When it comes to retro Godzilla video games, it's the big guy's debut on the Nintendo Entertainment System in the late 1980s that most people seem to remember. Whether a fan of the film franchise or not, most people at the time certainly knew that Godzilla was a Japanese monster with a penchant for destroying cities and if they also happened to grow up playing the NES, chances are that at one time or another, they gave this one a try and might even remember it with a certain nostalgic fondness. And besides, what kid could resist box art with a Tyrannosaurus Rex-type creature breathing what might be fire with UFOs swirling around while it's being shocked by lighting? Probably not most.
When it starts, the player is treated to a great looking title screen with a beautifully rendered 8-bit Godzilla accompanied by a catchy theme song that sounds excellent coming out of the NES hardware. As a side-scrolling video game released by Toho in Japan for the NES (or Famicom overseas) in 1988 and then in North America the following year (unfortunately, Europe didn't get this one until 1991), Godzilla Monster of Monsters was a pretty solid action game which featured not one, but two playable monsters. In Japan, this video game was released under the title Godzilla King of the Monsters.
Like most NES action games of the time, the story is simple, but to the point. And the incredibly slow scrolling text at the start of the game goes something like this; in a scheme to rule the universe, Aliens from Planet X have come to conquer earth using an army of monsters under their control and it's up to Mothra and Godzilla to save the day.
In each level, the player will alternate between Godzilla and Mothra and move them across a two dimensional field of hexagonal tiles attempting to make their way to one particular tile that looks like a satellite dish and represents the enemy's base. If one of the player's monsters loses all of its life before getting there, the level must be completed with the remaining monster, however, the defeated monster will be revived after the player completes the current field.
Each of the eight levels, or planets as they are called in the game, are populated with an increasing number of Showa era monsters that stand between the player's monsters and the enemy base; usually situated at the opposite end of the playing field (although Showa era is also a historical period, for the Godzilla franchise it refers to the years from 1954 to 1975 where Godzilla tended to be portrayed as a hero and the films themselves generally took on a more light-hearted approach).
Every turn, the player can move one of their monsters across the playing field and if an enemy monster is encountered, it must be defeated before moving forward. Godzilla can move two spaces per turn and Mothra can move four, but for every tile that is crossed over, an action stage needs to be completed before the next turn can begin at which point one of the alien's monsters will move. The fact that every tile also has an action stage assigned to it exacerbates a specific design flaw which will be explained later.
The combination of action stages, field stages, and monster battle stages may seem a bit odd at first, but it allows the player to use at least some strategy in terms of which of their two monsters they wish to engage certain enemies. It also shows all the enemy monsters that the player is up against for that level with the harder monsters usually nearest to the alien's base. Graphically, every monster is very well-detailed on the map and in the battle stages and looks exceptional given the meager capabilities of the NES when compared to today's standards however, the battle stages themselves lack any sort of background. Although it may come off as a bit lazy on the part of the developers (and maybe it was), it provides a stark contrast to the rest of the game making the monster battles really stand out as they should while at the same time letting the player appreciate the detail of the sprites and focus on the battle at hand. And for 1988, the monsters couldn't have made a better jump from film to video game aesthetically speaking. The action stage environments also look incredible and range from space stations to fiery planets complete with perpetually erupting volcanoes and the level of detail in some of these areas is quite impressive. Of course, it goes without saying that this level of detail coupled with multitudes of small, firing enemies can result in some slowdown as the NES tries to keep up with everything that's happening on the screen.
Below is a chart of the enemy monsters featured in the game with descriptions taken straight from the American manual. Like many NES games of the time such as the original Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Metal Gear and many more, Godzilla: Monster of Monsters isn't free from its share of translation errors either, but they tend to be pretty amusing nonetheless.
"This strange monster is constantly jumping off the ground by expanding and retracting its legs. If Gezora catches you off-guard, these legs suddenly expand to attack Godzilla"
"Moguera is a robot monster like Gigan. It repeats simple attacks restlessly. Its action are slow but the Eye Beam shot from its eyes is quite powerful"
"The gold shining horn on its head, radiating Heat Beams, is Baragon's most powerful weapon. It jumps to make a Horn Tackle immediately after it squats to let Godzilla's attack pass over"
"Varan's body is as big as Godzilla, but its actions are very quick. It has a high jumping power and a variety of attack patterns. Varan has no missiles but is quite strong in a grapple. Varan is dangerous if it catches you off-guard"
"Hedorah attacks Godzilla using a variety of different postures. If Godzilla (Mothra) comes too close to Hedorah, it will be caught by Hedorah's Expandable Hands. Hedorah's Bullets are powerful too"
"Gigan's strongest weapon is the Stingers on the breast. The Stingers suddenly project and their sharp blades revolve like a circular saw; the Rotary Cutter is Gigan's most powerful weapon. The Eye Beam shot from its eyes is dangerous because it can remove Godzilla's power"
"The Destructive power of this robot Godzilla is almost equal to that of Godzilla. The Space Beam shot from its eyes is dangerous. And it Punches and Kicks have a greater destructive power than other monster"
"Ghidora overpowers other monsters with its giant body and power; it is a king of enemy monsters. Neck Punches using thee necks and Gravity Rays radiated at random are Ghidora's deathblows for attacking Godzilla"
Moving both Godzilla and Mothra through some of the larger maps can get a bit repetitive since the player needs to complete an action stage for every space they move. The major flaw in this video game however, which in no way renders it unplayable by any means, is the fact that it seems to have been designed completely around the idea that the player will choose Godzilla and not Mothra. Almost as though Mothra had been an afterthought.
Both have special powers that use some of the player's power meter which, like the life bar, can be refilled by collecting items that appear when certain enemies are destroyed and within boulders or other parts of the environment. Godzilla can punch, kick, and whip his tail to defend himself against enemies or quickly clear the path in front of him. His atomic breath power is particularly effective at all times because of its wide spread. If Godzilla receives a lot of damage at once, he will be pushed back a short distance, but it doesn't really hinder gameplay at all. Mothra, on the other hand, will be forced to the bottom of the screen when she is hit by pretty much anything which is obviously incredibly aggravating considering how many projectiles and enemies are on the screen at a given time, but when the player uses Mothra it feels more like a chore than fun which is unfortunate because if she had stages better suited for her, it could have worked really well. She can fire straight forward which tends to be very ineffective against the onslaught of enemies and it doesn't fare much better in the monster battles either. Where Godzilla had his super-helpful atomic breath, Mothra, inexplicably, sheds her wings to damage enemies beneath her. Aside from the fact that Mothra's ability slows the game down considerably and never happens in any of the films, it just doesn't work. With Mothra getting forced to the bottom of the screen, attacking downwards is essentially useless. Although if the player racks up enough points with either monster, they can "level up" and earn larger life and power bars, but it doesn't help Mothra that much. All-in-all, Godzilla is just better suited for this game leading some players to just kill her off at the start of every level just to avoid the frustrating tedium.
While the monster battles tend to be a lot of fun, every once and a while the player will also be treated to a mini-boss battle. One of these encounters actually features an enemy which resembles the Atragon, a Japanese military vehicle from the 1963 science-fiction film Undersea Warship (or simply named Atragon in the West) directed by Ishiro Honda; the director the original 1954 Godzilla film. Interestingly enough, Manda, a giant Chinese dragon-like monster, can also be seen in this game as a generic enemy in the volcano action stages. Although the Atragon hadn't been featured in an actual Godzilla film at this point, it did eventually make an appearance with an updated look in the epic and "final" Japanese Godzilla film, Godzilla: Final Wars in 2004. Perhaps even stranger though, is the second of these mini-boss encounters.
In the same year that saw the release of Atragon, another Japanese science-fiction film by the name of Matango made its way to theaters in Japan. Sometimes referred to as Attack of the Mushroom People or Matango, Fungus of Terror in the US, this bizarre and somewhat obscure monster movie, again directed by Ishiro Honda, centers around a group of people marooned on an island who get infected by something that slowly transforms them into mushroom monsters called Matango. And it just so happens that these monsters are spawned from this mini-boss; the Matango Hive. The hive itself takes on one of three forms and continuously spawns Matango until it's destroyed.
Aside from these mini-bosses, there are actually a ton of monsters, spaceships, and military vehicles that act as generic enemies in this game which originated not just from the Godzilla (showa era) films, but from other monster movies directed by Honda such as Space Monster Dogora (1964), The Mysterians (1966) and The War of the Gargantuas (1966) and they are all represented very well on the NES. Needless to say, Mr. Honda was a busy man in those days. Half of the main boss monsters weren't even originally from any of the Godzilla films that existed at the time of the game's release such as Gezora, Moguera, Baragon, and Varan. For Toho monster movie buffs, Godzilla: Monster of Monsters is definitely a great video game to check out given all the references to other Ishiro Honda films and for the opportunity to see all these things rendered in 8-bit. Albeit with quite a bit of artistic liberty in some cases.
Oddly enough, Godzilla: Monster of Monsters eventually gave way to a popular, and extensive, creepypasta short story series by Cosbydaf on Blogleech.com where Zach, the protagonist of the series, revisits the game as an adult and remembers that he used to have a friend named Melissa who, during his childhood, saved him from being killed by the villain of the story, Red (Creepypasta are short, usually scary stories circulated by various means on the internet).
What makes this creepypasta series notable, aside from its length and the fact that it's based on a Godzilla game from the late 80s, is that it uses tons and tons of images to help tell the story; even going so far as recreating monsters that weren't in the original game such as Biollante and Space Godzilla so that they look like they fit right into it. Cosbydaf clearly put a lot of effort into creating the series and amazingly, the upcoming giant monster-battle video game Colossal Kaiju Combat developed by the independent studio Sunstone Games (various members of which also developed three Godzilla fighting games from 2002 to 2007 under the name Pipeworks Software) will feature Red as a playable character.
There are a number of differences between the US and Japanese versions of the game, the most notable being changes to the music that plays during the story scroll and title screen. The composer, Akira Ifukube, while having an incredibly long career spanning over fifty years, tends to be most remembered for scoring various Godzilla films; particularly the Godzilla March which can be heard in nearly every Godzilla film and also during the title screen of the Japanese version of this game. As the story cutscene plays, another well-know Ifukube piece, The Great Monster War March can be enjoyed. Whether it was a licensing issue or Toho trying to appeal to a wider audience remains unsure, but it's a shame that these didn't make it in to Western versions given that the amazing title screen music that plays in the American version, can also be heard in the final level. Although it's hidden, thankfully these tracks are present in the American version, but "SOUND" must be entered on the password screen in order to enter the sound test and hear it by playing tracks 00 and 01. Aside from those differences, very little was altered for the American release; small changes were made to the point system, Gezora's health bar, and the number of spaces Godzilla and Mothra can move per turn and the tougher monsters move first in the Japanese version while the opposite is true in the American release.