Among all the major game releases and indie sleeper hits of the glorious year that was 2015, there were some games that were less beloved. There was your Afro Samurai: Revenge of Kuma coming out nearly ten years too late for anyone to care in the first place and your Tony Hawk Pro Skater 5 faceplanting onto the concrete to the surprise of nobody; and then there was the return of the King of Monsters himself, Godzilla, who has a history of games that fail to live up to his legacy.Reading the reviews and ratings for this game, you’d think that if you put it into your console a gigantic beast would rise from the sea and demolish your city. I mean, for a game release, anything less than an 80 Metacritic rating is seen as mediocre to unplayable. Godzilla got a 38 with critics, and an even more soul-crushing 31 average among user ratings. Folks were not feeling this game. But to be fair, a quick sampling of the user reviews reveals a lot of verbatim reposts, flatly untrue statements, and an obsession with the graphics (which aren’t bad); so basically that aspect is par for the course on Metacritic.
Can all of those critics and random interneters be wrong? Yes. Yes, they indubitably can. Was last year’s giant movie monster smash-fest a great game? Not in the traditional sense, no. Was it the best kaiju simulator ever made? I believe it was, but admittedly that’s a low, low bar. Godzilla was not made for mainstream audiences to enjoy, it was made for Godzilla nerds -as it should be- and with that in mind, the game is an absolute success.
Not all of us grew up scanning Saturday afternoon programming desperately searching for our favorite atomic dinosaur or saving up pocket change earned from chores to buy any kaiju VHS we could find at our local retailers and watch it over and over again until it wore out, and that’s okay. It makes you a fake nerd who knows nothing, but that’s no big deal. And yes, I am kidding (sort of).
The objective truth of Godzilla’s failures and successes is that it is not a game for everyone and it shouldn’t be treated as one. We’re a rare breed these days, people who get inexplicable joy from watching goofy lumbering monsters who are clearly dudes in suits occasionally suspended on wires trashing cities and pro wrestling one another. It’s always been a niche genre beloved only by the hardiest of geeks and should be judged primarily by those who understand its appeal. You wouldn’t gauge the next Call of Duty game based on the observations of a gamer who can’t stand shooting games or Undertale as analyzed by somebody whose only standards involve HD pixel counts and the like. The target audience has to be kept in mind.
On Amazon, the import version of the game averaged about 4 ½ stars out of 5 from thirty reviews, which is to say that the people who love the big G enough to go out of their way to get it from a foreign country loved it. But how could people love such a universally despised game? Well, maybe the game isn’t that bad? Maybe the mainstream was judging it based on The Witcher 3 and Fallout 4 standards instead of kaiju game standards? Or perhaps if there were constant technical glitches, game-breaking bugs, and full system crashes Godzilla would have felt more up to today’s critical gaming standards. Just saying.
A simple and deliberate fan-service game with no story to speak of doesn’t compare to the gigantic, epic, sweeping, fast-paced open-world action RPG’s that are taking over our lives, but that’s fine. The truth of the matter is that this game did what it did -which is something nobody else is currently doing- and it did it pretty damn well. It captured the essence of playing as a gigantic lumbering kaiju smashing a city to bits and battling for supremacy better than any game before it. It could have used a larger scope, but as we’ve seen with modern AAA titles, the bigger the scope, the bigger and more frequent the glitches and crashes. It felt good to play a non-indie game that performed as it was meant to for a change.
That said, the game had its problems. Only a few small areas to play in, frequently clumsy combat, balancing issues (as in the game frequently has a gigantic version of an enemy kaiju come steam roll you just for the maddening hell of it), a needlessly ponderous leveling system that quickly turns itself into a desperate farming and grinding fest, and slow, slow movement. The common critical observation that it didn’t feel like a AAA title so much as an indie game was not off base.
But these problems that helped make the game so unpalatable, they are very easily fixed. And that is the biggest reason why Godzilla deserves and NEEDS a sequel. What Natsume Atari created here is easily the most faithful representation of Toho’s legendary kaiju verse and while it’s far from perfect, it’s closer than you’d think.
Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee is still the most fun kaiju game, but did it feel like a monster movie? Not so much. It felt like an arcade game. The 2015 game was all about capturing the feel of those classic junk food films that fueled so many childhoods complete with classic soundtrack cues (including the infamous Jet Jaguar theme song) and a roar command for each monster (which is both cool as hell and practical as it enables better attacks). It’s somehow the first game ever (at least in the West) to do these things, and that’s awesome.
And the slow pace? Well, Godzilla and King Ghidorah shouldn’t really do battle like they’re Dead or Alive characters, should they? Still, a sprint command is a must if another game gets made. Sloooooowwwwwllllyyyyy lumbering across the map searching for that last scrap of building to level to get 100% destruction felt lame and took up way too much smashing time. A faster movement option movement for when you’ve got a lot of empty space to cover could only improve the experience.
The combat could use some defensive options that don’t require waiting for a full meter as well. Most monsters have no way to get out of the way of an attacking enemy and the computer is often fond of endlessly comboing and putting the player in a constant state of reeling, unable to respond. This is frustrating at times and needs to be addressed.
Godzilla may have earned its criticism as a full price retail game that felt like a bargain bin title, but the fact of the matter is that for gamers looking for a proper kaiju experience, it’s the best and only game in town and to that end, it’s pretty damn fun. Encountering, unlocking, and upgrading the large roster of your favorite monsters feels rewarding (if overwhelming at times), and even this aspect has plenty of room for more of everything. And I do feel like I should point out that all things are unlockable in-game with no charging for DLC like so many games do, which helps make up the perceived budget/price differential.
It all feels like an experience that could be perfect if given a proper budget and a little more polish. I don’t know how well it sold, but I can only hope it did well in Japan at least, where the game got a decent review score in Famitsu. There’s so much potential there and it’d be a shame for starving kaiju-enthusiast gamers like myself to endure another drought when the concept of playing as a rampaging monster is so perfectly suited to video games.
Godzilla is making his return to Japanese cinema (under the directorship of Neon Genesis Evangelion creator Hideki Anno, no less) later this year after over a decade of hiatus, which hopefully bodes well for the likelihood of a sequel to the 2015 game that crashed and burned with Western critics, but has still managed to gain a small cult following among fans with a giant rubber-suited itch to scratch.
To want more of a game that was scored just north of prostate cancer on critic’s approval ratings scale is either a sign of a broken critical system or mental illness on my part. I won’t deny the second possibility, but since it doesn’t look like I’m alone, maybe more people will stop listening to people who HAVE to play games they don’t like to get paid and start listening to people who WANT to play games for their own sake instead and decide for themselves. Yeah, no; that won’t happen. But I still hope Godzilla 2 gets made and released in America. The world needs more kaiju games.