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-quaiity, 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 richy 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 mayrt where you choose to begin, Monster Smash's pick-up-and-play mechanics make it easy to get into without much effort or thought. It's the traditional formula that draws players into the game. 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 blsck backgrounds and its primary-colored gameplay elements crearting an easy demarkation 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 suprising depth. You control the gates of a cemetary and have to crush an assemblege 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 rhem 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 manuevers a split-second ahead of time, or they'll slip by under your watch.

This streanlined 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 surpisingly 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 mutlple rounds without getting bored. The increasing speed, higher point values and new enemy types keep things from getting stale. Its simple stucture 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, Mpnster Smash becomes much more enjoyable. To reach that status, you need to practice and really concetrate, mistakes early-on can cost you later, giving you very little breathing room.

The action quickly ratches 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 exessively flashy or elaborate, it successfully represents the hallmarks of classic game design. The straightforward game mechanics remain appealing, with instanty-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 conttrols. straightforward play mechanics and solid visuals. Its entertaining and challenging with just enough strategy strategy to keep the replay value high making it a classic example of what can be considered a traditional arcade game.

- Michael Palisano