Retro Video Game Review: Godzilla (NES)

Overall Rating: 2/5 Stars

In 1989, Godzilla arrived on the 8-bit scene as a cartridge with the full title Godzilla: Monster of Monsters! was published for the Nintendo Entertainment System console by Toho, with development work done by Compile. This was the first of two carts on the NES to bear the Godzilla license.


In one of the longest introductory scenes on the NES with quite possibly the slowest scrolling text of all time, the loosely held-together storyline follows that Planet X has declared war on Earth’s solar system, so Earth sends out its protectors, Godzilla and Mothra, to wage intergalactic war across eight planets that include the mysterious Planet X from which the attackers originated. This is a one-player game with options to continue or utilize passwords.

Gameplay primarily takes place in one of two ways; in the first, the player controls the movement of Godzilla and Mothra as figures on a grid with hex-based spots. Godzilla can move two spots per turn, whereas Mothra can move four. The goal on each of the planetary outer-orbital hex grids is to make it to the enemy base and destroy it. However, on each grid, there are enemy monsters that must be defeated via one-on-one combat as well, though even if defeated they return on the next grid plus one new monster, meaning that each successive grid has one more monster than the previous.

At the end of each movement turn, or in a bout with a monster, the side-view gameplay takes place. On a grid location, the player controls either Godzilla or Mothra in a side-scrolling button-mashing swath of destruction as they must advance to the right through a certain number of screens, defeating all sorts of creatures, structures, robots, vehicles, and natural formations along their way, until finishing the level.

Mothra can fly over most on-screen elements, but is less powerful, only able to fire little red projectiles with the A or B buttons, and using a special attack with the Start button that results in dropping these big flat poisonous thingies. Godzilla can jump with the up button, duck (and still move and attack) with the down button, punch with the A button, kick with the B button, and launch his legendary radioactive blue-flame breath with the Start button.

Both monsters have a set of two incremental bars at the top of the screen, one representing their life energy while the other represents their power, which gets drained when the Start-button special attack is used. When fighting one of the enemy monsters (which takes place on a blank black screen, oddly enough), the opponent’s life and power are observable as well.

A few quirks: One-on-one monster fights have a rough time limit of about 40 seconds; if the enemy is not defeated, the fight suddenly ends in a draw, with the opposing monster restoring a little health before the next fight. Also, whenever Godzilla or Mothra is hit in the side-scrolling portions, they are knocked back, Mothra also getting knocked downward. In addition, movement on the grid has some rules, such as Godzilla and Mothra being unable to move past an opposing monster when they are in an adjacent space, which makes most fighting inevitable, especially on the planetary grids that are dominated by a narrow corridor. And, finally, to make up for all the little random enemies constantly attacking Godzilla and Mothra, many enemies drop weird little health-restoring items when defeated, that restore a chunk of the life bar.


Admittedly, this is actually a solid-looking title, with enormous on-screen animated sprites for the protagonists, crazy-bizarre otherworldly landscapes, and big ol’ boss battles. However, these big, flashy visuals come at a price, as the NES game of Godzilla is subject to some of the worst flickering and slowdown issues ever seen on the console. In a way, it is admirable, in a rebellious sense; as though the developers just did not care about the limitations of the hardware, as seen on some levels when over a dozen sprites might be flying all over the place on screen, in a flickering, sludge-slow, seizure-inducing mess.

The gird certainly looks like a grid, and adds an element that makes much of Godzilla feel more like a strategy game or a board game, for better or for worse. The opponent monsters are a nice nod to much of Godzilla’s past, even some rather obscure chapters, and the variety of possible enemies and formidable formations is somewhat impressive.


Judging the soundtrack for Godzilla on the NES is an intriguing endeavor. In terms of its music, in this reviewer’s opinion, the background tracks do indeed work to establish a haunting, distant, lonely, bittersweetly epic space-opera setting and mood. But then there are the sound effects: A series of whooshes, scratches, and screeches, like a child raking their hands over a delicate sound machine that could have been used to produce a much higher quality of sounds given more nuance and subtlety. In a way, the hazy, blurry mish-mash of sound neatly matches the crazy, altogether off-kilter mess of the visuals as well.


Well, this certainly is the first Godzilla video game on the Nintendo Entertainment System home console. And it is definitely a distinctive blend of strategic grid-based movement (granted, very light on any possible real use of tactical thinking) and side-scrolling action. And it offers character selection, sort of.

Oh, and one important gameplay thing that was forgotten in mentioning: As Godzilla and/or Mothra defeat the big enemy monster guys, they actually gain levels, increasing their life and power bars, up to a bulky level 16.

But the side-scrolling portions ultimately boil down to a slog-through button-mash of all bluster without flair. The game is a tedious grind without the character interaction or plot to make continuing rewarding. Sure, it offers a worthy challenge, but the amount of repetition in proportion to truly dynamic mechanics is off-kilter enough to warrant a rating of two stars out of five.

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