14/10/2014

MONSTER BASH (ARCADE)

They had a bash. It was a monster bash! Was it a graveyard smash? You might find out if you continue reading about today's game: Sega's 1982 arcade super-zap-em-up Monster Bash!


Hang on, Frankenstein lives in a castle but Dracula only has a house? If there's one thing I associate with Draculas, it's the ownership of castles, castles that are generally filled with spikes and diagonal staircases and the floating disembodied heads of figures from Greek myth. Maybe Dracula's at his summer home or something. As for Chameleon Man, where else would you find one but the graveyard? Well, yes, I suppose a jungle does sound like a more likely location.


Aww, the monsters are shy, look. Dracula, Frankenstein, honey, it's okay, there's no need to be afraid. Hell, wait 'til you see the character I'll be playing is, that'll definitely alleviate some of your fears.
Chameleon Man has a touch more confidence. Perhaps too much confidence, he looks a little cocky to me, like he's got a gameplay gimmick up his sleeve that's going to put an end to my monster bashing ways. I'm on to you, Chameleon Man.


Upsetting feelings swirl around me as the hero of Monster Bash makes his entrance. I'm glad he told me he was the hero, because if you were just to look at him in his basic state you'd have a hard time guessing that he has what it takes to beat up monsters. Like a fusion of Teletubby and Troll Doll offered as a special McDonalds tie-in, our hero has all the monster-bashing potential of a unloved soft toy that'd been left in an oil-slicked gutter puddle. I... I just don't like him, alright? He's too vainglorious. "I am the HERO!"? You haven't even done anything yet, don't let's further sully the word "hero" by applying it to weird red-and-yellow monkey children who have done nothing more heroic than standing vaguely near a graveyard.


Holy crap, did you see what he did to Dracula? That vampire melted like a tub of Raspberry Ripple with a fat dog sitting on it. I take it back, kid. You are the hero. Just don't zap me, okay? I'm not as tough as a Dracula, even if I am immune to garlic and crosses and direct sunlight. Well, maybe not that last one. I don't get outside much.


The game's begun and here we are in Dracula's house. Dracula's five-story house, no less, which is quite grand and possibly pushing the definition of "house" slightly. Dracula's château, then. Some of the impact of the château's interior is lessened when you realise that the entire ground floor is nothing but fireplaces. You probably should have spread those around a bit, Drac. It's going to be freezing in the attic and unbearably hot near the front door.
So, Monster Bash is platformy-mazey-dodge-em-up type of game in which our slightly unconvincing hero is tasked with destroying Dracula. He can throw a small lightning bolt from his hands, which is useful for eliminating the lesser enemies on a stage - bats, in this case - but it won't have any effect on Drac himself.


In order to gain the mighty power of the Super Zap, on each stage our hero must follow a certain sequence of events. First, you've got to walk over a candle to light it.  This isn't a problem in Dracula's mansion, because he takes the same approach to candle ownership as hippyish women who read Anne Rice novels, and there are plenty of them kicking around. Just climb up to them - no jumping in this game, folks - and touch them to light them.


With the candle lit, the mysterious and apparently photoelectrically powered sword in the centre of the stage is activated. Touching this gives our hero the power of the Dracula-destroying Super Zap... but only one of them, and it's on a timer. This leads to the second half of each stage's gameplay, which involves avoiding all the lesser creatures - because if you shoot them, you lose your Super Zap - while chasing the "boss" around the screen, trying to tag him with your magical bolt. Is it any fun? Yeah, I thought so. It all moves along at a pleasingly zippy pace, with your hero rushing back and forth, trying to pin down Dracula as he moves between the glowing warp portals in his various fireplaces. Drac's even got a a synthesised laugh sound effect, something that will endear me greatly to any videogame that features one.


Eventually Dracula dithered for a few moments too long and I managed to catch up with him in the attic, where he felt the full force of my Super Zap and melted into the puddle of aristocratic Transylvanian goo promised by the intro. There's no way Dracula's coming back from that one, folks. No way in hell.


The second stage is Frankenstein's castle. No debates about building nomenclature here, this is definitely a castle. It's got parapets and everything.
Everything about Monster Bash is fairly adorable, with the possible exception of the hero, but those charms are especially apparent in this stage. This Frankenstein looks like a Muppet version of the famous monster, and those wolfmen are just delightful. There's a lot of character packed into a tiny amount of pixels there. I think it's the elongated snouts, you can just tell that the designer was having trouble conveying the notion of werewolfosity until they hit upon the idea of giving them extra-long, almost eel-like muzzles. It sounds like it wouldn't work, but it comes across beautifully.


Frankenstein's castle naturally has a different layout than Dracula's summer house or wherever that was supposed to be, and the main difference is that there's only one candle to light. The other twist is that you can fall down through the holes in the floor on the left and right edges of the screen. These come in extremely handy when you finally collect the Super Zap, because Frankenstein has the playful soul of a scampish child and he likes to hide from the player by using the magic doors to teleport from the top of the castle right down to the basement. You can use the doors too, but more often than not when I embraced their reality-warping powers I emerged straight into the waiting and not exactly tender arms of Frankenstein. There's a certain degree of patience involved in Monster Bash, especially after the Dracula stage, and waiting until you think Frank's going to a door and then falling through the "jump down zones", as the game calls them, is what I found to be the best way to win.


Thirdly, there's Chameleon Man's graveyard home, where the action becomes more maze-like than ever and there are new gimmicks aplenty. Just getting to the candle is a real task in itself, trapped as it is in a tomb at the centre of the screen. Chameleon Man's associated minor enemies are spiders, albeit spiders that look more like psychedelic rave crabs, and those spiders do not give you a moment's peace. You can zap them, but they respawn almost instantly and scurry through the graveyard with the demented energy that only something coloured like a radioactive lobster could possess.


Then there's Chameleon Man himself, pictured here trying to insert his tongue into our hero. While chameleons should rightly be most famous for their always-hilarious boggle eyes, they're better known for their colour-changing ability, which is pretty cool I guess but not as good as being able to watch the football and keep an eye out for the unmarked government helicopter that constantly monitor us at the same time. Chameleon Man may have gained the ability to walk upright but he didn't lose his colour-swapping powers, and as the stage goes on he will gradually change colour to match the background.



Except... he doesn't, really. He turns black instead. I've looked into this as thoroughly as I can thinking that maybe it was an emulation error, but as far as I can tell he is indeed supposed to turn black and not, as the arcade flyer says, invisible. He is invincible while he's black, immune even to the powers of the Super Zap, but you can definitely still see him. My theory is that he was originally intended to match the background colour exactly and thus become invisible, but Sega realised that having an enemy that you can't even see on what is already a difficult stage to survive made Monster Bash take a sharp swerve from "challenging" to "slap-yourself-in-the-face frustrating" and so they compromised on turning him black.


In order to make the Chameleon Man vulnerable again, you have to walk our hero over one of the colour change spots on the floor - these change the colour of the background, unsurprisingly, and render the Chameleon Man "visible" and ready for the face-melting impact of the Super Zap. As an added twist, the coloured gates dotted around the stage also open and close depending on the colour of the background: step on the blue button and the blue gates disappear but the red and green ones stay closed, and so on. This is a much more engaging gameplay mechanic that Chameleon Man's polychromatic abilities, because it give this stage just a shade more strategic depth - using the gates to block off enemies that are coming to eat your souls (or whatever it is Chameleon Man wants to do with your soul) isn't the most reliable survival tactic in the world, but when it works it's good fun.


After defeating the vile menace of Chameleon Man, our hero celebrates by shaking his backside at the camera. Thanks, kid. I hope you feel good about yourself.  He probably does feel good about himself, you don't often shake your booty if you're not feeling great. A depressed stripper might, I suppose.


What do you mean, the monsters will catch me this time? They caught me last time, repeatedly. Monster Bash is a simple game with clear gameplay objectives, but it's also a game that will punish you for making a single wrong move and sometimes you won't even know that it was the wrong move until you've made it, especially on Chameleon Man's stage. However, you can continue if you lose all your lives, a feature I wasn't expecting to see in an arcade title from 1982.


Then it's back to Dracula's house to repeat the same three stages over and over again in an endless loop. I presume it's endless, anyway - I got to about round six or so without noticing much change and that was enough for me. If there is an ending, I'm sure someone will let me know, but I feel fairly confident in saying that our hero is condemned to an eternity of fighting two of horror's most iconic monsters and a lizard man.


It doesn't seem to get much more difficult as you progress, either - if anything, it becomes easier as you quickly familiarise yourself with the screen layouts and monster behaviour, which seems erratic at first but which definitely has some kind of pattern to it. For instance, almost every time I defeated Frankenstein I did so by catching him on the second floor at the left-hand side of the screen, where he seems to get caught in two minds about which way to run. Of course, in Frankenstein's case he may well actually have two minds. Chameleon Man's stage also becomes much easier once you realise that chasing after him is a wasted effort that will almost certainly end in spidery death: a much more consistent tactic is to stand still, wait for Chameleon Man to come to you and Super Zap him as he runs past.


Of the three stages, Chameleon Man's is at once the most interesting and the least fun to play. It's still enjoyable enough, and the gimmicks of the stage help to keep you engaged, but there are perhaps a few too many spiders for comfort and worst of all it's really easy to get stuck on the corners of the walls, even when you feel like you should have plenty of room to spare


On the whole, though, would I recommend you give Monster Bash a try? Yeah, I absolutely would, especially during this Halloween season. I've used the word "charm" already in this article, but that's definitely what it's got, from the basic but cute sprites to the voice samples of Dracula's laugh and Frankenstein's unhealthy-sounding grunt, and overall it's pleasant little title that's worth trying out even if you only play it for ten minutes. And to cap this article off, I just found out that the player character is called Lil' Red. In light of this new information, I have mentally constructed a story where Lil' Red is a devilish emissary of hell who has been sent out into the human world to bring these monsters back to the stygian depths in which they belong. I'm sure you'll agree it's a much more likely scenario than "weird teddy bear kid kills all the monsters".



As for the Halloween-O-Meter, I've decided to award Monster Bash a seven on my increasingly arbitrary scale of Halloween-ness. A pretty decent score that was influenced by the famous monsters on display and the lead character's willingness to run around in a graveyard, but points were deducted for music that's about as spooky as a nice warm bath and that old Halloween-O-Meter crippler, a total lack of pumpkins.

3 comments:

  1. That's by far the most charming 8-bit rendition of Dracula.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Also, points for finding yet another game I've never heard of - I clicked on this post expecting Monster Bash the *pinball*, wherein the Universal Studios Monsters embark on a rock and roll world tour. Drac gets some great lines in that one.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I will definitely have to hunt this one down and give it a go!

    ReplyDelete

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