Play as almost any monster from the Godzilla universe. Brawl it out with other monsters, destroy recognizable cities from around the world, fight aliens, and shrug off the military's pathetic attempts to stop you. This is the dream of any Godzilla fan who happens to be a gamer, and it is hard to imagine how any game that makes these simple promises could go wrong. For many years, Pipeworks Software has released several fighting games that embrace the Toho license to bring this dream to the masses, culminating most recently in 2007's Godzilla: Unleashed.
|Plot, plot, plot, whatever--here's Biollante eating Anguirus
After an unusual asteroid storm, giant crystal formations begin appearing across the globe. The crystals have strange effects on the giant monsters of Monster Island and elsewhere, and soon, these monsters, mutants, alien beasts, and mecha begin converging around them, leading to epic battles and massive destruction. Humanity struggles to uncover the secret of where the crystals come from and what their purpose is, but no matter who or what is behind them, the future of the Earth lies desperately in the balance.
As Godzilla plots go, this one fits the mold just fine. It remixes the continuities of all the films (and the previous games) so that the likes of Destoroyah can exist side-by-side with Megalon and Orga. It also features its own alien race, the Vortaak, which are very similar to the Xiliens of Invasion of Astro-Monster and Godzilla: Final Wars, and a handful of human characters that are loosely tied to the movies. There are multiple endings depending on which "faction" you control and how well you do, but the general plot beats are the same no matter what.
It's not a particularly deep or surprising plot, but it gives the Godzilla canon a loving treatment full of fan service and subtle winks at the audience. Fighting games aren't known for their stories, and this one is no exception. It's fun and adequate, but it's nothing special.
[Story: 8 - It's pretty much exactly what you should expect from a Godzilla fighting game.]
|A button-masher would actually be an improvement
Back in 2007, the Nintendo Wii was the no-brainer choice for a Japanese property that is beloved in both Japan and America. This was a historic time for Nintendo marked by record-shattering sales and console saturation rates that are unlikely to be matched in the foreseeable future, and practically everybody was trying to figure out how to jump on the motion-controller bandwagon. Unfortunately, this also lead to a lot of bad games, games rushed through the market that had you contorting yourself with annoying, nonintuitive waggle controls and the relative imprecision of early Wii-motes. It saddens me greatly to have to be the one to tell you this, but Godzilla: Unleashed is one such game.
Don't get me wrong. This is a game that wants to be great, so it doesn't belong in the same shovelware bin as Chicken Shoot and Petz Sports: Dog Playground. The designers clearly put a lot of effort into making something that could be exceptional, but they fell into the trap of relying too heavily on the waggle of the Wii-mote without offering an option to play the game without it. Sprinting requires you to shake the nunchuck, picking up small buildings or grappling with your opponent requires flicking both the nunchuck and Wii-mote in unison, and power moves require swinging the Wii-mote while holding down the appropriate trigger. You can do basic punches and kicks with just the simple press of a button, but having so many moves tied to motion-control (even as the directional pad on the Wii is left completely unused) makes proper execution difficult, sluggish, and confusing.
But even setting that aside, this game is riddled with gameplay problems. This is a 3-D environment in which you are pitted against multiple opponents at the same time, and yet there is no Z-targeting. The game determines your opponent automatically, usually just by deciding which enemy is closest, and this is frustrating in the extreme. It can lead to moments where you're about to level a finishing blow on one monster, only to have your attack diverted at the last moment to your ally because he stepped too close in his eagerness to assist you. It also doesn't let you properly aim your long-range attack (such as Godzilla's atomic breath), rendering it largely useless in most situations as the combination of imprecise and unpredictable locking with a constantly shifting automatic camera keeps you from developing any skill.
|You just have to hope it hits something
It's also worth noting that, in story mode, it's never entirely clear what your objectives are. You can usually finish a level by beating all the enemy monsters, but sometimes the objectives are so vague that you can find yourself suddenly clearing a level by accidentally breaking enough crystals or something. There's also the annoying fact that your allies--assuming you know which ones they are supposed to be--don't always act like your allies. They attack you, refuse to attack the enemy, wander around aimlessly, and do generally more harm than good when you need them. This is odd, because the A.I. of the enemies tends to work just fine, and when there are multiple enemies, they always know how to work together. Then there's the military, who choose--utterly at random--which monster to focus their attack on. Even if you're on the human faction, fighting as Rikyu or something, the military will treat you no different, getting in your way from time to time and making your game generally more difficult, even though, in theory, they're on your side.
On top of that, there's painfully slow jumping mechanics, too many invisible walls, obnoxious beam battles that the game never tells you how to win, unreliable blocking, and more. Perhaps I'd be more forgiving if I weren't reviewing this as a solo game, since two humans fighting each other would be equally handicapped, but when you play on your own, it always feels like you're struggling to have even a third of the control over your monster as the computer has over your enemies.
[Gameplay: 3 - Though the game has defenders who swear it can be mastered, the controls here are practically a checklist for all the ways gameplay can go wrong.]
PRESENTATION and SOLO GAMER SCORE
|There are plenty of hidden surprises
It's difficult to be objective about a seven-year-old game, but if you put Godzilla: Unleashed up against other Wii games from 2007, the presentation doesn't stand out as either notably bad or notably good. The graphics are pretty muddy, but the sound is crisp, clear, and perfect. The load times are short and the locations are recognizable, but the frame rate is unsteady, texture pop-out is too frequent, and building tranparency is very poorly handled. The music is awesome and full of good Godzilla themes, but it's also too repetitive and lacking in variety.
The ability to unlock so many monsters is a big draw. Practically every monster you can think of is represented and can eventually be unlocked by accumulating enough points, and different monsters do play differently. There are also plenty of different game modes, all of which can be played solo with computerized opponents (and, for the most part, the A.I. on these modes is good, depending on where you set the difficulty). The story mode can be played as any creature from any faction, and there are minor changes to the story for each faction. If there's one thing that kept me coming back, it was the draw of unlocking more and more monsters.
|Follow the advice in the upper-right
But then there's the cutscenes. These are the kinds of mostly-static cutscenes that were typical in games of the early nineties, but even by that low standard, they are poor. They have large subtitles that aren't synched up to the poorly-delivered (and painfully quiet) dialogue, characters that repeat mind-numbingly bad exposition, and nothing--nothing--to make you eager to see what happens next. I forced myself to watch all the cutscenes for the sake of this review, but the game experience is better and makes more sense without them. When the cutscenes actually take away from the overall experience--doing precisely the opposite of what they should--the designers have committed an epic fail.
Having said all that, though, I have to say the game deserves a high solo gamer score, because it went out of its way to make sure you could play this game entirely by yourself. One has no reason to expect that from a fighting game, so this solo gamer has to show his appreciation. Sure, this game would be more fun with friends (and beer), but there's nothing you can do in the game with two or more players that you can't do alone.
[Presentation: 6 - The graphics are weak and the cutscenes are beyond terrible, but the expansive library of Godzilla monsters is sheer awesomeness.]
[Solo Gamer Score: 10 - Even though it's a fighting game, it still bends over backwards to accomodate the solo gamer.]
This is a game that wants to be great, and I want to love it. The fan service is there, but it is dragged down by horrifically bad controls, terrible cutscenes, and a huge lack of polish. Hardcore Godzilla fans might be able to overlook the game's many flaws and squeeze enjoyment out of the silly plot and the ability to play with their favorite monsters. For the rest of us, though, this game is a cautionary tale of how a seemingly bullet-proof game idea can go woefully wrong. Here's hoping that, in the future, something similar to Godzilla: Unleashed will be released with better graphics, more polished and less gimmicky controls, and production values that equal the potential that Godzilla has to offer.
SOLO GAME SCORE: 10
TOTAL SCORE: 6.8
Godzilla: Unleashed is only for patient Godzilla fans who can look beyond its bad controls and poor presentation.
-e. magill 5/15/2014