Thursday, May 5, 2011

Dialectical Radioactive Lizards (Godzilla: Monster of Monsers, Godzilla 2: War of the Monsters)


To get a sense of how gobsmackingly weird Ishiro Honda's 1954 film Gojira is, you would have to imagine an American film released in 2010 in which Islamic terrorists summon a djinn who then rampages through New York City, including lots of shots of devastation. You may be thinking Cloverfield here, but that misses the point. Gojira is not remarkable just because it was instrumental in creating the genre of the disaster film. It's remarkable because the source of the disaster - nuclear explosions - is the same thing that already destroyed two Japanese cities nine years earlier. Cloverfield was just a return to the great American passtime of watching New York explode. Gojira is explicitly recreating a disaster, not in some half-assed metaphorical way, but in a literal "absolutely everybody with a brain cell sees what you're doing there" way, and then taking pleasure in the disaster. Except even that doesn't quite cover it. To really nail down the metaphor, what you'd need is an American film released in 2010 in which a djinn destroys New York that is then followed by a lengthy franchise in which the djinn fights other creatures from Arabian mythology and steadily turns into a hero character.

So to note that Toho's two Godzilla games for the NES are really weird seems almost unnecessary, given the sheer depth of weird that the character brings to the table. A far more alarming start would have been "Toho's two Godzilla games are bog-standard NES games."

What do we expect from our second tier of games? This is an important question, given that it's 105 games from here to Legend of Zelda, in which the highlights are Gradius, Adventure Island, Kirby, and Kid Icarus. Not that any of those are bad games, but they are by and large not the absolute tentpoles of the NES era. Rather, we are making our way through the great ordinary - the banal day-to-day of the NES. This can be, at times, exasperating. Indeed, after that entry, a commenter expressed concern for my ability to finish this project, and suggested I take a break. But as kind as that suggestion was, it misses the point - the turgid slog of generic and pointless video games with no meaningful bearing on humanity is part of the Nintendo Project. And if the Nintendo Project thus becomes an exercise in self-abuse, well, at least it's only a two-day-a-week exercise. 

The games are not bad. Perhaps short of good, but intriguing nevertheless. The first game, Monster of Monsters, is a turn-based strategy game alternating with button-mashing monster-fighting. Set in that classic NES date, 2XXX, when Planet X declares war on Earth, (The appearance of Planet X is, it seems, related to the crossing of Neptune and Pluto, suggesting that the year is one of 2227, 2475, 2723, or 2971. So not really a rousing success at hiding the date there.) you control Godzilla and Mothra as they fight off waves of other monsters, oddly generally ones that are native to Earth, to defend the solar system.

The second game abandons the action sequences of the first game in favor of a pure turn-based strategy game in which you control military forces trying to destroy Godzilla. Less flashy, but considerably deeper, the game is surprisingly strategic and technical for a game that is about a giant lizard with atomic breath.

But what are expectations of this tier of game? What does it mean to exceed or differ from expectations when no meaningful expectations exist? Below the tier of games that are the big ticket, unquestionable classics - those major cities in our psychic maps of our childhoods, there is this larger tier of ballast, the broad foundation forming the landmasses upon which we rest. But what does it mean to pick a signal out of what was intended as undifferentiated background noise? 

The games sit at an intersection of several well-developed themes in this blog. The foreignness of Japanese culture (from which Godzilla was, ultimately, co-opted) pushes against this game oddly. Made by the Japanese company that owns the rights to Gojira, the game sits orthogonally to the main thrust of the NES. Toho's game division has a couple of other games to their name, but they are hardly big hits - in fact, they're absolutely terrible. But more to the point, this is a Japanese company releasing games featuring Japanese movie icons. That the games got ported to America is an anomaly, making them games that seem to resist engagement or contextualization.

As do most unimportant games, surely. That's why they're mere background noise - lacking any ways to integrate themselves in the larger geography of this mental space, they cannot be engaged in except inasmuch as they fill up the space in the games drawer left vacant by the fact that there are only six Mega Man games, and really only four of them worth playing. 

But on the other hand, there is something genuine to these games - a memorable eccentricity that is lacking in a "better" game. For one thing, who actually played all of the classics? For every Super Mario Bros I played, there were far more Milon's Secret Castles and Rygars. I know a game like Gradius or Kid Icarus from Nintendo Power telling me it was a classic game, not because I know a damn thing about them. It is not as though these games were unplayed - merely that they lacked a culturally imperialist paratext that told us what we were doing when we played them, leaving them as the actual experience of the Nintendo era.

And yet, as with every other game, you are left with little but either a limp attempt to defend their playability or a mildly amusing critique of the games, not that you've had a new amusing way to describe ropey controls and dodgy hit detection in the last four months. So these are the lived experience of the Nintendo generation. It's not your experience, and the entire idea you've just developed - that the classic games are the ones with a shared cultural experience that tells us what we have in common - undermines the entire idea of talking about  the games.

Shush up, you egotistical right-justified interlocutor. If the point of this blog were to reflect primarily on known shared cultural experience, there would be no point of the blog. The entire idea of psychchronography is that we are mapping the spaces between what we "all know." So the fact of the matter is that it does matter here, far more than it will on a classic game, that we figure out what this game is.

But if the answer is just "inscrutable," you've done nothing. You've done the literary equivalent of Family Guy style humor - hey, do you remember that thing? *rimshot* So there's a Godzilla game. If it's inscrutable and foreign, it's ultimately wholly pointless. You may as well just say that "giant lizards are awesome" and call it a day. 

Giant lizards are awesome.

1 comment:

  1. The astounding power of the dialectic! Eternal synthesis pushes history onward unto that ultimate state in which the universe is as one gigantic ゴジラ sequel.

    Man. What an awesome universe.