Monster Party – An NES Vision of the Finale of Cabin in the Woods
Mandatory Fear looks back at the vital entries in horror gaming, exploring what made them effective at scaring us and their importance to the history of the genre.
One of the best scenes in The Cabin in the Woods is when all of the different kinds of monsters come flying out of their cages. Armed guards try to fight back against them. It doesn’t go well. The monsters bite them in two. Rip their souls out. Turn them into bloody smears. It’s a dizzying array of supernatural creatures all using their unique attacks to create a sickening, violent, ridiculous spectacle. I never get tired of those final scenes and all of the varied monsters on display. There’s so many things to see. So many nods to horror icons and folklore. It’s just a treat to watch.
Monster Party uses a similar energy to create that same kind of mayhem on the NES (see for yourself). You’ll fight an array of monsters from folklore, movies, books, and the unsettled imaginations of the developers. The game is a smorgasbord of varied, weird, wild boss fights, each stage containing at least a handful. It’ll see you battling dancing zombies, bubble-spewing plants, and alien entrees, offering a massive array of unique boss battles. Like The Cabin in the Woods, you’ll be fighting so many different, neat monstrosities that you never know what’s next.
Mark, our baseball-loving protagonist, gets roped into taking care of all of the nasty monsters of the Dark World. Who felt like a child was the best option for monster-extermination? Bert, the dragon-man-thing. He also kind of decides to hop inside Mark’s body. And will only come out if Mark takes pills. Wonderful. Don’t worry about it.
Mark’s first few steps into Monster Party seem kinda innocent. Well, AFTER the image of the skeletons in a pool of blood, they did. Smiley blocks everywhere. Happy friendly imagery. Grinning doors. It didn’t seem like such a bad place, save for a few punks running around. Punks who were on fire, but whatever. When you’ve gotten tired of beating up punks and kicking legs, you’ll likely enter one of the game’s many doors. Inside there is where the magic happens, after all.
The first boss is a bubble-spewing plant that yells “Hello! Baby!” when you step inside. It would seem friendlier if it didn’t immediately start spitting damaging bubbles at you. As a boy with a bat, though, you can ping them right back at the boss. This is the best combat method for most of the bosses, honestly. I assumed getting hit with a bat would hurt more, but I guess getting slammed with your own poison is worse in this game.
While I say this is the best plan, HOW you do it is what makes each fight unique throughout Monster Party. Just reaching the game’s second actual boss, the pumpkin head kid, will show you that. This creature steadily approaches you, flinging mini pumpkins quickly. This guy moves fast, launches tons of shots, and the battle immediately becomes a frantic slugfest as you try to knock enough shots back that the boss dies first. It’s tense and exhilarating. The guy has a lot of nerve to say “Please don’t pick on me,” when the fight starts.
Other bosses all act differently as well, playing with the mechanics through their movements and actions. The Medusa snake’s projectiles all come down at an angle but rush across the ground. The evil Wishing Well continually changes its shooting arc. You scramble to knock back shots without getting harpooned as a massive wooden knight tosses several javelins at once. Death’s living projectiles all swoop around you, dogging you until you knock them away. Each boss has a special quirk that give them personality, mechanically.
Other creatures, like the Alien Fried Shrimp/Onion Ring/Wieners, change how things work throughout Monster Party so that you never quite settle in to how you should fight. I mean, you just slug it out with the fried boss, but others offer something more complex. The Chameleon Wall needs you to find which of the moving heads is the actual boss. The dancing zombies honestly do just want you to watch them dance for a while. The game isn’t afraid to throw you off completely.
Since it’s full of big bosses, the game also offers lavish visual details. You can really enjoy the little skeletal elements on Death’s cloak, take in the nuances of the Smiling Cat that flings kittens at you, or savor the individual armor pieces of the living Samurai armor. These things are all large and covered with nice details, again helping them feel unique and special as you encounter them.
The bosses aren’t the only thing you can’t trust in Monster Party. The stages have their own surprises in store, like the massive shift in tone you see in the first level. All of those happy, smiling blocks turning to bleeding skulls? I had nightmares for days as a kid. Easily one of my most scarring moments. In a later stage, the whole area becomes a maze that requires planning and memorization to escape. The environments themselves, like the bosses, keep offering wild, new horrors to deal with.
And that ending? How did this get approved during the NES era? No clue at all. Let’s just say that I used to shut the game off after I beat the last boss. Even today, the music sends an uncomfortable chill down my back.
That moment in The Cabin in the Woods, where all those doors are shut and you’re wondering what monster’s behind them? How it’s going to kill when it gets out? That’s Monster Party. The game’s many doors hide all sorts of scary new delights. Will they fight differently? Do something silly? Provide a wild throwdown? You rarely know, and with its focus on these boss fights, it creates a great horror action game that offers so much variety to its players. It’s a testament to how much horror you can wring from pixel art, and it’s a miracle it got released during the child-friendly NES era.