While Bandai's Monster Party may appear to be just another sidescrolling NES game on the surface, a lot of the actual content is bizarre beyond anything that you'll ever find in any other game. In Monster Party, you play as Mark, who is trying to save a world of monsters from evil, with the aid of a good monster named Bert(!?). While it suffers from poor level design and simplistic boss fights, this game is still quite a sight to see.
The overall look of Monster Party may appear simplistic. Most of the enemies and objects, as well as the playable characters, are quite small. However, all of the enemies are very unique and there is a good variety of them. They are indigenous to each stage, so you never see palette-swapped enemies. This gives you quite a good variety of monsters, considering the game is eight stages long. Also, each stage has a completely different look to it. The environments range from forests, sewers, and clouds, to ancient Egypt, and even a high-tech tower. But the highlight of the game's graphics are the bosses, which are drawn very well, and very unique. None of the enemies or bosses in this game look like they were ripped from another game. The downside here is the small size of things, and the backgrounds aren't much to look at. Mark and Bert are animated very poorly, and Mark isn't drawn too well. But I still feel that Monster Party's graphics hold a unique charm all their own.
Unfortunately, compared to the graphics, the sound is very primitive. Some of the music is okay, but it epitomizes simplicity and repeats itself way too much. For example, the music in the Egyptian level sounds "Egyptian"...but it's only a few notes long, so overall, it doesn't leave a good impression. In Level 6, a howling wind is heard in place of music. Since this level is a maze that can take awhile to get through, the wind effect gets annoying really quickly! The worst music is the boss theme, which is nothing more than a bell going "ding-ding-ding-ding-ding..." (A couple of bosses do have a different theme, which is what they could have done for all the bosses, or else composed a better tune.) But the music does have some high points, most notably, the music after you pass the tree in the first level is one of the most haunting NES tunes I've ever heard. (Why didn't they do all the music this well?) Also, the sound effects are quite good! Many of the bosses make a noise when they're hit that's really fitting to them. The cat makes a "meowing" noise. The minotaur "moos", etc.
The play control of this game is quite good, which I admit, somewhat surprised me. A lot of times when I find little-known NES action games, the play control leaves much to be desired, but not so in this game. Mark is easy to move around, and jumps easily, too. He jumps pretty high and far, too. Swinging the bat is no problem, either. Bert is also easy to control. His controls are basically the same as Mark's, except he can fly by repeatedly pressing the A button, which of course, is also very easy to do. The only real issue I have with the play control is that Mark's hit range with the bat is VERY small, and you can't always tell if you're close enough to an enemy to hit it or not. Sometimes, I get too close and end up taking an unnecessary hit. When you're transformed into Bert, you can shoot projectiles, which have a much longer range.
The story goes as such: One day, Mark was walking home, when he noticed a large star in the sky. The star landed in front of him, and turned out to be a flying monster named Bert. (Bert looks something like a cross between a griffon and a gargoyle, wearing knight armor.) Bert asks Mark for help in defeating the evil monsters of his world. Armed with only a baseball bat, Mark agrees, and Bert flies him off to the world of monsters. But before they arrive, Bert "assimilates" with Mark so that Mark can "transform" into Bert when he finds a special pill. All seems fine and dandy in the world of monsters...until you pass that giant tree..and well, I won't say what happens next! While the story may not seem like anything special, this game is full of humor and atmosphere! Many of the bosses have amusing one-liners, and the game has one of the freakiest endings I've ever seen on the NES. Also, for a game that was released during Nintendo's censorship-happy, "no blood" era, this game has buckets of it! (Mind you, it doesn't spray forth from you or the enemies, but you will be seeing a lot of it in the backgrounds of some levels.) Overall, it's not an outstanding story, but it's weird and twisted, especially for an NES game.
Unfortunately, Monster Party lacks any kind of real challenge. The level design is very simplistic. There are very few areas where good jumping skills are required, because you can almost never fall into pits or other hazards. Even in the water level, you can fall into the water, and as long as you keep jumping, you don't take damage. The only level that is somewhat difficult is the Door Maze of level 6, but that's an annoying kind of challenge. Bert makes things even easier, if you get transformed into him. I also think Level 2 was the toughest level for me to get through (not counting the door maze). So why were all the later levels easier? Well, it was mostly because your life bar increases as you go along, and that makes things quite easier. Some of the bosses are challenging, but a lot of them attack in very similar patterns, so you defeat all of them the same way. Most are either defeated by reflecting the things they shoot at you back at them with the bat, or by shooting at them as Bert. Bert makes most boss fights really easy, and some early bosses take many more hits to defeat than the later bosses. The final boss was dead before I even knew it. This doesn't completely detract from the game's enjoyability, but what it means is that experienced gamers will probably beat it very quickly.
Despite the shortcomings in challenge, I still found this game quite fun to play. Going through the levels, themselves, and hacking away at enemies with the baseball bat can become a little tedious, but what made the game so fun was not knowing what manner of boss monster was going to be waiting behind each door I found, and believe me, some of them are quite bizarre! I thought of describing what kinds of bosses there are in this game, but since most of the fun is not knowing what you'll see next, I won't spoil it for you! :) I will, however, mention that you must defeat the bosses of each world in order to obtain a key that gives you access to the next level. If you accidentally pass by a boss door without entering, you can backtrack through the level. Although many of the bosses can be defeated in the same manner, there are a few exceptions. In one case, the boss is already dead when you enter, and in another case, you merely have to watch the bosses dance, rather than fight them. Playing as Bert is fun, too, since he can fly and shoot. Flying gives him the ability to reach some high ledges in some levels, but too bad the levels weren't designed better to take more advantage of Bert's special powers.
In the final analysis, Monster Party doesn't quite rank up there with the best of the NES classics. But it is a very unique and entertaining game, that is probably like no other in your library. If you're into NES action sidescrollers, and you can find this game cheap, it's definitely worth checking out, if only for the bizarreness factor. Great atmosphere, variety, bosses, play control and graphics. Lousy challenge and level design.
SCORE (not an average): 6.5/10
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