Godzilla: Monster of Monsters – NES
Release Date (NA): October 1989
Nerd Rating: 4.5 out of 10
For whatever reason, I got this game on my brain a few weeks ago and haven’t been able to shake it since. Once I finally tracked down the title, I searched my usual haunts coming only as close as Super Godzilla for the Super Nintendo. Not particularly satisfied, I finally resigned myself to an overpriced copy from the web and quickly got to work on this monster-laden 8-bit journey remembered from my childhood.
When we revisit media that made an impression on us as a youth, usually one of two outcomes occurs. The first is a deeper, more meaningful understanding of the material, even a whole new perspective full of several interlinked “Eureka!” moments. The second, and far more common response, is “oh.” Godzilla: Monster of Monsters wasn’t a total “oh” but it was pretty damn close. Not nearly as fun as I remember it and too repetitive for words, I at least was finally able to scratch the itch.
The game kicks off with a very…slow…marquee…crawl…explaining what’s going on. A bunch of nonsense about Planet X and monsters wanting to conquer Earth is the general gist and logically the monsters/aliens have started their conquest of the solar system from the outside inward, establishing bases on populous and valuable worlds like Saturn and Mars. Due to the impending threat Earth has called upon its heroes Godzilla and Mothra to defend their home. Godzilla and Mothra hop through the solar system to fight these behemoths all the way to Planet X. Tearing down their defenses and engaging in the mock fighting game-type battles with these marginally iconic villains (who aren’t all from Godzilla proper, some are random Toho kaiju) is mindlessly fun for a while, but the sheer magnitude of tasks that must be done over, and over, and over…and over again is nearly too much to bear. Though not particularly long or all that difficult, a couple of breaks are in order to relieve the monotony.
Godzilla first presents the player with a sort of map, looking a little like a honeycomb with it’s multitude of hexagons. Each hexagon has a small image inside to denote what type of terrain is in the “stage.” On the opposite end from where Godzilla and Mothra start are what look like cities surrounding a radar/satellite dish. This satellite dish (otherwise known as the base of operations) is the ultimate destination. Each “hex map” represents a planet and the objective is to move both Godzilla and Mothra through the map, to the base, play through the stage, and then “warp” to the succeeding world. The player controls Godzilla and Mothra separately and independently. At the beginning of each turn, the player can choose either monster and move them along the hex map. Godzilla can move 2 spaces at a time and Mothra 4. Once the movements have been made on the map, the screen cuts to actual play. The number of spaces moved through and what icon they were marked with determines what the player plays through. One space = one area.
After the player moves, the enemy may move one of its monsters on the map. If one of the bad guys ends up next to one of the good guys, a challenge is automatically issued and a fight begins. This can also happen if Godzilla or Mothra moves to space adjacent to a foe though in this case the player has the option of whether or not to fight. What’s strange is that these fights aren’t even required. The main goal is simply to make it to the base.
The fights are easily the most fun part of Godzilla and even then they leave something to be desired. Godzilla or Mothra goes toe to toe with the likes of Godzilla’s “famous” enemies. Combat is slow and Mothra is woefully inadequate – I suggest taking Godzilla himself into these battles. For some reason the enemy can “push” the player but not vice versa. This leads to ridiculous situations where the player is stuck at the edge of the screen being viciously and continuously attacked though the damage dealt is relatively small. If after about 40 seconds neither side emerges victorious, the battle is halted. When and if it resumes on a following turn, a small measure of health is restored to the bad guy.
If even most of the game were engaging in the aforementioned fights it might not be terrible, just a little bland. But in addition to the face-offs are the stages in between. Filled with projectiles like fireballs, missiles, and oddly shaped energy blasts, these areas attempt to throw everything possible at our dear monsters. There are guns, lasers, spaceships, tanks, and every other conceivable harbinger of warfare and they’re on the ground, in the rocks, in the volcanoes, at foot level, knee level, chest level, eye level, above the head, spanning ground to sky, and pretty much any other place or form you could possibly imagine. This army, or whatever it is, is everywhere, all the time, filling the screen with madness.
Depending on who you play as, the stages play out a little differently. Each good guy has a special “power” attack that depletes their power meter, so it must be used judiciously. Godzilla uses his atomic breath, while Mothra drops what is dubbed “poisonous powder” that looks like the shedding of its wings. Godzilla has a slow and lumbering walk, but he also has a few different attacks: punching/clawing, kicking, and a tail swing. When using him it’s best to crush everything that can be reached, jump when you have to, and use the atomic breath if things get hairy. Moving through the stages as Godzilla is a slow but steady process. He’s too big and limited in movement to really avoid much of the firing going on. Even if he jumps out of the way he’ll probably be jumping into even more of it, so it’s best to try to destroy everything quickly and move forward as fast as possible.
Mothra on the other hand, plays quite differently. Smaller, more maneuverable, and in constant flight, the idea is to avoid as much as possible, use the poison powder to “bomb” what you need to, and keep a finger on A or B to constantly fire its laser beam thing. That’s right, Godzilla has a whole arsenal of attacks and Mothra gets some little particle beam. While Mothra is able to move through more quickly, it also gets knocked back harder and farther by projectiles. It’s very easy to get beaten down in a corner with no way out except to use the beam to slowly beat back opponents.
This goes on for what seems like forever, until the final battle with Ghidora who isn’t noticeably harder than any of the other kaiju. The stages themselves are relatively short and it doesn’t seem like a big deal to go through 10 or 20, but there’s easily a hundred or more. Getting one monster to the end isn’t good enough either, so the player is forced to move Godzilla and Mothra through each hex map. What’s more is that even within each stage the same things must be done again and again. It ain’t hard, but it ain’t fun.
One laudable gameplay element is an early example of leveling up outside of a strictly RPG context. I’m unsure of what triggers each new level, though I would assume it to be related to the points. Both creatures start at level one, and each time they increase in rank gain a new bar to both their life and power meters. Each of the friendly kaiju can make their way up to a level 16, and although I can’t confirm any increase in strength I did notice fewer hits required to destroy some of the ground units in the stages prior to noticing the leveling system.
For a game with such dull gameplay, the controls are pretty good. Godzilla has an impressive move set compared with the game’s relative simplicity and Mothra’s flight proves to be a true asset in earlier levels. I believe the problems stem from a combination of lack of thorough testing and lack of variety. Too many borderline inescapable positions are possible regarding enemy fire and the edge of the screen, and after playing through 5 or so stages you’ve seen most of what their is to see. Later levels change up the scenery some, but it’s still the same mechanics at work only dressed up a little differently.
There are a few strange ambiguities that might stump players though, even the instruction manual doesn’t provide good answers for moving around the map or advancing to the next world. Due to what happens when you start locking hexagons together, you have a situation where “down” and “up” are still understood, but “left” and “right” take on slightly different meaning. Rather than the game just choosing either the upper or lowermost left or right hexagon to default to, absolutely nothing happens. Up and left must be pressed at the same time (or any other combination of horizontal directions with vertical ones) to move sideways on the map, something that had me confused for a good 10 minutes. The other issue of advancing to the next world requires the player to re-select the base even after they’ve cleared it with a monster. Then the game will give you the option to move on. It took me quite a bit more than 10 minutes to figure this one out.
Graphics are overall impressive and this is a great looking game for 1989. Many of the enemy’s armed forces are abstract and indistinguishable but the monsters and environments are excellent. The backgrounds represent several types of terrain such as rocks, jungles, and mechanical constructs and different views of “space” (what would be the sky) are given for each world. Color and detail is used to great effect and the disused, neglected appearance of the “ruins” is a great example. The monsters could be a little bigger to better convey their alleged enormity but they are at least well drawn. An immense amount of attention was given to detail; these creatures have texture, shading, and almost some true depth. Gigan and Varan (kaiju) are especially memorable.
Though Godzilla: Monster of Monsters may be worth taking a peek at for NES enthusiasts, it suffers due to its inability to process so many moving objects on the screen at once. At any given time there may be 10 fireballs, laser beams, energy blasts, or whatever other projectiles on the screen alongside 4 to 7 enemy craft, the 1 or 2 obligatory “out of reach” baddies in the sky, the character itself walking, moving, or attacking, and the scrolling of the screen. Even half of this would be enough to bring most NES games to a crawl. Flickering is common, the music will sometimes slow down and drag out notes, and entire elements become “invisible” for short periods of time. There’s simply too damn much happening on the screen at once and it happens far too often, more as the game progresses. The boss battle are nearly flawless (graphically), however, probably due to their occurrence in a black, featureless void.
The attention given to the artwork is admirable – Godzilla’s atomic breath looks sufficiently nuclear and skin-melting – but it fails to save the game. From its B-movie source material, Godzilla: Monster of Monsters can be considered a B-game: B for boring. Mindless thrashing is fun for awhile but it is undeniably strung out for too long. Even the monster fights are repeated as defeated foes retreat to the next level. There are some great sprites to pull for anyone looking to make killer 8-bit artwork, but once you’ve played 5 to 10 stages you’ve essentially seen all the game has to offer. Not terrible, but probably only of interest to hardcore NES-ers and Godzilla fans. At least it isn’t as bad as its successor…..Super Godzilla!
Reviewed by The Cubist
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