Written by Jonathan Wojcik
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, a breathtaking work of art I wish I could print directly over my front door. Faux Audrey II and the skull-demon-xenomorph were what really sold me, but the selection here is only slightly representative of the game itself. Most of these chuckleheads are, if anything, far too normal to be Monster Party's poster children.
Monster Party's storyline is simple, strange, and stupid; one of my favorite combinations. 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.
Ultimately, Mark and Bert's adventure isn't all that fun to play, but its oddball selection of creatures and goofy sense of humor have cemented Monster Party as a cult classic, dragged out every so many years by another snarky internet reviewer perplexed by its many eccentricities. Eccentricities which, for many years, were chalked up to the game's hasty, last-minute changes. A prototype version, briefly previewed in a Japanese magazine, seemed to indicate a game with a lot more gore and a lot more copyright infringement, its original title actually "Parody World: Monster Party." The full extent of its changes would remain a mystery until a few prototype copies found their way onto ebay, one of which was ultimately won by someone kind enough to dump its data into a ROM file on July 03, 2014.
Downloading and playing through a copy almost immediately, I've now re-edited this very review with the Japan-only content, just a few short weeks before kicking off another Halloween season! Enjoy our brand new, ultra-complete review of every Monster Party boss!
Stage I: Entrance to the Dark World
Before we dive into the monsters, let's take a second to appreciate the first stage, surprisingly showcasing the most horrific and grotesque imagery in any version of the game. All seems cheerful, colorful and innocent until we pass by a huge tree, at which point the landscape of googly-eyed happy faces gives way to bleeding skulls and rotting corpses. Your mileage may vary on which is actually scarier. It's too bad the rest of the stages are so incredibly bland, but the rogues gallery more than makes up for it...
In Parody World, the Man Eating Plant is a more obvious reference to Little Shop of Horrors, including musical note projectiles, a microphone and an amplifier. Who knows why they thought the design needed changing if nobody batted an eye at Piranha Plants, but I have to say, the pitcher-trap head is the cooler of the two. Good call.
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, but 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.
Originally, Pumpkin Ghost was another blatant movie reference, this time a simian horse rider from Planet of the Apes. This is another change I think was for the better. I have nothing against apes (what heartless monster would?) but few things in life are better than a ghost with a spinning pumpkin for a head. I would so watch "Planet of the Ghosts With Spinning Pumpkins for Heads."
"GET YOUR FILTHY PAWS OFF ME YOU DAMN DIRTY GHOST WITH A SPINNING PUMPKIN FOR A HEAD"
Stage II: 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.
Again, the earlier take on this boss was actually the more obvious, more conventional one. Closer to the gorgon on the box art, which I'll admit is a pretty creepy gorgon, but it doesn't hold a candle to a snake with other snakes for hair. Interestingly, we see another variation walk by the game's title screen; blue skinned, and blood stained.
The Japanese basically says "Let me give you my tsuchinoko, uhu <3"
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, later digivolving to an onion ring and a kebab.
Now, I always assumed that "Shrimp Attack" must have started as a parody of The Fly, what with the telepods in the background, and was rather disappointed at first that we didn't get to see a crazy insect-monster in this lovely game, but it should have been obvious that this boss was always a bunch of fried food, because The Fry. I would love to watch Jeff Goldblum slowly deteriorating into the giant, bouncing, batter-dipped abdomen of a prawn.
Stage III: Dark World Cave
"Giant Bull Man" isn't an especially original boss, but I appreciate a minotaur who communicates in bovine puns, and 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? His design differs a bit in the game's menu screen.
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 Mummy represents one of the most minor changes to any of the bosses, originally lacking that cool transparent look. I'm sure this was only an aesthetic choice to make it a little spookier, otherwise somebody was afraid that opaque mummies were a Universal Studios property.
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 the boss whose chillingly creepy Parody World design was one of the first known to the public, years before any real copies were uncovered.
That ghastly-head spider was always one of Parody World's most tantalizing secrets, but now that the game has been leaked, we know the blue, bloodied version is another design limited to the title screen. In-game, we encounter a much paler creature with neither eyes nor an actual mouth opening, almost as though wrapped in a membrane of skin! I can't say I prefer one over the other; it's a haunting abomination either way. The Japanese actually reads "TRANSFORM! B-O-D-Y-X!!" ...was this supposed to be "The Thing?"
Stage IV: 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. 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.
I was right! Of course, I think the giant goofy cat is a whole lot more hilarious than a gigantic Gizmo. I'm not sure why they bothered changing the "gremlin" form at all, when it could still pass for an evil mama kitty.
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? Maybe the Dark World manifested this guy from the fears of old people.
Stage V: 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 "haniwa" 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!
I was sure this one would be a whole lot different and make a lot more sense, but the only difference is that he sometimes reveals an ugly, scowling human face. I'm glad that was eventually scrapped. My Mad Javelin Man only has small, round holes for facial features.
Stage VI: 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.
Stage VII: 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? This fight is absent from Parody World, but it would have been a good place for that bloodier, more colorful spider-head, as though he completed that transformation of his.
"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.
So it turns out there was a giant xenomorph planned as one of the "parody" bosses, but with a more robotic than organic design. Definitely not as cool as either the giant reaper or the skull-faced alien on the box art. One wonders if it had a less mechanical sprite at some point, which we may never get to see.
Sadly, this is the very last boss to differ between the two known versions of the game. As promising as the spider-face was, as hyped as we all were for its release, Monster Party was largely only weirder and cooler in its final form. Moreso than what was changed, it's surprising to know what wasn't changed; that things as silly as the giant Punk Rocker, Shrimp Attack and the Already Dead Guy were there from the get-go, and not just replacements for cheap pop-culture references.
Stage VIII: Dark World Heaven's Castle
"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.
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.
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 rumors of a sequel, "Monster After-Party," were only an internet prank.
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?
Monster Party's world of positively loony, sometimes sincerely unsettling bogeymen has long been an inspiration to my own dumb ideas...and I'll admit, I still secretly dream of being able to work on some sort of unofficial sequel or remake, if I only knew anything about making games past the art stage.