As you'd expect, Monster House for the Nintendo DS is based on the recently-released movie of the same name. What you probably weren't expecting, however, is that this movie tie-in isn't a generic platformer, like so many other movie tie-ins are. Instead, it's a top-view shoot-'em-up similar to Smash TV or Mutant Storm Reloaded. THQ and A2M have done a nice job aping Smash TV's run-and-gun design, going so far as to employ many of the same weapons. Of course, like Smash TV and others of its ilk, you can only get so much mileage out of gunning down room after room of the same few types of enemies. For those few hours, though, Monster House is fun.
Taking inspiration from the movie, the game puts players in control of three friends who have decided to end the local haunted house's reign of terror once and for all. The long and the short of the game is that you have to move from room to room shooting anything that moves with the kids' water guns. There are 54 rooms to clear, each filled with dozens of enemies along the lines of flying plates, spinning books, and galloping chairs. Roughly every dozen rooms or so, you'll also have to neutralize a monstrous boss.
Combat is fast-paced and sticks close to the classic Smash TV blueprint. Enemies spew forth in waves from entryways. Once you clear a room, you can move to the next. All of the action is shown on the top screen, while the radar on the touch screen keeps you updated on where items and enemies are. Using the directional pad and stylus, you can move and shoot in any direction you like. Wherever you position the stylus on the touch screen is where your shots go. Different power-up items appear at regular intervals. If you've played Smash TV before, you'll recognize most of them. There are health, shield, and quad damage items, as well as short-term attachments that allow the water gun to launch grenadelike water balloons, three-way shots, and water-filled rockets. Monster House makes the Smash TV formula a little more easygoing by letting players alternate between any of three different characters. When one of the kids is low on health or is captured by the house, you can use one of the others until they recover. Also, each of the three kids' water guns has its own range and power characteristics.
Just in general, too, the game is solidly put together. Fans of the movie will appreciate that the 3D representation of the house is suitably spooky and that numerous story sequences were taken right out of the movie. Hilarious characters like Zee, Bones, and officers Lister and Landers make frequent appearances. All of the dialogue is depicted through text, which obviously isn't as satisfying as recorded audio would have been, but there are plenty of ghoulish sound effects and bang-bangs to hear during actual gameplay. Visually, the 3D environments and characters are colorful and animate smoothly, and the screen can push dozens of enemies and bullets without bogging down. Sticklers will complain that the polygons and textures look rough, and that structures on the ceiling sometimes obscure what's going on at floor level, but these nitpicks really don't interfere with gameplay in any significant sense. One feature that's particularly nice is the ability to save between rooms. Combat in run-and-gun shooters can start to feel repetitive after a while, so being able to take a break and come back later is a good thing.
If there's a single fly in the ointment that may dissuade a prospective purchase, it's the lack of any sort of multiplayer features. So many people own Nintendo DS systems these days, and so many other games offer multiplayer play using only a single game card, that it really is a letdown when a game comes out that doesn't include a multiplayer mode. The three or four hours of first-run play time are satisfying, but it would've been nice to go through the game with a partner in the same way that Smash TV allows.
All told, Monster House for the Nintendo DS is a joy while it lasts. Admittedly, it doesn't quite make sense that they've transformed a kids' movie into a run-and-gun shooting game, but this route sure beats the generic adventure junk we're used to getting from movie tie-ins.