Drive-in kitsch delivers big


What do American’s know about monsters and monster movies?

Before Godzilla, Gamera, or King Ghidorah, there was a giant ape named King Kong who swatted planes down from the Empire State Building. Yes, those last few American-made Godzilla movies may have lacked finesse, but the land of Cadillacs and cowboys holds a place in the history of monster cinema for coming up with “King Kong.”

And so it should be no surprise that Capcom’s “War of the Monsters,” certainly the finest giant monster game to appear on PlayStation 2, was actually created in the United States. “War of the Monsters” was created by Incog, a Sony-owned development house in the backwoods U.S. state of Utah — the state known for Mormons and mountains.

The styling of “War of the Monsters” is drive-in movie chic. Back in the 1960s, when Americans loved roadsters and drive-in theaters, monster movies were hot. Americans liked movies in which nuclear radiation made spiders as big as houses and housewives exposed to toxic waste grew taller than telephone poles.

This is the setting for “War of the Monsters,” the 1960s vision of the future. This game is not futuristic, it is retro-futuristic.

In “War of the Monsters,” players control such 100-foot American monster movie favorites as a giant ape, a one-eyed plasma monster, a gargantuan robot (there are actually two robots — a somewhat Japanese-style mechanical samurai and a far less sleek American model), or one of five other colossi as they duke it out in one of several urban arenas.

“War of the Monsters” has single-player missions in which you lead your monster from one battle to the next. Some of these levels are exceptionally difficult. The key to playing this game is mastering the quick attack. You grab a good weapon — anything from a radio tower to a gasoline truck, lock on to your enemy, hurl your weapon, and move before your enemy returns the favor.

In the single-player game, revenge often comes quickly and with interest. After a few cake levels in the beginning, you will find yourself clawing for life despite the power and speed of your monsters.

But to truly appreciate “War of the Monsters,” you must enter the two-player battles. Here, you and a friend can stab and pulverize each other with absolute impunity. You can scale tall building and use buses, cars, gas trucks and iron girders as weapons. You can make building collapse on your foes.

While the game does not support three- and four-player battles, it will allow for artificial intelligence-controlled drone monsters to compete against human opponents. To a certain extent, this allows for something that resembles a four-player battle. Still, your console never shrieks when you impale drones with a well-timed radio tower. It’s not nearly as satisfying.

You may have seen other games based on the famous Toyo litany of monsters. Those games are slower and more in keeping with the movies. Let me tell you, slow moving monsters may lend themselves to movies filled with rioting crowds, but they do little for gameplay. Forget suffering through “Godzilla Generations” and “Destroy All Monsters.” Let loose with “War of the Monsters” and see what a fleet-of-feet behemoth can bring to a battle.

“War of the Monsters” deserves major snaps for its great monsters, creative settings and fast gameplay — but those marks get bumped up further for its sense of style. Every bit of this game harkens back to the days of “Them” and “The Attack of the 50-Foot Woman,” movies with campy music and monsters born of faulty science.

“War of the Monsters” also deserves credit for solid graphics. The settings in which it takes place look good — like real cities and wilderness areas. The sound is solid, though perhaps not groundbreaking.

It is in the gameplay and humor departments that “War of the Monsters” distinguishes itself. Once you get a whiff of these behemoths, going back to other monsters and giant robots almost seems like a chore.