Monster Party – NES
Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System
Developer: Human Entertainment
Release Date (NA): June 1989
Written by ChronoSloth
Have you ever wanted to see your favorite movie monsters together without it being a shallow shitshow like Freddy vs. Jason? Do you enjoy Goosebumps style twist endings that have children stuck with fates worse than death? Are you up for fighting dogs with human faces and deep fried seafood and vegetables using a baseball bat? Why do I ask? How does this relate to Monster Party? Allow me to explain.
Monster Party is a horror comedy platformer that stands out in the NES library for many reasons. In a time when Nintendo was heavily censoring games to be both kid-friendly and copyright-friendly, Monster Party released in 1989 full of (cartoony) blood, gore, and references to popular horror icons. Its also confused many gamers by featuring seemingly random creatures that were either pulled from Japanese folklore, or from thin air as certain bosses in the game were cut because they risked legal trouble with how close they were to certain movie monsters. For example, one boss meant to be one of the titular characters from Gremlins was replaced with a spooky cat. I’d assume these swaps were done quickly, as they follow the same movement patterns and share the same hitboxes as the original bosses.
The game begins with our protagonist, Mark, walking home from a baseball game while a super chill, super catchy tune plays. He looks up at a shooting star and is so enthralled by its beauty that he misses the fact that it lands directly in front off him. Uh oh, it turn out that the star was actually a monster. The bird creature introduces himself as Bert, and asks Mark for help in ridding his world of evil monsters, because obviously this Little League player is the only man, err, boy for the job. Bert convinces Mark that his trepidation to join him on this righteous quest is baseless, as his bat will prove powerful enough a weapon to save the realm. They begin flying to Bert’s home planet, and Bert then tells Mark that they must act together to defeat the dangerous fiends. Bert and Mark then become one. Not in a wedding consummation way, but in a Dragonball Z fusion way, rather. Thus begins Monster Party.
Actually, one could argue that Monster Party doesn’t truly begin until halfway through the first level. Though you’re given the ability to make Mark walk, jump, crouch, crawl, and swing his bat, Level 1’s smiling blocks and bright green grass are a facade. After making your way past a giant tree, Monster Party pulls a Silent Hill. Lightning strikes and the environment completely transforms into a hellish landscape. Smiley face blocks are now bloody skulls, and grass has become pools of slime. In the background are disfigured faces, smiling wildly. The music also changes from this upbeat adventure theme to a dark, atmospheric piece. While still too silly to be an unnerving experience, the shock of the change from a fairy tale backdrop into a macabre one is a bit spooky.
The gameplay in Monster Party is pretty standard for an old school platformer. You can jump and attack using A and B respectively. Crouching is good for dodging enemy projectiles, but it’s much more useful, albeit more difficult, to swing your bat and knock them back at your foes. Destroying enemies sometimes will reward you with an item. They’ll either drop more health, or a power-up that allows your to temporarily become Bert, who can fly using the jump button and shoot lasers using the attack button. While traversing normal levels, Bert is definitely more useful, but it depends on which boss you’re tackling whether you should try to become powered up before facing them, as Mark’s ability to reflect projectiles may trump your lasers. Levels also scroll both left and right, meaing you can return to earlier points of the level at your will.
Speaking of enemies and bosses, these creatures are truly the star of the show. The variety of strange enemies you encounter in Monster Party is quite impressive. There are flaming high school students, pairs of legs sticking out of the ground, dogs with human faces, alligators, skeletons, umbrellas, Nessie, witches, ghosts, chairs, slashers with bags over their heads, octopuses with eyeball heads, Medusa, the singing plant from Little Shop of Horrors, tempura shrimp, dancing zombies, the Grim Reaper, a rock star, a mummy, walking pairs of pants, and a well housing the Japanese ghost of myth “Okiku”. Upon entering one boss room, there’s even a creature keeled over in death that apologizes for already being dead. That isn’t even all of them! This huge,weird, roster of enemies along with the odd phrases the bosses spout are what have made Monster Party a well remembered and talked about game despite its obscurity(as well as the unreleased Japanese version of the game which looked even gorier.)
Ranging from a forest, to a sewer, to a haunted castle, and even apparently Heaven’s gates, Monster Party has eight levels in all, each with three bosses you must defeat to get the key and progress. These bosses lie in wait behind doors in the levels. Some doors are empty, however, so players will have to enter them all with no way of knowing which contain the bosses. This is rather annoying, as there aren’t even regular enemies to battle in these empty rooms, and they do nothing but waste time. The only purpose I could see behind this practice is to slightly pad the games’ length. Even this is unnecessary, as the game is fairly difficult, and wouldn’t be a breeze even to most NES players. Not as unforgiving as some, dying will simply start you back at the beginning of the level, though this can happen to you on the third boss in a level, of course. Since there aren’t any saves, there’s a password system that will allow you start at the beginning of any level, thankfully.
In terms of gameplay, Monster Party isn’t anything special. Don’t get me wrong, the game has tight controls and mechanics that are easy to understand and employ. However, the atmosphere created with the colorful, detailed graphics and the moody music, along with the incredible cast of creatures makes Monster Party a must-play. You won’t find this on many “Top X” lists of NES games, but this goofy love letter to the horror genre is truly an unforgettable experience, ahead of its time, with personality and charm to spare, along with an ending straight out of a nightmare.
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