Across the Solar System

Godzilla: Monster of Monsters

Bringing GodzillaThe acknowledged King of the Monsters, Gozilla has grown far beyond his early days as a nuclear fallout allegory into one of the biggest, and longest running, franchises ever. to early consoles was not an easy proposition. There are expectations for the monster, that he’s going to be big and bad and cause a whole lot of destruction in his wake. A good Godzilla game would seem to require big sprites, with big action, and a whole lot to do in quick order to make you feel like the biggest, baddest monster on the block. While many of the games we’ve covered so far with the Godzilla name (or, at least, the monster making an appearance) had some of the destruction, or the look, and the thought towards the style, but none of them really had the power to nail everything Godzilla fans wanted in the right way.

Godzilla: Monster of Monsters

And then came along Godzilla: Monster of Monsters on the NES, a game with an amazingly ridiculous name but also all the action, carnage, and monsters gans would seemingly desire. Developed by Compile and published by Toho, the game had the studio behind the films to go along with box art and graphics that would purport the best and most faithful Godzilla (and Mothra) game possible. So why, then, does this game feel so tedious. It has the action, it has the monsters, and it has so much to do… and it all feels so flat. It’s heart is in the right place but the game just doesn’t quite get there all the same.

In Godzilla: Monster of Monsters (I seriously love that title), players take on both Godzilla and Mothra as the defenders of Earth. Mysterious aliens from Planet X have come to take over the planet and destroy all of humanity and only these two grand, hulking monsters, can stop the invasion. Godzilla and Mothra have to travel from planet to planet, zone to zone, beating back all the giant kaiju that have aligned themselves with these invading aliens. Only by fighting all the way to Planet X, and taking on the final invaders led by King Ghidoran, can Godzilla and Montha ensure the safety of humanity.

The game is broken up into seven zones, ranging from Earth to Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Pluto (yay, it’s a planet!), and finally Planet X. On each planet the player will be presented with a hex-grid upon which they can move Godzilla and Mothra. Each grid space represents an action, side-scrolling set-piece; once the player has moved the monster to a space they then have to battle their way through the forces of the aliens (ships, traps, and missiles) until they reach the end of that mini-stage. Clearing the stages, though, isn’t the primary goal; that would, instead, be killing the other monsters on the map.

Along with the squares each map features a set of monsters, both lesser beasts like Montago and Ghoten to bigger bad-ass beasts like Gezora (on Earth) to Hedorah (on Jupiter) and Mechagodzilla (on Pluto). When finally the player reaches Planet X all of the previously fought monsters return, joined by King Ghidorah, for one last, epic battle map. Each map has to be cleared of the monsters before the player moves on to the next planet, and so forth, until the whole game is cleared. It’s a lot of monsters, and a lot of battling, until this whole game is properly dealt with and the player wins.

But a lot to do doesn’t necessarily imply that fun will be had. Godzilla: Monster of Monsters (which I will never tire of writing) feels like it went for quantity over quality and lost a bit of the fun action thread in the process. For starters, Godzilla isn’t very much fun to use. He’s big, he’s slow, and it takes a lot for him to get through stages, especially with everything firing at him and the monster suffering a lot of knockback from every hit. My first time playing this game (years ago, admittedly) I couldn’t even get through a basic action stage because I struggled to get Godzilla under control so he could dodge attacks and damage things. That’s five minutes into what amounts to a four hour game if you play all the way through, never a good sign.

Now, in fairness, Mothra is far more fun to play. Although her character sprites are the same size as Godzilla, her wings don’t count to her hitbox, making it far easier for Mothra to avoid damage. She can also fly, so dodging attacks is made even easier. She has ranged attacks which aren’t as powerful as Godzilla’s punches and tail swipes, but she does have a powerful dropped bomb attack that is massively powerful and can be used a lot, which helps to balance that out. I legitimately had more fun playing as Mothra in this game than I did with Godzilla, despite him being the named character on the tin.

The fact that every square is an action zone also draws out the game. You have to get to the other monsters to kill them and move on, but you can only move so far each round, so you’ll spend a lot of time trudging forward, landing on a space, and then fighting through stages that all feel very repetitive and samey. After fifteen minutes in the game you feel like you’ve already seen everything these mini-stages have to offer and, after even longer you realize that’s entirely accurate. The mini-stages are there to draw out the game and give you more to do, sure, but call them what they really are: padding.

Of course, without the action stages this four hour game would be reduced to about thirty minutes of content, total. That’s because the monster fights are pretty basic and sparse. You can defeat any of the monsters in about twenty seconds (although the game gives you a generous forty) and then it’s on to the next one. Some are harder than others, some are more varied, but in general each fight boils down to walking up to a monster, swinging your tail a lot (or hitting it with beams) and praying you don’t get hit. It’s not really strategic, no matter what the grid might have you think, it’s just mindless action.

And, hey, mindless action can be fun if the game is built with it properly in mind. If this game had a slightly deeper set of moves for the monsters to perform (which, yes, is hard to pull off on the NES controller) and was built more like a fighting game than a grid-based action platformer, then I think that could have worked. With all the monsters included in this title, good and evil, there was enough of a roster to make other fighting games drool. This game came out after the original Street Fighter which, while that game didn’t set the world on fire, did set many of the conventions of fighting games that we still use today. A game like that, with the Godzilla cast and crew would have been legit.

Certainly it would have been more fun than this confusing game. I do respect the idea behind it, and the effort that went into translating this game to the NES. There’s the thread of a solid idea here, between moving the monsters around on a grid and having them strategically work against each other in coordinated battles. I think if slightly less of the game was devoted to mindlessly battling across squares and more to arranging your fighters and getting ready for battles, that too could have been good. It feels like this game didn’t quite know what direction it wanted to go, or how to achieve that, and so it struck this middle ground that really didn’t work from any perspective.

Godzilla: Monster of Monsters is a game with a lot of interesting ideas (and one killer title). It doesn’t really play as well as it should, and it absolutely isn’t as fun as it could have been. All the same I respect the hustle from the developers, bringing big, chunky monsters onto the NES and letting them battle it out. This is a game that, frankly, gets as close as we’ve seen to achieving Godzilla delight. It doesn’t get it here, with too much going on and too slow of a pace, but it points a way towards something more. And considering it was done within the limitations of the NES, that’s impressive all on its own.