Thursday, March 15, 2012

There aren't enough games about giant monsters, and there definitely aren't enough good ones. Arguably, Twisted Metal: Black developer Incog's latest PlayStation 2 game, War of the Monsters, is the best such game yet. But then, this particular style of game has had precious few brushes with greatness, including Midway's 1986 arcade classic Rampage--and that's probably it. War of the Monsters is a fantastic-looking game that does an excellent job of capturing the appeal of classic movie monsters such as Godzilla and King Kong. But the actual gameplay is simple and somewhat problematic both as a single-player game and as a two-player game. War of the Monsters is still recommendable to anyone with an appreciation for the source material, but aside from its graphics, the game doesn't quite live up to its potential.

War of the Monsters is rather similar to last year's Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee for the GameCube. Like that game, War of the Monsters plays kind of like a fighting game in which you choose one of a number of different gigantic creatures and try to beat the stuffing out of any other creatures that get in your way. And it just so happens that most all of the fighting in War of the Monsters takes place in densely populated urban settings, complete with screaming crowds, and these highly destructible environments are a key part of the action. You'll smash through tall buildings, use sharp objects like radio antennae to impale your foes, and pick up and throw things like police cars, tanks, and helicopters. There are several single-player modes in which you'll take on one dastardly opponent after another--up to three of them at a time, actually. And there are two-player options as well, ranging from a standard versus mode on down to a few throwaway minigames that you'll have to unlock first. Sadly, the game offers no four-player Multitap support, and it doesn't feature online play. These things could have made War of the Monsters a much better, longer-lasting game.

You'll see 10 different monsters on the character select screen, two of which are initially locked away. Though all the monsters are original, they're inspired by the giant monster archetypes of public consciousness: You have your King Kong rip-off, your Godzilla rip-off, two different giant robots, a giant insect, and more. A couple of the guys in the lineup aren't so conventional, such as a stone golem with fire shooting out of its head and Kineticlops, a one-eyed thing made entirely of energy, but they fit in well with all the rest. The single-player "adventure" mode of War of the Monsters also sports several different multiple-stage battles against huge boss monsters, and these too look great. Starting with an alien-invasion intro, a slick presentation gives the game the style of an old drive-in movie or news telecast, and it really works well to accentuate the game's retro theme and characters.

It's easy to pick this game up and start playing. Each monster controls the same way, and while some are noticeably faster or slower than others, and a couple of them have a limited ability to fly, they're really not so different from each other. As any of the monsters, you can execute quick and heavy attacks, as well as reach out and grab whatever's nearby, whether it's a fire truck, a piece of rubble, or another creature, and use it as a projectile. You can block and repel most standard attacks, though the grapples are unblockable, and a few unblockable attacks have been included to prevent players from staying on the defensive for too long. Every monster can jump, climb buildings or other vertical surfaces, shoot a weak but effective projectile of some sort, and perform two types of supermoves--one that damages any opponents in the immediate vicinity, and one that's better for hitting targets from a distance. The properties of each monster's attacks vary somewhat, but all in all, the monsters differ in appearance much more than they do in the way they actually play. You'll wish, then, that there were more monsters to choose from or that they had more to distinguish themselves. Nevertheless, the faster characters, such as Congar the gorilla and Preytor the bug, seem to have a real edge over the competition, as their combos connect more readily and they do a better job of hightailing it out of a dangerous situation so they can recuperate.

What's a fearless giant monster doing hightailing it out of a dangerous situation, you ask? Well, each level in War of the Monsters is filled with power-ups that restore your health, energy (used for shooting, flying, and attacking), and supermoves. So, in stark contrast with the theme of the game, a hasty retreat frequently pays off in War of the Monsters, as you'll quickly learn from the game's vicious yet cowardly computer opponents. Computer-controlled creatures are surprisingly difficult to defeat at the normal difficulty setting. Give one of them a good thrashing, and you'll often see your enemy turn tail and run off. You'll then see the color-coded indicator representing its health turn from red back to green as the no-good beast makes a beeline for all the glowing green health power-ups in the level. You'll learn to use this same tactic yourself, and since health power-ups are plentifully interspersed throughout each level, the net effect is that you'll find yourself playing hide-and-seek nearly as often as you'll actually be fighting. But you know what? King Kong never tried to run.

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