The game starts with an animated screen that generates the title of the game in a fuzzy wavy manner which eventually subsides into legible characters. A trail of evil gremlin tracks appears on-screen. This is followed by the appearance of 8-bit Gizmo, whose anxious expression at discovering the track gives away the premise of the game, which is about Gizmo single-handedly hunting down the wayward clones that it (and the human characters in the film) has inadvertently spawned.
But that is just about the only bit of story in this game (and it isn't really close to that of the movie's either). Nintendo had obtained a license to make a game from the film, but it does not appear to have utilized it well, as will be explained in detail soon.
Other than the menu animations, there appears to be nothing else. There is no multiplayer option and not even any gameplay options to be tweaked. The game is a single-player romp through-and-through, and the player is reminded of this with the typical "Push Start" prompt flashing on-screen, which is the only prompt to be had in the menu.
Upon starting the game, the first thing that the player would notice is the music. There are great 8-bit soundtracks to be listened to, but most of these were actually the soundtracks of the film strained through 8-bit filters, or altered by Nintendo to be more upbeat or moody, depending on the scene being depicted (but most of the time, the music is of the trippy sort).
Much of the variety in the soundtracks is expended in the introduction sequence, which is composed of a string of 8-bit artworks and accompanying text that depict the scenes from the start of the film. They were rather good to look at, but if the player had expected the rest of the game to be of this caliber, e.g. follow the film faithfully, then the player would be quite disappointed.
Despite the story exposition, the first level of the game does not appear to be set in a research lab; it appears to have a background that is themed after a film studio, what with silhouettes of cameras, spotlights and microphones in the background. Even so, that is the limit of the thematic design. Later levels also hardly look like the insides of a research lab either.
Square clumps of gnarly rocks make up the floors of the level and those of levels thereafter. Square clumps of less gnarly rocks make up the other platforms that Gizmo can jump onto. Rocks also make up plenty of other obstacles that Gizmo cannot interact with. If the material used is not rocks, then it is wrought bars of some indeterminate rigid stuff, or bricks.
Already, the player could see the dearth of imagination in the level designers. In fact, the level designers could also be confused, or could not care less, about the progression of the film's plot and its settings.
As a platforming game, Gizmo the player character can perform feats that most platform-jumping protagonists can, yet the movie version cannot (or cannot do as prodigiously). Gizmo can jump several times its height, but even so the height of the jump attained is still small because Gizmo's model is – understandably – small. Gizmo can toddle about at a decently fast clip, but it has no other movement option. The result of this rather limited design of the player character's 'natural' mobility is that Gizmo, as a platforming protagonist, feels unremarkable.
The only consolation for this is that Gizmo's model is actually quite well done, i.e. it follows its appearance in the movies quite well.
The game designers, fortunately, do realize that such an unremarkable in-game protagonist would make for a boring game if all the player has to do is make the protagonist jump around, so they have populated the levels with enemies like rats, the evil (and bigger) gremlins and some other critters that had little presence in the film. The levels also have objects that can be interacted with in meaningful ways, such as springs that can be used to reach high-up platforms floating in the air and jack-in-the-boxes of the punching-glove sort that can be triggered to deliver crushing blows.
Yet, it would appear that enemies and interactive objects have been included in the game for purposes of making the game a just barely competent platformer, complete with the usual typical designs of one.
Non-boss enemies can be categorized into a narrow range of archetypes: there are the 'sentries', who patrol short stretches of a platform or its entire length; then there are the 'homing' ones, whose appearance on-screen is followed by them taking a path that zeroes in on the sprite of the player character; and there are the 'pop-ups', which duck in and out of cover to deliver attacks, or simple just glare at the player character. There are some other designs for enemy goons, but they are usually minor variants of the above sorts.
If not for the visual clue that some enemies look like the evil gremlins from the film, the player might as well be playing another platform game that has little to do with the film franchise.
Most of the models for enemies are also very mundane, such as the very commonly used (for 8-bit games at the time) sprites that resemble spiders which are hanging off ceilings. However, the models for evil gremlins do at least look quite well-detailed, if rather sparsely animated.
If the player could stomach all this rather faithless representation of the movie, then the player can see that the game does at least try to portray Gizmo as a far more proactive protagonist than it was in the movie, and more importantly, in very amusing ways.
Gizmo starts every level unarmed, but often swiftly comes across a very sturdy pencil which it can use as a make-shift club that would never be broken regardless of how many enemies that the pencil has smashed. Gizmo's basic attack, while crude, has a satisfactory animation that shows Gizmo delivering a hearty and well-balanced blow with the writing instrument that had been easily improvised as a weapon.
What is perhaps more peculiar is that Gizmo's pencil-swings have an arc that can hit enemies that are either above it or in front of it. This is a rare design when compared to most protagonists' basic attacks for other platforming games at the time. This makes the pencil quite a reliable basic attack, and this is much welcome considering that Gizmo will usually be left with the pencil to defend itself with for most of the game.
Another convenient weapon design is that the pencil-swing also stuns enemies, and often sets them up for the next swing, effectively placing them in a stun-lock that could doom them. This design does seem to make the pencil quite overpowered, especially against slow enemies. On the other hand, there are plenty of fast-moving enemies in this game that can take advantage of the brief gap in between the animation time for Gizmo's swing and the period of stunning. Therefore, the humble pencil is thankfully not too overpowered a weapon as to render the game too easy.
(The player will still have to spam a lot of pencil attacks however, especially against bosses.)
Another weapon that Gizmo can directly use is a corporeal musical note (which is as preposterous as that sounds), which Gizmo retrieves from tiny radios. It is practically a one-shot weapon that attacks anything in a row in front of Gizmo's sprite. Unfortunately, it cannot be stored for later use. Considering that the radios are located sparsely throughout levels and at locations where enemies are not conveniently bunched together, the player will not be seeing efficient use of the notes, making them quite worthless weapons.
The last weapon that is much more useful is the metal case, or box. Gizmo can apparently stuff itself in one and move around with it like it is additional armour. The benefit from the case is that Gizmo can collide with most enemies, effectively terminating them while taking no harm at all. Unlike the musical notes, these power-ups are located much more wisely in levels that have them and accommodate attempts at speed runs.
Unfortunately, the case cannot be used against bosses, which are located at a different section of the level (typically at the end of the first section). Transitioning between sections causes Gizmo to lose whatever power-ups that it has, leaving only the pencil.
The bosses in this game would be standard fare to those who are already grizzled at playing platform games. There are bosses who jump around willy-nilly while throwing poorly aimed bouncing projectiles, bosses who summon minions who home in on the player character's sprite, bosses who make periodic dashes, etc. Their only impressive trait is that they are quite detailed-looking, often resembling the more peculiar of the evil gremlins in the movie quite well.
Fighting them is pretty much limited to predicting their moves and spamming pencil-swings on them when they are vulnerable. Boss designs are definitely run-of-the-mill, but there is still some satisfaction to be had from watching the diminutive Gizmo defeating opponents who are far bigger and MUCH less cute than it is.
In between levels, the player is given the chance to earn an additional life (which is typically labeled "1-Up", as expected of a Nintendo title) via a mini-game that is inspired by one of the more hilarious scenes in the movie. This mini-game is basically a timed, alternating button-masher and is terrifically simple to play and exploit for a seasoned player (or at least one that is very experienced in button-mashing), though the sight of diminutive Gizmo rapidly bopping away at a punching bag that is as big as it is and likely heavier can be worth quite a lot of laughs.
From a practical point of view, however, extra lives would only be of help to players who are careless. Players who are already quite skilled at platformers would not benefit much from it. Furthermore, spending a life simply entails the player restarting the entire level from scratch – there are no checkpoints in the levels whatsoever.
To summarize this review, this game is at best nothing more than an unremarkable platforming game with a thin veneer of glamour borrowed from the film.