GODZILLA: MONSTER OF MONSTERS
for the Nintendo Entertainment System
Pros: Graphics, sound, music, ending; appropriately strange at times
Cons: Excruciatingly repetitive; difficulty level presents some problems
“In the year 2XXX, the earth receives a declaration of war from Planet X. With the whole solar system as the battlefield, bloody combat begins between space monsters and our guardians, Godzilla and Mothra!” Essentially, that’s the basis for any number of Japanese sci-fi movies relating to , the giant fire-breathing reptile, so why wouldn’t it be the basis for Godzilla: Monster of Monsters, the first of several Godzilla video games?
Developed by Toho Studios and released for the NES in 1989, the game finds the player controlling both the titular creature and giant insect as they gradually progress through the solar system, from Earth to the far reaches of Planet X, battling evil monsters and enemies of all sorts along the way. In the main game screen, the player manipulates chess-like representations of Godzilla and Mothra around hex grids in order to ultimately reach a base which allows for transport to the next planet. Maneuvering through any space on the grid instigates a pretty standard side-scrolling level in which either Godzilla or Mothra (whichever monster was being controlled) has to fight off smaller enemy units and destroy obstacles in order to advance. Each each monster in the game has both a life meter and a power bar: the life is self-explanatory (when it hits zero, the monster dies), but the power bar represents the monster’s ability to use a special attack (such as Godzilla’s radioactive death breath or Mothra’s life-zapping powder). Enemy monsters are scattered throughout the hex grids in the game and when these are contacted by a player’s monster, the game transitions to a sort of “beat ‘em up” level which plays out in front of a black background. The goal here is to reduce the enemy’s monster’s power to zero through hand-to-hand combat, with the special weapons being the attack of choice.
Main hex grid screen, with several monsters visible.
All the hex grid maps in the game are made up of different types of terrain which seem (somewhat) appropriate given the planet they’re on – Earth, for instance, is made up mostly of mountains and rocky outcroppings, while Mars is mostly volcanic. The farther the player gets in the game, the more difficult and frankly, bizarre the terrain: some planets are made up almost exclusively of so-called “sub-space” terrain, in which multi-colored blobs swirl around or giant, bubbling brains must be destroyed. Each planet includes a heavily-fortified “base” as its final hexpoint – all the player actually has to do is reach and occupy this base with both Godzilla and Mothra (or the last surviving one of the two). It really pays to defeat all the enemy monsters on any given planet however since this is the best way to “level up.” Advancing Godzilla and Mothra’s level gives them more life points, but also increases their power bar, allowing for more devastating special attacks.
One of the things a player will notice about this game is that the side-scrolling levels are pretty chaotic. Godzilla’s basic weapons during these stages are punches, kicks, and tail swipes, while Mothra can fly around the screen using her eye laser to dispatch enemies – and plenty of enemies there are. Aside from various types of ground units, many of which fire beams and projectiles, a constant stream of missiles and bombs of various type swirl around with the player in the crosshairs at virtually all times. Godzilla and Mothra wind up taking substantial damage throughout any level they’re in, but in many cases, this abuse is almost inconsequential since there is an almost endless supply of life-replenishing power-ups available. There’s no incentive for the player to try and avoid incoming enemy fire, since it’s all but guaranteed that a power capsule will pop up within a short amount of time, so for the most part, Godzilla just stumbles right into enemy fire (though he can jump and duck to avoid it if desired).
I suppose the fact that Godzilla and Mothra can just absorb damage is fairly consistent with the movies (these are monsters after all!), but it winds up making the game somewhat pointless. There’s not much skill involved in negotiating levels since Godzilla and Mothra simply push through most any opposition coming their way with minimal difficulty. I should note that it is possible to be overwhelmed and killed (particularly in the “city” areas) and that there are a few enemies (including a flying torch of doom) that will severely damage the player if it is encountered. For the most part though, the side-scrolling levels lack much of a challenge and get painfully repetitive – there are a relatively limited number of level layouts, meaning that the exact same one will be encountered numerous times. Consider that a player has to negotiate eight hex grid planets before beating the game and you can begin to understand how and why this quickly becomes tiresome.
As much of a breeze as most of the side-scroll levels are, the actual monster battles get increasingly difficult over time. While the Earth board only features two enemy monsters, later levels feature up to eight, at least three of which are incredibly tough to defeat. The selection of villainous monsters in the game is pretty interesting since it seems that Toho was trying to raise the profile of some of their lesser-known films. It’s not a shock that fan-favorite monsters like and would show up in Monster of Monsters and even , the smog monster, isn’t that much of a stretch, but the appearance of cuttlefish , reptile/flying squirrel , giant robot , and four-legged (creatures who didn’t feature in any of the legitimate Godzilla films) is surprising – one can even notice imagery that relates back to , , and even , a.k.a. .
Though Ghidorah pops up as the (obvious) final boss, my pick for the most imposing monster in the game is , a beast who first appeared in a pair of movies in the 1970s and didn’t make much of an impression. In Monster of Monsters, Gigan proves how formidable a monster it really is, attacking with laser beams, hooked claws, and a buzz-saw that juts from its abdomen. This saw attack is probably the most devastating thing a player will have to deal with in the game: it has the potential to pin Godzilla against the side of the screen, diminishing his life bar at an alarming rate. While Godzilla has the ability to stand up pretty well against the enemy monster assaults – and can deliver plenty of punch of his own, I have to say that Mothra frequently seems entirely useless. Since her body is quite small, she can avoid some enemy attacks and is able to do things that the bulkier Godzilla can’t, but it becomes a chore to drag her through the hex grid and I often wind up purposely killing her.
Graphically speaking, Monster of Monsters is actually pretty impressive: backgrounds during the side-scrolling levels are rather stunning at times, with the individual sprites being pretty cool to look at as well. The actual monster animations steal the show however: all these gorgeous-looking and surprisingly detailed creatures move fluidly and seem to react well to what’s happening around them – they all respond to attacks in different ways and seem to show pain (this is especially true in the case of Varan, who reels back in agony when an especially brutal attack comes his way). Sound throughout the game is also excellent, with the various creatures all having their own war cries and whimpers…though strangely, Godzilla’s trademark howl is conspicuously absent. I’ve also got to point out that the music in this game is fabulous. Each monster and every planet has its own theme, and many of these are extremely memorable and catchy; I think this is one of my favorite NES game soundtracks.
The frequently quirky Godzilla: Monster of Monsters has numerous problems that keep it from becoming a great game or even an above average title for the NES, but I think it’s OK for its time overall. Though very repetitive, with side-scrolling levels that are eventually dull and mostly a time-waste due to the over-abundance of power-ups, the monster battles deliver the goods in terms of what a player would want and offer up significant challenges. I really enjoy the visuals and sound present here and find the almost somber game ending to be quite satisfying – a real contrast to the typical NES game “Hollywood ending.” Monster of Monsters isn’t something that I’d entirely recommend, but I’ve certainly played worse; those who enjoy the Godzilla series might want to check this out just to say that they did.
Click above to read the (pretty cool) creepypasta based on the game.