For those of you who are not well versed in the pop culture of the early 90’s, Monster in My Pocket was a short lived attempt at a multi-media franchise. It never really caught on, which is a shame. Someone obviously had high hopes for the full Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle treatment, with multiple series of toys, comic books, and a cartoon series, but while attempts were made, it never got far past the figures and trading cards phase. It’s unfortunate, because I’m sure there was a decent market for cheap, mass produced, and easily collectible PVC figures. I missed out on them, sadly, as during their heyday, I was at an age that would’ve been more interested in choking on them than playing with them.
I’LL TRY MY BEST NOT TO MAKE A DICK JOKE
Monster in My Pocket was in capable hands, as Konami was one of the best developers in the 8-bit era. No one knew the hardware quite like they did, but most of the best examples of their prowess never made it across from Japan. Regardless, they did some pretty great licensed games for the North American audience towards in the NES’ twilight years. Games like Bucky O’Hare and Zen: Intergalactic Ninja showed a level of quality that, while not mind blowing, was far above what one would expect from a low-grade licensed game on a progressively obsolete console. Monster in My Pocket is pretty much exactly in that vein.
Giving you the choice between Vampire or (Frankenstein’s) Monster, Monster in My Pocket tasks you with… stopping some guy with a crew cut. I’m actually not sure what’s going on here. Apparently the guy on the TV is the Warlock, but he looks like Guile from Street Fighter II before he let his hair grow out. Whatever. The point of the game is to beat up his henchman and then beat him up. It’s not Shakespeare.
POCKETFUL OF PUNCH
What follows is a pretty standard side-scrolling beat-’em-up. If you’re familiar with Shatterhand, then you’ve gone past it and need to dial back your expectations. Both monsters are essentially identical and both come equipped with exactly one punch. That’s their arsenal. They have no kicks or leg sweeps, no charged punches, no ground pounds, no combos, no headbutts. Double jumping is their fanciest feats, but beyond that, you can punch, jump and punch, and duck and punch, the latter of which is questionably useful, since your punches create a shockwave that is approximately the height of your character. There are no power-ups, no dodges, and no dashes. At best, you can throw the (very) rare small items at enemies, and there’s one section where you become invincible as you dash down the banister of a stairwell. That’s it.
There’s no getting past it; that’s one hell of a shallow, boring moveset. However, there’s a reason I bring this up so early in my critique: it’s more interesting to talk about the ways that the developers made up for this shortcoming.
THE KONAMI CODE
As I previously mentioned, Konami was a master at Nintendo’s 8-bit hardware. In Japan, they were producing their own special mapper chips to pull off some fancy effects, but even in North America, they pushed the existing hardware to the limit. Monster in My Pocket is a graphical showcase, featuring just about every trick in the book. From some neat warping effects, some excellently executed parallax scrolling that helps emphasize the characters’ diminutive size, and even terrifically quick background scrolling that almost appears impossible on the vintage hardware. Animation is detailed, the characters are big, and the backgrounds are diverse and interesting. No corners were cut in crafting the game, making it a treat for anyone geeky enough to have a grasp on the hardware’s limitations.
Of course, this came out in ’91 or ’92, a short while after the Super Nintendo and a good while after the Genesis, so it wasn’t the best looking game on the market. On the NES, however, it’s an impressive feat.
The fancy technical trickery is put to good use in some pretty outstanding level design. While there isn’t much you can do with the limited arsenal that is provided to the protagonists, a lot of variety and set pieces were packed into the game’s running time. Likewise, Konami made sure to cram in as many enemies as they could to capitalize on the various figures. A lot of the little guys are represented here, so anyone who’s a fan of the toy line will likely recognize their favourites popping up in the rogues gallery.
THE WHOLE STORY
But then, it’s a short journey. A successful run of the game takes in the range of 30-45 minutes, though the continues are limited, so you’re not guaranteed to make it through on your first, or tenth try. It took me three attempts, all done within the day I purchased it, so it certainly wasn’t a long affair. There’s simultaneous multi-player available, but this isn’t exactly Contra, so the value of two players is questionable. I mean, beyond the obvious social advantages.
So it’s a mix. It’s shallow and short but technically proficient and well designed. I don’t regret having it in my collection, but I can’t really recommend it either. It gets a shrug from me, though if you’re a fan of the little figures, then you’ll probably get more enjoyment out of this than I did.
This review was conducted on an original NES copy of the game. It was bought used by the reviewer.