In Japan, they're called "kaijuu" (literally: "strange beast") - giant monsters who star in movies where they pointlessly blow the freaking shit out of Tokyo. They're bigger than skyscrapers, seemingly invulnerable to man-made weaponry, and they really, really like to knock over buildings, and blow shit the hell up by breathing this crazy-ass laser/fire crap at it. They also fight each other a lot, and move in slow motion. It's pretty awesome.
Video game developers recognize this awesomeness as fact, and have made a few attempts to bring Tokyo-destroying monsters to video games. Most of them are complete garbage, and they rarely transcend the appeal of their theme, but they do on occasion work well enough, if you're just looking for giant monster combat and/or Tokyo destroying in video game form. This all started with Midway's classic Rampage - which was fun for the time - but the first game to really do it well was probably SNK's King of the Monsters.
As a series, King of the Monsters is an attempt to recreate those kinds of battles between giant monsters that you'd see in movies starring Godzilla or Gamera. Neither game has any licensed characters, but makes up for it with a combination of knock-offs and WAY over the top monster designs. While there are several differences between the two games, the beat-em-up-esque perspective and arcade action-style gameplay remains the same. They each also have a few balance problems that put everything in the CPU's favor, but they also have two player vs. modes, which, obviously, solves this problem, and is where the games both really excel.
In keeping with the movies that they're based on, most of the levels in the series take place in densely populated cities. With the monsters being as large as they are, each stage is rendered in a highly miniaturized form, and they didn't slack off when it came to depicting any of them. Their sprite artists must have had a field day - many buildings display animated jumbotrons, there's traffic driving down the highways, trains moving through train stations, buildings have easily discernible individual windows and doors, baseball stadiums have base paths and all four bases drawn for them, certain structures will billow thick ashy smoke after they are destroyed, parks have bushes and ponds, there are individual cars parked in parking lots, and you can even make out the grassy area that divides the highways. Another amusing detail is that a few buildings in the first game are promoting a Danzig concert on their jumbotrons. A few structures are real buildings, so you can lay waste to the Eiffel Tower, the White House, or the Tokyo Tower, among others.
It's amazing that even the most highly detailed RPGs will neglect putting that same level of care into their overworlds, but King of the Monsters actually puts FAR more detail in its miniaturizations than it does with any of its monsters. You just didn't see this kind of attentiveness in sprite art at the time, and you still don't see it - not even in high-res games like Guilty Gear. If you are the least bit interested in miniaturizations - sprite art or otherwise - then you NEED to play these games just to see their cities in action.
King of the Monsters (キング・オブ・ザ・モンスターズ) - Neo Geo, Genesis, SNES, PlayStation 2, PSP, Wii, Wii Virtual Console (1991)
King of the Monsters is among the earlier Neo Geo games, having been released in the arcades in 1991. It stars six giant monsters that are mostly based on other characters, like Godzilla, King Kong, and Ultraman. It doesn't seem to have any real plot, other than being about giant monsters fighting in cities.
Geon is basically a redesigned Godzilla without the actual license.
Woo is essentially King Kong, except way bigger.
Astro Guy is like Ultraman, but even more ridiculous looking.
Poison Ghost is probably partially based on the Godzilla nemesis Hedorah.
Rocky is a giant living rock. How clever.
Beetle Mania has a horrible joke for a name, and is a giant beetle.
After choosing your monster, you move through a series of six Japanese cities - Tokyo, Okayama, Kobe, Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima - fighting a different monster in each, with a mirror match in the sixth. After finishing each city, it loops in a different order at a higher difficulty level. During battles your character is confined within a certain area of the city by an electrical force field to the far left and right, and an inexplicable inability to move beyond a certain point vertically. If you make contact with the electrical force field, then your monster will be electrocuted and forced back into the playing field. You can go it alone against the CPU, take on another player 1-on-1, or team up with Player 2 and take on two CPU controlled monsters together.
Your objective in each level is to pin your opponent for a 3 count before the timer runs out, like in a wrestling game. This is achieved by knocking them down, then standing over them and pushing A. If you are pinned then you can try to escape by mashing all four buttons on the machine. The A and B buttons perform your standing attacks, and you can attack a downed opponent by pushing C. If you hold the joystick to the Left or Right and push C, or double tap either of those directions, you'll run - push A or B while running for a running attack. You can also fire a projectile by holding down both A and B at once and then releasing them when your character begins flashing. Pushing either attack button while standing very close to your opponent will initiate a grapple - grappling moves are performed by mashing either A, B, A and B, Up and B, or Down and B. Projectiles, grappling moves, and running attacks will all knock your opponent down. You can also jump by tapping A and B at once.
You can also level up your monster to a maximum of level 3 by grabbing these items that say "P" on them that appear when you perform certain grappling moves. Each "P" item will fill a notch on a meter below your health bar - grabbing ten of these will fill it completely. Each time that it fills, your character changes color to signify that they have leveled up. Leveling up makes your monster more powerful, and capable of taking more damage, and it also affects the size, strength, and, potentially, the animation for your projectile attack.
Given that the plot of kaijuu flicks is rarely ever anything other other than "There's a giant monster destroying the city!", it was a wise move on SNK's part to give players the ability to completely obliterate each and every city's terrain, and anything that you step or jump on will explode. Just like in the movies, the military makes futile attempts to defend the cities, so there are aircraft and tanks that will fire on you during the game. You can destroy these with standing attacks, and even grab aircraft right out of the sky by jumping at them. You can even grab the military vehicles that you've destroyed and throw them at your opponent. After finishing a level, you're actually rewarded points for wreaking havoc, and there are separate categories for "destraction", contamination, and casualties.
Beating up giant monsters and smashing cities to bits is a pretty cool premise in and of itself, and more than enough reason to merit trying out King of the Monsters. It really could have made for a masterpiece caliber game, but there are a few execution problems that hamper its immense potential. The biggest problem is with grapples - not only is there no guarantee that pushing an attack button will initiate a grapple and not an attack, but the winner of a grapple seems to be determined at random, no matter how quickly you mash the button. Making this fact even worse, grapples work totally in favor if the CPU, and it gets even more in their favor over the course of the match, so your health meter will drain very quickly before you can inflict nearly as much damage. The only way to play with any real success is to rely on running attacks and projectiles, but those are the easiest attacks for the CPU to avoid. So King of the Monsters becomes stupidly difficult, and doesn't give you much of anything to do about it other than credit feed. The only thing that alleviates its challenge level is that no matter how low your health is you can almost always escape at least two pins. However, so can the CPU.
King of the Monsters' premise was novel enough in 1991 to attract a fair amount of attention at the arcades, which got it ported to SNES and Genesis. Both published by Takara, with the SNES version developed by Genki and the Genesis version developed by SPS. Both versions are pretty much identical to each other, except the Genesis version has the names of certain cities changed to ridiculous nonsense like "Mega Port", "Castle City", and "Dragon City". In both versions, Woo and Poison Ghost have both been removed from the game, and the cities aren't as animated. You also play each city twice before moving on to another. Both ports have an options mode where you can reduce the difficulty, which makes the game far less frustrating. So they might be preferable to the arcade release if you don't mind the other changes. If you're looking to own the game in its arcade form, it's available s part of the compilation SNK Arcade Classics Volume 1 for the PlayStation 2 and Wii.
King of the Monsters 2: The Next Thing (キング・オブ・ザ・モンスターズ2) - Neo Geo, Neo Geo CD, Genesis, SNES, Wii Virtual Console (1992)
King of the Monsters 2 mixes up the gameplay by putting in sections where you have to fight brief waves of small foes before you get to the boss. These smaller enemies include planes, subs, helicopters, tanks, or smaller monsters. They also replaced the actual Japanese cities with generic stages (American City, French City, Japanese City, Grand Canyon, etc.), and reduced the playable cast to three. Instead of beating up on the other playable characters, your goal is to defeat a series of seven VERY strange boss monsters. There's also a more developed plot, which has the three playable characters acting as heroes and defending various cities from monsters from outer space, who are lead by a vile beast named Famardy.
Super Geon is a mutated version of Geon. Looks a bit more like a dragon here.
Cyber Woo is a cybernetic version of Woo. He appears - in shrunken down form - as a fighter in Neo Geo Battle Coliseum, although he's commanded by a little child via remote control.
Atomic Guy is Astro Guy, except more badass. Ai and Yuki from Neo Geo Battle Coliseum can summon him as a special attack.
Huge Frogger / Huge Keal
A giant frog who wears a helmet and teleports.
Eiffelyte / Horn du Out
A giant humanoid with extendable limbs, a detachable head, and, of course, plenty of eyes.
Beetle Master / Kili Kili
A giant scorpion with a detachable brain. A step up from Beetle Mania, at least.
Aqua Slug / Sack Eyes
A giant snail. Definitely the least weird character in this game.
Clawhead / Yam a Mordon
A two-headed monster with a mouth on its abdomen, and two eyes between its teeth.
This thing's torso looks like it's floating above its lower body, and it lays eggs from its forehead.
Famardy / King Famardy
Famardy is basically the Blob, except with limbs, teeth, and four eyes. It's the leader of all of the bosses. It also kind of looks like Jabba the Hut vomiting up the creepiest looking thing that you have ever seen in your life.
While the game's combat basically plays like the original, several changes have been made. Instead of pins, you just have to deplete your opponent's health meter to win a fight. The electrified force fields have been removed, but you can still only walk so far. You can still level up your monster, but "P" items are only found by destroying buildings in the sections before the boss, and it only takes one "P" item to level up. There are other items that you can find, which can replenish or deplete health, "level down" your monster, or reverse your controls. There are also a few extra rounds betweens certain levels where you have to complete various tasks. Jumping has been assigned to C (this will make you swim in the water level), and you can attack after any jump that isn't straight up in the air by pushing A. You have two different specials, which are performed by holding down either attack button and then releasing it after your monster begins to flash.
The challenge level in King of the Monsters 2 is still pretty ridiculous, and credit feeding is just as essential as ever to getting anywhere in the game. The CPU is still stupidly over-powered, but you've been given a total of three lives this time. Grappling is still present, and just as ridiculously risky as ever, but it's no longer essential to leveling up, so it can be avoided if you prefer. Certain specials, like Super Geon's fire breathing move, can be spammed with relative effectiveness against a few bosses, which does make the game easier. Yet, when you do get caught in a grapple by the CPU, which will happen often, you'll find that the grapples have been made damn near impossible to win. It seems like you're allowed a courtesy win in the first grapple of each credit, but after that, your button mashing is likely all going to be futile. Another problem comes from those damn "level down" items - if you make the mistake of grabbing those then the game just becomes far too difficult.
Overall, the gameplay exceeds the original in certain areas (like movesets), but falls short in others (character roster, those pointless pre-boss fight sections, even worse grappling system). Yet, it still has the same giant monster combat and city destroying that makes the first game interesting, which means that, for the most part, it still works just as well. However, when it gets to the final level, the whole game just completely falls apart. Before you can fight the final boss, you have to make you way past an impossibly tedious boss rush consisting of every previous boss from the entire game. So it's like having to play the entire game, crappy grappling system and all, twice to reach the final boss. This worked in the Ghosts 'N Goblins games, but all it does to King of the Monsters 2 is to make an already poorly balanced game not even worth finishing. If you do put up with this nonsense, then you don't even get to see much of an ending - it's just a shot of Earth with text about how the monsters saved the day, followed by a Game Over screen that's a close-up of a monster.
King of the Monsters 2 must have been fairly popular in the arcades, because it got ported to Neo Geo CD, SNES, and Genesis, with the console ports being published by Takara again. The version for SNES, developed by Genki, is a disaster - even though you've been given the ability to block, it doesn't work well enough to make the game any fairer. Combined with poor control responsiveness, this version is nothing short of a frustrating mess, although at least it's a bit easier to win grapples. Another port was released for Genesis, with several modifications made to it, as it was ported by a different company, a small outfit called Betop. The most noteworthy changes are that the pre-boss fight sections have been removed entirely, you can select every character in the game except for Famardy, the matches are in a best-two-out-of-three format, and most of the levels have been replaced with levels from its predecessor. Grapples are also a tad easier to win, so it's a bit fairer. There are extra moves for each character, and the commands for projectiles have been changed to Street Fighter II-style controller motions - meaning that the CPU can, and will, spam projectiles like crazy. Still, with all of its changes, the Genesis port is definitely the best version of the game.
Additional Neo Geo Screenshots
Imagine if somebody made a ROM hack of the first King of the Monsters, and changed the characters to Godzilla monsters. That's pretty much what Godzilla: Domination! is. Honestly, I doubt there's a court in the land that wouldn't have ruled in SNK's favor if they had taken its developers to court for plagiarism. It was developed by WayForward, an American developer who had previously developed the cult Game Boy Color game Shantae, and later went on to do Contra 4 for the DS.
Greatest freaking monster ever created. Contains infinite awesome. Kind of slow in this game.
A robot version of Godzilla. Very slow, but very powerful in this game.
King Ghidorah is a three-headed dragon. His stats are the most balanced out of all of the characters.
A giant moth. Disappointingly, those two doll ladies that follow her everywhere in the movies are nowhere to be seen. Mothra is very fast, but her moves are low powered.
Megalon is a completely ridiculous monster that keeps showing up in every damn Godzilla game ever, despite not being popular with fans. He's possibly the most powerful character overall.
Rodan is very fast, but has very low power. Also, amongst the coolest of Godzilla characters.
A robotic version of King Ghidorah. It's the final boss and is not playable by any means. In this game, it's depicted as being absolutely freaking HUGE - as in triple the size of the other monsters.
While it's basically just King of the Monsters with Godzilla characters, it actually refines the original formula by taking everything that was good about the original games, eliminating all the stupid crap, and fixing all the execution problems that kept them from being as great as they could have been. There aren't any wrestling elements, whatsoever, so wins are decided by KO, and, best of all, grappling has been eliminated. Not only that, but you can walk around while charging your special moves, your opponents don't need to be on the screen, so you can move around wherever and whenever you like, you can perform jumping attacks after jumping in any direction, you don't have to worry about getting knocked down anymore, and you can also block with L, which will reduce, but not eliminate, the damage that you take from attacks.
The gameplay has also been expanded, along with your movesets. A and B are for standard attacks, R is for jumps, and you can perform two jumping attacks by pushing either attack button while airborne. Holding either attack button, and then releasing it after your monster begins to flash, will execute a special move. Attacking and destroying buildings will raise your "Rage Meter", which is located directly below you health meter. After your Rage Meter is completely filled you can perform any of three Rage Moves by pushing L and R at once, jumping and pushing A and B at once, or pushing A and B at once while standing. Even though grapples have been removed, monsters are occasionally briefly dazed after getting up from a fall, during which time you can grab them and throw them. By destroying buildings, you can find items that can raise your health, speed, Rage Meter, or jumping ability, or can reverse your controls, deplete your health, or temporarily disable your attacks. There's more variation to the terrain, and stages can contain multi-leveled cliffs, heavy snow that slows you down, or low gravity to make your jumps higher.
There are also several modes of play. First is Story Mode, where you progress through the game and defeat each monster. In Story Mode you'll often be given an ally, or have to take on multiple monsters, or both. Then there's Vs. Mode, which is a multi-player mode for up to four people at once - you don't need multiple cartridges to play it like this, but due to memory constraints, everybody has to play as Godzilla, and you can only play in level 2. Last is Custom Mode, where you can customize the settings for a stand-alone match. Other than selecting your monster, your stage, and the difficulty setting, you can also choose to fight in teams. Teams can be 2-on-2, 3-on-1, 2-on-1-on-1, or everybody vs. everybody. There's also an options mode where you can set the difficulty level, switch off the timer for Story Mode or Custom Mode, and choose whether or not you can damage an ally if you are playing in teams.
When Godzilla: Domination! was released in Japan two years later in 2004, several changes were made to the game. The name was changed to "Godzilla: Great Monsters Fray Advance", and three characters were slightly redrawn and/or have color palette differences to make them correspond better with their most recent portrayals in movies. Godzilla has been changed from his Heisei-era appearance, to his portrayal in Godzilla: Tokyo SOS. Heisei-era Mechagodzilla has been changed to the similar character "Kiryu" from Godzilla: Tokyo SOS. Mothra has several color palette changes to her sprite, and even a projectile, to make her better resemble her portrayal in movies. Another change is that all human controlled characters have a small symbol above them to identify the player (as in "P1" or "P2"). In Story Mode, the order that levels are played has been completely changed, and you can select from three different kinds of matches: "default", "survival", and "rage". Survival is an endurance mode where have to defeat as many consecutive opponents as possible without the ability to continue or refill your health. In rage your Rage Meter continually rapidly fills, so you can spam the crap out of your Rage Moves. Also, if you bought the game shortly after it was released in Japan, it came with miniature figurines depicting Godzilla, Mothra, and Kiryu.
I kind of assumed that this game was going to be a complete joke, but it's actually pretty good. In fact, despite it being among the most blatant examples of plagiarism in video games ever, its slight tweaks to the original formula actually result in a better version of the games that it's derivative of. Hell, it's probably even better than the Genesis port of King of the Monsters 2. So if you're looking for a Godzilla game, or if you're just a King of the Monsters fan, and you have a GBA, then this is about as good as any other giant monster themed game out there. My only complaint about it is that there isn't even a fraction as much detail to the sprite art, but that's easily forgivable given the quality of the gameplay.