By Levi . December 17, 2007 . 12:26am
Giant monsters are awesome, aren't they? Crashing through cities (most often Tokyo), causing all sorts of havoc and mayhem. There's really few things better than a good monster movie. Strangely, however, giant monsters haven't always translated well into video games. Sure, there have been some good ones, like King of the Monsters 2, but there have been a lot of stinkers as well. Like the seemingly endless stream of Rampage remakes and sequels. There's really only so much you can do with giant monsters. Godzilla Unleashed is the latest entry in Atari and Pipeworks' line of fighters featuring the iconic Japanese behemoth, and it boasts more monsters than any of it's predecessors and promises to deliver more kaiju mayhem than ever before. So how does Godzilla Unleashed stack up?
After popping the game into my Wii, I decided to check out training mode first, to learn the controls. I chose Godzilla 2000 and jumped right in. The controls didn't take too long to get the hang of, but they left me feeling more than a bit disappointed. There's a big difference between having motion based controls because they make the game more immersive, and having motion based controls just for the sake of having motion based controls. Unleashed falls into the latter category. Basically everything you can do that involves motion controls could be done just as well, and in most cases better, with standard button controls. For instance, doing a "hard" attack requires swinging the remote in a certain direction, and then holding the appropriate button right after the motion is started. This is really awkward and at times frustrating, and could have been handled just as well by having the player hold a direction on the analog stick while pressing the appropriate attack button. And that's not the only awkward part of the controls, either.
Take the monster's famous breath weapons, for instance. First, you'll have to hold C+Z to charge up energy, which is really uncomfortable. Then you'll have to hold C to fire. Aiming is the really tricky part here. The analog stick moves your monster's head left and right, and the Wii Remote is used to direct the vertical tilt. Oh, and you won't even learn this in training mode. I only knew this from reading about it in various hands-on articles I'd read for the game over the months. Now I'll admit, it IS in the instruction manual, but it really should be in the training mode, as well. Really, the game itself does a HORRID job of teaching you how to play. The most awkward things, though, are throwing and jumping. Throwing is done by bringing the Wii Remote and Nunchuk together, as though you were hugging something. Jumping is done by waving the Nunchuk. Half the time you'll end up jumping when you try to grab someone or something, which only adds to the frustration brought on by GU's controls.
However frustrated I was with the controls, I still wanted to like the game, so after a bit more practice in training mode, I jumped into story mode. First of all, make no mistake, a twelve year old Godzilla fanfic writer could write a better story than the one in the game. It's just a bunch of the same old cliched stuff that we've seen in the last few Godzilla games. Aliens, monsters, and mysterious crystals popping up all over the world. The story is told through Red Steel-style cutscenes between missions, complete with horrible VO work. I'll give Pipeworks credit, though, for including a Japanese voice over option. Not only does this make it feel a bit more authentic, but it also means that you won't be able to tell that the VO work is horrible, because you most likely won't be able to understand it. Story mode is basically split up into 20 "days". However, this ends up seeming like more of a time limit than anything, as days will pass regardless of whether you win or lose. Missions will have you doing one of two things (sometimes both), destroying monsters, or destroying crystals. Thankfully a lot of stages give you the choice of doing one or the other. Which is good, because bashing away at inanimate objects really isn't that fun. Ultimately, story mode feels like a burden more than anything else. Something you're forced to go through just to unlock characters. You surely aren't going through it for the rich and fulfilling story, after all.
And speaking of unlocking characters…That's another thing that can get really frustrating. You only start out with a handful of the game's 26 total monsters. To unlock the rest, you have to fulfill certain conditions in the story mode. But even then, doing that doesn't give you the monsters. Oh no, not by a longshot. See, you're only unlocking the right to purchase them from the game's shop. And then, getting enough points to buy them is another matter entirely. Most monsters cost around 15,000 to 20,000 points. You only get about 1,200 or so points from a story mode stage, on average. You can get points from playing multiplayer as well, and more points than story mode at that, but still only around 4,000 or so. Which still adds up to a LOT of playing just to unlock one monster. Some monsters even cost up to 100,000 points! I mean, seriously. There's making monsters challenging to unlock, and then there's just making them outright frustrating to unlock.
Godzilla Unleashed really does try to do some ambitious things, as well. Like the factions. There's a few different factions, including Earth Defenders, Aliens, Mutants, and more. Every monster belongs to one of these categories. Throughout the course of the game's story mode, your actions will win you favor with certain factions, while making others hate you. This is a really good idea, but doesn't really come into play often. Most of the time you'll end up barreling through everyone in your path regardless of how much they like/dislike you. Another underutilized feature is the game's strength/weakness system. Each monster has it's own set of strengths and weaknesses to the various elements in the game. However, like with the factions, you won't end up paying much attention to this in the long run, as it doesn't make enough of an impact on the gameplay.
Perhaps the most glaring problem with Godzilla Unleashed, however, is the glitches. All sorts of glitches have been reported by players, ranging from mildly annoying to game-stopping. More minor glitches include Kiryu's Absolute Zero cannon firing only downwards and ugly overlapping text when you unlock things in story mode. Bigger glitches that have been reported include the game freezing when fighting a certain monster (though this is rare, and doesn't happen every time said monster is fought) and being completely unable to finish Megaguirus' tutorial. In fact, I even have my own glitch story to share. I was playing in story mode as Godzilla 2000, against Krystalak and Obsidius. I was locked in a beam struggle with Krystalak, and Obsidius hit me, knocking me down. Strangely, my breath weapon was still firing the whole time I was down, and continued to do so once I got up. However, it wasn't damaging anything, and my energy wasn't going down despite the fact that my beam was firing! I couldn't do anything else, either. Only move. I couldn't attack whatsoever. Needless to say, I didn't win the fight. It's completely inexcusable for a game to ship with this many glitches. I don't blame Pipeworks for this, however. It's true that the game could have used another month of QA, but deadlines just made this impossible. Which is really unfortunate, as glitches take a lot away from the game.
Perhaps the game's only real saving grace is the multiplayer mode, humorously called "Brawl" mode. In this mode, up to four monsters can duke it out in a city of your choice. The coolest thing about this mode, though, is the amount of customization that's available for the matches. You can customize just about every single aspect, and even save your custom settings (up to four, actually). Fighting against the computer is all well and good, but if you can find three other friends who have enough patience to learn the controls, you'll have a blast in multiplayer. It's a real shame that the initially promised WiiConnect24 functionality wasn't delivered upon. Online play would help this game SO much.
Technically, the game has high points, and low points. Highest being that the monster models and lighting effects are gorgeous. Especially the lighting effects on the water in the cities. In every other aspect, however, the cities seem flat and lifeless. Aurally, the game is a mixed bag. Monsters sound exactly the way they should, with authentic roars and sound effects. However the music is standard generic "monster metal", of the type found in almost every other Godzilla game. It's a shame that they couldn't get any classic Toho music to use instead of the generic metal they ended up using.
Godzilla Unleashed really has the potential to be a great game. However, it falters more often than it succeeds. Sloppy controls that add no immersion at all, a dull, repetitive story mode, and an inexcusable amount of glitches hurt the game immensely. If it weren't for the entertaining multiplayer mode, this game would be a complete wash. Honestly, Godzilla fans are going to buy this regardless of what I or anyone else says. But if you're on the fence over whether or not to buy it, I'd say don't. At least, not yet. At $50, it's just not worth it. But if you absolutely must have your city-smashing fix, wait for the game to drop to $30 or so (which I expect it will do rapidly). As it stands, Godzilla Unleashed is a prime example of a game with loads of unfulfilled potential, that only the most hardcore Godzilla fans will get the most out of.