Developer: Pipeworks Software
Release Date: December 5, 2007
Godzilla, the radioactive reptile who rampages and ruins, has been a staple of our society for several decades. When one thinks about enormous movie monsters who like to squash people and cars underfoot like so much gravel, the name "Godzilla" is the first that comes to mind. Those who are familiar with the genre may even include such creatures as Mecha-Godzilla, Rodan and Ultraman among the pantheon of Japanese characters who fight across, and subsequently destroy, the landscape of the land of the rising sun in order to save the world from various menaces and whatnot. Since fighting is what these monsters were intended to do, it would make sense that a fighting game featuring these practiced warriors would have some real potential. It is regrettable, then, that this potential has largely gone unexplored in Godzilla: Unleashed.
Fans of the series will find themselves appreciating the cut scenes. The voices are splendidly out of sync with the text at the bottom of the screen, and the combination of that "failure" and the incredibly cheesy dialogue, coupled with the stop-motion scenes (seriously, no moving mouths here) that are used to advance the plot, will delight and enthrall anyone who happens to be a big fan of schlock 1970s comic book-style B movies. That's great for those two people … but the rest of us will be seriously disappointed by the substandard and lackluster attempt to move along the plotline.
For a game that is ostensibly story-driven — yes, it's a fighter, but there is enough compulsory story that it must be considered as part of the game — that facet is exceptionally underpolished and left hanging as unexplored space with which the designers could have done so much more. If you're going to include a plot in a fighting game, at least make it a good one; this simply feels tacked on as a last-minute background, the result of a rush job over the course of a weekend by a programmer who desperately needed a vacation.
This is not to say that Unleashed is not impressive at all. Visually, the title does a fine job of painting the backdrops for your various battles; while cities are not immediately recognizable as themselves, the reason for this is clear: Each city has been transformed by a natural disaster of some kind (Seattle has been consumed by a volcano, Sydney has been transformed into an arctic tundra, etc.). Each of these environmental adjustments, while generally failing to be considered in gameplay, is depicted splendidly by the visual design implemented by the production staff. The lava is glowing and bright orange-red, and it's widespread enough to look like what would happen if a city really were consumed by a volcano. The toxic gases around Osaka hang like a shroud over the city, offering a sickly, overcast look to the entire area. More importantly, each monster is immediately recognizable; you will instantly identify Godzilla, but others are visually distinctive as well. King Ghidorah, Gigan, Space Godzilla — all are visually satisfying and will appeal to the Godzilla fanboy.
The title has some replayability value with regards to unlockables, as well. The truth of the matter is that very few characters are playable from the start of the game, but as you progress through the story mode or participate in one-on-one battles against computer opponents, you are able to earn points that will unlock various fighters, movies, stages and other content. Entire teams have to be unlocked, and then the individual fighters as well.
This would seem to offer replayability at first glance, but the simple truth is that many of the unlockables that actually affect the way in which one plays the game come with unacceptably high price tags. Even the most patient players will find themselves utterly bored after the 17th time through the story mode, forcing themselves to endure the marathon just to unlock one more character. Unlockables are a great way to add depth to a title, but they must be paced properly to be effective, and Godzilla: Unleashed simply dangles the carrot too far in front of the player for it to be an effective lure.
The unfortunate truth is that the best graphics and all the unlockables in the world will not redeem a title if the gameplay is lacking, and this key feature is one that this game is severely lacking. Combat is extremely simplified in Godzilla: Unleashed; there are the standard button presses to poke at your opponent, making random claw swipes or whatnot. This would be fine, except that such maneuvers don't actually do "knockback damage," meaning that they don't interrupt whatever your opponent is doing, even if they successfully land a hit. You'll think you're whittling away at your opponent, only to be stopped cold by a more powerful move.
The only moves that are really worth using involve swinging the Wiimote while pressing the attack button, dealing powerful blows in the hope of knocking down your opponent down. There are ranged attacks as well, with everything from sonic bursts to laser breath, but they all play the same. In fact, all of the fighters basically play the same, with some very minor differences for characters who are made of metal or are a slightly larger size; choosing a fighter should be functional, not cosmetic, and this game relegates that decision to the latter.
Worse yet, Unleashed commits an unforgivable crime: During scenes in which a lot of things are going on, I repeatedly experienced slowdown. That's right, in 2008, we're still prone to times during which the hardware cannot speedily process the gameplay and must drag during the actual fight. Slowdown was unwelcome 20 years ago in the day of the NES, but we accepted it because it was a simple fact of life; we should not have to tolerate it in this day and age. As impressive as the backgrounds and effects may be, if it's a question of making the game visually impressive or allowing it to work properly, that should not have even been a question; gameplay can, does and should win out every single time.
Overall, Godzilla: Unleashed takes a concept with a lot of potential and drags it down with some serious flaws in almost every category. The game does an excellent job of being pretty, but pretty will only carry you so far in life, especially in an industry where pragmatism (read: gameplay) is king. Sure to be a disappointment to all but the most die-hard Godzilla fans, this one can safely be submerged in the oceans of Japan until needed ... which will be a long, long time from now.
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