Armada Books, £1.95, ISBN 0-00-692684-3
The Curse of Frankenstein is written by JH Brennan, so you really shouldn’t believe the cover when it proclaims this one to be “bloodcurdling”. It’s a gamebook by JH Brennan, so expect instead plenty of humor. While this one isn’t as satirical as the author’s Grailquest gamebooks, it is still one that provides plenty of laughs.
This campaign presents a sanitized version of the original story. When the campaign opens we have the Monster fleeing to the icy wastelands of the Arctic, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake. There is no mention of him killing his creator’s wife or anything like that – he has just escaped his captivity. The good Dr Baron Viktor Frankenstein is not going to let his greatest – and ugliest – creation get away like that, however, so he is in hot pursuit. You have a choice here to play as either the Monster or the Baron, which means there are actually two campaigns in this gamebook, effectively doubling the replay value.
There are plenty of laughs to be had here. The Monster carries with him spare body parts that, when used to replace worn ones, function as healing potions. He also has two skills that increase his damage and combat durability as well as – bizarrely enough – a skill called Love Affair that allows him on a successful roll of the die to befriend 50% of his opponents and avoid fighting with him. The thing is, I assume therefore that this Love Affair skill only works for combat encounters involving more than one opponent, but that’s my assumption. It is never stated clearly here whether this is the case, oops. The Baron, meanwhile, has a skill that increases his defense, one that allows him to create, with instant success, a smaller version of the monster to fight alongside him, and a skill that randomly generates beneficial or dire effects depending on the roll of a die. The last skill can cause some really devastating damage on the opponent. Oh, and it may tickle you to know that the Monster reads The Times while the Baron prefers The Manchester Guardian. Strangely enough, both the Monster and the Baron are equally sturdy – they both have 100 Life Points at the start of their respective campaigns. Shouldn’t the Monster be tougher than the Baron?
Like the other gamebooks by Mr Brennan, The Curse of Frankenstein is both a tough dungeon crawl and a test on one’s patience. No matter who you play as, you will hemorrhage Life Points like the Titanic in a whack-an-iceberg game. There are some decent ways to regenerate one’s Life Points, but they are nowhere near the rate of loss. There are also plenty of sudden death scenes or unavoidable doom caused by unlucky rolls of the die. The final confrontation in each campaign is pretty nasty – the Monster will face the Baron who can kill the Monster outright with a particularly good roll of the die on the Baron’s part while the Baron will have to confront an opponent who will resurrect to fight again up to a maximum of six more times. Fun! Also, the dungeon crawl aspect of the story can be truly tedious – there are no clues as to where to go most of the time so you’d be coming back to the same scene again and again especially in the early parts of the campaign.
Still, there are plenty of hilarious encounters and scenes to make the tedium bearable. Both campaigns have their share of memorable comedy, but I especially love the cavemen you will encounter while playing the Monster. It also amuses me how the Monster is portrayed as a lovable but misunderstood lug while the Baron is an unrepentant mad and diabolical scientist. Also, there are some puzzles here that are actually fun to solve.
The Curse of Frankenstein would have been a pretty annoying gamebook to slough through were not for the comedy. My suggestion is this: if you feel that you do not want to play the gamebook honestly because of the difficulty level, go ahead and cheat. This one is too much fun to just read, so don’t let the gameplay put you off from experiencing this cute romp.