Several months after the release of the movie Gremlins 2: The New Batch, Sunsoft released a tie-in game for the NES. The developers were able to make the game surprisingly faithful, despite being based on such unorthodox source material. The levels are almost all based on scenes from the movie, as are the weapons and many of the enemies. The cutscenes in-between gameplay do a good job of providing a heavily truncated version of the original storyline. It’s rather ironic that Sunsoft did a much better job adapting such an oddball film compared to some of their more well known releases such as Batman.
Finally, you get to play as the cuddly critter Gizmo, who still is highly allergic to sunlight, multiplies when it gets wet and mutates into a gremlin if it eats after midnight. It’s easy to guess what happens when he gets lost inside the Clamp Centre, a high-tech “smart building” that houses everything from science laboratories to TV studios. A new batch of gremlins are accidentally created and they proceed to take over the entire building. Things only get worse when they break into the labs and begin mutating themselves even further…
The game is an overhead platformer consisting of 5 stages, each being made up of 2 to 3 sub-stages. You will be spending most of your time killing Gremlins and other nasties while hopping on moving platforms and conveyor belts. At the end of each stage you’ll have to face off with the Gremlin leader Mohawk in various guises (except for the 1st stage which lacks a boss and the third stage where you battle the Electric Gremlin instead). You are then given a weapon upgrade before moving on.
Platforming from a topdown perspective can be a tricky thing to get right, but Sunsoft did a very admirable job of it. You have full control of your trajectory while in the air and you’re never confused where you’re going to land, since Gizmo’s shadow is always visible even when over a hole. Jumping from platform to platform, even moving platforms is rarely a problem once you get the hang of it. There are a few control issues that unfortunately take longer to get used to. For example Gizmo will stop in place every time he fires his weapon, including while he’s jumping, which can lead to some accidental falls when trying to shoot enemies while over pits. This is especially annoying since there are several enemies that are placed just out of reach and can only be killed safely by jumping over the gap, attacking, then trying to land back on the platform you originally jumped from. Outside of this tiny snag, Gizmo controls just fine and you should have very few problems mowing down your enemies with flamethrowing matches and paperclips.
Thankfully you’re not completely alone against the Gremlins; Gizmo’s original owner Mr. Wing makes a posthumous appearance as the owner of an item shop. He sells basic stuff like extra lives, weapon upgrades, health potions and extensions to your health bar, but you can also buy balloons that lift you out of pits and temporarily make you invincible. Destroyed enemies can drop items themselves like a screen-clearing lightbulb, a time-stopping stopwatch and a Starman-esque pogostick. These are awfully rare however and only seem to spawn from specific enemies in the game, not randomly as you would expect.
Each stage is based somewhat on a locale from the film, although they are perhaps not instantly recognisable. After running around the Clamp offices Gizmo gets locked inside the building’s ventilation system. From there he goes through various TV studios such as Microwave Marge’s kitchen and Grandpa Fred’s horror set, then Daniel Clamp’s office, the Splice O’ Life laboratories and finally the building’s main control center for a showdown with the mutated Mohawk. With its abundance of grey and dark green, the palettes could stand to be a bit more colourful, but they are very well presented otherwise. There’s an abundance of fluid animation in the background details: lights on the walls flicker, sewage flows from underground pipes and unidentified masses of something-or-other undulate inside glass tubes in the laboratory.
These graphical flourishes aside, one of the game’s drawbacks is that the levels don’t do a lot to do differentiate themselves from one another. Other than adding in a couple of new hazards, you still find yourself jumping on the same moving platforms, running over the same conveyor belts and avoiding the same rotating ball-and-chains. The game still maintains its fun factor throughout (mostly by not outstaying its welcome) but it would have been nice if the stages had more variety outside of just the cosmetic.
The music is typical Sunsoft fare, by which I mean it’s of extremely high quality. These compositions manage to capture the frantic, unsettling atmosphere that the Gremlins franchise is known for perfectly. Ironically the actual Gremlins theme is nowhere to be found, but the music in its place more than makes up for that oversight. Sunsoft seemed to have made a habit of this; Batman on NES was also missing the iconic Danny Elfman theme despite having an otherwise acclaimed soundtrack of its own.
There is a pretty large variety of enemies, almost all of them being references to specific Gremlin characters that appeared in the film. Some of these are more obvious such as the Bat Gremlin that launches tornadoes and the Vegetable Gremlin that throws a fragmenting pineapple grenade. Mohawk’s cohorts Lenny, George and Daffy all make appearances as common enemies: hopping around trying to stomp on Gizmo, breathing fire and spinning around throwing top hats (also a reference to the “New York, New York” number near the end?) respectively. Some require you to dig a bit deeper to figure out where they may have come from, such as the propeller-headed enemies possibly being based on the beanie-wearing Gremlin that briefly appears before being shot dead by the Brain Gremlin. The seemingly random giant tomatoes from in the first stage, along with Gizmo’s initial weapon of choice, are derived from an early scene showcasing a genetically modified tomato that bounces like a rubber ball.
Speaking of your weapons, excluding the aforementioned tomatoes, they are all taken from the scenes where Gizmo goes Rambo and constructs a miniature compound bow to take down Mohawk. Your range and rate of fire increases with each new weapon. Things only get better once you buy the weapon upgrade at the shop, which will usually give you some form of spread-fire that culminates with the bow that you receive on stage 4. It launches five arrows at once with a high firing rate, buzzsawing through the bad guys and turning little Gizmo into a furry angel of death… Until stage 5 where you receive the fire arrows, decreasing your rate of fire and giving you a single projectile that simply explodes with a weapon upgrade. It’s almost as if the developers realized how much of a cakewalk the regular bow would have made the final stage.
It’s quite eye-opening to compare how faithful Gremlins 2: The New Batch manages to be compared to other movie licensed video games at the time. Take Sunsoft’s own Batman on NES for example. Undeniably it’s a classic action platformer game, but as a representation of its source material it falls flat. Most of the levels have very little relation and the enemies and bosses are a collection of generic cyborgs and robots (although they bear vague resemblances to a number of B and C-list Batman villains). The cutscenes almost seem like an afterthought; the Joker pops up inviting Batman to take a look at his “latest work of art”, suggesting a level based on the art museum scene from the film, only to drop you into yet another factory/laboratory setting. If you removed Batman and the Joker from the game, you would never have considered it to be a Batman game in the first place. The events of the Gremlins 2 game are obviously not 100% accurate either, but when you look at it there is no question that it is a Gremlins game.
Overall, Gremlins 2: The New Batch definitely ranks quite highly on the list of actually good licensed games on the NES. It’s not a hugely challenging experience and once you’re able to beat it once, future playthroughs will probably not last more than an hour. Infinite continues and a password system do a lot to make an already short game even shorter. Nevertheless, it is still a solid effort from Sunsoft. They were at the very least willing to go further than just make a non-descript action game and slap Gizmo and a couple of Gremlins on it.