23/11/2017

THE MOVIE MONSTER GAME (COMMODORE 64)

Hey, did you all see that trailer for the Rampage movie? That’s something that’s definitely happening, huh? Congratulations to the one Rampage superfan who’s been waiting since 1986 for this big screen adaptation. I assume such a person exists, anyway, because surely there must be someone out there who was clamouring for a movie version of a thirty-year-old arcade game with no plot. I look forward to hearing that Andy Serkis has been hired to perform the motion capture for a Q*Bert film. Anyway, it is completely by accident that today’s game is also themed around movies and giant monsters smashing up buildings, but I’ll take the synergy: it’s Epyx’s 1986 Commodore 64 demolition-em-up The Movie Monster Game!


On the title screen, the specific movie monster in question is Godzilla himself. The actual, fully licensed Godzilla, if that credit to Toho at the bottom is any indication. Scoring the King of the Monsters for your game is quite the get, and it hints that Epyx had quite a lot of faith in The Movie Monster Game. That said, I feel like 1986 was around Godzilla’s lowest point as a famous monster of filmland – I mean, the Big G was still world-famous and instantly recognisable, but it was after his heyday and before any attempts at “modernising” the character by pairing him with Matthew Broderick were made. I’m sure there are Godzilla aficionados out there ready to tell me that I’m wrong, but I suspect Epyx got the rights for less than you might expect.


Here we are at the game’s menu screen, which is designed to look like the front of a cinema, as well it might be. The Movie Monster Game doesn’t feature a “story” mode or even set levels: instead you create your own scenario by altering the three options shown above. You pick the monster you wish to play as, which major city will be facing a large clean-up bill and the type of mission you’ll be engaging in. We’ll get to each variation as we go, but let’s begin by trying to escape from San Francisco while playing as Godzilla. Sorry, Godzilla (c). I do like the way it says “starring” Godzilla, because really, isn’t that what every movie that features Godzilla should say? Like, Bryan Cranston may be a fine actor but he’s not the thing that’s drawing people to a Godzilla movie, right?


Before the action can get started, we’re treated to a scene that reveals just how hard Epyx are leaning into this whole “you’re starring in a monster movie” conceit. Pretty damn hard, that’s how, and it’s a really nice touch to have trailers that run before the feature presentation, some of them advertising other Epyx titles like Winter Games. It’s an even nicer touch that you can skip all this at the press of a button because when you’ve seen it once you don’t need to see it again. I do appreciate the effort, though.


Something you might want to sit through, however, are the text descriptions / mission briefings that fill you in on what you’re supposed to be doing. They are completely unnecessary, of course – each game type is fairly self-explanatory, and there’s not much nuance to kaiju-ing your way downtown. However, by slotting various pre-written possibilities together, the game creates a specific backstory for each possible combination of monster, place and game mode and it gives MMG an awful lot of charm. “Charm” is a word I seem to use a lot here at VGJunk, and in this case (as well as others) I mostly mean it in the “the people who made this game seemed to have a strong, genuine affection for both the product they were making and the sources they were taking inspiration from.” A little harsh to pass comment on Godzilla’s walnut-sized brain, though. I’ve never thought of Godzilla as an especially dense monster.


We’re into the action, and what’s the first thing that you notice? Why, it’s Godzilla, of course. Even after all this build-up I was still a little wary that MMG wasn’t actually going to let me play as Godzilla, but here he is in all his browner-than-usual glory. If you’re playing the game rather than just looking at it, the next thing you’ll notice is that Godzilla is incredibly slow. Glacially, ponderously, exposition-in-a-Metal-Gear-Solid-cutscene slow. In a way, this is to be expected. It’s difficult to sell the bulk and power of Godzilla if he runs around like a scaly Usain Bolt. However, Epyx seem to have gone a bit too far in dialling back Godzilla’ speed. This is especially problematic because I chose the “Escape” scenario, the victory condition for which is to reach the edge of the map without dying. I hope Godzilla packed a lunch and maybe some anti-blister cream, because we’re in for a long walk.


The authorities aren’t just going to let Godzilla run away, of course. Tanks, military jeeps and attack planes will swarm around our big lizard friend, shooting him and causing damage that’s light but almost constant. Humanity's plan is to annoy Godzilla to death, basically. Godzilla can fight back against the human threat in a number of ways, the most expedient being to trample over the vehicles on the ground. The problem with that is, as mentioned, Godzilla walks like an arthritic pensioner and he definitely doesn’t move as fast as a jeep, so catching your prey can be a problem. That’s where the special powers come in. You’ve got three at your disposal, which can be cycled through using the space bar: Scream, Atomise (Up) and Fire Breath. Fire Breath, that iconic Godzilla attack, is fairly self-explanatory: pulverise things in front of you with your atomic breath. It’s much more useful for destroying buildings than hitting vehicles, though, because Godzilla even breathes slowly. Atomise (Up) is specifically for destroying aeroplanes, causing them to disintegrate as they fly above you. The most interesting power is Scream, which paralyses the human forces on the ground for a few seconds, allowing you to lumber over to them and introduce them to your size ten thousand feet. Each attack can be useful, but perhaps the most powerful skill that (most of) the monsters possess is the ability to slowly regain their “endurance” if they stand around without being attacked for long enough. If you do manage to get a calm moment where you’re not being bombarded with ground-to-air missiles, I suggest you take advantage of it.


The humans are a mere distraction, however. The real point of any game where you play as a giant monster is destruction, and destroying things is definitely something you can do in The Movie Monster Game. For example, here Godzilla is about to destroy Epyx’s headquarters, the ungrateful swine. While trashing the city is an exciting prospect, I’m sad to say that the carnage itself is rather underwhelming. Buildings don’t crumble or explode but rather gently sink into the ground in a not-particularly-satisfying way. Vehicles simply disappear when you step on them, and you can’t even punt them down the street like a football. Outside of your special moves, the only way to destroy buildings is to walk face-first into them a couple of times, and with no tail-swipes or rending claws at his disposal knocking down skyscrapers makes Godzilla look like a drunkard repeatedly trying and failing to get his keys in the door after a night on the lash.  All in all, you’d think a game about playing as a giant monster would be all about spectacle, but MMG offers disappointingly little on that front.


While I was repeatedly bashing my enormous nuclear dinosaur against the Golden Gate Bridge, I forgot to pay attention to my health bar and sadly Godzilla was slain… for now. As the “movie’s” epilogue reminds us, Godzilla can never be truly defeated and will one day rise again, which reminds me that I should get around to watching Shin Godzilla at some point.


Oh, and I also tried out the “Find Landmark” scenario while I was playing as Godzilla. In this game mode, you have to find a radio transmitter that’s annoying Godzilla. It’s hidden in one of the city’s buildings, and the closer you are the more the “Proximity” bar will be filled for all the fun of a citywide, monster-based version of “Hot or Cold.” Honestly, most of the fun I got from this game mode came from imagining the small print on the radio transmitter. “1,000 mile range, wide frequency spectrum, warning: may annoy Godzilla.”


Okay, that’s enough Godzilla for now. It’s time for a new movie monster, one that isn’t officially licensed but who does have the extra mobility that comes from having eight legs. It’s Tarantus, the Hideous Giant Spider! Colossal insect – yes, yes, I know spiders aren’t insects – is a classic movie monster category, so it’s only natural that at least one would appear in this game. I spent a long time looking at Tarantus’ face before I realised it reminded me of Modulok from He-Man – it probably took me so long to figure this out because they don’t really look all that similar.


Here’s Tarantus terrorising beautiful downtown Moscow. You’ll notice Moscow looks a lot like San Francisco and, spoilers, it also looks a lot like New York and London and all the other cities in the game. Each city does contain four or five “real” landmarks like the Eiffel Tower or the Tower of London, but apart from those they’re all very similar-looking. Flat and grey, mostly.
At least Tarantus is cool. Enormous spiders usually are, especially when they’re destroying cities, although I’ll admit that seeing Tarantus spitting webs at the tower bocks is making me rather upset that Earth Defense Force 5 isn’t out yet. And while Tarantus might not have the same star power as Godzilla it’s a damn sight faster, making Tarantus a much better choice for the “Escape” game mode. Each monster does have their own set of stats, but don’t let that get you too excited because they’re still all very similar. They might move faster or recover health at a different rate, but they all have essentially the same special attacks and they all destroy buildings by ramming into them.


Speaking of destroying buildings, there’s a game mode called “Berserk” (special guest appearance from the Incredible Hulk’s fist) where the entire goal is to smash up as much property as possible. This seems like a good opportunity to take the giant robot Mechatron out for a spin, although seeing a picture of New York that prominently features the World Trade Center as I set out to destroy buildings has a rather different feel now than it did in 1986.


I really like Mechatron’s intro, because it makes him sound like a wild party dude who just happens to also be a fifty-foot robot. I’m imagining the Iron Giant, if the Iron Giant took inspiration from Motley Crue rather than Superman.


I must say, the game’s artists did a good job of making Mechatron look like a giant robot without having him look like any specific giant robot. There’s a little Transformers influence in there, and the red-white-and-blue colour scheme provides a soupçon of Gundam, yet Mechatron is its own thing. He mostly reminds me of the Zords from early series of Power Rangers, so maybe that’s where Epyx took their inspiration from, or perhaps Mechatron is meant to resemble an old tin toy robot. Yeah, that’s probably a more likely starting point than Kagaku Sentai Dynaman or whatever.


Next up is a thinly-veiled Mothra clone with surprisingly adorable eyes – it’s Sphectra, the enormous flying… well, the game calls Sphectra a “wasp” so I guess it’s Mothra but far angrier and more terrifying. A moth the size of cruise liner is still just a moth, after all. A giant wasp, though, now that’s a much more menacing prospect. Hopefully mankind has a colossal jam jar that they can half-fill with gallons and gallons of sugar water, luring the helpless Sphectra to a watery grave. Until then, Sphectra can fly around the city, destroying the Tokyo Tower because that’s what giant monsters do. It’s like posing for a jokey photo where you’re propping up the Leaning Tower of Pisa if you’re on an Italian holiday. You can fly, as well. Sphectra’s got a special command that makes him take off or land. Unfortunately, I couldn’t figure out what flying really accomplished. In fact, half the time I couldn’t even tell if I was flying, because the lack of shadows make it nigh-impossible to determine your altitude.


Okay, Sphectra’s definitely not flying here. Paddling, maybe, but not flying. Is this the massive jam jar weapon? Ye gods, I never expected them to get it up and running so quickly.Never mind, it’s just a river. Water’s another thing you’ll have to worry about when trying to rack up the points. Some monsters move through water much more quickly than others, and apparently Mechatron can’t go into the water at all (although I don’t think I actually tested that) so if you’re playing a mode like Escape on a map with lots of water then maybe take the big wasp rather than the robot.
This isn’t Escape mode, though. It’s “Hunger,” in which the insatiable desires of the monsters are… not insatiable? No, they’re definitely satiable. It’s weird, I’m just so used to monsters being insatiable. Anyway, you have to fill your hunger meter by eating things, and by “things” I mean “innocent humans.” Each monster has their own tastes and will be filled up more quickly by eating certain vehicles or people. Sphectra seemed especially partial to boats, which is why I’m splashing around in this river. It’s like a sushi restaurant conveyor belt, only wet.


The penultimate monster is The Glog, and isn’t it a charming lump of congealed phlegm? Just look at that fantastic expression of contempt on The Glog’s face as it turns away, disgusted, from Notre Dame cathedral. Maybe he was expecting the gargoyles to sing him a song about how someone out there could love The Glog even though he looks like a cabbage that’s been repeatedly trodden on.
So clearly The Glog is MMG’s equivalent of The Blob, and do you have any idea how hard it is to not type his name as The Glob? Very hard, that’s how. It’s because “glob” is a real word and “glog” isn’t, unless it’s the onomatopoeia for the swallowing sound you make when you realise you left your child at the supermarket.


I had more success than usual when playing as The Glog, because while he doesn’t have a special power like fire breath or spider webs, he does regain his health faster than the other monsters and that’s a godsend. The Movie Monster Game has a very strange relationship between the visible enemies that you can see trying to kill you and the things that actually cause you damage, in that there doesn’t seem to be a connection between the two. Perhaps even more than the slow movement and general repetitiveness of walking into the buildings, the thing that drags MMG’s gameplay down is that you’re almost always taking damage no matter what you're doing, and often it comes from off the screen. There are no visible projectiles, either, so it’s not like you could dodge attacks even if you were fast enough. Damage happens whether enemies are around or not, and there’s nothing much you can do about it, giving The Movie Monster Game an unsatisfying, prickly feeling, the sensation that the game doesn’t really want you to be playing it.



And yet I am extremely glad that I played MMG, because the final monster is a sweet guy with a sweet bow tie and sailor hat. His name is Mister Meringue and you’re goddamn right he’s a knock-off of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man from Ghostbusters.


I’ll be honest, this means a lot to me. As a kid I was obsessed with Ghostbusters and especially the cartoon and toy line, as my poor mother will attest after being forced to watch the “good versus evil baseball match” episode roughly seventy thousand times by a young VGJunk. I had the action figures, the comics, the VHS releases, the lot. True story, when I was first diagnosed with short-sightedness I asked my mum for red glasses so I could be like Egon from the cartoon. Sadly, that style was not available on the NHS at the turn of the nineties – it was huge tortoiseshell monstrosities for me – and it’s sad but also very fortunate that I didn’t know what hairspray was at that age because you can bet your ass I’d have tried to go to school after giving myself cartoon Egon’s bizarre tubular hairstyle. I loved Ghostbusters, is my point, and if I’d have known back then that there was a computer game that let me play as a barely-altered Stay-Puft clone I would have moved heaven and Earth to get a copy. It’s still giving me a warm, happy feeling even today as I watch Mr. Meringue clobber his way through the city as Gozer intended, without Bill Murray’s interference.


In truth there’s almost no difference between Mr. Meringue and Godzilla bar the visuals, but that doesn’t matter to me. I found a cheat for infinite health and spent a very enjoyable ten minutes destroying London’s most famous landmarks with the powerful and sticky hands of Mr. Meringue. If I’m ever thrust into a situation where my thoughts determine the form of mankind’s destructor, don’t be surprised in Mr. Meringue shows up. I feel a kinship with these giant marshmallow monsters: after all, we’re both tubby, pallid creatures that never asked to be created and who have an unhealthy relationship with sugar.
But wait, there’s more. This is the “search” mission type. It works much like the “find the radio transmitter” mode, with two major differences. One is that the locator only pings occasionally and isn’t visible all the time, and the other is that your monster is looking for their lost child.


That’s right, to finish this stage you have to find your tiny baby Stay-Puft analogue, and it is as adorable and precious as you would imagine. “Come along, my child. Let us leave this human world, and I will tell you tales of the time I was a parade float and how I totally kicked that Pillsbury jerk’s arse one time.”


The end-of-stage screen even shows that the humans forgave Mr. Meringue because they realised his actions were motivated by a love for his child. Awww.


That’s about it for The Movie Monster Game, and even if there was more I can't not end this article on the “Stay-Puft Is World’s Greatest Dad” angle.
MMG is a game that has a lot of really interesting, fun ideas… but sadly none of those ideas are related to the gameplay. The setting of the game, the ambience, the framework: those are all great, from the monster designs to the Madlibs-style texts for each “movie.” The developers also tried hard to squeeze as much gameplay as possible out of a very limited “walk around the city and smash buildings” set-up with the various game modes. The monsters are all nicely animated and full of character. I might start a cult devoted to Mr. Meringue.


It is a real shame, then, that the gameplay simply isn’t much cop. The extreme slowness of the “action” is the most obvious problem. It’s lethargic to the point where it becomes almost impossible to pay attention to for more than a few minutes, a feel that’s exacerbated by the constant draining of your health bar by enemies that aren’t even on the screen half the bloody time. The stages all look very similar and the gameplay modes are not as different as they’d like you to think, so The Movie Monster Game quickly becomes repetitive. Ironically, this is the only thing MMG does quickly. The Movie Monster Game is fine for ten minutes spent Godzilla-ing your way through some major global landmarks and Mr. Meringue is worth the price of admission alone but honestly, it's 2017, you should just play an EDF game instead.

21 comments:

  1. Glog's face is hella relateable, even in the last screenshot.

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  2. I’m sure there are Godzilla aficionados out there ready to tell me that I’m wrong

    1986 was not so very long after 1985, the year of "Godzilla 1985"... the last released in North America until 2000, and primarily distinguished by being accompanied by the "Bambi Meets Godzilla" animated short in its VHS home release.

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    1. https://youtu.be/n-wUdetAAlY

      It's about what you'd expect from the title, really.

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  3. Play as stay puft? The ten year old me would have killed for this lol

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  4. There is a "Bambi vs Godzilla" book too but - aside the awesome title - unfortunately is a book about movie business and stuff. But looks cool on your shelves anyway

    http://1.media.collegehumor.cvcdn.com/24/90/bdbc1010908395dcbbce19a0c3f2f860.jpg

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    Replies
    1. That does kinda sound like an interesting book, though...

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  5. I have to admire their dedication to their movie framing gimmick, right down to the word "PREVIEW" being in slightly larger caps than the surrounding text in the green band.

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    1. Yeah, that kind of commitment to detail is definitely this game's strongest feature.

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  6. Thank you for telling me about Rampage movie, sir
    It's quite a shame there's no satisfying good giant monster game till now
    MMG is no exception

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    1. It's a stretch but I think the most enjoyable "monster" game is the Incredible Hulk game for the PS2.

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  7. You know Rampage has tons of sequels, up to the PS2, no?

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  8. Speaking of giant monster games, you should take a look to the Japanese game "City Shrouded in Shadow": despite the title it's not a crime/investigation game, but a game inspired by the Disaster Report series. The difference is that you play as two random people trying to escape from a city attacked by kaiju, and there's a lot to choose from, among them Godzilla, Gamera, Ultraman, EVA-01 and more (sadly, only one franchise at a time).
    And speaking of Evangelion, if you liked the series, go and see Shin Godzilla! Not only it's a great movie, but many things were shamelessly taken from that by director Hideaki Anno, even the music.

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    1. Oh yeah, I saw that previewed somewhere and thought it looked ineresting. I wonder if it'll ever get an overseas release...

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  9. War of the Monsters on PS2 will always be the greatest giant kaiju movie style brawler / city destruction simulator to me. I'm still disappointed to this day there was never a sequel made for it, especially on a next gen console.

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    1. I'm partial to Robot Anchemic Drive, personally. Even though you play as a robot pilot in that one. RAD just warms my heart.

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  10. This wasn't even Epyx's first monster video game! Before this, there was Crush, Crumble, and Chomp.

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    Replies
    1. You'd have thought the practise would have helped them make this one more fun to play.

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