Written by Jonathan Wojcik
We've seen some pretty interesting video game monsters from the 70's and 80's these past dozen weeks, and this time, we're going to even look at one I actually played....kind of. Sort of. Let's say you're a monster-obsessed child in the mid-80's, Nintendo games feel like mystical gateways to tantalizing fantasy worlds, and you get your sticky hands on a cartridge with this shit on the cover:
Holy crap. Look at all this nonsense going down. That guy's got a dagger dripping with totally-not-but-totally-really blood, there's a bat goblin scratching its ass in bewilderment, there's a snake with another snake in its throat, there's a clawed mummy, a giant flying skeleton with visible pink lungs, a dripping wet slab of a beast with a hypodermic needle stuck in its forehead, an incredibly concerned rat, and...that guy.
My child-brain really locked on to this little bozo. Looking at this artwork in high resolution for the first time in my life, I can see that was probably supposed to be a worm wriggling out of its stomach-flesh, but as a kid, looking at this on a grainy sticker, I was positive that was some sort of bizarre umbilical hose connecting the goblin-toad's stomach to its spear-like weapon, a characteristic that I found exceptionally fascinating, like it pumped its victim's blood from its spear directly to its digestive tract, or better yet, toxic bile from its digestive tract to its victim. I think I spent more time drawing my incorrect interpretation of this creepazoid than I did actually playing the game itself, which is just as well, because Dr. Chaos is not fun to play.
Back then, I didn't even know what you were supposed to do in this lousy game. I had no idea there were supposed to be side-scrolling stages hidden behind various doorways, that the house acted only as a hub between various other worlds. I simply had no idea where to go, and wandered the house aimlessly, picking up keys I didn't know how to use and failing to evade monsters until I'd give up in frustration. I didn't even know the game's storyline, since I didn't have the manual, otherwise I'd have known that you don't even get to play Doctor Chaos, but take on the role of his younger brother. The real doctor has, apparently, been kidnapped to another world by evil monsters following his inter-dimensional experiments.
Interestingly enough, several monsters in the game - as well as the setting itself - appear to be rip-offs of the horror film House, which any other article on Dr. Chaos will spend a little more time explaining in detail. What they do not explain in detail, however, are the game's monsters. A full twenty-some years after the last time I ever tried to play this hunk of junk, I've at last gotten to know its spooky inhabitants, and while none of them are umbilical cord goblins, a few of them do have their charms...
Franken is one of the larger enemies who may pursue you through the halls of the main hub, and he appears to be based on the undead villain of House. These enemies are actually named in the manual, which is nice, and it's a pity the bosses can't boast the same.
This disquietingly named fellow kind of resembles one of the child-like goblins from House, but in pixel form, looks more like a huge-headed Peter Lorre frog person, which, I have to say, might be a whole lot more frightening.
House had a corpulent, blue-skinned ghoul-woman with a mouth full of slavering fangs, but "Big Lady" feels even creepier, her sprite even more uncanny. I remember being fairly rattled when she'd pop out of a door and come at me, and the thought of it is still pretty dreadful. It's that huge, pale, toothless set of smacking lips.
The only interesting thing from the box art to appear in the game is also just another House refugee, and amusingly enough, referred to by the manual as a "large bird." How silly. Everyone knows birds have dog skulls and bee wings.
The last monster sort of resembling anything that appeared in House, and only rather vaguely, other web reviews laugh at this one's name, but I think "Elephant" is an appropriate and creepy thing to call a grey, wrinkly ogre with emaciated limbs and sagging flesh. I guess they were thinking of the "elephant man."
ZONE 1 BOSS:
Sadly, the known names end here, but on the plus side, we get to kick off the bosses with this total cutie-pie, and we'll just call it Truman. It looks like a Truman to me. With a body like a water bear and humongous, cartoonish eyes, this little monster really lives up to the strangeness of the cover art, at least in my book, and if its design doesn't tug at the heartstrings enough, it's the most pathetic fight in the game. Truman is shorter than you, significantly slower, and does nothing but steadily inch forward until stabbed to death, possibly lacking any will to live or just completely misunderstanding its job.
So I don't know how in the world I missed Zebetite's comment on this article for six entire years, but it turns out Truman is only so easy if you use the knife. If you use your gun, which many players will do against a boss, Truman only gets bigger! Jabbing him a bunch with the knife will then shrink him back down, though you can also just leave the room and come back in, which feels like kind of an oversight.
I loved Truman when I thought he was virtually defenseless, and I love him in an entirely new way knowing that he has a beefed-up form; and one that exists only to waste ammo and make you look like a fool!
ZONE 2 BOSS:
The second boss is some sort of ghostly figure made of either sand or flatulence, it's impossible to tell. One thing is for sure: of this monster's two possible facial expressions, one is ridiculous and the other one is hilarious. I'm not going to tell you which is which. You have to work out some of these things for yourselves.
ZONE 3 BOSS:
This fast-running boss has a lot of legs, an articulated shell, and cute little eyes peering out of the dark recesses in its armor. It's kind of like a huge, hump-backed isopod! It's just a pity the actual stages in this game are so boring in comparison to creatures like this; apparently, alien dimensions alternate between forest, cave, gold brick temple and river, occupied by things as otherworldly as fish and bats, until you get to these boss fights.
ZONE 4 BOSS:
Initially, this boss just looks like a rather disquieting turtle, neither the strangest nor the most intimidating thing I expect in another universe, but eventually, the turtle will break apart into what may be its "true" form, a swarm of aquatic bugs with bulging googly eyes! That's more like it!
ZONE 5 BOSS:
This might just be the most interesting monster in the game. Its design is obviously based on a trilobite, but it stands upright, and it has another row of spikes facing us, with a fourth on the opposite side. It attacks by spinning its bladed body like a top! How freaky-weird is that for a giant upright trilobite? Its snout even feels like it forms a faceless, humanoid head on a vague "torso." Now that's an inhabitant of an unearthly reality.
ZONE 6 BOSS:
Boss #6 keeps up the steady quality level, resembling a leech with a gigantic, gaping maw from which it produces many smaller, viciously fanged offspring. Lacking any teeth of its own, it likely lets its little ones do all the feeding for it...or maybe it's even the female, and the smaller ones are the males?
ZONE 7 BOSS:
Not as bizarre as the others, but a reptilian humanoid with gliding membranes is still interesting enough. I guess I just got used to all those lovely big bugs.
ZONE 8 BOSS:
I like this shelled, rolling reptile. It's a little turtle-like, a little armadillo-like, but mostly it just looks like the Buzzy Beetles from Super Mario Brothers, with more menacing shrew-like jaws. What was up with buzzies, anyway? They were referred to as beetles, but designed like black turtles? How do they relate to the Koopas? Why call them beetles if they're turtles? They don't buzz!
ZONE 9 BOSS:
A skeletal serpent feels a tad mundane here, but at least it's a floating skeletal serpent, and every time you damage one of its vertebrate, they sprout their own new head and join the fray!
ZONE 10 BOSS:
Much more interesting than the last three, this boss is just a floating, impenetrable tangle of bones, almost like a bagworm of bones, only periodically revealing the human skull at its core! It's a shame this oddball couldn't be the final boss...
ZONE 11 BOSS:
Come on. A flaming lion? That's just hokey. It sure doesn't feel like something from the primordial reaches of the cosmos, or even very creepy or grotesque to any degree. This is the ultimate, evil villain masterminding all this crap, who took away your more successful older brother, apparently. If you ask me, the final boss should have been the skeleton from the cover, with the lungs. I don't want to end on such a mediocre note, so I guess I'll just have to draw a nice picture of two best friends.
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