Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Videogame Solipsist: NES Halloween edition

(Note: I'm not going over every NES horror/monster game, just the ones I've played, in keeping with the theme of The Videogame Solipsist series)
Monster Party
This game bears the distinction of being probably the most bloody and horror-saturated NES game released in the U.S. The boxart has a group of classic movie monsters staring you down, albeit a bit more cartoony looking versions of them; the game itself doesn't have much to do with them so I suspect it was an attempt to American-ize the game. Actually, to tell you the truth I remember very little about this game except that the translation was appropriately bad and your baseball bat wielding character would sometimes turn into an ass kicking gargoyle. As seen above, halfway through the first level the scenery suddenly becomes more hell-ish and creepy. Which, now that I think about it, is kind of like a Silent Hill game. Here is a classic Flash Tub recreation of the awkward opening scene.
Castlevania (I, II, and III)
Castlevania I could be considered one of the first 'adult' games for the NES in that it wasn't edited or kiddied up for the American market. It was one of those games that, as a kid, you wanted to play because the older guys talked about it and it had vampires, mummies, demons, and other horror enemies in it. Sorta like how the first Mortal Kombat was considered 'cool' in its day for being 'mature' and bloody. Castlevania II is notorious for being badly designed and impossible to finish without a FAQ, but its problems have been covered better elsewhere. Meanwhile, Castlevania III is considered one of the best games in the series for its branching paths, multiple characters, and awesome music (though it's said the Japanese version has better music). I played the second Castlevania the most which probably explains why I didn't love the series until Symphony of the Night.
Before I had a proper Godzilla game, I rented Rampage every so often and got out my frustrations on the buildings and humans therein. If I recall correctly, the NES version gave you infinite continues, though I also seem to recall that the game went on forever (or was just so long that it was too much to finish in one sitting). This series is forgettable because future entries were pretty much the same thing. While this mindless shallow gameplay worked in the 8 bit era, it didn't so much later on. Rampage holds the distinction of being one of the few NES games where you are, effectively, playing the bad guys and killing people instead of saving them.
Godzilla: Monster of Monsters/Godzilla 2: War of the Monsters
Oddly enough, the first Godzilla for NES was released at a time when the Godzilla series was mostly dormant in the U.S., coming out in the five year span between Godzilla 1985 and Godzilla Vs. Biolante. Not that the Godzilla series was ever a big deal in the States after the 70s, but whatever. The first Godzilla game was pretty unique: you moved Godzilla and Mothra around a hexagonal map, going through sidescrolling stages reminiscent of shoot-em-ups of the day when you landed on certain hexes. Eventually you had to contend with Godzilla film villains like Gigan and Mechagodzilla who were also moving around the map. Each 'map' represented a different planet and subsequently added more giant monsters to fight until you got to Planet X and had to fight through all the monsters to win. The game even had light RPG elements insofar as Godzilla and Mothra sometimes got stronger after battles with giant monsters. I played the crap out of this game and loved it at the time, though if I played it today I'm sure I would be frustrated due to the constant repetition of levels and bosses.

Meanwhile, the second Godzilla game for NES is a mess. It follows the NES rule of "second game in a series must be nothing like the first" as established by such sequels as Super Mario Brothers 2, Castlevania II, Final Fantasy II, Zelda 2, etc. In this case, the game is a turn based strategy affair in which you play as the military trying to fight off the giant monsters. Anyone who watches Godzilla movies knows that the military can't touch giant monsters and the game's difficulty is best described as appropriately-but-completely-un-fun. I only rented this game twice before giving up; it has that problem that some NES games do where it's too complicated for its own good and doesn't do a good enough job explaining its mechanics to the player. Especially if you're a little kid from the Midwest who just wants to see monsters destroy crap and fight each other.
Maniac Mansion
Admittedly, I never got more than 15 minutes into this game before turning it off or losing. However, it was the sort of thing one of your random neighbors or friends happened to own and it was unlike any other NES game you had ever played. A few years after playing Maniac Mansion my sister and I would get heavily into adventure games on the PC, a genre that arguably got its start with this game. I don't remember how the game played on the NES, given the lack of a mouse and limited set of buttons, but the infamous scene where you could microwave a hamster made up for it to my childish psyche. Of the games I've talked about in this post, it came the closest to establishing a creepy atmosphere. It felt a bit eerie and you never thought you were "safe", as if at any moment a creature might run into the room and eviscerate you.

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