It really shouldn’t be that hard to make a good Godzilla game. Okay, that’s perhaps an unfair statement, because actually making any game is a hefty endeavor. But in regards to concept, why would it ever be difficult to figure out what a Godzilla game should be? You have one giant monster fight another giant monster and there you go, a Godzilla game. But for whatever reason, it took developers a long time to figure out the obvious when it came to thinking of an idea for a game starring the king of the monsters. Such is the case with the NES’ Godzilla: Monster of Monsters which, despite having a few unique ideas at its disposal, is far more complicated and tedious than it needs to be, and is bogged down all the more thanks to some utterly baffling game design choices.
In Godzilla: Monster of Monsters, players take control of Godzilla and Mothra, as they make their way across shoot-em-up stages and face off with other monsters. Sounds simple enough, but here’s where things get weird; the game is presented as a kind of board game. Godzilla and Mothra make their way across a game board, with the different spaces leading to a short stage, and the enemy monsters having a turn of their own. When the good and evil monsters come face-to-face, they do battle with each other. More enemy monsters are added with each new board, and Godzilla and Mothra can gain levels a la RPGs by defeating more boss monsters.
Okay, so far it doesn’t sound so bad. Why Godzilla needs to be presented as a board game is anybody’s guess, but hey, combining the board game setup with RPG and fighting elements is original, at the very least. Godzilla and Mothra even play differently; with Godzilla moving two spaces on the board at a time compared to Mothra’s four, and Godzilla attacking with his claws and his devastating laser breath, while Mothra spits a projectile and can drop her wings like bombs (strangely, the special moves are used by pressing the Start button, with the Select button pausing the game).
Here’s where things start to go haywire, however. During your turn, you can only move one of the monsters at a time! And when I said the spaces on the board have their own stages, I meant every space on the board! So basically, a turn consists of moving one of your characters a few spaces, and then playing a stage in which you’re constantly being bombarded with enemy fire, and there’s often no definition between what’s in the background and what’s in the foreground (many obstacles, such as volcanos, which appear in the back must be destroyed before your character can walk past them). And how do you finish a board and move on to the next? By making your way to the opposite end of the board and completing its final stage, naturally.
The stages themselves may not be particularly long, but when you have to play through one for every space you land on, combined with the limited movement of your characters on the game board, the process becomes beyond tedious.
Things get even weirder when you realize your fights with enemy monsters have time limits. If you fail to defeat a monster during the fight, you’ll have to wait for another round to finish them off (thankfully, they retain any damage you did to them previously). But if you fail to defeat them two or three times, they’ll run away from the board (complete with hilariously translated dialogue boxes explaining the details of the monster’s cowardice), which means you miss out on gaining a level or two.
Here’s where the flaws go from obnoxious to game-breaking: In order to progress through the game, your surviving monster or monsters have to make it through the board’s end level. That may sound like it makes sense, but if both of the player monsters are alive, they both have to make it through the finish, which doubles down on the already tedious process. So if you think you’re being clever by strategically moving the slower but more powerful Godzilla into the path of enemy monsters to take them out while you have Mothra dart for the finish line, sorry. No dice. They both have to get through the finish line, which means you have to go through every stage on every space you land on!
Now, you can take a bit of a shortcut… if you purposefully get one of your monsters killed in one of the levels or against a boss. But that puts you at a huge disadvantage should your surviving monster have to go up against multiple monsters in order to progress (like the bosses, your damage also stays intact, unless you find enough healing items in a stage). But if one monster dies early, you can get the other to the end and both of your characters will be back on the next board. It’s just a risky game to play.
Don’t think that process will work in reverse though. If you manage to get one monster through the board, you can’t have the monster that’s left on the board die, because then it’s game over. The game would still be pretty bad even if the progression were more streamlined, but I can safely say it wouldn’t be nearly as bad if you could just move on by having one monster reach the end! If the player reached the end of the board, that’s all that should matter. The game really gives off the impression that the developers just didn’t think all these details through.
Godzilla: Monster of Monsters is one of the many early examples of developers overthinking what a Godzilla game should be. Although the board game and RPG elements have a bit of originality to them, the gameplay featured in the stages is just too bland, and the process of getting through it all is simply beyond arduous, making the whole thing go from a missed opportunity to a flat-out bad game.