The Laser Guide to Video Games - Review - Monster Smash (Atari 800 & co.)









In Memory
Sean Pettibone


The Laser Guide to Video Games

Monster Smash
(Atari 800XL. - Datamost - 1983)

The most surprising thing about Monster Smash isn't the consistency and high-quality, its that the game isn't better known. Released alongside countless other titles during the arcade-game peak, this fast-action, reflex-centric game stands out due to its charming visuals, solid play mechanics and gameplay that quickly reaches a relentless pace. Monster Smash has a mixture of skill and action that comes fast and frenetic. It features most of the familiar elements that you'd expect to find in a quality action game but the implementation is excellent, creating a memorable experience that sticks with you. Things start off promisingly with an elaborate opening music score based on a famous horror-movie theme. Its richly textured sounds are a pleasant surprise, effectively setting the stage for an impressively polished experience. It sets the stage for the surprisingly entertaining game to follow. Before you begin, you can choose which level to start of with, earlier stages are good for practicing or warm-ups while the faster, trickier stages are good if you want things to begin at a frenetic pace right off the mark. No matter where you choose to begin, Monster Smash's pick-up-and-play controls make it easy to start playing without much effort or excessive thought. Its accessible structure and mechanics follow this traditional gameplay formula with superb execution that quickly draws players into the game and doesn't let go. It features a compelling mechanic that keeps the difficulty increasing gradually until it reaches a peak when you reach its later stages.

Monster Smash defines early-80's arcade aesthetic with a bright contrast between its largely black backgrounds and its primary-colored gameplay elements creating an easy demarcation that's easy on the eyes. The game flows smoothly at a consistent frame-rate with fluid animation that makes it easy to play. The surprisingly charming visuals and smooth animations make for an unusually enjoyable game. It comes to life vividly thanks to its humorous character designs and silly approach making for an entertaining title. The straightforward grid-design of the layouts make the action easy-to-follow, without the clutter associated with later games. A relatively good control scheme allows you to smash either one or both sides at the same time, using the half-approach means the graves crash down slightly faster, but you needn't worry about the timing here since the gameplay moves quickly for the most part. While the in-game sound effects are fairly decent, they aren't nearly as elaborate as the opening theme.

Its simple gameplay mechanics can be deceptive, there's a surprising amount of strategy involved that's impressive for its surprising depth. You control the gates of a cemetery and have to crush an assemblage of creatures that arrive horizontally and vertically. Releasing the fire button causes the gates to come crashing down on them, with the right timing which earns you points. At first, its relatively easy to get them, but as the stages unfold,. the monsters move ever faster, making rheum that much harder to destroy. Most of the creatures run across the screen in single form at first, but later on the come at you in multiple, and waves come ever faster, making them harder to crush. Getting the hang of the game's timing and anticipating their arrival is the key strategy to succeed in the game. You have to time your crushing maneuvers a split-second ahead of time, or they'll slip by under your watch.

This streamlined arcade-style approach offers little in the way of distraction. You're rewarded for fast reflexes, concentration and endurance. The basic strategy is to dispatch all the monsters before they can escape the graveyard. You can lose up to ten of them before the game ends, and there's no going back if one of them gets loose, so you can't make too many mistakes if you want to reach a high score. It's surprisingly challenging at the later stages and its replay value is what makes it so appealing. The gameplay isn't overly complicated but remains compelling - its simple mechanics seem to be the key to its appeal. You can play multiple rounds without getting bored. The increasing speed, higher point values and new enemy types keep things from getting stale. Its simple structure makes it easy to go for another round and try and beat your high score. Latter stages introduce different enemy types including eggs that roll across the screen. These have to be hit twice in order to win, not as easy as it sounds since they arrive towards the end of the paths later on, giving you less leeway to anticipate their moves. This is especially true with the egg-enemies that require two hits to defeat. requiring split second reflexes to defeat. It takes some practice until you get the hang of things, but once you get into the flow, Monster Smash becomes much more enjoyable. To reach that status, you need to practice and really concentrate, mistakes early-on can cost you later, giving you very little breathing room.

The action quickly retches up to pressure-cooker speeds, and you probably won't be able to keep up with the later stages at first. Keeping up with the multiple foes onscreen requires some dexterity and good reflexes, but you're rewarded with a highly-entertaining and polished arcade-style game that's surprisingly fun and polished. Its not the most elaborate game you'll ever play, and lacks the power-ups, special effects and enhancements expected in modern games, but its basic arcade simplicity is what helps to maintain Monster Smash's appeal. While its not excessively flashy or elaborate, it successfully represents the hallmarks of classic game design. The straightforward game mechanics remain appealing, with instantly-accessible design and play. Monster Smash is a relatively obscure title. but one that's definitely worth seeking out. Its certainly a fun little arcade game with smooth controls. straightforward play mechanics and solid visuals. Its entertaining and challenging with just enough strategy to keep the replay value high making it a classic example of what can be considered a traditional arcade game.

Be One With Fun

This cool game holds a special place in my memory, since it was the first floppy disk software title I received with the seminal Atari 800XL for my birthday. I vividly remember feeling transfixed by its then-shockingly long and elaborate introductory theme song based on the early 1960's popular music hit "Monster Bash"  recreated brilliantly by the 800XL's brilliant Pokey sound chips, representing quite an aesthetic and technical   achievement for its time. This unassuming yet fantastic game holds up remarkably well due to its straightforward yet challenging mechanics, with require you to balance flipping the graves while watching the various monsters to get the timing just right. Recent playthroughs reveal a title that's still enjoyable after all this time. Early levels are slower and simpler and resemble practice sections. Once you pass these introductory  sections, the true challenge lurking within Monster Smash comes to life and its later stages remain quite challenging and intense, though still accessible and enjoyable thanks to the smooth frame rate and cool animations of the creatures. My eyes can't really find any fault with it, since Monster Smash lives up to the classic games' formula of 'easy to learn, hard to master' in disarming fashion. Still has that 'Just One More Game' feeling that keeps you playing a series of games for extended sessions. Challenging yourself to beat your own high scores is fun and extends the replay value significantly.

On a side note, replaying this personally resonant classic game inspired a bit of collecting binge, I added several Datamost titles to my collection, namely Mr. Robot, Super Bunny, Ankh, Night Raiders, and O'Riley's Mine. Adding these to my existing Datamost library of games including Night Raiders and Tail of Beta Lyrae made this library for an veteran player. These Datamost games share a certain style and approach that's still pleasing after all these years. Monster Smash is still the first and most memorable to me but all these related titles are cool. My Datamost library is kind of an emotional centerpiece while, somewhat objectively, representing fun and  entertaining portion of my sentimentally resonant game collection I am happy to have a nice collection of their titles. Monster Smash was a fantastic start to my 800XL adventure, that still continues as you can tell. Datamost's releases are consistently high-quality games as well and mark a treasured piece of my classic Atari computing game play memories.   

- Michael Palisano