The Godzilla Game is An Homage to the Monster Icon's Origins
Natsume Atari's upcoming Godzilla: The Game is less an action-oriented tie-in to the last year's Godzilla film and more an homage to the more than half a century-old show that spawned the kaiju phenomenon.
During a recent hands-on session with the game, my fears about the title's content were assuaged. When I saw an early build of the North American version this past February--the game has been out in Japan since late last year--I noted that things looked clunky; the monsters and buildings fell in choppy animations that made it look like the game was running slowly. The localized version was still in early stages, but based on the interactions between Godzilla and his opponents, I felt like I was watching a simple beat em up in the Godzilla skin.
But what I initially thought was game lag is actually a stylistic choice from the developers, a deliberate decision to slow down the action into small segments that allow players pause to watch the destruction. According to Godzilla producer Shunsuke Fujita, this design choice is meant to mimic the look and feel of the classic Godzilla television show. It's less about the visual drama, and more about recreating the monster's origin point.
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"It was the 60th anniversary of the Godzilla series last year. The basis of making this game was really on that, on the lore of the original Godzilla and how we could celebrate that," Fujita said, noting the most important element of development was making the game faithful to the old shows and films.
"It was important to recreate the atmosphere of the movies and, also inside of that, being able to control Godzilla, to be Godzilla," he added. "What is Godzilla? Godzilla is destruction, destroying the city, that's really what it's about. So having that ability was really important. That's ultimately why the game looks the way it does.
"Everyone who first sees Godzilla, most people see it when they're a kid, and he just looks so cool. I didn't want to make a game where you had to fight against Godzilla or destroy him, because people don't want to destroy Godzilla. They want to be him."
Playing as Godzilla feels powerful, despite the choppy animations; his two bigger attacks, a tail whip and his famous laserbeam, deal big damage to enemies and buildings. You do start the game as a smaller Godzilla with the goal to destroy buildings and earn extra meters on your height (you can grow up to 100 meters this way), but you never feel handicapped. You are never weak Godzilla trying to earn his place. You are always the giant, strong Godzilla.
There are a couple of neat tweaks that make Godzilla interesting. The first has to do with your combatants; you can battle not one, but two other giant monsters as Godzilla. Typically battles begin with one monster crossing Godzilla's path, with a second suddenly appearing as you whittle down the first's health bar. A kaiju fan myself, it was a little thrilling to be blasting King Ghidorah into the ground only to have Mothra fly up behind me and knock me flat on my scaly butt.
The human military is also firing on you the whole time. Waves of fighter jets and machine gun spray will often get in Godzilla's way, as humanity fights to take you down along with the monsters that you are trying to take down. So not only does Godzilla have to destroy other monsters, but he has to survive assaults from the city's inhabitants. It's a lot to take in and keep track of, but not too much; it's just enough to keep you on your toes while still allowing you to enjoy smashing buildings.
The second interesting wrinkle is the ability to change camera angles. By default battles will start with angled views watching from above or the side, but you can also choose to watch your fight through the windows of nearby buildings and from the street level. This is really neat; fighting as Godzilla and gazing up at his monstrous forms while he smashes Biollante to bits is great. It's just like those old-school Godzilla shows.
Also Space Godzilla is in this game. Space Godzilla is pretty great.
Speaking of additional monsters, there are a lot to choose from in Godzilla. Hedorah, King Ghidorah, Mothra, three different versions of Mechagodzilla (spanning five generations of the kajiu's history), and Jet Jaguar, to name a few. Producer Fujita explained that many of these monsters were added to the game before he could sign off on them; developers would make the monsters they loved the most, and when he showed up to check on progress, there they were, already animated and running. The developers would often over-develop out of enthusiasm. How could he say no?
"There were some [monsters] that I had to push on my end, because I wanted them in the game," Fujita said. "One thing was for Mechagodzilla. Three Mechagodzilla are in the game. Originally the plan was to make two Mechagodzilla, the most-different two of them, but I looked at that and said, no, we have to put in three, because I also want Super Mechagodzilla in there. It was important to me.
"I wanted all generations [of kaiju] in," he added. "Within those areas I would let developers decide which ones they wanted to go with."
Godzilla: The Game launched for PS3 in Japan in December of last year, but an updated version called Godzilla Versus was recently announced for PS4 in the region. The PS4 version has more features; the three-monster battles will be exclusive to the newer console, as will the ability to battle other players online and use Space Godzilla as a playable monster. This content discrepancy will also hold true for the North American versions: The PS3 version will be the same as the Japanese PS3 version, while our PS4 version, the localized Godzilla Versus, will also contain the same extra features. However, the game will just be called Godzilla: The Game for both platforms in the West.
So why is this sci-fi icon getting a video game adaptation? Why is Godzilla--and in turn the kaiju phenomenon--so important to popular culture? Fujita believes it's because Godzilla's literal larger-than-life status places him above other genres, like superhero films, in terms of the fantastical. It's something that can never exist, and so we crave it more in our fiction.
"The main element that people are really into is that Godzilla, definitely, is impossible in the real world, it's impossible to have huge monsters fighting one another," Fujita said. "You might have something like Batman or Spider-man, and that''s more down to scale, it's not humanly possible but more down to scale. But the scale of huge monsters fighting one another--it's completely, definitely not possible. It's also just really cool."
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