel or he’ll scythe your ass up. When you finally do beat him, a giant bird swoops in out of nowhere and if you don’t immediately jump up and kick it with precision timing (which you won’t because you’ll be busy saying “What the fuck is with that giant bird?”), he’ll snatch you up and carry you all the way back to the beginning of the level.
The whole game stinks of this philosophy. Many boss fights go unrewarded, leaving you with no health for the next level, and as far as I can tell you’ve got two continues for the entire game. If you’re on an emulator you’ll be making use of that save state feature. But then again, that emulator can play Castlevania too, you know.
Control is decent. You can jump high enough for it to be useful and your punches and kicks generally land well. There are two sections in the game where you’ll have to do some platform jumping and rope-swinging. Collision detection does not shine in these areas. But for the most part, your digital counterpart will obey your commands. The music is par for the course for a subpar NES title, unmemorable but not annoying. Environments are pretty sparse, and characters usually only get two colors each. But the sprites themselves are well done and, as I said above, the enemy design is fairly imaginative. Little touches like mini-cutscenes and headshots next to dialog do show a certain amount of care in an otherwise by-the-numbers title.
As an adaptation or extension of the Frankenstein mythos, Bandai’s game falls far short of the mark. Frankenstein is out of character as a nefarious mastermind, commanding an army of monster henchmen from his “Evil Dimension”. (Did I forget to mention the Evil Dimension? It’s evil, that’s all you need to know.) And just what he intends to do with the girl is disturbingly unclear. As a game in it’s own right, Frankenstein for the NES isn’t the worst game you’ll ever play. But it’s much too boring, derivative, and artificially difficult to recommend over similar titles. If you’re a classic monster nut, brawler enthusiast, or on a mission to play every NES game ever released (J Man), give this one an hour of your time. Otherwise, let it crawl back into the night from whence it came and cross your fingers Bandai never made a Dracula game.
Better than Jekyll and Hyde.
Not much better.