Video Game Review: Monster In My Pocket (NES)
The year was 1991. The popularity of the Nintendo Entertainment System was soaring to unimaginable heights, showing no signs of slowing since its initial launch six years prior. Classic games like Battletoads, Mega Man 4 and Ninja Gaiden III were released that year and showed off the capabilities of the NES like never before. Along with these titles based on original ideas, nearly every toy line in those days got its own video game crossover on the beloved console. Seriously, even Barbie took a break from her career as a doctor / astronaut / aerobics instructor / NASCAR driver to get the 8-bit treatment. The results were disastrous, proving that her materialistic keister was better suited in the kitchen. That wasn't a sexist remark; she was also a chef once.
Monster In My Pocket, a name that surely earned its fair share of giggles on elementary school playgrounds all over the country, first saw life as a line of tiny plastic figurines released by Matchbox in 1990. The monocromatic toys were presented in the form of over 200 unique creatures based on various characters of fantasy, science fiction and mythology, from the Abominable Snowman of Himalayan folklore to the Wendigo of Algonquian legend. With such a massive cast of potential characters at its disposal, how could this game possibly disappoint?
Press Start... if you dare...
Story: Although not as fleshed-out as the chronicles depicted in the comic book series released the same year, the plot of Monster In My Pocket remains engrossing enough for the average player to want to pick up a controller. Warlock, the main antagonist, draws a line in the sand, dropping an ultimatum on all beasts -- join his legion of darkness, or be shrunk to the size of a mouse and perish under his colossal boot. Fortunately for our heroes, Vampire and The Monster, the absentminded man-witch botches his spell, miniaturizing every creature in history to pint-sized proportions. It's up to the gamer to put a stop to Warlock's malevolent deeds, lumbering through a vast sea of enemies en route to Monster Mountain where your adversary waits with bated breath.
Control & Gameplay: The odds initially seem insurmountable as the two playable characters, Vampire and The Monster (thankfully not dubbed "Frankenstein"), team up against an endless horde of baddies. On the plus side, most of them take only one hit to destroy; conversely, you're limited to only one attack, a slash that bursts your target into smithereens. The characters handle identically, which is slightly disappointing. One would think that the developers would have put more thought into this aspect in order to give the player incentive to chose one over the other. For example, Vampire could be more vulnerable to damage but run faster while The Monster possesses a stronger punch but a slower pace. This oversight isn't a dealbreaker, though, as there are plenty of enjoyable elements in this microscopic world.
The player starts off with three lives and three continues, which seems pretty generous for what turns out to be an overall simple game. Every 2000 points nets a 1-Up, and power-ups that restore one unit of health populate the landscape frequently in the form of hearts in glass jars. Between battling creatures out for your blood, environmental hazards such as spikes, fire, dripping water and even golf balls bouncing down the street break up the monotony. Every once in awhile you'll encounter weapons, a key and a bolt, which can be hoisted over your head and tossed at unsuspecting enemies, oftentimes wiping out entire gatherings of oncoming assailants. These handy tools can be used indefinitely and stand as one of the game's more amusing additions.
Aww, leftovers again?
Graphics: Monster In My Pocket employs some pretty marvelous graphics for what one might expect from a lesser-known game released in the middle of the NES's run. All of the creatures have their own individual look and are mostly brightly-colored, giving the eye something appealing to look at while traversing the oversized landscape. The bosses, although hampered by attack patterns that a newborn could solve within seconds, each have their own charm -- Bigfoot pelts your sprite with a freezing mist, the Kraken attacks from below with its coiling tentacles and Medusa surrounds with her four clones, forcing the player to figure out which one is the true snake-haired bitch. All-in-all, the graphics suffice and give the game a slick, developed presentation.
On the fence? Keep reading.
Sound: Like the graphics, the sound stands as another high point. Each stage has its own individual theme that gets the heart pumping for the madness that lies ahead. Unfortunately, every boss fight is accompanied by the same 8-bit tune, but it's hardly an issue. Speaking of the bosses, they all make a particularly comical groan after they've been defeated, emitting a low-pitched "OOOOOoooooWWWwww," as if holding a dying pet in their trembling claws. Overall, the melodies are passable and add to the enjoyable, accessible gameplay.
You look a lot bigger on TV.
Fun Factor: Monster In My Pocket isn't a sprawling epic in the vein of The Legend Of Zelda, nor should it be considered a classic comparable to Super Mario Bros. It's an incredibly straightforward title until the final level, which becomes an endurance round, pressing the player into facing all of the previous bosses with no power-ups inbetween. The challenge never becomes overbearing, though, and the final boss is a real treat. This was one of the first games to implement the double-jump, which has since become a staple of most modern-day side-scrollers. It's also a short one, consisting of six brief but tightly-constructed stages. When it's all said and done, Monster In My Pocket rightfully deserves a spot in any NES fanatic's collection.
The Verdict: Most video gamers in the early 90s carried no expectations for Monster In My Pocket before its release, but one can imagine their collective surprise to find it quite the hidden gem plopped in the center of an otherwise bloated library of titles for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Snag a copy from eBay and tame the savage beast for yourself.
Rating: out of