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Boy in Gray

Here we are in the third week of October 2014's Classic Black & White Monsters! So far we've seen a ghost and a vampire (albeit a vampire who fights almost every monster out there). Now we move on to a monster who got a lot of love in October 2013: FRANKENSTEIN'S Monster!
In fact, we're looking at a GameBoy game that shares the same character and (basically) the same title as one of last year's features. Last year we saw the SNES's Adventures of Dr. Franken,
(and its world-travelling/beachwear-sporting take on the Big Green One)
But now, get ready for the GameBoy's Dr. Franken
And let me tell you, Black-&-White kicks 16-bit's sorry behind.
As you can tell from the title screens, the Motivetime team was behind both games. However the SNES version was all flashy graphics and no substance: it "radical"-ed up Dr. Franken and sent him off on a cut-rate Super Mario World platformer world with bad offense/defense and too few lives.
But the GameBoy created a neat exploring/gathering adventure game, where a more dignified Dr. Franken pads around his castle in a pair of stripy pajamas.
The Good Stuff:
A lot of things are different in the GameBoy game. First off, instead of having to soccer-kick his fast-moving foes, this version of Dr. Franken can hose down his enemies with lighting bolts:
(seemingly fired from his elbows, but nobody's perfect).
Secondly, instead of shallow self-contained platformer levels, Dr. Franken's castle is one huge metroid-vania-ish maze of rooms, stairways, items that unlock rooms or stairways, and items that you have to collect to win.
Collect items!
Collect keys!
View the map of your current floor at any time!
(did I mention there's 7 floors in all?)
And gather the dozens of pieces necessary to re-assemble your (temporarily dismembered) bride.
It's a lot more engaging than playing 3 lives worth of SNES scoot-or-die platforming. You also get an temporary save-state (which lasts while the game is turned on), and you can ask for your perminant (if lengthy) password at any time. Though oddly enough, you only have one life: if you die, you better have saved it or written down a password beforehand, because otherwise you have to restart the game from the beginning.
Submenus and save-states and passwords, oh my!
And though the entire game takes place in a musty old castle, there's a fair number of distinctive areas of the castle:
Some rooms stand out a bit,
Some have memorable furniture or layouts,
Then there's memorable regions of the house; various parapets or spiky catacombs, for instance.
And finally, you can jump up onto virtually EVERY background object.
Combine that with the built-in map, and some of the nifty enemies seen above, and the giant maze is a little easier to deal with.
...but now, the bad news:
1. There are a LOT of very similar rooms.
(These are 3 different rooms)
When you start exploring and find your first few keys that open up more of the castle, you'll stumble upon collectible items left and right, and it'll be exciting: new doors will open, your submenu's %-Complete counter will increase, etc.
But soon, you'll have to keep track of where you've been/where you still need to explore, and the fact that many regions of the castle have similar rooms can get you down.
2. The up/down/left/right/"different floors" thing makes the map hard to understand
Basically, each "Floor Map" represents a top-down representation of that cross-section of the castle:
The room I'm in has a door to the LEFT; that means I can walk out of a door in the left-most edge of the screen.
But see how there's a door that appears to be DOWN from this room? That's actually "towards the camera" from where I am;
You get there by standing in front of the "Exit" sign and pressing "Down"
And to return back "up" the map, AWAY from the camera, you stand in front of the door in the wall behind you and press UP.
Confused yet? Maybe I shouldn't mention how FLOORS work.
Here's a hole in the BOTTOM of a room in Floor 3;
and if I drop through it, I've entered Floor 4, a completely different 2-dimensional map of the castle.
...and if I climb back up through the hole in the Ceiling, I'm back up to Floor 3.
Let's try to represent travelling between Floors three-dimensionally:
So, just to recap:
  1. There's ALREADY a two-dimensional map with its own sense of what "up/down/left/right" means,
  2. On top of that, there's the concept of descending/ascending between floors
  3. The gaps that let you descend/ascend AREN'T marked in any way on the map
  4. And to top it off, the floors appear to be numbered BACKWARDS (when you DESCEND, the floor number INCREASES)
3. So many items, so few effects on the gameplay!
One of the things that makes Metroid and its metroid-vania syblings so much fun is the powering-up. Not only do you gain items which unlock more and more of the map, but you gain amazing new offensive and defensive powers, allowing you to easily overcome enemies that used to be very difficult.
Not so in Dr. Franken: aside from various keys (which unlock certain doors/holes), other items (which CREATE new doors/move platforms), and pieces of Bitsy (which move you closer to winning the game), there's only one measily weapon: you can exchange your lighting bolts for a boomeranging fireball.
And it's not even entirely good: it doesn't quite reach the edge of the screen if you're running, and because your shots boomerang back behind you, you sometimes have to wait until they've cleared the screen before you can shoot a few more.
And it's not like you'd need a LOT of boosted power...they could just give you an item or two which would let you kill some of the invincible enemies:
The mouse is too small to shoot, the Eyeball-Cone is bulletproof...
And you just have to avoid these giant guys: your weapons have no power against them.
Given that you have to gather a huge number of items,
they could have at least thrown in a few more to make your bolts effect some of these frustrating enemies. It would make you feel more powerful when you no longer have to sneak around them.
And saving the worst for last:   4. The final floor breaks all the rules.
I enjoyed this game so much that I've actually beaten it, but it was a near thing. Dr. Franken's final stage/floor commits the cardinal sin of video games by throwing away key games mechanic in the final level. Instead of building on what you've done so far for the ultimate test, it forces you to learn new tricks just so you can see the game's end credits.
Sometimes this kind of thing isn't a big deal -- for example, Kid Icarus's "scrolling shooter" Level 4 leads to a bigger and more impressive final boss fight. But usually it's just vexing: Solar Jetman's shoot-em-up final level or Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom's finale: "escape with the stones...but if you die on this level, you have to explore the entire level to find them."
In this case, the deepest floor of Dr. Franken's castle is:
  1. Huge,
  2. made up of virtually-identical-looking rooms,
  3. and many rooms only have one or two exits (leading to dead ends, and making some rooms very hard to find)
  4. it also contains quite a few items which you need to win (and many of them are hidden at the far corners of the floor)
But the final insult is that the Game Map doesn't work on this floor!
Yeah, good luck with that.
But at least the Dr. Franken "game over" sequence illustrates something very important:
It's not as annoying as his SNES death sequence!
— carlmarksguy, 2014-10-17
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