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Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein

Genre: Action Developer: Bits Corp. Publisher: Sony Imagesoft Players: 1 Released: 1994

I guess it had to happen one day.

You know, I’m not much of a fan of hyperbole. Whenever possible, I try to avoid it. Even with a game that I really like, I usually try to look at it from every angle possible, and I can usually see why someone might dislike something about it. I also usually don’t use expletives. I don’t like expressions like “piece of shit” or “worthless,” since I try to find something salvageable in anything that I dedicate some of my time to.

No, I won’t go as far as to say that this game is the worst I’ve ever played, but I’ll be damned if I can recall any other title I’ve played recently that has driven me as close to frustration, made me curse at the screen that much, and brought me as close to tossing the controller aside as this one has. So keep what I said before in mind as I delve deeper into the mess that is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for the Sega Genesis.

Now I know I was in for a hard time when I decided to take this game on for a review. It usually pays to be wary of licensed titles, and this one didn’t bode well in particular. The movie it is based off is mediocre at best (obviously – and in vain – trying to cash in on the buzz created by that other film adaptation of Victorian literature, Bram Stoker’s Dracula) and bombed at the box office. Over time it has found a minor fanbase, though I still wouldn’t call it a quality title (even though it sported cast of A-list actors, including Kenneth Branagh and Robert de Niro). Even disregarding that fact, it’s fair to assume that the programmers didn’t get a closer look at the movie when creating the game, since the two of them hardly have anything in common, except maybe the visuals of the Monster – and even that is debatable!

Now to be fair, the intro looks good enough: It shows a sequence where Frankenstein is in his lab, preparing for his creature to awaken. The scene sports very nice graphics and creates the impression that this might be a decent game. That, however, goes straight to hell once you hit the start button and enter the first level. Now you find yourself in a murky gray alleyway, with the predominant color being bright and dark grayish tones, and you steer your pale (gray-faced) character (dressed in gray) through the gray streets, while (also gray-faced) peasants and soldiers block your way. Gray is a very predominant color in the first two levels, though occasionally you get something red or yellowish-brown tossed your way. Enemy sprites are poorly digitized and are awkwardly animated. The whole setting can only be described as lifeless. Maybe that was exactly what the designers where going for, considering the theme (man recreating life) at hand. Doesn’t make for a great gaming atmosphere, though, does it?

You control the creature that has been left behind by its creator, Dr. Frankenstein, and set out to make him pay for his selfish and evil deeds. You’ll notice at once that your revived humanoid behaves a bit awkwardly. When walking, it lurches and stumbles slowly ahead, which nevertheless doesn’t stop it from being able to jump ten feet straight in the air! It can also shoot blue fireballs from its hands – no wonder everything is afraid and out to kill it. However, the controls have a slight delay, and especially when jumping, it is very hard to control where you want to land. Trying to land on a floating platform can become an irritating lesson in self-control.

Being able to shoot doesn’t help much, either, since this ability comes at the expense of your life bar! Yes, you lose some energy whenever you shoot at an enemy. Since you only have one life, you might want to use those fireballs sparingly. New life energy is pretty hard to come by, too. At some points (usually just once) in each level there’s a spot where lightening strikes your creature, replenishing your health. Considering that this distance attack hardly does any damage, only travels slowly and drains your health, it’s next to useless. So you’ll usually stick to your melee attack, which is… well, brandishing a stick. You do a little more damage when you light it on fire (fire BAAAAD!), but it doesn’t do all that much of a difference really.

The main difficulty of the game doesn’t necessarily stem from the enemies., which sport some of the worst AI I’ve ever seen in a 16-bit title! More than once a peasant or a soldier was standing in front of me, slightly out of reach – and kept stabbing the empty space in front of him! Some enemies you could simply defeat by slapping them (since your stick has a farther reach) or by simply ducking and letting them attack the air above your head.

No, the main difficulty arises out of the confusing, maze-like level layout: The game never tells you where you have to go. You can enter doorways, some of which lead to empty hallways and drop you of at another point in the level which most of the times you could’ve reached anyway. Aside from these pointless passages, there are some hallways that do contain chests. Opening one by ducking down in front of it does – again, apparently nothing. There is no on-screen indication that anything happened. No, you have to call up the inventory screen and see for yourself whether the chest contained an item and what it was. Only when you come across a book or a scroll does the game finally give you a hint of what to do. Basically you have to collect all the items in a stage, try to find a specific spot (again, no map and no indication where to find this spot) and use them to advance. Needless to say, this leads to a lot of running around wildly with hardly any idea of what to do. Oh, and using the items often demands you to stand at the exact right spot before you can actually perform the desired action. Given that the controls are somewhat lacking in the accuracy department, this only leads to more frustration.

The game tends to get a bit better later on, mostly due to the increase in visual quality (though the enemy sprites still move jerkily and look more like stiff puppets than anything resembling a human being), but by then the murky looks and frustrating gameplay of the first two stages have already scared most players off. Besides, controls and level design don’t get any better, so that first relief has soon died down. The music doesn’t help one bit either, though it suits the game well. It is monotonous, boring and unimpressive, and tries in vain to pull off a melancholic, horror-atmosphere, just like everything else.

With Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Bits Corporation and Sony Imagesoft developed a game that was intended to be horrifying, but ended up being horrible instead! Like Frankenstein, they created an abomination that is ugly to look at, at least during the first stages. They decided to start the game off with the most convoluted and worst levels to look at, which doesn’t exactly encourage the player to try and get ahead. And even if you force yourself to endure the first two levels, the game only gets marginally better. The only good parts are the intro and the still-frame graphics that tell the story in between the levels. But trust me, after playing the first stage for a few minutes, you will have no interest in exploring the game any further. This title is a monstrosity, ugly, unloved and unwanted – just like Frankenstein’s creature. In that regard, its creators succeeded.

SCORE: 2 out of 10

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