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War of the Monsters is a game I discovered well after it released. I had never heard about it when it was in its prime and when I found out about it, I was immediately interested. It’s a love letter to classic monster movies. Considering its reception and how people still go on about it, I’m surprised a sequel or spiritual successor never released. Was it competing with Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee? I don’t know, but I do know it only released for the PlayStation 2. Developed by Incognito Entertainment and published by Sony Computer Entertainment, War of the Monsters was released for the PlayStation 2 in January, 2003. I bought this game, complete in box, a while ago but for this review I played the digital version on PS4. Specifically on a PS4 Pro. I had yet to play any PS2 games on my PS4 so I figured this would be a good start. And I figured if there was an issue, I would just hook up my PS2. But there wasn’t and the game does come with trophies so that’s neat I guess.
The story goes that alien ships crashed on Earth and leaked out green liquid that infects creatures, humans, and robots resulting in a war between the monsters. That’s really it and as far as I’m concerned, it’s a good enough setup for giant monsters to destroy each other. Like we actually need a reason.
War of the Monsters is a giant monster fighting game that supports up to two players. The Adventure mode is like the single player campaign where you progress through multiple stages battling monsters and bosses. You’ll get to play as multiple different monsters, many of which are nods to classic monsters seen in franchises like Godzilla and King Kong, among others, and they each come with multiple costumes. Each monster can run around, dash, climb buildings, strafe, taunt, jump, perform a light attack, heavy attack, pick up throw objects and opponents, fire projectiles, block, and activate special moves. You have a short range special and a long range special. Some monsters can fly, some can move quickly while others can inflict more damage and you’ll want to play as each one to learn their strengths and weaknesses. Performing certain attacks and moves drains energy which does regenerate over time and acquiring enough energy allows you to activate one of your specials. You can chain attacks together for combos, you can run and climb around the environments freely, and the action is fast-paced. This game can be tough and the camera can sometimes work against you which does become annoying. There is a lock-on mechanic that can be helpful sometimes and other times, it can be a real nuisance. Whenever I was up against more than one opponent, I often found myself locking onto the wrong one and it doesn’t help that you can target other things like helicopters for example and there’s no way to easily switch between targets while locked onto something. The game is hard and the camera and lock-on system can make things even more difficult.
The Adventure mode plays out in levels with boss battles peppered throughout and the biggest downside of the mode is that it always plays out the same no matter which monster you play as. It would have been nice if, at the very least, the order of opponents was different for each monster. Just something to mix it up. Despite the repetitive nature, you will want to play through the Adventure multiple times because you’ll earn battle tokens for beating levels. Tokens can be spent to unlock new monsters, costumes, levels, multiplayer minigames and some of these things are expensive. If you have a Twisted Metal: Black save (I think you need to have beaten the game with Sweet Tooth) you’ll automatically unlock a specific costume for one of the monsters. In addition to the Adventure mode is Endurance and Free-For-All. The objective in Endurance is to survive as many opponents as you can. You choose your monster and level and fight opponents in succession. You can also earn tokens in this mode. Free-For-All is a mode consisting of multiple game types – sudden death, first to a specific number of wins, and unlimited play. In all of these game types you get to select a monster, up to three opponents, and a level. In Sudden Death, the first monster to defeat an opponent, wins. The First to a Specific Number of Wins game type should be obvious and in Unlimited Play, win or lose, you can just keep battling.
There’s three difficulty modes and I would highly suggest you start playing on Easy. Medium and Hard can destroy you. Even on Easy, the opponents can be relentless. I would often get caught in their combos and then launched across the level. Learning when to block is important and you can actually counter attacks which isn’t always easy. You can pick up almost anything like boulders, radio towers, and vehicles, among other things, and use them as melee weapons or chuck them at opponents. Certain objects can impale monsters and if that happens to you, you have to mash buttons to pull the object out, that is if you don’t get smacked around before you can do that. Monsters can also be stunned and getting out of that also requires mashing buttons. These things can happen often, especially if you’re still learning the ropes, and the button mashing just becomes tiresome. Being impaled or stunned means your monster is immobilized and vulnerable to attacks so you need to mash quick. And you will be attacked mercilessly. I think the bosses may be the easiest opponents in the game. Well not the final boss. He’s just a cheap asshole. A boss battle can last longer than a battle against one or more standard opponents but their patterns are pretty easy to memorize. You just need to learn how to dodge their attacks.
You’ll battle in numerous levels set in different locations. You’ll get to stomp around and destroy urban areas, an air field, canyon, volcano, and several others. The levels are basically just giant boxes with things that can be destroyed. Buildings will break apart, topple, and crumble. Vehicles can be destroyed, people can be crushed, helicopters and UFO’s will shoot at at the monsters, and there are some environmental hazards to watch out for. Monsters will die instantly if they’re crushed by buildings and performing dive attacks in certain spots within specific levels can result in opponents taking environmental damage. Scattered around the levels are health, energy, special, and cloaking device pickups. You’ll certainly want to learn where the big health pick ups are, energy is always helpful, red special pickups let you activate one of your specials, and the cloaking device makes it so opponents can’t lock onto you. The AI opponents will go for pick ups which is actually pretty neat.
War of the Monsters looked pretty good for the time it released. The monsters, themselves, all look unique, the game is filled with plenty of color, and each level feels unique and atmospheric thanks to good lighting and all the little details. Helicopters flying around, vehicles on the roads, and pedestrians running around are just neat little extras that add a bit of life to the environments. You can crush people, resulting in small splatters of blood which is cool. Smashing a building or knocking an opponent into one will result in parts of it breaking off and falling to the ground and particles flying through the air. Monsters will roar as they pulverize each other and take damage. You can hear people screaming along with sirens as you destroy the environments. And each hit and explosion sounds satisfying. The music perfectly fits the action with a lot of dramatic sounding songs that are reminiscent of those heard in the films the game was inspired by. The game runs very smoothly, I didn’t notice any frame rate dips, nor did I encounter any bugs or significant issues.
Despite the high difficulty and some minor issues, I really enjoyed War of the Monsters. It’s a game designed with pure fun in mind. It’s silly, campy, action-packed, and it oozes with atmosphere. The developers clearly love the classic monster movie genre and it shows. The love is in the details. The main menu resembles a drive-in movie and the loading screens contain fictional movie posters starring the playable monsters. You can see that every inch of this game was handled with care. The game is fun and offers a good amount of replay value. There’s multiple difficulty modes, game modes, things to unlock, and multiplayer. The actual gameplay, itself, is solid and the action is fast-paced and can get very hectic, especially when there’s more than two monsters fighting. Being able to freely move and climb around the environments gives off a sense of freedom and successfully landing hits on an opponent before sending them flying into a building can be very rewarding. War of the Monsters can be tough and unforgiving. It doesn’t hold your hand. Success is earned through practice and mastery of all the moves at your disposal.
I would absolutely recommend War of the Monsters to anyone. This is a game that clearly stands out because of what it actually is. It’s about giant monsters fighting each other and destroying the environments. It’s not a licensed game. It’s a love letter to the films that inspired it. It’s a shame a sequel was never developed because this certainly set the ground work for what could have been an awesome franchise. There’s not many games out there that focus on this concept but War of the Monsters is one of best the genre has to offer. Definitely check it out.