Monster House for the Game Boy Advance is an exception to the rule that says games based on movies have to suck. Not only is this fast-paced role-playing game faithful to the movie's story and humor, it's also quite a lot of fun to play. Judging from the top-down viewpoint and real-time combat, THQ and developer A2M clearly drew inspiration from Nintendo's Legend of Zelda series when they were putting this game together. That sort of imitation won't win the game any awards for originality, but it certainly is a recipe for a slickly produced movie tie-in that's genuinely engaging from the moment you start it up until you complete it some 15 hours hence.
Like the movie, the game follows the adventures of three friends--DJ, Chowder, and Jenny--as they work to prevent the local haunted house from eating everyone on Halloween. The kids conjure up a plan to put the house to sleep using cough syrup, but their machinations are thwarted when the house rolls out its carpetlike tongue and gobbles them up. Talking to their friend Skull using their walkie-talkies, the kids come up with an alternative plan that involves putting out the fire fueling the house's furnace. Doing so won't be so easy, however, as the house is a labyrinth of multiple floors, numerous doors, and many hungry enemies. You have to guide the kids through the house, alternating control between the three friends while solving puzzles, finding keys, and battling monsters.
Unlike the majority of role-playing games, which are packed with dialogue and employ turn-based combat, Monster House limits dialogue to certain situations and has you wandering the house and fighting monsters in real time. In that regard, Monster House has more in common with Nintendo's Legend of Zelda than familiar RPG staples such as Final Fantasy or Pokèmon. It really is striking just how similar in look and feel this game is to Legend of Zelda. Monster House employs a top-down viewpoint and equips you with an upgradeable main weapon and multiple subweapons, such as flashlights and flashbulbs. The kids in Monster House don't attack using a sword, like Zelda's protagonist Link does, but their water guns function similarly. When you shoot an enemy a couple times, it disappears. The house itself is merely one large dungeon, but each floor has its own unique motif, puzzles, and bosses. Furthermore, the floors of the house are setup such that you'll often have to backtrack to find the keys or items you need.
Monster House does manage to add one interesting ripple to the formula. Each of the three kids has a different type of water pistol and a unique special ability that comes in handy in certain spots. DJ can climb some walls, Chowder can push heavy bookcases, and Jenny can crawl into tunnels that are too tight for the other two to enter. You can alternate control between any of the three kids anytime you like simply by pressing the left shoulder button. This feature, thankfully, isn't used to excess. Most of the time, you're free to control whichever kid you prefer. Every so often, though, you'll come across a puzzling spot that requires one of the kids' unique abilities.
Monster House has a superdeformed look that serves the game well. All of the characters are drawn in a squat style and have a healthy variety of movement and attack animations. The various possessed chairs and bookcases don't exude a ton of personality, but they're all smoothly animated and generally fit the game's overall motif. Each of the house's 10 floors has a unique color scheme or theme. Sometimes these themes are subtle, such as the attic with its cobwebs strewn about, and sometimes they're downright obvious, such as one of the basements that is filled with bubbling sewage. The top-down viewpoint affords a good sense of depth, even though the graphics are entirely made up of two-dimensional sprites and backgrounds.
The music and sound effects are also more than adequate. There are plenty of creaking and crashing noises associated with the house and its possessed furniture, and the kids' water guns give off the requisite gushy sounds. The spooky music in the background isn't all that interesting, but it does convey the appropriate mood.
For sure, if you enjoyed the Monster House movie, you're bound to enjoy the GBA's Monster House video game. And even if you haven't seen the movie, you might like the game anyway, especially if you're fond of the action RPG genre. Monster House for the GBA duplicates so many of the aspects that make Nintendo's Legend of Zelda games great, that, by the process of imitation, it manages to be almost as awesome.