Godzilla and his friends traditionally have not been treated very well in their video game adaptations. While there is the occasional one-on-one fighting gem that stands out for the most part when you see a Toho Kaiju on the cover of a game it's a good signal to stay away.
The adventure, puzzle, and strategy elements from games of the past have be ditched in favor of straight up giant monster butt-stomping for this particular entry in the series, and thank God for that. The game is essentially a free roaming 3D fighter with light wrestling elements thrown in, although since it's Godzilla it's ten times cooler. The story goes... does the story really matter when it comes to games like this? It's always about some kind of alien invasion or something, who cares really. I just want to knock down buildings and step on people.
Thankfully that's an area of the game that delivers faithfully. You get to control any of eight different monsters, each who is represented pretty faithfully from the movies and who has their own strengths, specials, etc. This particular game gives us the top tier of the Toho monster kingdom: Godzilla (Heisi,) Godzilla 2000, Anguirus, Destoroyah, Gigan, King Ghidorah, Mecha-King Ghidorah, Mechagodzilla, Megalon, Orga, and Rodan. Hedorah the smog monster and Mothra also make unplayable cameos. While the more loser monsters really aren't missed here (Gabara, Ebriah, Varan, etc.) it still would have been cool to play as some of the more obscure characters. The fact that you can't play as Hedorah blows. Plus there's no Jet Jaguar, which sucks, but you can't have everything I suppose. (Jet Jaguar and other monsters make an appearance on the Xbox and Ps2 sequel Save the Earth, but we'll get to those later.)
The character models are spot on - but there has been a bit of artistic licence taken with the various abilities the monsters have though. For instance in the pursuit of balanced gameplay characters that do not have projectile attacks have been given such (such as a "Primal scream" for Angurius or a red eye lazer for Gigan, which was seen in a movie poster but never actually in the movies.) Other monsters have powers that are based on what is shown in the movies but here are far more effective, like Megalon burrowing through the ground at astonishing speed or Godzilla doing an "electromagnetic pulse" attack like in Godzilla vs. Biollante. For the most part though the representations of the various Toho phyla are pretty accurate.
The actual fighting system is somewhat loose and leans towards wrestling games a bit. You've got two levels of punch and kick attacks that do a quick auto combo, plus when the other monster is close enough you can pick them up and either throw them or so some kind of other special move which is different for each character (for instance Megalon throws them into the air and impales them on his drill hands.) Each monster also has a projectile that you can shoot out in little spurts or charge up for a large, prolonged blast. When attacking with beam weapons you also have the ability to control the angle on the fly, thus you can do things like sweep the arena for multiple opponents or nail somebody as he tries to run away. While you can bust some pretty awesome combos and such the system is pretty simple. Fighting theory involves getting in close and wailing on the attack buttons as as fast as possible - it's a button masher for sure. What the hell though, there's nothing wrong with that. I've always thought making giant monsters do Dragon punches and hurricane kicks was pretty stupid anyway.
In the arenas you can of course destroy buildings and stomp on fleeing crowds of people as you unleash your horrible atomic monster genocide on an unsuspecting populace (well.. you can crush buildings at least, and the occasional plane or helicopter.) Each area has lots of stuff to destroy, skyscrapers, bridges, power plants, etc. You can also pick objects up and throw them, like large rocks and apartment complexes. You can almost hear the trapped little people, screaming their ineffectual prayers to whatever God they pray to as the entire building they're in is picked up and tossed at another monster without a second thought to what was inside, only to explode and totally obliterate everyone and everything contained therein but only do the slightest of inconvenient damage to the other towering behemoth, showing arrogant mankind where he really stands in the food chain.... Man this game rocks.
There are powerups to be found which do various things, increase your energy meter for specials, refill health, or let you go into "rage" mode whereupon you can do your ultra-super-crazy rage attack that like does a ridiculous amount of damage, etc. You can also collect icons that call Mothra and Hedorah in as an air strike against your opponent, which is pretty cool. As you progress through story mode you also get to unlock things like artwork or new playable characters by earning game tokens. The ulockables are decent, design artwork, 3D models, etc. It would have been cool to get more skins for the characters (perhaps they way they appeared in different incarnations of the movies, like Heisi-era Mechagodzilla or Rainbow/Aqua Mothra or something) but what they do have is motivation enough to play through the game several times.
The game supports 4 player simultaneous play, which can get pretty hectic. Problem with this though is that the camera zooms out pretty far to get everyone on screen, which can make it hard to tell what's going on at times. Multiplayer works well enough I suppose. It's just.. ghetto. Still a four way split screen would have been even more confusing so I guess we have the lesser of the two evils. Of course they could have just enabled online play, but since this is the Gamecube version that's a big "Nope" (apparently 2007's Godzilla: Unleashed for the PS3, 360, and Wii will take advantage of the various networks offered by the next gen systems, which rules.)
Fast action, simple controls, and a large assortment of good looking top shelf characters makes the game worth playing for Godzilla fanboys like me. Somewhat shallow button mashing and lack of online play may turn non-kaiju people off. But who cares about them anyway. For a Godzilla game this one is a masterpiece.
Graphics: Awesome renditions of our favorite Toho monsters, each with a wide assortment of attacks and animations that fit their character, for the most part. The characters suffer from the fact that you can see visible joints in the textures at the shoulders, elbows, etc. Also the breath weapons could use a little work, Godzilla's heat beam looks a little translucent here, like it's made out of cellophane or something. But this is really all nitpicking.
Sound: Faithful renditions of the various monster's roars and attacks and such - with the one exception that Rodan does Angurius' roar for one of his specials. Whoops. Music tends to be action-game heavy metal fare. The "Announcer" in the game is somewhat out of place, kind of sounds like the announcer in Mortal Kombat but not as evil. The end comments after each match comes over radio channels and are supposed to be Air force pilots who are monitoring the battle for civilian casualties, they should have just stuck with this motif for the opening announcer as well.
Gameplay: Lots of running around and trading of beam weapon attacks while you search for an opening to get close enough to begin button mashing. This seems to be a pattern that all giant monster fighting games follow, but I can't complain as the fights actually do somewhat play out like the fights in the movies. It is too easy to knock a guy down then nail him with a fully charged breath attack as he stands up and is unable to block, however you do have "get-up" attacks to cream a guy standing too close to you. The inclusion of little mini-games and a good story mode help to mix it up a bit.
Back to Game Reviews