|Image from Lukie Games|
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.