I was never much into the Godzilla movies as a kid. I was however a fan of dinosaurs devouring books on the topic, memorising lists of names (all forgotten) and even knowing the difference between lizard and bird hipped types. All this, even before Jurassic Park.
Godzilla was basically an extra-huge dinosaur with radiation-breath. So a game featuring him was something bound to catch my attention, back in those childhood days of school buses, Ninja Turtles, and taking any opportunity to play on consoles owned by friends (because I wasn’t allowed one myself). So I should probably be honest from the start, this is a somewhat nostalgia-inspired review. Don’t worry though, I’ve not handed it a nostalgia-inspired 96%.
The setting: Planet X sends its forces to invade! Military legions backed up by giant space monsters cross the solar system, marching on our world. Standing staunchly in Earth’s defense are Godzilla (so he’s clearly a good guy today, I think that varied in the movies) and his giant insect chum, Mothra.
So then the game is based around a series of hex-based maps, each representing a world in our system. Upon which are placed our heroes, and also some enemy giant monsters but we’ll get onto them in a sec. Every turn on the map you choose a desired move for our heroes (2 tiles for the big green, 4 for Mothra). Then the game flicks to side-view action, and you basically fight through that move, with a short stage for every tile you want to cross.
Essentially, you’re smashing you way through rows of tanks, gun emplacements and other sci-fi military hardware. It can get a bit hectic, with a lot going on around you. However most things are individually not a threat and you can just kind of barge through. Really, you just want to keep your health up if you’re expecting to fight one of those enemy monsters at the end, and watch out for those damn double-tail missiles that are the one thing that really hurts. So, not a lot of finesse, more button mashing and health-capsule grabbing. And if you’re me, failing to hit enemy aircraft, then physically barging into them anyway by mistake. It is all quite fun in a smashy-smash, now smash some more kind of way, just a bit repetitive.
Mind you the monsters do at least handle quite differently. As Godzilla, you’ll find you take a lot of hits but are harder hitting in response, with a powerful but slow-charging radiation breath attack backed up by punches, kicks and tail-swipe. Mothra on the other hand is more agile and can just fly past many nuisances. However her attacks kind of suck, with a puny forward shot and some kind of bombardment that’s decently strong but limited to targets underneath. What is annoying is the knock-back effect that they both suffer, but is worse for Mothra, who gets knocked vertically down as well and can struggle to break out of that corner.
So that’s the handling. Taking a moment for aesthetics, the levels look quite decent. There’s a style for each map tile type, so you get tank-strewn lunar-esque types, volcano regions and hi-tech cities. Also weirdly overgrown areas where you fight what I think are giant thrusting asparagus. Erm. It’s not actually a huge amount of variety relative to the length of the game, so you might get a bit tired of yet another set of volcanoes. Still a couple of cool special extra locations occasionally pop up: a giant spacecraft and some kind of overgrown mushroom that feels quite surreal and alien.
I should point out also that Godzilla and Mothra themselves are impressively big sprites. In fact overall, as far as NES game go I’m mostly happy to give this one a graphical thumbs-up. Although, be prepared for some sprite flicker and slowdown when the screen is full of tanks, jets and the shots they’re firing.
So then, onto those enemy monsters. Aficionados of Japanese monster movies will enjoy the selection, including Hedorah the slime monster and mighty King Ghidorah himself (three headed dragon thing). The first map has two of them, and each subsequent one adds another until there’s a whole monstrous army. If you and they meet, it’s time for a throwdown. So there is some minor strategic aspect here, maybe in manoeuvring your heroes to fight on favourable terms, like having a chance to regain some health between fights or have them both hit an enemy in quick succession. Well, to be honest that’s the only reason I can see for the whole map aspect in the first place, to be honest the game wouldn’t be missing a lot without it.
The fights themselves handle like a fairly simple beat-em up. But with giant monsters with razor claws and eye-lasers instead of karate guys. Mostly it comes down to learning some basic attack patterns and then mashing buttons until someone dies or 40 seconds are up. Unfortunately later foes can feel cheap, with heavy use of that corner-pinning trick, and Mothra is a weaker choice against most of the selection. Still these sections can be quite exciting. They make a good change of pace from the tank-and-turret smashing sessions, giving you a relatively worthy foe to tackle.
Well, mostly worthy. Gezora the giant squid is, as far as I can tell, completely unable to hurt you. So he just corner-pins you and then bounces away looking a bit confused. I assume that’s a bug. Or maybe he’s just trying to be friendly? Expect Ghidorah and Mecha-Godzilla to batter you later to make up for it. Oh, and that one with the chest-buzzsaw. Here’s a hint: Mothra makes herself useful here for once.
So altogether, a replay reminded me of why I liked this one first time around. It’s was all quite atmospheric and impressive for my young, impressionable mind – alien landscapes, giant monsters. Those black backgrounds that somehow made it all more stark, and brought the colours of the foreground to attention. A memorable bleepy sountrack too. Totally had me entranced.
Now I look at it as someone with, of course, an affinity for retro gaming (or I wouldn’t be writing here!) but not totally abandoning my critical faculties. What we have is a fairly decent side-scroller. Kind of clunky and repetitive in its execution, but the alternating between stomping on tanks, and tackling colourful monsters, keeps up the entertainment value. So not an essential but worth a look if you’re revisiting the NES days.