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Posted on Aug 12th 2011 at 09:04:43 PM by (singlebanana)
Posted under 2600, Atari, Frankenstein, Game Review, Classic Gaming

Game:  Frankenstein's Monster
Year:  1983
Publisher:  Data Age, Inc.
Developer:  Data Age, Inc.
Designer(s)/Programmer(s):  unknown
Rarity (according to AtariAge):  5 = Rare
Controls:  Joystick
Number of Players:  1 to 2 players (turn based)
Average Cost:  approx. $10 - $25 loose depending on condition
Also Available On:  exclusive to the Atari 2600

Tagline: "In the cold dark night you make your way through the ghoulish castle of Dr. Frankenstein.  There you must prevent him from his completing his creation.  Your only chance is to gather stones from the dungeon and bring them to the tower where you must build a barricade around FRANKENSTEIN'S MONSTER before he has accumulated enough energy to come alive.  To succeed you will have to move fast, avoiding poisonous spiders, vampire bats, and terrifying ghosts.  Complete the job and the village will be safe forever."

Data Age was founded in 1982, and though it started out with limited success, it went under due to the video game crash of '83 and some poor decision making within the company.  Data Age released a total of 8 games for the Atari 2600, including "Frankenstein's Monster," "Airlock," "Bermuda Triangle," "Bugs," "Sssnake," "Warplock," "Encounter at L5," and probably their most well-known title, but the game that ultimately caused their demise, "Journey Escape".  Named after the band Journey's 7th and most popular album, "Journey Escape" sold so poorly that Data Age was unable to pay the licensing fees.  However, before they went under, they produced a 3.5 minute promotional vinyl to market their games that is now a very sought after collectable.  You can listen to it here: http://www.atariage.com/audio/mindscape.mp3

Frankenstein's Monster is not one of the popular titles when discussing games for the 2600, but it is one of the most creative and arguably one of the best on the system.  The best way to describe Frankenstein's Monster would be as a sort of girder and ladder game (think Donkey Kong) meets Pitfall!  In Frankenstein's Monster, You control a villager who is tasked with gathering stones from a damp dungeon in order to build a wall around the creature before the evil doctor is able to unleash him upon your village.  Your only weapon (if you can call it one) is your ability to jump, which is accomplished by pressing the singlar, orange joystick button.....duh.  In your way are several obstacles, including ghosts (which cannot be jumped over), giant tarantulas, bats, spiders, trapdoors, and an unforgiving pool of acid.

The most intriguing and finest aspect of Frankenstein's Monster is the gameplay.  What I enjoy most about the game is the multiple variables within it, which make it more rich and complex.  Unlike many platformers, where you have a specific number of lives until "game over", Frankenstein's Monster also employs a time limit and an intricate scoring system to challenge gamers.  You begin the game with three lives, which can only be lost by falling in the pool of acid.  Sounds easy enough right?  Wrong.  Like Pitfall!, jumps are difficult and require precision; a poor leap can land you in an acid pool very easily and it doesn't help that the random overhead spiders can foil you jump.  Also, the trapdoors, located on the second tier from the bottom, can hang over the acid pool; if you fall in the pit, you might also take a dive into the pool for a loss of life.

Though keeping your villager alive is an important part of Frankenstein's Monster, players also have to worry about a time limit.  Beginning players have 8.5 minutes to finish walling up the creature, while more advanced players can choose to reduce their time limit to 5 minutes.  Though there is not a countdown timer, you can estimate your remaining time by glancing at the monster.  He begins the game white and over time is filled with green energy from his feet to his head.  Once completely green, the monster is released and attacks you in a pretty cool action sequence.....well, cool for Atari anyway.  Within the allotted time, players must build a wall consisting of six bricks, which they have to retrieve from the bottom of the screen and bring back to the top.  Once delivered to the top tier, a new game sequence begins which is initiated by a screen change (sort of like the mini challenges within the Swordquest series).  In this stage, the villager must travel to the top of a cave in which a plethora of bats hover down at all sort of angles to prevent you from reaching the top.  Though the bats will not cost you a life, they stun your character and push him back to the bottom of the screen.  Once you reach the top, your brick is set and you are returned to the main play screen; you must repeat the process of obtaining another brick from the bottom and delivering it a total of six times to complete the wall.  It's important to note that each time you set a brick, both screen sequences become increasingly difficult; more obstacles (spiders, bats, and trapdoors) are employed and the logs, which allow you passage across the acid pool, become smaller and eventually mobile.

**video courtesy of NuclearWarMaster**

Scoring is another important variable that makes Frankenstein's Monster's gameplay more challenging and competitive.  Each player begins with a base score of 500 points.  Points can be gained and lost in the following manner:

Earning Points:
Placing a stone around the monster = +500 points,
Bonus for each unit of time remaining after walling in the monster = +100 points per unit of time (it takes 30 units to energize the monster)     

Losing Points:   
Running into a ghost or spider = -20 points + brief immobilization,
Running into a bat = -10 points,
Falling through a trap door = -100 points,
Taking an acid bath = -200 points + loss of life

Determining points is especially helpful when competing against fellow gamers (or wives forced to play against their will) in 2-player mode.  Since it not only adds points, but also subtracts them from your score, Frankenstein's Monster has a complex scoring system, which must be recognized and adhered to for maximum results.

Though the controls are a little "clunky" at times and the bat sequence is extremely annoying, and almost impossible as it gets more difficult, Frankenstein's Monster is one of the best games for the 2600.  There are a multitude of solid sound effects (atypical of most 2600 titles) including: footsteps, lightning strikes, the monster's growl, bat shrieks, item grabs, ladder climbing, monster stuns, and falling through trapdoors.  With so many sounds, the game is truly more interactive and pleasing as opposed to games with only a few quirks and bleeps.  The graphics are really good and recognizable; I'm impressed that the villager's attire is well-defined, even down to the shoes, but not sure why Frankenstein appears to be a cyclops....chalk it up to developer interpretation I guess.  The villager's running and climbing movements are fluid (though sometimes slow) and the enemies look great.  With so many gameplay variables and a wide range of scoring, the replay value of Frankenstein's Monster is very high. 

Numerous monster tales and movie adaptations over the years have done a fantastic job in captivating their respective audiences.  It's no surprise that these tales have provided great concepts and backdrops for inspiring video game developers over the years.  I really like what Data Age has done in taking such a familiar story and implementing a new twist; instead of creating the monster, your job is to stop it before it destroys your village.  Mary Shelley might be rolling around in her grave upon hearing about her most famous work being the subject of this 1983 title for the Atari 2600.  However, instead of being appalled, I think she might be trying to escape her entombment in order to get her hands on a joystick.  Like it or not, and say what you will about the game, let's at least give the people at Data Age kudos for not calling the monster "Frankenstein." 

(on as scale of 1-4: 4 being the highest):

Controls:  3
Graphics:  4
Sound Effects/Music:  4
Concept:  4
Replay Value:  4
Overall Score:  3.80

**video courtesy of Highretrogamelord89**

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woah! Do want.
Nice!  "Yes, have some."
I literally just passed up a copy of this CIB at the store...
@Shadow Kisuragi: a CIB copy can go for a good bit if it's a good price and you are thinking of reselling it, you might want to think about picking that up.  The game use to go for around $30 loose about a year ago, but it's dropped recently and you can get it for around $10-$15. 
You know me. I'd keep the CIB copy and sell off my loose copy that I got for $3. Smiley
This game looks great!  I love that falling through a hole drops you a level down.  Nice touch, that.
@bombatomba: The cool thing is that those trap doors play into the strategy of the game.  You can use them to your advantage if you are running out of time, but you lose points for falling in them.  You also have to be careful to time it correctly in case the logs below you are in motion.

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