Frankenstein made interactive. It even sounds awesome. Turning Mary Shelley’s classic monster novel into an app with spooky sounds and cool features would make for an instant hit, especially for those trying to get kids to read the book for a school assignment. Profile Book and software/design studio Inkle certainly aimed for a runaway success with that “Frankenstein” by Dave Morris. Sadly, it is not all that we’d hoped for.
The heart of the iPhone/iPad app ($4.99) is a retelling of the Gothic classic by Dave Morris, reshaping and refocusing the narrative with a different tone and perspective. We were expecting an interactive version of the original, resulting in some initial confusion. Morris basically rewrites the novel. He adds in random details such as, “I will need glasses as thick as Robespierre’s before I’m finished.” While we understand Morris’ intentions of making the narrative easier to latch onto, the weird references turn us off and would probably do the same for anyone who has read the classic.
The text is a bit more modern, which might be helpful for readers who have trouble getting into the original, dense text, but that’s part of what makes the classic so intriguing. By attempting to modernize “Frankenstein,” it loses its allure. If there was an explanatory prologue outlining what the book included we would have had a greater chance of liking it. Stumbling through the app trying to figure out what exactly we were reading wasn’t exactly fun, and it kind of just wasted our time.
The book opens with the option to read Morris’ text or skip to the extras. It takes a lot of work to get to the actual text: Users must tap Read then Part One followed by Chapter One. The extensive table of contents makes it easy to skip around, though, once you’ve gotten through the text. For example, you can go back to Chapter 2 if you’ve already read through it but you can’t skip to Chapter 3 if you’re only on Chapter 1.
A cool feature of the text is that the pages look like they’re stitched together, just like Frankenstein’s monster’s skin. And throughout the entire app, there’s a creepy, graphic background with depictions of skeletons, anatomical drawings and scissors.
The app attempted to bring back the “chose-your-own-adventure” motif, as you scroll down to keep reading and are presented with multiple options of how you want the story to go. For example, when Frankenstein brings his monster to life for the first time, you have the option to either choose “He? It. A monster.” or “Speak to him.” Each choice will take you to a different narrative.
It’s a neat idea in theory, but it didn’t really work well with this book. For one, there were so many different ways to twist the plot that Morris added in events that never happened in the classic, and that confuses things further for devotees of the original.
In the Table of Contents, users have the option to reset the book, which comes in handy if you want to go back and click on the options you didn’t choose the first time around. But it may be difficult for users to remember just which options they chose, and we wish there was the option to go back step by step and read all of the options before choosing the next.
We were also disappointed that there wasn’t creepy background noise or audio of any kind. It would have been cool to hear the monster scream or other scary sounds as the narrative took place.
We were looking forward to the Extras of the book, where publishers often shower the reader with cool features that you can’t get in the print edition. We were happy to see that Mary Shelley’s classic was an extra feature, so readers can get a taste of the real thing.
Others extras include Anatomical Drawings, which are illustrations of real drawings from anatomical books dating from the 16th to 19th centuries. This was a cool feature with ample illustrations, but we’re not sure why they didn’t just go straight to the source and include the actual drawings. This extra also features illustrated maps of where Frankenstein travels in the novel, but again, we wish they included the actual maps instead of illustrations.
That’s about the extent of cool extras – the others are Acknowledgements, About the Author, More from Dave Morris, More from inkle, More from Profile Books, Dedication and Credits and Legal.
While we really wanted to like “Frankenstein” by Dave Morris, it just didn’t add up to the cool app we had hoped. Twisting the plot and rich text of a Gothic classic into a modern, lackluster book, we wished the Extras made up for what the interactive book lacked. But the Extras were somewhat vapid, too, not providing enough authentic material. In our opinion, why fix what isn’t broken?