If I was going to list off the three most important influences of my childhood, you could pretty much boil it down to Star Wars, Nintendo, and Godzilla. And out of those three, only the last one remains a really pertinent influence to this day. Star Wars still has its moments and I still respect Nintendo, but there is absolutely no question about which one incites the most excitement in my man-child brain. While jumping plumbers don’t really do it for me anymore and Jedi and Sith just ain’t what they used to be, my love for giant monsters smashing stuff is still as strong as ever.
As with the films that I grew up with and continue to anticipate to this day, my history with Godzilla video games is a long and storied one. It’s been almost a decade since we last saw a Godzilla movie released and nearly as long since we saw an official video game. This needs to be fixed.
With the big G poised to bring in audiences in his American film debut (we do not speak of then 1998 atrocity known as GINO) I figure the time has got to be right for a new take on a monster who’s made his mark on the video game medium. But first, let me take you on a tour of Godzilla games past.
The year was 1988. The country’s new motto was Don’t Worry be Happy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit was the most awesomest thing ever, and ten year old Nick is already a kaiju cinema veteran doing chores for a quarter apiece so he could take his accumulated wealth to K-Mart every few months to search for VHS cassettes promising to provide the spectacle of a giant radioactive green dinosaur battling suitably outlandish adversaries while badly dubbed Japanese people look on in horror. This is the year Godzilla: Monster of Monsters rocked my socks.
I wasn’t what you’d call a picky gamer. I’d play anything. But I can say that I most likely played this NES title more than any other. I WAS PLAYING AS GODZILLA! It felt good to scratch something off of my bucket list that young. I mean prior to this game I used to literally watch the movies with a controller in my hand and pretend I was controlling him. That’s possibly a diagnosable mental condition of some sort.
Even after I bought a SNES four years later, I still made time to play Monster of Monsters. There was nothing else quite like it. The levels were broken up into grids. The player moved Godzilla and Mothra strategically along the grid (each space moved represented a short level where your monster had to smash through an alien army collecting power-ups and leveling up) in order to engage a number of adversaries from classic kaiju films both familiar and obscure. The fighting was surprisingly great for the time.
Two years later, Godzilla made his self-titled handheld debut on the Game Boy. Was I pumped? I was pumped. Until I laid hands on it, that is. The game was a chibi-styled puzzle game where Godzilla climbed ladders and punched boulders while enemies chased him like he was Dig Dug. What. The. Hell. This thing was Godzilla In Name Only long before Roland Emmerich ever conceived his big screen abomination.
Godzilla 2: War of the Monsters came out in 1992 for the NES. If I’d seen it on store shelves, I’d have bought it (and I wish I had), but I did manage to rent a copy. This game represents a definitive milestone for me as a gamer because it introduced me to a genre I still treasure to this day: turn-based strategy.
Huh? Yeah. The sequel to the side-scrolling action title Monster of Monsters was a strategy game. Not only that, but you didn’t even play as Godzilla. Godzilla and his fellow daikaiju were your adversaries and you played as the Japanese Self Defense Force using your assets (which awesomely included Mothra) to defeat the invading monsters. It was amazing and I wish to god to see something like it again; preferably one where you could play as either side.
At that point, the SNES was already out so it’s not surprising that War of the Monsters didn’t get much love. The very next year saw yet another creative shift when Super Godzilla brought the King of the Monsters into the 16-bit era in all of its glory.
In this game, the military tags Godzilla with a transmitter that allows them to control his actions and they turn him into a weapon to fend off an alien invasion led by the usual menagerie of massive menacing monsters. The levels take place in a split screen view with one part being a map and the other showing the monster himself. You guide Godzilla through cities smashing through anything that gets in his way (which costs him energy) en route to the big bad.
The battles were not your standard fights either. Rather than the typical kick/punch/jump, the combat most closely resembled the future PlayStation classic Monster Rancher and different attacks were available to you based on endurance and distance. When you attacked, the action was carried out in a cutscene, making it a really unique experience. The game was short, but memorable due to its originality.
At this point, most Godzilla games were only being released in Japan. Godzilla Generations came out on the Dreamcast to terrible reviews. The streak of Japanese-only and dud games ended in 2002 when the Gamecube finally gave us the game we wanted all along. That game was Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee.
This was pretty much the kaiju game of my dreams. It was reminiscent of the classic King of the Monsters (which was not officially affiliated with, but definitely inspired by Godzilla), but was so much better. You take 2-4 monsters, put them in a city or other smashable environment, and there you go. It was crazy fun to play by yourself, and even crazier with friends.
Not owning a Gamecube, I lucked out when Melee was released on the Xbox and even more so when it was enabled for custom soundtracks. If there is anything more awesome in a fighting game than tearing Tokyo apart via kaiju smackdown to Minstry’s New World Order I have yet to experience it. All of the monsters were well represented and the combat was pretty much as good as it gets for a game of the type.
Godzilla: Save the Earth was a direct sequel that came out only a year or so later and added some more monsters, but just didn’t seem as fun in spite of a playable Mothra who could change from larvae to adulthood mid-battle. Another sequel, Godzilla: Unleashed, came out on the Wii and PS2 and sported a monumental cast of monsters divided into factions with their own story modes. Having owned neither of those consoles, I had to give it a pass. The reviews imply that was a lucky break.
I once came really lose to buying the DS game, Godzilla Unleashed: Double Smash, but was dissuaded by the terrible graphics on the back cover. I later read that the game was named one of the worst DS games ever. That is not a title you want to hold on a console featuring games built around toy lines, kiddie shows, lame sports, fashion, ports of games way too powerful for the hardware, pop star simulators, reality and game show adaptations, and every other possible brand of shovelware in droves. Bullet: dodged.
The fact that I almost bought a garbage game goes to show how hungry I am for a new Godzilla game. It’s been ten years since I played Save the Earth and seven since Unleashed came out. Gaming has come a really long way in that time and the time has never been better for another new take on the giant monster genre.
The way I see it, the fighting game format has been burnt out with the 00’s console entries being dedicated entirely to that format. It’s done. Time for something else. With the new Godzilla film returning the big guy to his roots as a deadly menace to humanity, I’d say the time is right to revisit that whole strategy game thing.
I mean, come on; this could be amazing. Laying out a giant map where the player can build up their defenses to repel monsters as they appear or playing as the big beasties and laying waste has a lot of possibilities with modern hardware. Depending on which objectives you accomplish or fail, the story could unfold in different ways, the graphics and presentation would be amazing, and it would be unlike anything that’s been seen since 1992. Yes, I want this.
But seeing that most strategy games aren’t exactly big sellers, it seems unlikely. The old days had a lot of room for creativity and experimentation, which is why we saw such a variety of Godzilla games come out. These days you kind of need to engage that wider audience with familiarity and the action/fighting genre is just a really obvious choice for a monster best known for beating the crap out of other monsters. But wait…a new contender has entered the arena!
If you are thinking that in 2014 Godzilla will be going mobile, you would be correct. When I heard that the upcoming film tie-in Godzilla Smash 3 will be launching alongside the movie, I wasn’t sold. There doesn’t appear to be a Godzilla Smash 1 or 2 so that’s kind of weird, but whatever. Plus I heard it was going to be a Candy Crush-esque iOS puzzle game and face met palm. Then I saw this:
Yeah, I’d play that. And for free? I’d play the HELL out of that. So once again Godzilla forges into new gaming territory and offers his fans another twist on smashing and burning human constructs. I’d really love to see a full-on console game featuring the big G, but that doesn’t appear to be happening any time soon so this mobile game will hopefully scratch that itch until some studio gets up the juice to bring us something really killer. Until then, happy stomping!