Blog:Frankenstein's Monster (Atari 2600)

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CRV (talk) 23:43, 31 January 2018 (UTC) [permalink]

The popularity of the Atari 2600 and the success of Activision as the system's first third-party publisher opened the floodgates for other third-parties to saturate the market in the early 1980s. If you're even vaguely familiar with the 2600, you've probably heard of Imagic. Companies like Parker Brothers, Coleco, Mattel, and Sega also made games for the venerable platform. Then there was Data Age, a California firm started by a group of venture capitalists that has largely been forgotten by history.

First impressions are very important, and Data Age made a lousy one with their initial lineup of titles. Sssnake in particular, a banal Centipede clone, is generally considered one of the worst games on the 2600. Data Age got better over time, though: Journey Escape, based around the band Journey, is merely boring, the shooter Bermuda Triangle is good, and Frankenstein's Monster is knocking on the door of greatness.

Frankenstein's Monster is basically a combination of the multi-level platforming of Donkey Kong and the creature dodging and obstacle hopping of Pitfall!. The object is to build a wall around the monster before he's brought to life and goes on a rampage. To do that, you must make your way past ghosts, spiders, and trap doors, down to the dungeon of Dr. Frankenstein's castle.

The dungeon is where you'll find a stone for your wall, but you'll have to cross a pool of acid and moving platforms to get it. Then you must go back to the top of the castle and run through a swarm of vampire bats before leaving the stone at its final destination.

With each round trip, the task becomes more treacherous, all the while the monster grows in power. There is a time limit, so use trap doors to your advantage. You lose points, but you save precious seconds. Succeed and watch the monster fade into oblivion; fail and watch the rampage unfold.

Fun and varied gameplay, a clear goal and ending, a nice game over sequence — Frankenstein's Monster has a lot going for it. It might even be, to use an overused term, a "hidden gem." Unfortunately, neither Franky nor big licenses like Journey were enough to turn the tide. Data Age filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in April 1983. (One article suggests Frankenstein's Monster didn't make it to store shelves as a result.)

At this time, we do not know the names of the people who actually developed Data Age's games. One name that comes up with any connection to development is J. Ray Dettling, a science fiction writer who wrote the backstories. He supposedly also designed the games, or at least some of them, and in one interview says he worked on graphics and sound effects on their last few games including Frankenstein's Monster.

According to Activision Anthology (2600 compilation) producer Ken Love, who was trying to put together an Anthology of games by other third-parties, all the games were done by three Chinese programmers — in the US. Hong Kong records show that a company called Data Age Far East Limited existed during this timeframe, but that could have just been related to manufacturing, if it's related at all.

Failed run top; tool-assisted speedrun bottom