When a Wii game debuts with a $20 price tag, it's either going to be a collection of dull mini-games or it's going to be plain awful. The Island of Dr. Frankenstein definitely falls into the latter category, taking a fairly decent concept and proceeding to do absolutely nothing worthwhile with it. It's an exercise in dull adventuring that all ages would do well to avoid, no matter how tempting you may find the cover art or low price point.
The story line revolves around the character of Frankie, who you'll be controlling over the five hours it takes to complete the game. Frankie is the nephew of the actual Dr. Frankenstein from the famous novel/movie of the same name. Some time ago, when monsters were feared and hated, Dr. Frankenstein created a floating island as a refuge for them. Now, a couple of hundred years down the line, the island still exists and lives among the clouds, and it's home to a bunch of classic movie monsters, including Dracula, Frankenstein's Monster, The Mummy and The Wolfman. There's also a small group of humans on this island, and apparently they all live in peace, with the humans selecting a new mayor every day of the week and the Wolfman being king over them all. The setup doesn't make a lot of sense, but the game world is so wacky that you're kind of willing to overlook it.
Frankie has a reputation for being the fix-it guy on the island, apparently inheriting some of his great-uncle's ability to create machines and whatnot. One of his creations is a Steampack, which he uses to suck up little cloud creatures known as Vaporites; they cover the island and occasionally clog up the engines and fans that keep the entire island afloat. One of the major game mechanics is using the Steampack to suck up the Vaporites that you see scattered around. There's a meter that keeps track of the island's level of Vaporites, and if you let it reach the max point, the island will shake violently until you clear out some of the cloud pests. It doesn't really penalize you beyond that point, and for the majority of the game, you can get away with ignoring the clouds unless you need to gather some for a character quest.
The character quests are the other half of the gameplay, and they're as bland as the fetch quests you'd do for animals in a title like Animal Crossing. As you go around the island, which is somewhat large but blocked off as you begin, you'll encounter different monsters and humans, and you can usually start up conversations with them. Most will be looking for something — candy, getting an item repaired, etc. — while others will be offering up specific items. Sometimes you'll need to trade for the items, but other times, they'll just hand them over to you. These items end up being used by other people or monsters in their requests, so a big part of the game is basically going from one person to the next in the hopes that you've already collected what they need. If you have it, you select your inventory and choose the item, which they'll automatically take. With the majority of the gameplay being centered on this simple trading mechanic, it quickly becomes awfully tedious, even with the game's short running time. There's no puzzle-solving, guesswork, or any real gameplay involved in collecting these items, so I can't fathom how anyone would find these tasks to be the least bit fun.
Another aspect of the game, which is probably the best but also the least-used, is the gear minigame. You'll occasionally run into an item that someone needs you to fix, and this begins a minigame involving a beam of light and gears that you can create if you have the necessary number of Vaporites. There's a small grid with a light beam, and you need to direct it into the endpoint. You place gears into the path of this light beam, and you can turn them to adjust the angle of the light until it hits the endpoint, thus fixing the item. This doesn't crop up very often, but it is the last thing you'll need to do in the game. It's also the best aspect of the game, and that's not really meant as a compliment.
There are other annoyances I have with The Island of Dr. Frankenstein. When you suck up the Vaporites, they're mostly white clouds that add to a counter at the top left of your screen. You will need to collect a certain amount for a few quests and to create gears, so it's nice to have some on hand at all times. However, there is always a black Vaporite mixed in with the white ones, and if you collect that one, you'll screw up your counter and release all the Vaporites you currently have. It's difficult to avoid the black Vaporites, so this makes the mechanic far more tedious than it needs to be. Granted, later in the game, you gain the ability to make use of the black Vaporites, but for the first hour or so, they are the bane of your existence. Another annoying aspect is the use of the drill, which is also tied into your Steampack. As you walk around the island, you'll occasionally hear a small pinging sound coming from your Wii Remote, which signifies that there's a buried meteorite nearby. Once you locate the spot, you can use a drill to dig it out. However, if you have any Vaporites stored when you do this, you'll lose them all as soon as you break out the drill. It happens every time, and it's needlessly annoying.
If you're sensitive to motion sickness, have fun dealing with the camera in this title. The perspective is mostly a top-down view, but the game wants to have Frankie in the center at all times. The problem kicks in when you come to a stop, as the camera adjusts to focus on Frankie at all times. It's a really weird effect that I don't recall seeing in another game, but it's as if the camera needs to snap back into place every time you move. It's really distracting, and while I'm not prone to motion sickness, I quickly became annoyed with the odd camera behavior.
Finally, the music and graphics are pretty awful. There are about three tunes that are repeated throughout the game, depending on which part of the island you're on. They're not catchy or particularly great, but they're aggravating and incessantly cheerful so they'll start to grate on your nerves in no time. Likewise, while I wasn't expecting grand visuals from a budget title, there's some really ugly texture work throughout most of the environment, and the polygon count is so low on some of the character models that you'll mistake it for a Nintendo 64 title, never mind a GameCube game. It doesn't help that the art design is pretty bland when you consider the amount of cool monsters they're trying to use, so you're left with a bit of an eyesore.
You'll be better off finding something else — anything else — on which to spend your $20. The Island of Dr. Frankenstein isn't worth your time or attention, and aside from the original concept and story, it doesn't have any redeeming factors. There's no replay value, either; once you finish the game and boot up your old save file, it simple says, "Thanks For Playing," and forces you to use another save file or delete the old one. It's as basic and bland as a video game can be, and there's definitely a reason for its low price point.Score: 4.0/10
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