Review by Matt Paprocki
Digital Kaiju: A History of Godzilla Video Games in the USA
Video games have been a part of the mainstream culture in Japan for
years. It’s only natural that one of their national icons, Godzilla, be
a part of this large industry. With video games becoming a multi-billion
dollar business here in the states, it’s time to take a look back at how
the big G has fared here at home. As a general rule, most of the games
featured in this article are readily available, due in part to the
explosion of the internet. Simply typing the games title into a search
engine will yield hundreds of results. Keep in mind that this article only
covers games where Godzilla was the primary antagonist, not simply a
co-star (ex.-There was an early Commodore 64 game that featured Godzilla
amongst other famous movie monsters, this game will not be covered).
Godzilla: Monster of Monsters - Nintendo Entertainment System (1988)
It took nearly 20 years for the American game industry to recognize the world’s most famous monster as a viable video game character. Godzilla’s initial romp wasn’t exactly the most earth shattering title ever produced, but it was a decent start to his career in the industry. After a stirring title theme, players take control of Mothra and Godzilla as they attempt to thwart the plans of evil invaders of Planet X. These aliens have decided to use numerous Toho creations to take over the Earth and have made some interesting choices in their kaiju. Obscure monsters like Gezora (from Yog: Monster from Space), and lesser knowns like Varan make an appearance in the game along with rest of the Toho roster. The look of the game is actually quite good and recognizing the monsters should be no problem. The large sprites used to bring these creatures to life are notable since they are some of the largest ever produced for the console. Those looking for authentic roars and music should stay away from this title. None of them made into the cart.
Gamers take control of Godzilla and Mothra from a grid-like screen in which they move their monsters toward the inevitable goal: destroying the home base of the Martians located on the other side of the grid. Players will be challenged to complete numerous repetitive side-scrolling stages depending on which grid space they land. Along the way, the monsters under the control of the invaders will meet up with Godzilla or Mothra and a battle will ensue. Recreating classic fights from the films will occur only in the imagination however, as the simplistic fighting style and cheap tactics of the other monsters make for a frustrating affair. This is especially true of the later stages (which take place on various planets) when monsters like Gigan, Mechagodzilla, and Ghidorah make their appearances. These kaiju charge the player and trap them in a corner with no way to escape, resulting in frustrating defeats. Even with these flaws, the game still manages to be an enjoyable romp. The prospect of monster battles that never occurred in the films is intriguing (Godzilla vs. Varan, Mothra vs. Baragon) and just seeing how good this game looks make it a worthwhile addition to a G-fans library.
Godzilla - Nintendo Game Boy (1990)
After a decent start to his video game career, Godzilla's career in the video game industry took a nosedive with this portable rendition. The highlight of the game is its title screen, which features a large digitized pic of our favorite rubber suit in all its glory. It’s after this that everything falls apart.
Gamers once again take control of Godzilla in an attempt to rescue Minya who has been captured by the monsters of monster island, but this is not the Godzilla we know and love. Players will be required to push rocks (yes, rocks) off of ledges to break them. Breaking all the rocks takes players to the next stage. Doing this requires some thought, as they must be broken in specific order in order to complete the puzzle. This isn’t the only obstacle in Godzilla's way, as other Toho monsters will run around the stages in an attempt to stop Godzilla in his quest. The only way to stop the enemy monsters is to punch them or push the rocks unto them. Yes, rocks. No radioactive fire, no tail sweeps, just rocks. The childlike music is another insult to Godzilla legend, making this one of the worst entries in the US. The puzzle genre simply wasn’t meant for a monster of Godzilla’s stature and thankfully it was never tried again. Shockingly, this would be the only game exclusively for the black and white version of the Game Boy here in the states. Then again, maybe that’s a good thing…
Godzilla 2: War of the Monsters - Nintendo Entertainment System (1991)
While it may seem like this would be a sequel to the first NES game, it’s really not. The brilliant artwork on the box (Taken from a Godzilla 1985 poster) is noteworthy, but the rest of the game is not. Instead of controlling Godzilla, gamers control the defense force in charge of stopping Godzilla. This is done through an overhead grid-based map. Some of the weapons available to players are intriguing (such as the oxygen destroyer, maser tanks, and the Super X), but most of the more powerful and famous weapons don’t become available until later in the game. Not being able to control any of the monsters is an almost unforgivable mistake in the game design. No child in the world would rather defend against Godzilla then destroy a city with him.
While defending the city could be an enjoyable experience, the way the
turn-based battles play out is based almost entirely on luck. Once the
player has managed to encounter one of the monsters, a battle scene pops
up allowing the player to select which form of attack they would like to
use. For instance, if the Super X is challenged, players can use Cadmium
missiles, flares, or the laser. The actual effectiveness of the weapons is
based upon a "slot-machine" game of chance. While the players
struggle to get lucky with a powerful attack, the monsters are constantly
unleashing super effective moves putting them at a definite advantage.
Besides, we all know the defense force is helpless against Godzilla. If
the game holds any significance in Godzilla history, it’s the fact that
this was the only Godzilla game never to make over to Japan. A later Sega
Saturn game in Japan would mimic the play style, but that’s the closest
the Japanese would come.
Super Godzilla - Super Nintendo (1993)
With the first and only Godzilla game on the Super NES, Toho has once again brought back the grid seen in the 2 previous NES games. The plot yet again centers on an alien invasion and scientists have implanted Godzilla with a mind control device. Gamers will take over the controls to lead Godzilla against the alien invasion. The screen is split into 2 sections, one simply for display purposes, the other for a map and messages from headquarters. Since humans are controlling Godzilla, running into and destroying buildings is not allowed. You are only given a small number of chances until your thrown off the job.
Alien forces will pop up and try to stop you with their tanks amongst other things, but taking care of them only requires players to walk over them. Each stage features a different kaiju opponent, usually located at the other end of the map. Once you’ve met up with your foes, the game switches to a side view (keeping the bottom of the screen for energy bars and the like) and a one-on-one battle ensues. The number of moves available to players is extremely limited and what attack is performed is actually based on how far away you can get from your opponent (I.e., a punch is thrown in close, fire from a distance). Because of this, these fights simply become a matter of how far you can get from your opponent with very little skill needed. On the bright side, each attack is shown as a close up cinema showing off the big G in all of his glory pulling off the attack. It also is one of only two Godzilla games in the US to feature actual Ifukube tracks, all of them sound great coming from the SNES’ sound chip.
Godzilla - NEC Turbo Duo (1993)
Of all the games in this article, this is the hardest to come by. The console wasn’t a huge seller here in the states, meaning the game never sold well either. This is a travesty as this is easily the second best Godzilla game released in the US. Seemingly based off an unreleased Super Nintendo game called "Godzilla‘s Greatest Battles" (though it did make it out in Japan), the game is a one-on-one fighter, a genre whose popularity ballooned in the early 90’s thanks to games like Capcom's "Street Fighter II."
In the one-player game, G-fans take control of Godzilla (and only Godzilla) through the history of G movies, from Gigantis to early on in the Heisei series. Each stage will reflect the film on which it’s based, like Osaka burning in the background while Godzilla and Angilas battle in the foreground. (A personal favorite is Megalon's stage, which has Jet Jaguar and Gigan battling as silhouettes in the background) Godzilla actually changes appearance as the game goes on to reflect the appropriate look of the films. The final battle will be determined by how well you’ve played the game. Playing poorly will result in the Super X-2 being your final challenge while beating the game without using a continue will bring out Mecha King Ghidorah. Beating these challenges unlocks these monsters to be used in the multi-player mode.
As a fighting game, the actual gameplay leaves a lot to be desired from a fighting game fans viewpoint. Using one button to jump and the other to attack would be considered an unforgivable design flaw in today’s world, but those simply looking to recreate some classic battles will be more than satisfied. The only major disappointment is the lack of Ifukube tracks. All of the monsters roars, screeches, and cries are featured and come off cleanly thanks to the power of the CD format. Would it have been too much of a problem to include authentic music? Other that these few minor gripes, this is game is definitely worthwhile to track down for any video game loving Godzilla fan.
Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters - Super Nintendo (????)
While this game was never actually released here in the US, it was featured in various magazines and shown at trade shows. It even made it as far as the box art, but for reasons unknown (though probably due to the new consoles that hit the market in 1995 and the dying market for SNES games), it never made it to store shelves. Very little is actually known about the game, but it looked to be a direct follow up to the previous Japan-only Super NES game, "Godzilla’s Greatest Battles."
Godzilla: The Series - Game Boy/Game Boy Color (1999)
While gamers in Japan were lucky enough to get new Godzilla games (not to mention a Gamera game!), it took 6 years for a new Godzilla game to make it to these shores. Unfortunately, it was based on the American Deanzilla. Produced rather quickly to coincide with the release of the cartoon, the simplistic gameplay turned off all but the youngest Godzilla fans. It was the first portable Godzilla game to feature color when played on the appropriate system and was backwards compatible with the original incarnation of the Game Boy.
Players take control of Godzilla’s head, arms, and tail to attack the armed forces trying to stop him from advancing to the right at a plodding pace. Players never actually control G’s walk, this is done automatically. Precise skill will be needed to pick off some of the faster enemies as hitting them with a blast of fire requires lightning quick reflexes and precision. Making things even more difficult is the fact that you can only see about 10 feet ahead of the huge beast, making all the enemies invisible until the last possible second. The designers did include a feature in which G’s life bar regenerates slowly if players are not hit, but this still isn’t enough to save the game.
The games biggest highlight is Godzilla himself. Crawfish Interactive (the developers) claim that he is the largest character ever made for a Game Boy game and it would be hard to disagree. The animation on him is also exquisite and this seems to be where most of the time developing the game was spent. Fans of the cartoon will be pleased to see Godzilla foes during the game and they are just as detailed. Of course, due to the difficulty level, many people will turn the game off long before that.
Godzilla The Series: Monster Wars - Game Boy Color (2000)
A quick and cheap follow up to the previous years game, this game barely qualifies as a true sequel. The same animations, enemies, and attacks have made a return. This was only compatible with the Game Boy Color, which helps add some detail to the games graphics, but this is the only highlight. The designers have added the ability to control Godzilla’s walk somewhat to increase his speed and has little or no strategic value. A crosshair has been added to help aim attacks, but they took away the health regeneration found in the previous game only making the "sequel" more frustrating than the first.
Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee - Nintendo GameCube (2002)
By far and away the best Godzilla game ever released here in the states, DAMM brings Godzilla into the latest generation of gaming with a huge bang. The first 4-player Godzilla game ever made, DAMM made a lot of waves throughout the industry, even making into an article on CNN.com covering party games! When all the worlds’ monsters are taken over by the Kilaaks (an alien race bent on taking over planets), it’s up to players to pick their favorite kaiju and lead them into battle. The Earths major cities are the battlegrounds as the battle for Earth begins.
When the game is first put into your console, only 3 monsters are available. While not a major issue, some gamers may have some trouble unlocking all the monsters due the final bosses (Mechagodzilla) cheap tactics. The roster is expansive, but it features enough monsters to keep most G-fans happy. Once all the monsters have been unlocked, more playing will be necessary to unlock items in the art gallery. All of the art was made exclusively for the game and some it is suitable enough for framing.
The gameplay is fast and furious not giving players a lot of time to think. Buildings fly, monsters fall, and the army is trampled through each fight. Getting 4-players together is especially frantic and nearly unreal experience. Each monster has an assortment of basic moves (such as punches and kicks) plus their more famous powers. A few new powers have been added to the monsters to even out the gameplay amongst them, but none of them are disrespectful to the source material. The sprawling cities give gamers opportunities to hide and catch their breath during heated battles. Famous landmarks can be found littered throughout the game making the cities easily recognizable. Hedorah even makes an appearance over specific cities, spewing pollution unto the combatants. Power ups are available to enhance the gameplay and include power upgrades, health, and the now infamous "Mothra Air Strike."
The games only major flaws are the lack of monsters and replay value. Completing the art gallery could take some time, but after that, there’s really no reason to play the game solo. The addition of the 4-player mode is almost a dream come true and is the games saving grace. A sequel is definitely warranted and should be able fix these minor issues. For more information on this game, check out G-Fan #60 in which the game was reviewed.
Godzilla Domination - Game Boy Advance (2002)
It’s unfortunate, but the portable rendition of the GameCube fighter doesn’t even come close to its counterpart. Even more unfortunate is that this is the best version of Godzilla on a portable system. A meteorite has appeared over Tokyo and the world’s monsters have come under its control. It’s up to whatever monster you choose to save the world.
The basic gameplay is lifted from the GameCube game, but has been simplified for the portable. Fighting the other monsters comes down to a basic kicking and punching match, much less exciting than it should be. The matches can be single, handicapped (2 on 1, 3 on 1), or a tag team battle (2 on 2). For the matches with more than just one monster, the Game Boy takes over the controls of the extra monsters to assist the player. Then again, players could be faced with the daunting task of taking on 3 other monsters by themselves.
Only 6 playable monsters are in the game and the 5 cities included just
aren’t enough to keep today's video game fans interested. The final boss
is a ridiculously huge rendition of Mecha King Ghidorah whom is very easy
to overcome. There are no hidden characters to be found, no secret stages,
no new modes, nothing. This makes the game not worth playing after the
first few runs and these only take about 20 minutes each. For a G-fans
limited budget, they deserve better.
Godzilla Destroy All Monsters Melee - X-Box (2003)
not actually released at the time of this writing, I feel the need to be
as up to date as possible. This game is being reported as a port of the
GameCube game with tons of new features. The graphics promise to be
upgraded to include weather effects like snow and rain. Mechagodzilla
‘03 has been included in the game and is the only change to the roster.
A new one-player mode will be included that allows players to simply smash
the cities without another monster present. The X-Box version also
promises support for the custom soundtrack option, which will allow
players to burn their Godzilla soundtracks to the hard drive and play them
during the game. 2 new stages will be added along with the ability to have
the computer play along in the 4-player mode. This could easily take over
the title of "Best Godzilla game ever" when it hits this spring!
That does it for our look at the history of US Godzilla video games.
Special thanks to www.videogames.com
for their article on movie monster games and the guys over at www.digitpress.com
for their assistance in confirming this list is accurate and complete.
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