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Up from (Super) Obscurity

If you're looking for a FAQ on how to use the damn items in the SNES's Mary Shelley's Franksenstein, click here
After eight solid weeks of Bram Stoker's Dracula, I wasn't sure if I'd be able to write an article about anything else. So I decided to ease back into it this week by discussing the game-adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula's lumpy, misshapen movie sibling,
Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
I'm sure it will shock you to hear that this game-based-on-a-movie is a crappy platformer.
But like Bram Stoker's Dracula, the makers of this game --
(Sony Imagesoft again, but this time with help from 'bits corporation'...which means there were no Psygnosis Owls during the load screens)
Well, they tried to get by on graphics alone; and there are some pretty snappy visuals,
between the introductory Cut Scenes,
"I'm so sleepy!"
Cool effects and almost rotoscoped-looking in-game animation -- at least for your character (the monster).
And evidently being stitched together from parts of corpses gives you a pronounced limp.
Now, the bad news:
Some people might be able to wring some mindless platforming fun out of Bram Stoker's Dracula (ok, maybe I'm the only one), but the platforming mechanics of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein are just terrible:
Your monster's "swinging a big stick at people" attack is as beautifully animated as your walking animation,
(Uh, take my word for it, I don't want to capture all 15 frames of the stick-swing)
but that's also a problem (in this game and EVERY game that goes for that motion-capture/animated photo-s style attack animation): your swing takes a long time to complete, and only hits enemies who are in the right spot during the correct part of the sequence.
It's clumsy, slow, and also weak: most enemies take 2 hits to kill -- even if you set your stick on fire on your friendly neighborhood torch. Suffice to say, your enemies will often unleash counter-attacks of their own while you swipe away -- or they could also just bump into you during your attack.
Long story short: you'll do a lot of "we both get hit" or "duck and attack" fighting, and none of it is much fun.
And that's just the HUMAN enemies --
Small animals are much better at dashing around and nipping the crap out of the poor lumbering monster....
Being awkwardly swarmed at every step, to the point where you just give up and accept those cheap hits as part of exploration? Why, it's enough to give you flashbacks to Wizards and Warriors
Actually, the Wizards and Warriors comparison is a pretty good one: just like Kuros (that NES game's titular Wizard and/or Warrior), you can hold down the "Jump" button for continuous leaping:
He may be a tragic figure, but look how HOPPY he is!
Despite his severe limp, there's nothing wrong with THIS monster's legs! Yes, the moment Big Frank's feet hit the pavement of Ingolstoldtwhatever, he'll launch himself into the air again, as long as you're holding the jump button.
It's actually pretty weird...and come to think of it, if you hold down the "Attack" button, you'll constantly swing your whackin' stick like you were a band majorette. It's as if they knew all the controls were kind of broken, and tried to make up for it with QUANTITY.
That's all very nice. Now what does this awkward-striking, bouncy-hopping green guy DO?
Well, you do simple platforming, door-warps, and item puzzles, item puzzles, item puzzles! You'll pull plenty of nooses(?!) by pressing the "Up" button, and push wagons/blocks/etc (by walking against them) to make moving platforms appear/walls disappear/jumps possible/etc:
You'll also see a lot of treasure chests/boxes/what-have-you scattered around the levels; you should find and open them all:
...not because they'll actually give you weapons (the only "weapon power-up" in the game is the option to temporarily light your stick on fire whenever you see a torch),
and not because you'll find energy -- instead that's hidden in logical places,
like a heart falling out of smashed windows,
or from a timely lightining-strike!
No, you'll want to gather every item because they constitute the Semi-Optional Item Gathering feature of the game!
What's "Semi-Optional Item Gathering"?
Well, there's two ways out of most levels: the Easy Way and the Hard Way.
The Hard Way involves blundering through the level as if this was a normal platforming game, and eventually when you've climbed enough, ridden enough elevators and door-warped until you reach the furthest-left corner of the map, you'll see a caption and a boss-fight begins.
This is also known as "The Hard Way", because you have to out-last a huge swarm of smaller enemies, and/or fight an even BIGGER enemy that makes periodic appearances. As I've mentioned, Frankenstein's Monster is a very poor fighter, and just by getting through the level, you'll have had your health chipped away to almost nothing.
So you're basically left with three ways to handle the boss fight sequences:
  1. Dedicate weeks of your life to master Frank's horrible combat controls
  2. Or gather-and-combine enough items that let you find/unlock "Potions" somewhere in the level (which are indicated at the top of the screen with that "Blue bottle x 0" icon; if you have any, it totally refills your health when your health runs out, allowing you to fight on)
  3. Or if you gather-and-combine the BEST items, and find the right place to use them/it, you can unlock a door somewhere that acts as an alternate exit to the level, BYPASSING the boss fight entirely
In my experience, option (A) is basically impossible for any boss-fight after the 1st (which is a group of soldiers who you mainly have to outlast). So if you'd like to win Level 2 and beyond, you'd better be able to gather-and-combine enough items to use option (2) or option (iii)!
However, while GATHERING items is easy (well, as easy as finding treasure chests), combining them into a usable state is hard to do, and then USING them is even harder, due to the game's undocumented and counterintuitive interface. And it's not only undocumented in the game itself -- I was unable to find a FAQ anywhere on the internet that even explained how to COMBINE items!
Well, no longer! Now, so that you can all benefit from my trial-and-error-and-suffering at the hands of this game, I present you with:
(Drumroll, please)
The Interwebs FIRST SNES Mary Shelley's Frankenstein Item Interface FAQ
The game lets you see/assign your controls for Attack, Jump, and "waste life-energy to slightly injure one enemy at a distance" abilities,
but it doesn't explain how to use the damn items the game makes you collect, and it's certainly not intuitive. So that's where this page comes in!
Note: this button-guide was written WITHOUT re-assigning Attack/Jump/etc -- its possible that if the "B" button ISN'T "jump", it won't be the "combine" button during the select menu. So basically, if you re-assign the control buttons, your milage may vary.
As I mentioned above, you'll see various chests/boxes/whatevers throughout each level. If you kneel next to them, the box will open and you'll hear a sinking tone that sounds something like "Bvvvvvvownn". That means you have picked up an item, and if you press the "Select" button, you can see it in the top 2 rows of your Item Screen:
The simple items, like the Iron Key, don't have to be combined. But each level has 1 or 2 complex items which you must build out of several items:
Rusty Pulley Wheel and Length of Rope -- they're great friends!
I've TOTALLY got Knowledge of Physics -- I rock!
There are also book-looking things scattered around some levels -- when you see them, you get a hint (usually related to what you're trying to build, or where you might use it) and/or an item:
You may also notice on the "Select" Item Screen, if you press the "B" button while you've highlighted an item, it'll go into the "Combine-o-tron" slot at the middle-bottom of the screen:
Now that ONE item is slated for "combination", you can move through the rest of your items with the D-pad, and try to press the "B" button to add THAT to the "combination" slots.
If an item is part of SOME combination, it will allow ANY item to be "B"-buttoned into the "combination" slot next to it:
How is Knowledge of Physics like a Gentleman's Hat? I bet Mark Davis could tell us
However that doesn't necessarily mean those items can be combined: it just means the most recent item(s) can be combined with something. But it will keep letting me mix items together until I get an item that DOESN'T belong. For example, here's a working combination:
Knowledge of Physics + Rusty Pulley Wheel + Length of Rope
= Working Block and Tackle
Because those 3 items are items that can be combined, if I pick Knowledge of Physics, ANY item can be chosen as the "second" item, but if I add "Gentleman's Hat", I'm on the wrong track. You can tell you're on the wrong track because you can't add ANOTHER item to continue on the wrong track. That means I can't add ANYTHING until I 'de-add' "Gentleman's Hat", by highlighting it a the top of the screen and pressing the "B" button again.
Fortunately, the ORDER in which you highlight combinable items doesn't matter -- so I could also have picked Length of Rope + Knowledge of Physics + Rusty Pulley Wheel, etc
Unfortunately in another brilliant move, even when you find a working combination with the "Thing1 + Thing2 + Thing3 = Thing4" equation on the screen, it's NOT obvious how you actually MAKE the combination item!
Basically, you have to press the "A" button twice.
The FIRST time you press the "A" button, it shows you the blinking message, "'A' to accept this result". The second time you press the "A" button, it actually combines the items into your new item.
I can only assume this is a glitch, and it was supposed to blink the message about the "A" button when you originally got the "Thing1 + Thing2 + Thing3 = Thing4" formula -- because this is the ONLY time the "A" button is used in the game. Furthermore I've never found a case where you DON'T want to combine things (as in, as far as I've seen the component pieces have no use alone, and can't be combined into any DIFFERENT item), so I'm not sure why they even made you confirm it at all.
Ok, now that I've got the ACTUAL COMBO ITEM, what do I do with it?
Well, you have to find the right place in the level to USE the combo item; for example, in Level 1, the Working Block and Tackle can move this heavy weight/door/whatever:
But having the right combo item and being in the right place isn't enough: there's ANOTHER hidden/undocumented button to be pressed.
You have to have the right item in the right place, then press "Select" to go to the item menu,
Then highlight the right combo-item and press "X"
This leaves the "Select" menu subscreen and makes that combo item "Active" in some way
(even though that "Active"-ness isn't represented anywhere on any screen or submenu)
Then, if you're in the right room with the right item "Active", the door/wall/whatever OPENS!
Then you can either exit the level/gather Potion Health-Refills to make the boss fight less impossible/whatever-you're-supposed-to-do-with-this-combo-item!
Well, THAT was an there any good news?
Well, there's three positive things I can say about this game's horrible levels:
  1. It gives you infinite continues (at the beginning of the level you died, start gathering items from scratch!)
  2. It gives you a password after each level (so you NEVER have to re-play a previous level again, which is good)
  3. and your puzzle item inventory DOESN'T carry over from level to level (meaning, missing something LAST level won't keep you from building a combo-item NEXT level)
So, I guess that's it for the silver lining.
— carlmarksguy, 2014-05-02
Sounds harsh!
I actually went back to this a few weeks later, and got all the way to the final level. It's really kind of cool that they have a "solve the puzzles, avoid the boss" mechanic...if only they kept that feature for ALL bosses (later ones are unskippable), or at least made the bosses not be so incredibly hard.
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