If you’ve followed this site for the past year or so, you may recall that I recently reviewed the fairly forgotten 1992 Nintendo GameBoy release, Dr. Franken. If you haven’t read that review, you can click on the title in the previous sentence to check it out.
If you did happen to catch the review, you may recall that I felt that the game was a dreadful and painfully tedious experience, and comes highly UNrecommended. However, as generally unsuccessful as that game was in all possible aspects, an “enhanced” version of the game was rolled out for the still fledgling Super Nintendo console almost a year to the date later. (You may also recall from the review that NES and Sega Game Gear versions were also planned, but mercifully cancelled while still in production. However, press material for these games does exist.)
The Super Nintendo version of Dr Franken, entitled “The Adventures of Dr. Franken”, was developed by a studio called MotiveTime and released by DTMC, Inc. As mentioned in the previous review, DTMC, Inc. were not exactly known for setting the gaming world on fire, with lackluster sequel California Games II and obscurity Lester the Unlikely among the biggest titles in their very limited catalog of releases. The game was released on December 1st, 1993…. just in time to become a Christmas present for some unfortunate kid whose parents were unable to find copies of Starfox or Mortal Kombat II and had to settle for any shitty ol’ game that was still available.
As one might expect, the SNES version of Dr. Franken serves as more of an enhanced or re-imagined version of the Game Boy release, although there are more than a few changes and/or additions to be found throughout. The most noticeable change is the game’s setting. The GameBoy version of Dr. Franken had you traversing a large, yet repetitiously designed castle in search of your girlfriend Bitsy’s various body parts, with the intention of re-animating her at the game’s end. Meanwhile, the SNES version of Dr. Franken sees the undead couple preparing for a vacation abroad. However, as Bitsy has forgotten to renew her passport, she decides to have herself disassembled and her various body parts shipped (illegally, I might add) to their vacation destination….. New York City!
Serving that sheisty zombie bitch right, the Transylvania post office accidentally loses track of her “packages”, shipping the various limbs and organs to multiple locations around the world! Once again taking the role of the title character (well, that’s not actually proven), you begin a trek around the globe in search of Bitsy’s bits. While the game does start in what would appear to be the same castle from the previous game, the rest of the game takes place in various locations around the world. Upon completing the first stage, you are given two options on the game map of which stage you would like to try next. Completing stages opens up more stages for you to choose from, which is a nice, yet simple way of adding some variety and making the game feel much less linear than it actually is.
As should also be expected, the Super Nintendo’s 16-bit graphics are much more colorful and detailed than what are found on the drab, monochromatic 8-bit screen provided with the original GameBoy system. Music and sound are also greatly improved, but as the Gameboy version only featured two audio tracks played in a never-ending loop, it wouldn’t have taken much to be considered a “step up”.
Most importantly, Frankie’s jump and attack moves are much more fluid than in the GameBoy version. In other words, they actually work this time. Well, kinda. While your character does have more methods of attack with which to combat enemies, the majority of these have horrendous hit detection, causing you to take damage more frequently than your target.
The SNES version of Dr. Franken also features a much larger variety of enemies for you to encounter. However, most of these tend to be quite ludicrous and have no logical reason to be attacking you…. or to even be present at all. This includes dogs on skateboards, kids on pogo sticks, and even Grannies who unleash powerful spin moves with their walkers.
Although some may consider this to be a non-issue, I did find it unfortunate that the majority of the levels do not properly represent their locations on the game’s “world map”. For example, Greenland’s level is a large cave filled with dangerous lava and bottomless pits, while Alaska is nothing more than a spooky ol’ graveyard. Then again, as I am not much of a world traveler, these could be accurate depictions.
That said, the Mexico/Central America level does feel a tad more region-centric, taking place in what could arguably be either a Mayan or Aztec temple. However, as if the game’s steep difficulty or shoddy hit detection weren’t punishing enough, this level also features lightning strikes that will hit our hero if he happens to stand still for any extended period of time. You know, like the time that it takes to fight the level’s multiple enemy creatures. This becomes more of an issue once you discover that half of the four “Bitsy Bits” hidden on the level are actually buried under the ground at the bottom of the screen. This means that you’ll be running around dodging lightning bolts and fighting enemies until these pieces decide to pop out of the ground.
Thankfully, the level that may or may not be New York City (it’s kind of hard to tell on the world map) provides a fairly clever deviation from the game’s normally fairly straightforward “search for the hidden item” level design. This level requires the player to press a series of buttons scattered throughout, which in turn activates a crane that moves across the level picking up health refills, extra lives, and Bitsy’s body part pieces.
The opposite, however, applies to the “Bermuda Triangle” stage. Easily the game’s most infuriating level, this one seems quite similar to the Greenland level, featuring it’s own lava pools and bottomless pits. Many gamers are sure to die repeatedly as they search for body parts. That is, until they realize that there are none to find! Sadly, the game never gives the player any hints that they are just trying to find the exit. And by this point, so am I.
After a while, it becomes painfully apparent that levels are essentially starting to repeat themselves, albeit with variations to where items are located. While this tends to become noticeable only after completing a large percentage of the game, it still reeks of lazy game design.
Despite the couple’s plans of vacationing in New York, the game actually concludes back at Frankie’s castle, or some extension of it. After completing all of the prior levels, you return to your laboratory to piece Bitsy back together. While there are no records of where the title character received his medical degree, he clearly never studied anatomy, as Bitsy’s bits are placed in the wrong spots, resulting in a nightmarish freak of nature. Honestly, Frankie may not even be a real doctor at all. Kinda like Dr. Hook or Dr. Pepper.
While “The Adventures of Dr. Franken” is a massive improvement over its GameBoy predecessor, there just isn’t much to recommend here. The faulty hit detection, occasionally clumsy level design, and limited continues ensure that most folks will never complete the game. That said, this is due more to them quitting out of frustration and indifference than the steep difficulty. Once again, Dr. Franken is one relic that should remain buried.