Released in 1989 on the Nintendo Entertainment System, Monster Party was one of the earliest video games I recall picking out for a rental, and I'm sure you can see why with one glance at this cover. Faux Audrey II and the skull-demon-xenomorph were what really sold me, though none of these monsters really appear in the game itself. Oh no. Most of these chuckleheads would be far too normal. I reviewed this game's creatures years ago in one of my old, ugly sprite pages, but as a title close to my heart, I'm long overdue for a fresh look at its rogue's gallery. Seriously though, isn't that cover art just gorgeous? I would buy that as a full size poster.
Monster Party's storyline is simple, yet strange. On his way home from a ball game, a boy named Mark is suddenly confronted by a gargoyle who falls from the sky, introduces himself as "Bert" and awkwardly asks for the child's help in defending his homeworld from an army of evil monsters. I especially like how Bert doesn't even ask Mark's name until they're already flying off into space. Bert then fuses the two of them together. Yeah, don't warn the kid or anything.
Monster Party seemingly began its development as a darker, more grotesque adventure, but blood and gore was ultimately removed from most of the final product with a few jarring exceptions - most notably the latter half of the first stage, when the cheerful facade boils away into one of the bloodiest, most hellish environments of the 8-bit era. Even the music changes from a chipper, adventurous mood to a depressing dirge. After climbing mountains of blood-puking skulls, it's a shame just how drab and forgettable the remaining stages become.
With or without mutilated bodies, however, it's the monsters of this party whose uniquely quirky concepts set this game apart from any other, their equally quirky battle cries adding a sense of personality beyond the faceless, mindless villains of so many other games. There are twenty two bosses in all, and we're going to give every one of them their own review!
ENTRANCE TO THE DARK WORLD
The "Man Eating Plant" is the first boss you'll encounter, provided you also enter the first doorway you happen upon. This boss demonstrates one of the few known changes from the game's beta version; originally resembling the plant on the game's cover, its projectile weapon consisted of musical notes, and it was surrounded by sound equipment. This obvious homage to Little Shop of Horrors was edited down in the retail version, though you can still stand on a black space where a speaker used to be. I think I honestly prefer the more pitcher-plant-like final design.
The second boss is easily one of Monster Party's most memorable moments; a boss who's already dead when you get there, complete with a circling fly. It apologizes for the inconvenience, and you instantly win the "battle" by default. Your greatest weapon was tardiness.
There's a lot of confusion over the actual nature of this amiable carcass. Internet reviewer "Deceased Crab" professes to have borrowed his username from the monster, but actually seems to have coined it himself; the only name given by any official material is "Giant Spider" in the game's manual, possibly an erronous holdover from the beta version. On close inspection, the remains clearly belong to a reptilian or mammalian vertebrate - quite possibly skinless.
The deceptively timid "Pumpkin Ghost" is only the final battle of the first stage, but one of the most challenging in the entire game. It leaps around the screen, its head constantly spinning as it spits tiny pumpkin projectiles in an unpredictable pattern. This adorable bastard is what stopped me dead in my tracks as a child, even when I managed to transform from Mark to Bert, a temporary but very powerful upgrade you can find in every stage.
It's said that this boss was original a giant ape, patterned after those in Planet of the Apes. Again, their last minute replacement is much more fun.
DARK WORLD DUNGEON
Medusa, contrary to the cover art, appears with the face and body of a gigantic snake. While mythologically inaccurate, it seems like such an obvious design choice that I'm amazed I've seen it virtually nowhere else. Try and find me one other Medusa in any published work without either the face or body of a human. It's slim picking. Her sprite is completely static and never moves, but her projectiles appear to be Tsuchinoko, pudgy little hopping snakes from Japanese folklore.
Haunted Well might seem boring at first glance, but there's something I really like about battling a well. A well with a pretty cocky attitude, at that. Its floating, ghostly flames resemble Hitodama, ghostly flames familiar to Japanimation nerds. Yeah, I still call it Japanimation. Har har.
This boss is exactly what it looks like. Referred to in the manual as "Shrimp Attack," this "monster" begins battle in the form of some titanic crustacean's severed, deep-fried abdomen, flying - yes, flying - around the room as it attempts to ram a little boy to death. Taking a few hits, it suddenly transforms into a giant Onion Ring, and finally some unknown greasy snack on a stick, possibly fried tofu or a chicken kebab.
It's obvious that Shrimp Attack was once another movie reference - the background includes what almost certainly represent a set of teleportation pods from David Cronenberg's remake of The Fly. It's a shame we'll never get to see whatever insect-headed mutant we were meant to encounter, but it's hard not to love a replacement as insane as fried food. I like to think we're looking at some crazed, supernatural embodiment of unhealthy eating. Its catchphrase seems to be derived from the classic rhyme "Over the teeth, past the gums, look out stomach, here it comes!"
DARK WORLD CAVE
"Giant Bull Man" isn't an especially original boss, but I appreciate a minotaur who communicates in bovine puns, and he attacks with tiny, cartoon cows. That's a little warped, isn't it? Bulls are supposed to protect the females of the herd, not hurl them suicidally at their enemies. Why does he even carry a giant scythe if he's not going to use it? In the game's intro screen, he can also be seen with a very different design. I kinda like the hairy green one.
The "Guardian of the Giant Sphinx" appears to be a ghostly, transparent mummy, large to us but smaller than most of the other bosses. As far as introductions go, "my legs are asleep!" is as good as any other we've seen. Perhaps he believes its entirely your fault, and it's time for you to pay. As far as sphinxes go, however, we have definitely seen more impressive.
The real "Giant Spider" makes one of the game's more menacing statements, and seems to be a star player in this monstrous empire, as it's the only boss we'll encounter again later. It's also another boss with an alternate design known to the public; a giant, spider-legged, roughly humanoid head. Its deformed features are remarkably disturbing, though not so much so to explain the design change.
DARK WORLD CASTLE RUINS
The "Giant Samurai" is another boss with a mediocre design, but a lot of charm in only a few words. There doesn't actually seem to be anybody wearing this haunted armor, who does indeed move at a sluggish, plodding pace. Why does he want us to know that ahead of time? Does he hope we'll go easy on him? Slowpoke or not, he hacks away at us with a sword that must be at least ten feet long.
The adorable "Giant Cat" adorably hurls a never-ending stream of bloodthirsty "kittens" from its wooden crate, perhaps giving continuous birth. The offspring look a little more like tiny Gremlins than any feline, however, and it wouldn't be surprising if the cat were originally a giant Mogwai.
Conceptually, "Punk Rocker" is one of the laziest and most uninteresting bosses here, but I suppose there's something funny about a giant punk rocker as a "monster." According to the manual, he "attacks with bad-playing guitar." Is "bad-playing guitar" supposed to be a verb or a noun?
DARK WORLD LAKE
The "Living Dead" may not look like it, but they're possibly one of the most inventive boss battles on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Your entire gaming experience tells you to start hitting these two zombies, and keep hitting them until they finally fall down and die. What you're left to figure out on your own is that each hit merely prolongs their dancing. They don't come after you. They don't attack you. They just dance in place until they crumble into dust on their own, and once again, you get a default victory. It was a test. They asked you to watch their dance, that's all you needed to do...but you've grown too accustomed to slaughter, and only by giving up violence will you pass the trial of the Living Dead.
"Mad Javelin Man" is the only other boss of the lake, and probably another of the game's hasty edits. It looks like it was meant to be a Gundam knockoff, but was given a "coconut" face and a funny name. What may have made relative sense at some point is now a completely original, confusing new monster with a lethal misunderstanding how humans are supposed to play with javelins, which may be where the "mad" comes in. Does he even comprehend the danger he presents? Does he realize we have no choice but to kill him, or be killed by him? Javelin Man, NO!
DARK WORLD HAUNTED HOUSE
This frustratingly labyrinthine stage has only a single, equally disorienting boss to locate. "Chameleon Man," despite the name, is actually a mesmerizing room full of hideous, bleeding faces, a number of which sort of skitter around the chamber in random directions. Only one of the faces is the "true" Chameleon Man, clearing the room when destroyed. Can you imagine actually being in this situation? Mark either has nerves of steel or already lost his mind somewhere around the floating prawn.
DARK WORLD TOWER
The manual calls this battle "Giant Caterpillar," but he's quick to correct us. He has a name, thank you very much! A rather cringeworthy name once he curls up and starts rolling around the room. That's right. Royce rolls. Haha. Did you name yourself Royce? You card! I always wondered why he sits in a giant bed. Could he be a reference to Gregor Samsa from Kafka's Metamorphosis, who spontaneously awoke in the body of a giant, hunched insect?
Our second battle with the Giant Spider is identical to the first, except for the convenient "II" on our foe's abdomen, and its threat to suck all of our blood again, as though it already did the first time. Wait...did it? Could Mark have been completely exsanguinated when we weren't looking?
"Grim Reaper" assaults our impressionable minds with some of the filthiest language on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Hey, it was the 80's. I guess they only got away with "Hell" by putting it so far into the game. Like the minotaur we saw earlier, Grim Reaper doesn't even use his scythe to attack - he just sends what are presumably human souls to do his dirty work.
DARK WORLD HEAVEN'S CASTLE (huh?)
"Giant Dragon" is a rather uninspired flying serpent, but by far the game's most difficult battle. The thing is on you every second, and it's a nightmare to land a hit on its fast-moving head. This is the third and final monster who addresses us as "baby," which is good if you were getting tired of all the sexual harrassment directed at an adolescent boy by giant demons. Another distinguishing characteristic of the Giant Dragon is that it's the only boss to the left of your starting point in the stage. In fact, this is the only stage where you can go left from that point at all, which can be surprisingly difficult to deduce on your own.
"Hand Creature" is an interestingly grotesque beast, a mummified-looking cyclops with a dozen short, squirming arms. Naturally, he throws severed hands as his mode of attack. It's hard to tell whether this one might have replaced something else; it calls to mind both a Hindu God and a Facehugger from Alien.
I'm pretty sure this is what manual refers to as "Snake Man," although the only snake here is on its headdress. I have to say this is a favorite of mine for its sheer hideousness - and the way it spurts blood from its ragged neck as it shoots along the floor, sort of like a rocket sled, only with blood and it's a Pharaoh that wants to eat you in soup. I guess it's not like a rocket sled.
DARK WORLD MASTER
This is referred to as the game's final "round" in the manual, but there isn't any stage before this battle. Foreshadowed by the previous three boss screens, the Dark World Master is just a humongous, hideously inhuman face dominated by immense, lidless eyeballs. Its attack method? Smaller, ghostly floating eyeballs that emerge from its single, lidded nostril...or is that just another weird eye?
Monster Party wraps up with some satisfyingly twisted imagery that you'll just have to see for yourself to believe. Even with the cop-out at the end (OR IS IT?) it's some pretty bent stuff - did Bert just want the other monsters out of the way before his own reign of terror? Does he just not understand that humans don't consider it a "present" to wed an infectious corpse? I guess we'll never know, since "Monster After-Party" was canceled mid-production, and that's tragically not just a joke.
Fortunately, we can hold a little after-party ourselves, since we're not done with this game yet!
TOP TEN MINOR ENEMIES
Bats that are also deadly, flying umbrellas - a video game classic! This old standby may draw a bit from the Kasa-obake legend, though it's more likely just a play on how bat-like an umbrella already looks. It's weird how much their anatomy seems to change when they're resting upside down.
These transparent beings appear to be some sort of ghost or spirit, but have a pretty unique look with their shiny, bubble-like surface, smiling mouth and lack of eyes. Maybe they're supposed to be flying jelly blobs? They're vaguely reminiscent of Slimer, so we could be looking at another mangled cameo.
In the flooded forest of the third stage, you'll see what appear to be the fins of sharks - until they jump out of the water and oh no! They're just LITTLE sharks playing pretend! Haha! Unfortunately, they're as deadly as everything else in the game. Why do they even bother with the gag fin? It just gives away their position!
The sewer-like second stage is home to some pretty icky mutants. These large, purple mouths cling in place by their blunt tentacles and vomit as you approach. I love the idea of barfing mouths in the sewers. Much more unnerving than alligators, though the stage includes those as well.
In the second to last stage we encounter this blatant reference to the "Elephant Man," a real person who suffered a shocking degree of deformity. When we knock off their cloth masks, we find literal elephant heads, which manages to be a whole lot creepier than one would expect.
Another sewer denizen, these fish with disturbingly human legs represent one of my favorite underused monstrous archetypes, the "reverse mermaid." These are not to be confused with "fish people," mind you, who have fully humanoid torsos and arms. It's the combination of straight-up fish with an incongruous set of walking legs that makes a proper reverse mermaid, a visual both disturbingly eerie and hilariously pitiful. I wish things like this haunted sewers.
I know they're incredibly simple. I know they're a huge cliche. That doesn't stop disembodied eyeballs from always, always being one of my favorite things wherever they appear, and they're always a delight when they have almost no body to speak of. These are nothing but raw, massive oculars on fat, wormy tentacles. What more could you want?
Appearing in the grisly latter half of the first stage along with the walking eyeballs, these polka dotted pig-dogs with floppy man-faces are possibly the most legitimately frightening visuals in the entire game. Imagine one of these coming at you out of the darkness, an idiotic smile on its drooling, unblinking human visage!
Not so frightening, however, are these disembodied pants wandering one of the later stages. Or maybe they've got legs in there, seeing as they also have socks and shoes? It's entirely possible that these are an "upgrade" to our #1 Monster Party mook, the one and only thing more bizarre than killer pants:
Scattered throughout the first stage, these completely stationary and essentially defenseless "monsters" appear to be either naked humanoids buried upside-down to their waists or just bodiless, flailing legs. Like every enemy in the game, they damage you on contact - perhaps because they never, ever stop kicking. They never go anywhere and they have no projectile weapons. They're legs - just legs - sticking straight up out of the ground.
These things are, as a matter of fact, the very first thing that I remember about Monster Party. Before I recall that it's the game with Sorry, I'm Dead or Watch my dance, these ridiculous floor-legs pop into my head, and I find myself fascinated. Why and how does anything like this even come into existence? Whose idea was it to have deadly butts sticking out of the ground? I don't know why, but I freaking love these things. They're so incredibly simple, yet equally as compelling. What dark secrets are you hiding, naked leg monsters? Where did you come from? What do you want from us? Do you yearn for the walking pants, or are you mortal enemies?
For more Monster Party Fun, I highly recommend the hilarious JonTron review/play-through. Some materials you've just seen also come courtesy Unseen64's restoration project for the game, which seems to have hit some indefinite snags but still offers an interesting glimpse at what might have been.