It’s Halloween, and that means every gaming blog has to write about scary games! BOOOOO!!! Actually that’s something I’ve done every year since I started the blog. And this year is no different!
Did you ever see a game once upon a time, way back in the day (whenever your day was), and then never see it again, and have the memory haunt you forever?
When I was a kid, there was a pizza place here in my town called Happy Joe’s. It’s a midwest chain, and they’re still around, but for all I knew at the ripe old age of 7, ours was the only one in the world. Back then it was your classic pizza parlor, and they had good pizza, for sure (I remember it was the first time I discovered fennel seed in my pizza sausage and thought it was weird but also made it super tasty), but the real reason every kid wanted to go to Happy Joe’s in 1982 was because they had a game room.
With maybe six to ten arcade games in the corner, I don’t recall every game they had, and I’m sure they rotated them out regularly. But I do distinctly remember at least seeing a Wizard of Wor upright and a Defender cocktail table there.
One of the times I got to visit, I saw a game with a playfield that looked like a cutaway dollhouse, but it had a haunted house theme with bats and Dracula running around. I didn’t get to play it, and I didn’t register the name of it at the time, but I somehow remembered it being made by Sega. The memory of that game stayed with me my whole life, but not knowing what it was, I had no way of revisiting it. I think I even searched for “Sega vampire game” or something similar over the earlier years of the internet, but never came up with what I was looking for.
Then, a couple years ago, I went on my arcade road trip to the Chicago area (which I wrote about in a five-post series), which brought me to Galloping Ghost and their extensive collection of both smash hits and obscurities. Wandering its labyrinthian rows into a side room, I rounded a corner…and there it was.
It was Monster Bash! And sure enough, it’s a Sega game. Good job, 7-year-old me!
Finally reuniting with this ancient memory and so excited to finally fill in this gap in my gaming history, I glommed onto the cabinet and hit the 1P Start button…and was greeted with an unresponsive joystick that wouldn’t move my character where I needed to be.
Luckily, we have emulation!
In Monster Bash, you play what I can only assume is a random kid with aspirations of being some sort of amateur Van Helsing. Your moppet possesses the ability to fire tiny lightning bolts (with the ZAP button!) to eliminate enemies, such as bats, wolves, or creepy crawlies, but each level has a main enemy that’s too tough for your li’l zaps. You must light candles in the level by running past them, which then powers up a magic sword in a generally central location on the screen. Touching the sword gives you one Super Zap, which is strong enough to eliminate the Big Bad and clear the level. Each level also features a unique mechanic that can give you an advantage in navigating it.
Round 1 features Dracula and his army of flying rodents. There are warp doors that can reposition you throughout the house.
The second round is Castle Frankenstein, which is crawling with werewolves, and of course the Monster himself. This level features warp doors too, but also trap doors that you can drop down for quick maneuvering between floors.
The third wave takes place in a cemetery, and is led by the Chameleon Man. By running over colored spots on the ground, gates appear in different positions, opening and blocking the paths.
Gameplay-wise, Monster Bash’s first two levels remind me of BurgerTime, while the third round is very reminiscent of Mouse Trap. But with the changing mechanics and the threat of each level’s “boss,” there’s more going on here than at first glance, making it easy enough to grasp but just complex enough to be compelling. Unfortunately, the controls — functioning or not — are a bit stiff and keep the game from being as fun as it could be.
Although Monster Bash never got a straight port to a home console (I’m surprised, as it would have fit right in with the C-list arcade licenses that Coleco tended to pick up for the Colecovision), Ghost House for Sega Master System sort of picked up where Monster Bash left off.
I would stop short of calling Monster House a hidden gem, but as one of the more obscure Sega titles, it’s worth taking a look at. I absolutely love old movie monsters, and I think the concept of the game is a lot of fun, so adding that to this game’s elusive nature in my old memories, Monster Bash found its own special niche in my heart.