Greetings once again, my fellow Retro Junkers! The time has come once again for me to shine a light on a largely forgotten game from back in the day that has been sorely forgotten or lost in time.
As I have mentioned in previous articles, Konami was one of my favorite game publishers for the Nintendo back in the day. Thanks to games like Contra, Castlevania, and their slew of Ninja Turtle games that they pushed out during the late 80s and early 90s, they quickly became kings in the eyes of many kids like me. Their games were usually always of the highest quality, and contained graphics and sounds that usually pushed Nintendo's hardware to the limits. They quickly became one of the premier third party publishers and developers on both the NES and Super Nintendo by releasing a string of polished hits.
Back in the early 90s, when the aging Nintendo was slowly being phased out by the much more powerful 16-Bit Super NES, Konami was one of the few major companies that still supported the original console in its waning years. To do so, Konami apparently decided to go a little crazy when it came to picking up the rights to a large variety of licensed properties, obviously hoping that they would strike financial gold with one of them. They cast their net wide, scooping up the rights to cartoons like Bucky O'Hare (which I devoted an article to a couple years ago), a fairly obscure comic book called Zen the Intergalactic Ninja, and even The Lone Ranger, which was not exactly a hot property with kids in the early 90s, but that didn't stop Konami from making an incredibly awesome game out of it, one which I may cover in a future article. But the one I want to look at today is Monster in My Pocket, which was based on a toy fad that was built on soft plastic figurines based on classic monsters from literature, movies, and even mythology and legends.
Maybe these toys were popular with the kids when they launched back in the early 90s, but I don't think they're remembered much today. Heck, I tried looking up some commercials for the toys to include in this article, and mostly what I found were advertisements when they they were being given away in cereal boxes in the U.K. Created by Matchbox, they were a series of figurines that look like they were mainly for collecting, and not much for playing. Regardless, the toy line must have hit big somehow, because there were cartoons, comic books, trading cards, and obviously, a NES game based on the property.
Seriously, the box art to this game is awesome. How could any kid not want to play this looking at this image?
The Monster in My Pocket video game is a fairly standard platformer that throws in some interesting ideas to help it stand out from the crowd, and naturally has the kind of impressive graphics and music that we have come to expect from Konami. You get the feeling that this wasn't exactly a huge game for the programming team, but they still took their job seriously, and delivered a game that's still a lot of fun. Given the monster theme, you might obviously start thinking of the company's most famous franchise, Castilevania. It's probably unavoidable, but honestly, a much more accurate game comparison would be Capcom's take on Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers, since both games involve you playing as mini characters existing in a very large human world. Both games are also two player simultaneous, and show a lot of creativity by creating obstacles and hazards out of everyday objects that are small to us, but would be huge to a chipmunk or, in this case, a Pocket-Sized Monster.
The game's plot centers on two heroic monsters from the toy line, the Vampire and the Frankenstein's Monster. As it opens, both monsters are sitting in the home of their human friend, Jack, a teenager who watches over the mini monsters and keeps them out of sight from other humans. As the monsters are watching TV, their binge-watching is interrupted when the leader of the evil monsters, the Warlock, takes over the TV signal, and announces his plan to take over the world with his arm of evil monsters. The Vampire and his Monster friend are obviously not going to stand for this, so they set out to stop the Warlock's plan.
You can choose to take this adventure on solo, where you choose to be either the Vampire or the Frankenstein's Monster (there's no real difference between the two, so just pick who you like), or you and a friend can team up to take on the Warlock's invasion. The first two levels are placed within Jack's massive (well, massive to you) house, where you must make your way through a variety of rooms, leading to the kitchen. Right from the word go, you can tell that Konami took this license seriously, as there are a huge variety of creatures for you to battle, all of which are taken from the toy line. According to the game's instruction manual, which lists all of the enemy monsters you will encounter, there are 39 different creatures to face in the game, including the bosses who appear at the end of every level. You not only have to admire the attention to detail and faithfulness to the license, but it also gives the game a wide variety of enemies to battle. In the first couple levels built around Jack's home, you will face off with zombies, teleporting witches, flying ghosts, skeletons, and even Bigfoot, who apparently has taken up residence in the kid's fridge.
Once you're out in the city, your monster will traverse city streets, sewers, a construction site, and even an Asian garden, leading up to the final showdown with the Warlock in his lair. As mentioned, the game takes full advantage of your character's size to create some unique environments and challenges. In the house levels, you'll have to walk across plates and giant apples while avoiding flames that shoot up from the stove's burners. On the construction site, you'll ride atop massive cranes, and have to jump over tacks that become giant spikes to your monster. In the sewers, you'll have to brave the waters while riding on top of a discarded tin can. Massive boomboxes can be used as platforms, and a human-sized stairwell can turn into a massive climb as you try to make your way down the enormous steps, or simply charge down the handrail at blazing speed, knocking away any enemy monster in your path.
As I mentioned, there's really no difference whether you choose to play as the Vampire or the Frankenstein's Monster. While it would have been nice if maybe the programming team had added some special skills that would be unique to each character, you won't really be complaining, as the control on your monster is quite responsive. Konami decided to keep things simple, giving both monsters a basic punch attack which sends out small fireballs with each swing. You can also double jump to help you cross wide chasms, or leap over charging enemies. However, throughout the levels, you can find common items like keys or a screw that can be used as a projectile weapon when your monster picks it up and throws it at enemies. You can use these special weapons as often as you want, picking it up and throwing as often as you desire, as long as the object does not fall off screen.
The levels that make up the game are just as simple as the mechanics. With only 6 areas, and not a lot of exploration, these are based more on memorizing where and when enemies will appear for the difficulty. With such a wide array of monsters in the game, Konami was smart enough to make all the enemies and bosses behave completely differently, so you can't use the same strategy over and over. Some fly overhead and swoop down at you when they get close, some come at you slow, some charge at you, some use patterned jumping or projectile attacks, and some will appear and disappear at random. The key to winning here is to memorize how each different kind of enemy moves or attacks. Each creature you face has their own unique way of attacking, so you have to memorize not only where in the level they're going to show up, but also how they will attack you. The game will often put you in situations where you're trapped on a moving platform or elevator, and must fight off a barrage of attacks from both sides.
However, Monster in My Pocket is not an overly difficult game. In fact, it seems designed for the younger kids who would have been drawn to it back in the day. There are only six levels, and they are relatively brief, except for the final level, where you have to survive a "Boss Rush" of all the previous bosses you faced before you get to fight the Warlock, who honestly, is not all that difficult. This is not a deep or complex game, and as long as you take it slowly, and try to anticipate where the enemy monsters will pop up and attack, you should get through the game with minimal difficulty. You get three lives per monster (with extra lives rewarded for points you earn), and three chances to continue your game. But honestly, this is a game you will probably be able to see the end of within a day or so, as it's not very long. Still, that just means it's a perfect game to let your kids play if they are interested in seeing the kind of games you used to play at their age. With its light difficulty and two player support, you and your kid can team up to tackle this one in a weekend. And with Halloween less than a couple months away, the monster theme makes it perfect for the holiday. If you're looking for a good classic Halloween-themed retro game for your kid, and the Castlevania titles are too frustrating, this would be a perfect alternative.
In terms of presentation, Monster in My Pocket has been given the standard Konami treatment. The graphics are highly detailed, with lots of individual animations for each original monster, giving them their own personality. As you can see from the photos accompanying this article, there's a lot of color and attention to detail. The programmers also have fun creating dangers out of everyday objects, like the level where your monster is making their way down a street, and boulder-sized golf balls keep on bouncing along the trail to stop you. That being said, the game does suffer from some flickering and slow down, with characters seemingly disappearing randomly when there are too many characters on the screen. This is especially true in two player mode. If you can live with the fact that the NES occasionally has some trouble keeping up with the action (which doesn't happen enough to dampen the experience), you can still find plenty of enjoyment here, and admire the work that the artists put into the game.
As for the music, there's absolutely nothing to complain about here. It's incredibly catchy, and some of the tunes are bound to get stuck in your head after playing. It strikes a perfect lighthearted balance between "spooky" and driving adventure music that makes you want to keep on playing. My particular favorite tunes are the ones that accompany the opening cinema, where some monsters are seen moving about within a kid's pocket, before they all go flying out, and the theme for the Kitchen level, which is appropriately fast-paced and frantic to match the tone of the area. You also have to love the 7th track, titled Monster Rap, which is just kind of incredible. Overall, this is a hidden gem among NES soundtracks, and it's a shame it hasn't been performed by some cover bands.
"You want me? You're going to have to shell out the big bucks!"
So, you say you're interested, and want to add this game to your collection? Well, this is kind of a good and bad news situation. Despite the fact that it is not very common, it should not set you back too much if you want just the loose cartridge. I paid about $40 for the loose game with the original instruction manual. I'd say this or less is a good price to pay. However, if you want the game complete, that's a bit of a tricky issue. You see, back when it was released, Konami included an original Monster in My Pocket toy in the box that was exclusive to the game cartridge. This has made the complete game with the toy figurine incredibly valuable to both toy and game hobbyists. If you want the complete package with the original toy included, you're looking at between $600 to $700. In my opinion, it's definitely not worth it, unless you're a toy collector with money to burn. A complete in box copy without the toy will probably set you back about $200, so again, not really worth it when you consider how short the game is. I say go for the loose cartridge with this one.
Now for a bit of weirdness. This game kind of became notorious when an unlicensed ROM hack from Asia used this game as the basis for an unofficial game featuring Batman and The Flash. With the highly original title Flash and Batman, the game replaces the two playable monsters with the DC Comics heroes, and...Well, that's about it. Everything else in the game is exactly the same to my knowledge. So, if you have some kind of bizarre desire to play a game featuring a mini Batman and Flash running around and fighting monsters, go have it.
Overall, Monster in My Pocket is a highly overlooked game that never got much attention, and is largely ignored today, but deserves to not be forgotten. It's not the longest or toughest game out there, but there is some creativity to the level design, and a lot of fun to be had here. And like I said, it's a perfect choice if you want a retro game to play with your kid that won't send them into a controller-throwing rage. It's got a cool theme, some great music, and an overall sense of quality. A game based on a cheap toy line did not need to be good, but Konami obviously did not care, and made this strong title that can be enjoyed by anyone.
Until next time, Retro Junkers, keep the past alive.