The 1994 Super Nintendo game, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, is an adaptation of the film of the same name, starring Robert De Niro, Helena Bonham Carter and Kenneth Branagh. It was developed by British company Bits Studios and published by Sony Imagesoft in North America only.
The player controls Frankenstein’s Monster as he explores the streets of Ingolstadt, Bavaria, in the year 1793. Gameplay is predominantly a Castlevania-style run-and-gun platform scroller.
As The Monster, you can hit with a stick (you begin holding one); you can throw electricity balls (which uses energy from your life bar, so should only be used occasionally), and you can jump, duck and roll. The Monster can also do a ‘Super Stamp’ move when falling from height (by pressing down and ‘Y’). Enemies will try to kill you by reducing your energy to zero. This energy is shown as a blue bar at the top of the screen and you can pick up hearts (and other items) to top it up if it gets low. The blue jar in the top right indicates how many bottles of Victor Frankenstein‘s life potions you’ve picked up.
In the first level, as you’re trying to escape the village, enemies will constantly spawn from doors, so you have to anticipate them and duck to attack them (otherwise you don’t seem to have quite enough reach to hit them, which is frustrating). This being a supposedly “serious” take on the Mary Shelley story, the jumping Monster looks kinda comical, but jumping seems to be the only way he can get past certain obstacles. You can pull switches, and enter some doors, by pushing up while standing in front of them, and you can open any chest (or read a parchment) by pressing down in the same manner. Pressing Select brings up an inventory, and from here you can select and combine items, which is required to solve certain puzzles to advance through the game. Note, though, that while the game’s manual does hint at how to combine objects in the inventory, it doesn’t tell you how to use them once they’ve been created, which is an oversight and does lead to some frustration. You have to be standing the right place to use combined items, and even then I had trouble getting the skeleton key to work in the second level. As I say: using items is confusing and frustrating.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein seems to focus mainly on platforming and puzzle-solving to progress, and there’s a lot of pulling switches to start elevators moving, then having to reach them in time. At least in the first level. You’ll occasionally have a boss battle to deal with too. There’s a fight with a giant spider at the end of stage two that will probably creep out any arachnophobes playing.
The game does have some nice touches, like being able to set the wooden stick on fire by hitting a burning torch with it (and conversely you can also light unlit torches with it); smashing window shutters to stop people throwing stuff out of them (often turning them into useful platforms), and finding the highest place on an exterior level so you can get zapped by a bolt of lightning to recharge to full energy.
The graphics range from excellent to relatively bland, but overall they’re not too bad. The music and sound effects are adequate, but nothing special. I actually watched the film for the first time while playing the game, to see what the similarities were, and there don’t seem to be a great deal to be honest, other than the game loosely following the film’s storyline.
Overall, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is not a bad game. It’s repetitive, and some of the puzzle are a bit obscure (which might give some cause to give up), but as an action game it’s reasonably engaging. It does have a password system for level-skipping and cheats, which is useful.
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was simultaneously released for the Sega Genesis. A totally different game – but sharing the same name – was developed by Psygnosis for the Sega CD.
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