A fear of the unknown tends to produce the greatest horrors of an era. For early sailors, the turbulent waves of the ocean harbored sea serpents and ancient deities, waiting to devour wayward ships. The first American colonists were weary of the Devil’s agents in their midst, fearful of witches and warlocks who could produce powerful spells and curses. During the 1950s, nuclear power was the great unknown, so it is only natural that the horror films of that time featured Atomic Age Monsters. From humble creatures such as reptiles and insects came titanic terrors; mutated by radioactive materials and bent on punishing the world for playing with science!
As a boy, I loved to watch Atomic Age monster movies. Considering my childhood obsession with dinosaurs, it is only natural that I would be equally enthralled by Godzilla and his colossal brethren. I have several memories of scouring our local library for these classic films, along with biographies of innovators like Ray Harryhausen (a personal hero). This love of Atomic Age monsters would manifest in the video game world with countless hours of Rampage at the local arcade. My Dad would take the helm as the gigantic-gorilla George, I would follow suite with the super-saurian Lizzie, and my brother would take his place as the third player, the whale-of-a-werewolf, Ralph. There we were, father and sons, punching through buildings, eating helpless civilians, and swatting pesky airplanes; each of us with a huge smile on our face.
As we grew older, and Dad began to retire from video games, my brother and I made the natural progression to the Neo-Geo arcade machines, where King of the Monsters was waiting for us. As Cyber-Woo and Super Geon, Cory and I would save (and somewhat demolish) the world’s greatest cities from massive mutants of alien design. But when the 16-bit era came to a close, the Atomic Age monsters faded along with it. Arcades began to disappear from the world, and the opportunity to stomp around Tokyo as a giant lizard presented itself less and less. But with the release of the Playstation 2 came new hope in the form of an excellent game: War of the Monsters.
Developed by Incognito Entertainment (the team behind Twisted Metal: Black), War of the Monsters is a fighting game that features four-way simultaneous battles between giant monsters of the silver screen. These fights occur across sprawling city levels, with plenty of destructible and interactive environments, which can be thrown at opponents. Many of the movie monsters are represented in the character roster, which includes a gigantic ape, towering praying mantis, a pair of robots, and even a dragon! Each of the characters also has several costume changes, which can be purchased with tokens earned through gameplay. With a handful of tokens, your monstrous lizard may change color schemes, convert to a mechanical dinosaur, or transform into a towering demon, all of whom are still bent on wanton destruction (and getting back to sleep beneath the ocean).
So many aspects of this game pay tribute to the monster films of the Atomic Age. Each loading screen features a movie poster for the next level, made up in the style of classic advertisements with a monster character demolishing a cityscape and the populace running in terror. The story is campy and wonderful: alien warships attack the Earth in the 1950s, causing mayhem and destruction until scientists develop secret weapons to short-circuit the UFOs, which crash in various locations around the globe. When the radioactive fuel leaks from the downed crafts, horrible mutations occur, and a War of the Monsters begins!
Unfortunately, all of this attention to detail and solid gameplay did not lead to a sequel for this amazing game. At least I can take comfort in knowing that War of the Monsters has been re-released as a PS2 Classic on the Playstation Network. So if you are searching for a more radioactive sort of scare this Halloween, be sure to check it out!