Thursday, October 8, 2015

Fighter's Misery: Battle Monsters

Twenty years ago, it was the nineties. And there was time for... crappy digitized fighting games! There must have been a whole lot of time for them, because they were all over the place. It got to the point where any schlub with a Macintosh, a digital camera, and some drunk friends could throw together their own Mortal Kombat kompetitor. Just look at Way of the Warrior, or Kasumi Ninja, or Tattoo Assassins, or... this.

Image from Lukie Games
Battle Monsters for the Sega Saturn has a convoluted history... it was released by Acclaim in the United States, but produced by Naxat Soft, but designed by Scarab, a small-time publisher pieced together from the remains of Atomic Robo-Kid creators Universal Playland. Scarab went on to develop a serviceable conversion of Fighting Vipers 2 for the Dreamcast, and spent its twilight years creating RPGs for the Xbox 360 under a new name, Feelplus. However, the company proved itself worthy of its previous title when it rolled this little ball of filth to Acclaim's front door.

Battle Monsters has all the usual earmarks of a half-assed Mortal Kombat knock-off... ridiculous characters, muddy digitization, feather-light physics, and of course, copious amounts of blood. Everyone gushes gallons of the red stuff, whether they're beefy gladiators or animated skeletons. It should all sound very familiar to anyone who remembers gaming in the Clinton years, but Battle Monsters offers two key differences from the mountain of blood-soaked brawlers available at the time. The first is that stop-motion monsters were thrown into the cast, adding an extra layer of cheese to the hokey fantasy setting. Both Battle Monsters and Konami's Crypt Killer marked a brief renaissance for the not-so-special effects made famous by Ray Harryhausen, a comeback made possible by the limited technology and tight budgets of the time. High-quality computer rendering was hugely expensive in the 1990s, and the Saturn's 3D hardware could barely produce recognizable humans, let alone scary monsters. With all this in mind, stop motion animation must have seemed like a smart workaround for penny-pinching game designers. (I doubt they'd be too proud of their work now, but I digress...)

The other thing that separates Battle Monsters from its contemporaries is that its stages are pretty large, with platforms hanging overhead and floors lying below you. You can hitch a ride on one of the platforms and briefly escape your opponent's wrath by tapping the X, Y, or Z buttons, but there's not much strategic value in taking the high road. In fact, because there's so little room to move, you'll often fall from your perch and tumble down to the lower half of the stage. There are a few nifty gimmicks, like the carnivorous plants waiting at the edges of one level and the boulders you can push in another, but beyond that the multi-tiered stages add little to the game but window dressing and irritation. 

Speaking of irritation, Battle Monsters serves up plenty, whether it's in the life bars that gobble up large portions of the screen without actually telling you your current health, the simplistic yet pointlessly cluttered control scheme, or terrible special effects like the field of grass that rolls past you instead of swaying in the breeze. Character costumes are rarely more elaborate than what you'd find at the office Halloween party, and your final battle is against four elemental spirits which are actually just the same guy in different colored robes. In 2015, the game's threadbare budget and lack of enthusiasm are good for a few laughs, but any Saturn owner who got stuck with Battle Monsters in 1996 would struggle to find the humor in the fifty dollars they just lost.


  1. Yes! I Love bad fighting games.
    Battle Monsters is the very definition of "So bad it's good". As you said, it has a cheesy and hokey feel to it and I think the designers just reveled in it.
    I haven't played it in years, but I plan to now that I finally have a RHEA. No longer will I deny myself crappy wonders for fear of burning precious life of my CD drive.
    P.S. I had lost hope that you would ever cover this game for Fighter's Misery. Glad to see it found a place here.
    P.P.S. Still awaiting Criticom...

  2. Wait, what's a RHEA?

    I had to play this with an emulator, since my Saturn is (like so much of my collection) stranded in Michigan at the moment. The real pain is that you have to use a clone drive to run games... the SSF emulator doesn't have support for ISOs, which I think is just plain silly.

    Oh geez, Criticom! The alien with the metal diaper squealing "that didn't hurt!" will haunt me for the rest of my days...

  3. RHEA is a drive replacement for model 1 Saturns (as in remove entire disc drive, hook up REAH via ribbon cable, and play image files from an SD card).
    See here:
    It's not perfect; it's picky about image format and you have to hit a button on the device to cycle games on the SD card (I'm just using several small SD cards and organizing them by theme).
    But it's an absolute dream come true for me. Emulators for the Saturn are really only useful for me testing iso's and such (my PC is a trooper, but is really showing its age).

    The guy who provides/makes RHEA has another version called Phoebe, which works on Model 2 systems (usually round button Saturns).
    ...and then there's his GDEMU for Dreamcast (also awesome), but Saturn is more deserving IMHO...

    Problem is, demand far exceeds what he can produce, so prepare for a wait (and watch his blog like a hawk) if you ever want to secure one for yourself. Unfortunately, they also don't come cheap.