The lights are on
With Godzilla out in theaters this weekend, we thought we'd bring back this look at the big lizard's gaming history. This piece was originally published on March 16, 2014.
While the poster boy for Japanese film company Toho continues to find success on film, the King of the Monsters’ video game past is a different story entirely. Like many other licensed properties, many developers have struggled to capture, or even identify, what makes Godzilla so enduring. The results are an extraordinarily mixed bag of strange gameplay mechanics and missed opportunities. From the Commodore 64 to now, we take a look at the Big G’s less than stellar gaming history.
Godzilla (Commodore 64)
Godzilla made his pixelated debut in 1983 with this simple strategy title. Using the military, you defend Tokyo from an attacking Godzilla. Highlighting portions of the grid tells you how many troops and civilians are in the given area and your military options for fighting Godzilla. Strangely, the atom bomb is the most powerful weapon in the game, capable of destroying Godzilla despite his origin as a creature created from nuclear fallout.
The Movie Monster Game (Commodore 64, Apple II)
This appropriately titled game from 1986 lets players pick look-alike versions of iconic movie monsters such as The Blob and even the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters before stomping around various real-world cities (complete with iconic landmarks.) Developer Epyx managed to obtain the rights to use Godzilla in the game, making him the only “real” playable movie monster to make an appearance. As a result, Godzilla adorns the game’s box art, where he can be seen destroying the iconic Tokyo Tower.
Godzilla: Monster of Monsters (NES)
In Monster of Monsters players take control of either Godzilla or fellow Toho monster Mothra as they fight across space to defeat aliens intent on conquering Earth. You first move your character on a chess-like board before playing through a side-scrolling level set on various planets. Jets, alien creatures, and various obstacles stand in your path, requiring you to duck, jump, and punch your way to the end of the stage. Once you complete a stage, computer-controlled boss monsters on the other end of the board take their turn. Moving to a space adjacent to a boss lets you fight them in a 1v1 battle similar to a fighting game.
The only problem here is a time limit that isn’t shown to the player; take too long and you will be booted back to the board without warning, where you can then choose to fight the boss again. This annoyance is made even worse by the fact that the boss monsters regain some of their life, while your character doesn’t. Every board requires you clear an increasing number of boss monsters, and the game quickly becomes difficult. If Monster of Monsters is remembered for anything, it is more likely to be the game’s catchy music rather than its mediocre gameplay.
Out of the Big G’s dozen-plus video games, only a select few are worth recommending to anyone who isn’t a kaiju groupie. However, some of Godzilla’s best games are ones not directly starring the King of the Monsters but instead heavily influenced by him. The iconic 1986 arcade game Rampage and its many sequels feature the Godzilla-like monster Lizzie for players to destroy cities as, along with the King Kong-inspired George and the giant werewolf, Ralph. Arcade title King of the Monsters and its many ports also took inspiration from Godzilla and other giant monster films, pitting players against one another in city-sized wrestling arenas. Another is the criminally underrated fighting game War of the Monsters, released for the PlayStation 2 in 2003. The game is one big homage to giant monster films of the ‘50s and ‘60s, and features creatures inspired by classic films of the genre, Godzilla included.
Godzilla (Game Boy)
Following his NES debut, Godzilla found himself shrunk down onto Nintendo’s popular handheld. The King of the Monsters has never looked cuter. Godzilla for the Game Boy is a puzzle game where you play as a chibi version of Godzilla who must destroy all the boulders on a given stage by pushing them up against a wall and punching them, all in search of your son, Minilla. It’s kind of like the block puzzles in Legend of Zelda dungeons, but with little chibi versions of classic Godzilla villains trying to stop you. You climb up ladders and vines in order to push boulders in just the right way to succeed. It’s not a bad game, but it does almost nothing with the license other than including cutesy versions of Toho’s iconic monsters.
Godzilla 2: War of the Monsters (NES)
A sequel to Monster of Monsters, Godzilla 2 had the potential to refine some of the frustrating and confusing elements of the first game and improve upon it. Instead, players were treated to a completely different genre of gameplay more akin to the Commodore 64 Godzilla. Rather than a side-scrolling action game, players once again control the military as they attempt to fend off monster attacks by moving tanks and jets around the map in what can loosely be compared to a turn-based strategy game.
The concept could work, except nobody is playing a Godzilla game to play as the helpless military. Godzilla is about feeling powerful, and this game does anything but. To make matters worse, the outcomes of battles between your units and monsters are determined by a slot machine system, throwing strategy and tactics out the window. At this point Godzilla games couldn’t get any worse, but they could definitely get stranger.
Click on to page 2 for Godzilla's bizarre Super Nintendo debut and the games spawned from America's first Godzilla reboot.
Email the author Cameron Koch, or follow on Game Informer.