The anticipation and release of Friday the 13th: The Game a few months back got the whole horror community buzzing, whether they were gamers or not. Even I was excited by all the gameplay videos I saw, and I haven’t touched a newly-released video game in more than a decade.
One look at the footage made it immediately clear that the creators of the game love and respect the original film franchise (the nostalgia factor in Friday the 13th: The Game is off the charts), and fans seemed to enjoy the multi-player aspect which forces them to work together with other players in order to defeat the mighty Jason. Sadly, I doubt I’ll ever sit down and play Friday the 13th: The Game (I barely have enough time to perform normal day-to-day tasks like showering, eating, etc.), but everyone’s enthusiasm for it got me thinking about the first horror video game I did play…
Growing up in a low income household, I rarely received new Nintendo games. In fact, now that I’m thinking about it, I don’t think I ever received a new Nintendo game. All of the games I bought or received were second-hand, stuff you’d find at pawn shops, thrift stores, and the seasonal yard sale. Most of the games you’d uncover in these places were totally unheard of. No Mario, no Duck Hunt. Only the weirdest stuff imaginable. But they were always cheap, so I didn’t complain.
One of these unheard of gems was Monster Party, a platform game released by Bandai for the original Nintendo Entertainment System that, even today, remains a relatively obscure title.
My memories of the game are vivid to this day, probably because the game scarred me for life. It begins as your basic side-scroller; you’re a kid armed with a baseball bat, and you’re whacking unremarkable bad guys as you encounter them. Nothing too out of the ordinary. But at a certain point, after you’ve crossed some invisible threshold, the game pauses – flickers a strobe-like flicker – and resumes… only everything has changed.
The smiling blocks that you once jumped to and from have now morphed into oozing skulls. The inconspicuous sunset-tinged background has turned into a row of rotting faces, bleeding from their mouths. It’s no longer just bad guys in black jackets that you have to fend off; now you’re battling eyeballs that walk around on octopi-like appendages and dogs with human faces. In short, a literal nightmare. (Pretty surprising considering Nintendo had strict censorship rules in place when the game was released.)
Since this was a second-hand purchase for me, it didn’t come with an instruction manual. That was always the dice you rolled with picking up a used game. Thus, when the game decided to let literal hell break loose, I wasn’t expecting it at all – and it made the bizarre visuals that much more frightening. Another complication of not having any instructions was that the already-difficult game became impossible to beat.
One of my fondest memories of Monster Party was its unusual final bosses. At one point, you have to face off against a giant piece of deep-fried shrimp, which then becomes an onion ring after being defeated(!). And there’s another boss which doesn’t even need to be fought: a giant dead spider. Upon encountering him, he says “Sorry, I’m dead” in a pop-up dialogue box – and that’s it. You just leave him there. Super weird stuff, man.
Of those final bosses there was one that always stuck out to me. It looked like a mix between an eggplant and a Venus flytrap, and it greeted you with a “Hello, baby!” The combo of this phrase and its appearance always made me think of Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors. Upon doing a little research for this piece, I discovered that the comparisons to Little Shop were no accident: in the late-2000s, gamers discovered “deleted” content within the games source code which revealed that many of the final bosses were indeed homages to famous American monsters, including films like Planet of the Apes, Gremlins, and Alien, and were later altered slightly to avoid any copyright infringement.
Monster Party is a strange little game, full of humorous parodies of both Japanese folklore and American horror films. It has puzzled both fans and critics alike, and it’s safe to say it is one of a kind. While I might not play video games anymore, my memories of Monster Party are enough to keep me satiated for many years to come.