Here’s a confession: I have loved Godzilla for even longer than I’ve loved video games. It’s true! I actually cannot recall when I first discovered Godzilla — I literally have no memory of a time when I did not watch and love his movies, and some of my earliest memories of watching any TV at all are of Godzilla. It had to have been pre-Kindergarten that I started watching them — maybe my older sister had watched them because she was into horror movies — but I didn’t discover video games until I was five or six, and I know I was watching Godzilla before then.
Anyway, with Godzilla and video games being two of Japan’s most significant pop culture exports, naturally there have been a bunch of Godzilla video games. Unfortunately, as is the case with many licensed properties, many of them are…not that good. And those that are decent are probably most enjoyable only by hardcore kaiju-eiga no otaku.
The problem with Godzilla games is that he SHOULD translate wonderfully into a video game, but he often just… doesn’t.
While I have not played every single Godzilla game, I have played most of the games that have been released in the US, as well as some of the imports. Most of them tend to fall into one of two categories: action games, in which the player usually controls Godzilla or another kaiju while destroying cities and fighting other monsters; and simulation games, which usually put the player on the human side, defending against various scenarios of Godzilla attacks. As I’m not usually very keen on simulation games, I haven’t spent too much time with any of the Godzilla titles in that genre, such as Godzilla 2 on the NES or Super Godzilla on the SNES. So I’m mostly going to focus on the action-based games in this article.
By all accounts, it should be easy and fun for a player to take control of Godzilla, smash some buildings, soak up some damage from Maser cannon tanks, and fight King Ghidorah. But daikaiju, by their nature, are slow-moving. And as gamers, we want our avatars to react instantaneously to our input, the more agile the better. These two concepts are at odds with each other, so this is the first side of a paradox I find with action-based Godzilla games: In order to feel true to the character, he must be slow and limited in movement, but that generally makes for a frustrating gaming experience.
One of the first Godzilla games, simply titled Gojira, came out on the MSX in Japan only. It’s basically a game of Whack-A-Mole, where monsters come up out of holes in the ground, and Godzilla just has to hit them with atomic breath until the round is over. Now, as this is a very early game, we can’t expect a whole lot of movie accuracy or complexity here, but even by old-game standards, it’s pretty weak, although the simplistic monster graphics are actually kind of charming.
The first Godzilla title for the NES/Famicom (EGM score: 5.0/10) is actually one of the better ones to balance fairly decent control with feeling like a giant monster. Godzilla is still not very agile, and it’s difficult (if not impossible) to dodge all the enemy attacks, which makes it feel like a Godzilla film (no matter what, he’s going to absorb lots of attacks, which is a recurring theme in all Godzilla games), but his speed is adequate and with some practice, a player can get pretty good at maneuvering and attacking.
Godzilla, Monster of Monsters on NES
Godzilla made two appearances on the original Game Boy, one of which was a puzzle game (a port of the MSX title Gojira-kun), and the other a side-scrolling action game titled Kaiju-oh Gojira (Godzilla, King of the Monsters or Monster King Godzilla). The latter didn’t come out in the US, and while it does offer some nice graphics and large characters, it again suffers from unresponsive control, slow action, and an inability to avoid enemy fire.
In the 16-bit era, when fighting games were the hottest thing going, it was a no-brainer for Godzilla and friends to jump into the fray. Three fairly good one-on-one Godzilla fighting games came out of this craze: two console games for the PC-Engine/TurboGrafx SuperCD and for the Super Famicom (both developed by Alfa Systems), and one in the arcade (by Banpresto).
Ironically, only the Turbo game got a release in the US — probably the least popular format of the three on this side of the pond — as the SFC game was apparently planned for a Super NES release as “Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters,” but sadly cancelled. All three games are somewhat similar, with Godzilla fighting one-on-one against all of his most famous and infamous foes. But again, controls tend to be a bit clunky, simply due to the nature of the characters, so don’t expect the level of precision attack and defense you would expect from a Capcom fighter. Still, these games are an ideal format for a franchise based on monsters beating the snot out of each other.
Godzilla mostly skipped the PS1/Saturn/N64 generation, aside from one lone sim game for the Saturn (Japan only), which I have not played. (Rival movie studio Daiei’s famous giant turtle kaiju, Gamera, did get a PS1 game, but we’d be digressing a bit to dive into that one.)
So moving on to the Dreamcast, we have a couple of games called Godzilla Generations (Famitsu score: 20/40) and Godzilla Generations: Maximum Impact. The first — actually one of the Dreamcast launch titles in Japan, if I recall correctly — is a fairly simple affair, in which you control Godzilla as he simply walks through cities and destroys them. The goal is to get your “destruction rate” as high as possible, and then leave the city within the time limit. Of course, tanks, jets, and the occasional enemy kaiju try to stop you along the way. Generations is a classic example of a slow-paced game that is only enjoyable in any capacity whatsoever because it’s Godzilla.
G controls like a tank like the characters in the original Resident Evil, but at a fraction of the speed. And when he gets hit hard, he often reacts by stopping and roaring, which takes several seconds while the player just has to wait for it to happen (often while continuing to get pummeled by gunfire and rockets). The game takes patience and dedication to finish — which I did, back when I had that kind of time 20 years ago. Its sequel, Maximum Impact, is almost more of an on-rails shooter like a Panzer Dragoon game, where Godzilla is viewed from behind and can only walk forward to advance, and attacks whatever is in front of him. Again, the pace and limitations make it feel like Godzilla, but doesn’t necessarily make for a satisfying gaming experience.
Moving on, the trio of fighting games during that same generation — Destroy All Monsters Melee (Metacritic score: 73), Save the Earth (Metacritic score: 62), and Unleashed (Metacritic score: 44) — present the other side of the Godzilla video game paradox: the monsters control faster and are more agile, which makes for a decent arcade-style game, but doesn’t convey the appropriately apocalyptic heft of controlling a kaiju.
Godzilla Domination (Metacritic score: 53), developed by WayForward for the Game Boy Advance, is a quick step backward with a game very similar to SNK’s pair of King of the Monsters titles for Neo Geo. Like the PS2/Xbox/Gamecube games mentioned above, quick action actually makes this one a pretty fun game, but again it fails to feel like a Godzilla film.
The Godzilla title on the PS3, which was ported to PS4 with some improvements (Metacritic score: 38, Famitsu score: 30/40), is very similar to Generations on the Dreamcast, with “Destruction Rates,” kaiju opponents, and even tank controls. It also suffers from the slow control, long recovery animations, and an inability to defend against enemy attacks — again, making it feel like you’re really controlling a giant monster, for better or worse, but also makes for some frustrating gaming.
This particular title does have some cool features like the ability to “evolve” Godzilla, branching paths, and the opportunity to ravage the world as a different kaiju. However, as usual, these are probably only appealing to the true-blue Godzilla fan willing to take the time to explore these options.
So the questions is: Where is the sweet spot? Is it possible to create an action-based Godzilla game that perfectly balances the convincing feel of controlling a giant monster with good, fun gameplay? I’m not really sure. It’s like there’s an invisible slider bar, with “Kaiju Authenticity” on one end and “Accurate Control” on the other, and nowhere on its spectrum feels quite right.
Perhaps those sim games are actually the ones that DO make the most sense for putting kaiju into a video game, and I should spend more time with those. But let’s be honest — when you’re immersing yourself in the world of daikaiju, who the hell wants to be on the human side?
To that end, maybe the import-only City Shrouded in Shadow (Kyoei Toshi) (Famitsu score: 31/40) is the best way to approach it — giant monsters are attacking your city, and rather than playing as the JSDF trying to fight them off, you play as a civilian and just have to survive.
I wish like heck that this game would have gotten an US release, but as I’m on a kaiju kick right now, I might just order an import when I have a few bucks to spend.
So are Godzilla games all kusoge, or “shit games?” I guess like all games, it’s subjective. For non-fans, I can see how many of these games would be frustrating, if not downright unplayable. If you love Godzilla, though, some questionable gameplay is going to have to be acceptable — much in the way Godzilla fans are forgiving of some questionable filmmaking. So honestly, depending on how much you love Godzilla, your mileage may vary with regards to how bad of a game you can put up with.
But kusoge? I say nah. I’ll be honest, it is due to my love of Godzilla that I actually enjoy most of these games, even though I know they’re not great on certain levels. But as a matter of fact, in revisiting many of these games, I realized just how much I really like them. A lot of them feature tons of great fan service, like the aforementioned options and unlockables of the PS4 game that are fun to dive into, or the fact that the NES entry features loads of kaiju from obscure non-Godzilla Toho movies, like Dogora and Mogera. And I love the way the NES game is set up like a combination board game/side-scroller, I think it’s a unique design. Generations for the Dreamcast may look dated now, but I have very fond memories of playing my Japanese Dreamcast console before it came out in the US and my determination to finish this slog of a game — which I did.
Besides, I’ve been known to stick up for lots of unpopular games right here on this blog — it’s one of my favorite types of articles to write — and if anyone’s gonna get a pass, it’s gonna be the King of the Monsters.