While Godzilla is not a good game, it does highlight the central concern in making a good Godzilla game, jazzing up Godzilla's fighting style.
People have said that it's hard to make a Superman game because he's just too strong. How do you make fun combat or create any tension or excitement when your hero is literally invincible? In many of the reviews for the recent Godzilla game, I've been surprised by the assumption that making a Godzilla game should be easy. Fight a giant monster here, blow up a building there, and presto. Fun! Right?
In truth, Godzilla is an even trickier character than Superman. At least the latter can fly and punch and pose and face moral quandaries, all things that make a fight engaging. Godzilla can't do any of that. I love Godzilla, but let's be honest here. He's a terribly boring fighter.
As I said in my own review of the game: “Godzilla lacks all the things that make any fight fun -- strategy and skill. He just stands there and takes a beating, then deals out a beating of his own. Fights with Godzilla just involve two monsters trading blows until one of them falls and doesn’t get back up.” It’s really a terribly boring fighting style, but it makes sense when you consider the character's origins.
The original rubber dinosaur suit didn’t exactly give one much freedom of movement. However, freedom of movement didn't really matter since Godzilla was just meant to crush a city. He didn't start boxing giant moths and three-headed space dragons until several years later. Godzilla was never meant to be a fighter. He was a force of nature, all lumbering unstoppable power, and all the bombs and missiles in Japan couldn't stop him. The man in the rubber suit could only walk forward slowly, but that's all Godzilla had to do to be scary: walk through a city, walk through a country, walk over everything in his path, and roar defiantly at his pathetic opposition.
Even as more monsters were introduced and Godzilla became cheesier, he was still defined by his lumbering power. He never dodged attacks, he always took those hits and got back up. Godzilla can take a beating, and the beauty of making a movie over a game is that Godzilla can take as much of a beating as the writer wants him to.
Just look at the recent movie as an example: A) The new bulky, lumbering design was hailed as a return to form over the more nimble design of the 1998 movie. B) There are multiple points in the final fight when Godzilla is frankly getting his ass kicked by the two smaller, faster monsters. C) He ultimately wins because when he gets crushed by a building, he gets back up. The same can’t be said for the MUTO.
This combat style can still be entertaining in a movie because presentation and direction can make up for a lack of choreography, but it’s incredibly difficult to translate this into a game. It’s the Superman conundrum.
To its credit, the new game tries in clever ways to make this work. Godzilla is a fighting game that hides your health bar, a design decision that makes no practical sense, but that does foster a sense of invincibility. Out of sight, out of mind. Also, humans' artillery seems to be completely harmless to him. The helicopters, tanks, battleships, jet planes, and skyscraper turrets are only intended to stun and distract you, not hurt you.
This means that Godzilla is genuinely invincible while he’s rampaging through the city, and it’s no surprise then that this is when the game is at its most entertaining. When the focus is on the endearingly cheesy destruction effects, the presentation and direction, it plays like a movie. Once another monster shows up and the game has to become a game with balance and challenge and fail states, Godzilla is revealed for the boring combatant that he really is.
The lack of a health bar then utterly backfires. We only notice that we’re missing this piece of game feedback when it becomes essential information. It wasn’t essential when we were invincible, but it becomes essential when we suddenly and unexpectedly become vulnerable. The whiplash between invincible Godzilla and vulnerable Godzilla is severe.
So while Godzilla is not a good game (made even worse due to locked content, but that’s an issue that I discussed more in the aforementioned review), it does highlight the central issue in making a good Godzilla game. Everything that makes Godzilla fun makes it a worse game, and everything that makes it more game-like only serves to make Godzilla appear weak. Only in a game does Godzilla go down and not get back up.
And for the record, I take great umbrage with Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters, the oft mentioned "good" Godzilla game that treated him less like a monster and more like a WWE wrestler.
Godzilla may not be very fun, but at least, this newest effort respects the source material.