Collins’ Crypt: Revisiting The 1994 FRANKENSTEIN Game

BC continues his trend of discussing the horror video games of yore.

Like most people, I don't spend much time in my life thinking about 1994's Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, an attempt to do for Victor and his monster what Francis Ford Coppola did with Bram Stoker's Dracula two years earlier (namely, big budget R rated literary horror with a cast you don't see in the pages of Fangoria all that often). It was fine enough, but Branagh was dull as Victor and he never really made it his own the way Coppola did (love or hate that one, it's definitely distinguishable from other Dracula films), and thus it's mostly been forgotten. It also tanked pretty hard; in my memory I thought it was merely a disappointment but per BoxOfficeMojo it closed with a pitiful $22m, half of that on its opening weekend - it got its ass kicked by Interview with the Vampire the following weekend and never recovered.

But of course, Sony was banking on it being just as big of a hit as Dracula was, which is why they, of course, commissioned a video game tie-in to be released alongside the movie that fall. As I was just starting high school and thus swamped with more homework than ever before, I wasn't playing my Sega Genesis as much as usual (I never had SNES), so as a result I never checked it out (I've had a thing for movie tie-in games since the NES days - I've played some where I never even saw the movie). However, when I decided to turn this "I play old horror movie tie-in games" thing into a semi-regular column, it was near the top of my list of ones to track down - fittingly, it placed second to Dracula, which I have to assume makes more sense as a game than this one does.

To its credit, by playing as the Monster it does fit to have lots of enemies; namely, townsfolk who want your head. But no video game can ever be satisfied with one kind of villain, so the Monster faces off against rats, birds, leeches, spiders, etc. And by face off I mean "is easily killed by," because your main weapon has about as much reach as a pencil and your alternate weapon decreases your health to use it, so your best plan of action is to try to jump or run past enemies instead of fighting. This can work fine in some areas, but other times the game has a nasty (intentional) habit of making a bat or other flying creature appear out of nowhere and hit you as you attempt to jump over a different enemy. In short, you'll get hit a lot, and while the game shows a lives remaining counter, I never once saw how to earn an extra one throughout the game's six levels - it remained at "0" the entire time.

That's actually kind of fitting for the game as a whole though, as it seems like there are a lot of things that are incomplete or remnants of discarded ideas. Throughout each level you will find objects that can be combined to form more useful ones, but you'll probably only use half of them at most, since it's not often clear where they are to be used or even HOW to use them - the instruction manual doesn't even mention the idea of combining items at all, let alone putting them to use. Luckily, Sony Imagesoft also put out the same year's No Escape game, which shares a number of attributes with this one, including the confusing inventory/item combination system (also based on random packages lying about the platform heavy levels). So since I remembered my frustrating trial and error ordeal with that game (which is otherwise pretty good), I was able to quickly at least figure out the basics of the system, if not find a way to put it to use all that often. In one level you are obviously trying to make a raft to use to go across some water, but even though I made the raft I never found the water I was supposed to use it on - I just arrived at the boss and killed him before moving on.

In fact all of the levels seem to have some sort of "Figure this out and you can bypass the boss" element, but I only ever found one - in the game's first level. After that, even though I thought I was doing a pretty thorough job of exploring the levels, I never again managed to take advantage of this system. In fact I'm pretty sure I only ever used one other item: a makeshift lighter for your torch in the sixth stage (which you have to use in order to proceed to its second half), with all the others just junk I might as well have skipped trying to find in the first place. And some items seem to be actual junk - in that first level where I assembled the tools to bypass the boss, I still had a hat that served no purpose and couldn't be put on, far as I know. Like the idea of earning an extra life, it seems like it was something that never got finished, left behind as a mistake during what I assume was the usual rush to get the game on shelves in time for the movie's release. It doesn't even alert you when you pick an item up, in fact - some chests/boxes/tree stumps are empty, but you won't know whether or not you got something unless you go into your inventory after accessing one and seeing if anything new is there.

And the back of the box has its own kooky charm, as it has a description next to a bullet point list that's primarily saying the same things as the description, albeit in a different order. Take a look:

That said, it's otherwise a lot less sloppy than most tie-in games, even newer ones. The controls aren't too bad; most of my falls off ledges were due to my own bad timing and skill in this area (beyond Super Mario 1-3 I've never really been much of a platform kinda guy), and during the obligatory "Ledges that fall after you jump on them" scenes I was actually kind of thankful for how generous they were with the time allowed for you to take your next jump before your current ledge dropped. Ditto for getting hit when you're jumping - you take damage of course, but rarely did my character get thrown off his path to boot - something that's been the bane of my existence in other games (Ghosts N Goblins sticks out as one devilish example). And to make up for the lack of an extra life (one death and it's game over), they offer a password system to at least let you continue on the level you left off, which is a godsend due to the game's one major glitch...

...which is that you can get stuck on some levels without any means of completing them. In the second level, for example, you are in the sewers and they are appropriately dark at first, until you find a torch in the second room that will light up the area (and make your stick weapon stronger) for a while. Throughout the level there are more sconces on the walls, and you simply need to hit them with your lit stick to both refresh your flame and hopefully give you an accessible place to light it back up should it run out. However, if you neglect to light the sconces as you go, or simply get into an area where there aren't any, finishing the level is pretty much impossible, as the main task you need to complete there is pushing blocks around to activate switches. It's hard enough to see what effect the switches have even when the area is lit up (as it often causes a door to open or ledge to appear offscreen somewhere), so it's a fool's errand to try to get through it in the dark. And another level has you ignite barrels with your torch in order to blow open a door you need to proceed - with no way to get more barrels should you accidentally blow one up too early. With the no extra life thing, it's not as simple as merely killing yourself to restart the level - you'd have to start at the beginning of the game, if not for the password system.

At this point I should admit I broke down and used an invincibility code once I got to the end of level 2 and found myself unable to beat the boss, as I'd never get there with enough health as it is, but even with a full bar I think it'd give me trouble due to the aforementioned weak weapon and my own lacking skill with timing (this is an old school video game, so of course the secret to defeating the boss is to memorize his pattern, attack during the brief window where he is vulnerable, and hopefully have the patience to keep doing that over and over until he's dead). Plus most of the levels weren't really all that fun as a whole, so I just wanted to proceed without having to replay them unless I had to due to that sloppy programming I mentioned earlier. The swamp level in particular was a complete bore; nothing but endless platforming, culminating in a giant leech boss that I honestly can't see how could be defeated without the code, as you apparently have to take damage just to hit it as it never moves from its tiny ledge - you take a hit as soon as you jump on there close enough to hit him. I'll give myself some credit for getting to the end of the second level sans help though - I watched three different gameplay videos on Youtube and none of them seemed to be able to finish the first level at all.

In fact, there is precious little evidence that ANYONE ever actually completed the damn game, besides a guy on Youtube who posted walkthroughs for all levels (via the SNES version; there isn't a single one for Sega that I could find). Neither the SNES or Genesis page for the game on Gamefaqs has a walkthrough, which is highly unusual for a game that was traditionally released; I checked a few other random movies from the era that I could remember getting tie-ins: Last Action Hero, Judge Dredd, Dracula, etc - and the only other one that didn't have a walkthrough was, you guessed it, No Escape. Granted, the movie was a dud, but it's not like Judge Dredd broke box office records, and someone still took the time to compile THAT data.

Overall, it's actually a pretty good match for its source material - it's fine, just not memorable in any way. I just played it and it took me a few minutes to remember the settings for each of its six levels, just as I barely remembered anything about the movie hours after watching it (my review from when I revisited it for HMAD back in 2007 is laughably vague). I'll give it credit for sticking to the plot with regards to the levels (apart from the swamp, maybe? Was there a swamp sequence?), and for trying out relatively rare concepts for that time, like item combination and multiple ways to finish a level (well, two ways, and only in theory for most of them - I noticed the SNES walkthrough guy never found those bypass routes either). It's fairly free of cheap shots, and the boat level is actually a lot of fun if you can get that far. Most of its lapses can probably be chalked up to a rushed development, which got me wondering - why not aim for the video release date for these games? Who leaves a theater and runs to Gamestop? If it were tied into the Blu (well, VHS back then) release, the game and the movie could be sold alongside each other, and the devs would have a little more time to polish their work. And the studio could cancel it (or simply change the art to make it work for their next movie) if, like in this case, the movie tanked.

But of course, if they did that, I wouldn't have a game based on the almost $4 million grossing Warlock: The Armageddon to play! Next time!