Publisher: Sony Imagesoft
Like Bram Stoker’s Dracula before it, this game represents the brief, awful resurgence of the monster movie in the mid-90s. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994) was a Kenneth Branagh joint, and it was abysmal. He and producer Francis Ford Coppola (who directed Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1992) apparently even had a falling-out over the final product. I hated the movie with every fibre of my being. And the game is even worse.
I should clarify that I count Mary Shelley’s book as one of my all-time favourites. Like so many people, I grew up thinking Frankenstein was the name of a tall, dimwitted, green monster with a square head and bolts coming out of his neck. He was created by a mad doctor with a little hunchbacked assistant named Igor. He was a boss monster in Castlevania games. He was Lurch. He was Herman Munster.
But when I got to University, one of the few courses I actually attended was English Lit, where one of the first books we read was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I was blown away. Not only by the fact that the monster was, in fact, not called Frankenstein, but that he was an intelligent, tormented creature with a full range of emotions. I was also enthralled with the story surrounding the creature.
So yeah, I was kind of looking forward to the movie. And it was a disaster. It was edited poorly, with lots of unexpected leaps forward in time and quick, confusing cuts. Even worse, though, is that the liberties taken with the character of Victor Frankenstein just went way too far.
Obviously the movie was never going to be a page for page retelling of the book. And I didn’t really have an issue with that. Characters were bound to disappear, plotlines were bound to be adjusted for time. But it just felt like the movie tried too hard to paint the character of Frankenstein as this man who made one, horrible mistake and spent the rest of the movie seeking redemption. The movie tried too hard to make you sympathize with this man. In the book, right until the end, Frankenstein is a self-absorbed, irresponsible coward who refuses to take any responsibility for the chaos he has created, instead speaking of destiny forcing his hand at every turn. He never seems to learn a lesson, save for one very brief moment before his death.
In the book, Frankenstein refuses to come forward when an innocent woman is accused of his brother’s murder, even though it’s obvious that the murder was committed by the monster he created. In the movie, Frankenstein is seen desperately fighting to save the same woman from a lynch mob which eventually hangs her.
In the book, Frankenstein beseeches a man he’s only just met to continue his foolish quest to kill the monster, even though it would almost mean the man’s certain death, not to mention the death of his ship’s crew. In the movie, Frankenstein warns of putting glory before life.
They’re two different men.
Anyway, I should probably talk about the game. It’s worse.
Frankenstein on the Sega CD is a completely different game than the one found on the SNES and Genesis. This is actually a more traditional, PC-style adventure game where you play as Frankenstein’s monster. The game recounts the creature’s quest for humanity and human companionship as he travels from Ingolstadt to Geneva in search of his creator. But there are two huge problems that essentially kill the game.
First of all, enemy encounters are played out as a one-on-one fighting game. You’ll square off against Victor Frankenstein himself, soldiers, landlords (called out as a boss on the back of the box), and even Elizabeth. And here’s the thing – not only are the controls abysmal, but this hulking, powerful brute has immense trouble defending himself against just about everyone. That’s not the creature described in the book or shown in the movie.
What’s more ridiculous, though, is the bog-standard fetch-questing the monster has to do in order to complete his story. Remember, the creature’s single biggest motivation to do harm to humans, and in particular to his creator, is that every single person he meets (save a blind man) recoil in horror at the sight of him. He is the ultimate outcast. He kills so that he can visit enough pain on Frankenstein that he’ll relent and make the creature a companion.
Except in the game there are very few NPCs who react properly to the creature. Hulking brute made of dead people parts wanders into your home? “Hey, have you seen my pearl necklace?” “I lost my favourite cat, could you go find him?” “Could you deliver these groceries to Frankenstein Manor?”
It’s so stupid.
And it’s such a shame, too. The game engine really isn’t bad (outside of the ridiculous fighting bits). The rotoscoped animation is fantastic, too. And I think a story that stayed true to the original characters could have been fascinating. Instead it’s just a collection of generic adventure game elements shoehorned into a world where they don’t belong.
Oh, and the ending. Rather than staying true to the book or the movie, we see the monster walking off into the frozen wilderness with a willing (dead) Elizabeth. How warm and fuzzy!
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein for Sega CD was only released as part of a bundle, which is why the cover image on this article looks so odd. You could only buy it as part of a set with Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
These games are significant, too. What we witnessed with both of them was an early collaboration between Sony and Psygnosis. Psygnosis, of course, is the studio Sony bought and used as a core development house during the early years of the PlayStation brand. This is the pairing that was about to unleash games like Colony Wars, Formula One, Destruction Derby and Wipeout onto the world.