Recently I sat down to play Dr. Frank’s Build-A-Boyfriend by Heiden Games. It is a short free to play visual novel/point and click game with a very distinct style. This visual novel is a hilariously fun experience to enjoy on your own or with friends watching.
Dr. Frank’s Build-A-Boyfriend is a story of moving on for Dr. Frank whose aim is to create a gorgeous boyfriend to make his ex-boyfriend jealous. The game starts out with some exposition. The player is introduced to Dr. Frank, a scientist researching reanimation techniques. We are told about his past love, Dominik, who stole Dr. Frank’s coveted research. Dr. Frank is devastated and wants to mourn the loss of love but his assistant, Iggs, makes him aware of a conference in which Dominik is presenting the reanimation research! Oh, buddy it’s on. The player follows Dr. Frank through his crazy scheme. He wants to create a cute boyfriend to bring to the conference and make Dominik jealous. Whether or not he accomplishes that is up to you to find out when you play the game yourself.
The plot is definitely unique. Dr. Frank’s character is inspired by Dr. Frankenstein from the classic Mary Shelley novel, but this time he’s gay and creating a monster for himself to date. Speaking of characters, there is a hilarious cast. Dr. Frank, a very melodramatic scientist. Iggs, a passive assistant who lets Dr. Frank walk all over him. Dominik- the villainous “bro” ex lover. Sylios, the mysterious stranger and the monster- Dr. Frank’s child (almost quite literally). Each character says things that will make you laugh. Whether it be one of Dr. Frank’s over the top remarks, Sylios teasing Dr. Frank, or Iggs vehemently disagreeing with anything Dr. Frank says, you are bound to shed at least one tear from laughing. The dialogue in this game is great.
The game itself is only about 2-3 hours and it has few endings. I don’t think the story was meant to be taken serious at all, so I’m willing to overlook a lot of things. However, what I think needs discussing is the character of Sylios. He is perhaps the star of the game, popping up just when Dr. Frank seems to need him the most. He is a very complex character with complex beliefs and a backstory that is underappreciated in the quick and to the point dialogue. I found myself liking Sylios because he represented a mystery to be solved, but when he comes clean with who he really is the payout is unsatisfying. I don’t feel like I got to know him for what he was pretending to be, so when he stepped forward as himself it didn’t really matter.
That’s not to say that all of the pacing is bad. I think Dr. Frank’s creation of the monster is properly paced. From the beginning, the player is told the conference is the same day and they only have a few hours to create a boyfriend. I think this adds to immersion. As Dr. Frank fumbles to create his boyfriend in a few hours time, we are faced with finishing the game in a similar time frame.
Dr. Frank’s Build-a-Boyfriend is a visual novel and point and click hybrid game. Apart from the standard elements like making a choice to further the story, players are faced with clicking their way through Dr. Frank’s house and surrounding village. With this new mechanic comes an inventory screen which lets the player carry items that they need to access certain scenes. But, not all of the items are useful. Some items can actually kill you (in very comedic ways), a mechanic I have not seen implemented in any other game I’ve played.
The other stand out element that this game has is the creation of Dr. Frank’s monster. Through a character creation menu, you are able to create the monster of your dreams. There is no preview screen to let you see what your monster boyfriend will look like, but I think that adds to the charm. I won’t say any spoilers, but you’d be surprised what your monster ends up looking like. Though very basic, some of the options are hilarious like “tragic anime boy” hair color, sparkling eyes and certain er…endowments “just like my animes.” Depending on what you pick for this choice, the text changes for a very specific scene and it is hilarious every time.
The game features a secret ending only achievable by doing certain actions. This could tick some players off but is also a great opportunity to explore more of what the game has to offer. There are some hidden secrets that may not be so obvious at first.
The visuals for this game are charming. They’re much more complex than simple doodles but do give off a very sketch-like feel. The art strays away from the polished look seen in most popular visual novels, but that’s not a problem. In fact, part of what makes this game so endearing is that the art isn’t similar to a mainstream style. Neither is the plot, nor the characters. So when mashed together into one game, everything falls into place. Furthermore, there are a lot of drawn elements. The backgrounds match the style of the character sprites which is another plus. What drew my attention are the simple animations. Dominik popping on screen beside Dr. Frank with flashing sparkles, just one of the few examples. It very much gives off a feel of drawing in your diary, especially the hand drawn and brightly colored sparkles.
The music is perfect! I absolutely loved the title screen music. It is very fitting to the theme of the game. The volume could stand to be lowered a bit at default but that’s nothing major at all.
There are a few sound effects scattered around the game that are well placed. It would have been nice to see more. But since this was a short free to play game, these are really only suggestions. The game plays fine with the sounds it has otherwise.
I often say that the user interface can make or break a game. In this case, I think it made the game. The textbox isn’t too big or gaudy. The text could be read fine, and the font is fitting for the Frankenstein theme. I especially like the message screen that pops up when you go to quit out of the game. It has a picture of Dr. Frank, which I think is a nice touch.
There are a few minor setbacks. When you first load up the game and click the preferences button, you are brought to a screen that lets you fix what you want. When you’re ready to leave, it is a bit confusing. I was wondering why pressing “main menu” a bunch of times wasn’t working. It seems as if that button is only functional once you’re in the actual game. There also wasn’t a history screen for players to read old text that they missed. The menu buttons on the bottom have to be hovered over to see what they do. As I prefaced, these are all minor issues and aren’t glaring enough to hamper my enjoyment.
Dr. Frank’s Build-A-Boyfriend is very clearly an independent visual novel, and that’s not a bad thing. The charm of this game is in the fact that it doesn’t adhere to the standards of commercialized games. Heiden Games is allowed to get away with much more: the font changing size with each varying degree of exaggeration, the unfiltered dialogue, the highly comedic plot, and so on. I am a big fan of this game. While there are some issues, there isn’t anything that would make me stop playing it. Besides, which game doesn’t have a few faults?
If you’re a fan of romantic themed games, visual novels, independent games, quirky storylines, a whole lot of laughs (or all of these things) give this game a play through. You can’t really go wrong for the low low price of free! Dr. Frank’s Build-A-Boyfriend can be downloaded for PC or Mac here. Would you play a game like this? Let me know in the comments below.