Godzilla Unleashed is the latest in a string of Godzilla games from developer Pipeworks, the same folks that brought us Rampage Total Destruction, another giant-monsters-smash-everything game that is squarely targeted at the Kaiju-loving crowd.
The previous Godzilla on the Gamecube, Godzilla Destroy All Monsters Melee, felt a little bare bones like a cartridge game: just a basic menu for choosing monsters and areas to fight in. Godzilla Unleashed has a much more polished appearance, a story and a training mode. The latter is necessary because the controls are rather involved, using gestures combined with button presses to execute various attacks.
At its heart it's a fighting game with enormous monsters. The Gamecube game had a "story mode" that consisted of a progressive string of one-on-one monster battles -- not really much of a story at all. Godzilla Unleashed has an actual story: Crystals are crashing to Earth at the same time as an alien invasion is taking place. Monsters belonging to several factions have been drawn to sites where they appear and wreak their awful destruction: some are working for the aliens, some are interested in the power of the crystals and others are trying to destroy the crystals to SAVE THE EARTH!
Initially you have a choice of three monsters to control; eventually you will have more to choose from by purchasing them with points earned in the different missions by destroying property and defeating other monsters. Stages take place in different cities and you'll often have two or more cities to choose from. Your goal in each city is to destroy the active crystals or take out enemy monsters with the occasional boss fight against a whacked-out GDF general, alien mothership or overloaded King Ghidorah to spice things up. Depending on your faction and that of the other monsters on the scene you may find that other monsters are more concerned with fighting each other or destroying buildings than whatever you're doing. Going after crystals is sure to attract someone's attention; especially if in the course of doing this your overload metre peaks which causes your monster to grow larger and break out in a molten lava rash of destruction. Certain crystals grant single-use crystal powers with temporary offensive or defensive uses, though which ones you can earn is limited by the faction you belong to. If no win conditions are achieved within the time limit the stage ends and you go to the next day/mission. If your monster is defeated you are given a couple of opportunities to replay the mission. Completing missions is not essential to progressing through the game, though you will be denied seeing the ending unless you defeat the evil entity behind all the space crystal business in the final stage. There are frequent cut scenes that advance the plot consisting of voiced dialogue against static hand-drawn images which is of acceptable quality and appropriately cheesy. Before starting each day/mission your goals are outlined, but if you didn't pay attention to that you can review objectives by pressing the + button during play.
The biggest flaw in the game is the controls. After cutting their teeth on Rampage Total Destruction, you'd think that Pipeworks would have learned their lesson about trying to do too many things with Remote gestures, but that's not the case. Pressing A or B will perform basic punches and kicks which can be chained, but the only way to knock a monster out of commission is to use directional shakes of the Remote followed by a press of A or B. There is some logic to this: the Remote is exclusively for attack and the Nunchuk largely for movement, but a stick+button alternative would have been appreciated. Using a Nunchuk shake for jump is fine, but the problem with using gestures for attacks is that they're not fine-tuned enough so you'll often get a false register in the opposite direction from the one in which you're actually waving the Remote. This isn't a disaster that will stop you from enjoying the game, but it shows a little more polish was needed or possibly the use of gestures should have been dialled back a bit. Having said that, many of the special fierce attacks (hold A+B and wave the Remote) are the same regardless of the direction chosen and usually the only consequence of the wrong gesture being detected in a normal attack is executing an overhead smash instead of an uppercut.
Training mode is a must to get a basic feel for the control; in the course of playing the story mode you get more of the hang of things until it's second-nature. In addition to punching and kicking other monsters you can destroy tanks, helicopters, small UFOs and buildings -- including famous landmarks like the Transamerica Pyramid or Big Ben; you can also rip buildings out of the ground and throw them at your opponents or pick up opponents and throw them at buildings or each other (oh the possibilities!) by gesturing with the Nunchuk and Remote simultaneously, which works quite well. All characters have some kind of ranged attack which must be charged (though some monsters, like Mothra, automatically recharge) before unleashing with the Z button. Whilst slightly annoying, it prevents the cheap attacks that plagued the earlier Gamecube game. The damage from energy attacks has also been scaled back a bit and it takes more damage to take down monsters generally than in the previous outing. As a result fights are a bit longer and require more strategy which is more in keeping with the films.
Graphics are much better than the previous Gamecube title with very large playfields and no restriction on the distance you can get from the other monsters due to a better zoom out function on the camera. This is most appreciated when using flying characters like Rodan and Mothra who can now roam far and wide and use their alternative movement to major advantage. There are often up to four monsters on screen at once as well as tanks and UFOs; whilst the framerate will take the odd hit when zoomed out, the game plays surprisingly well given the amount of carnage happening on screen. Also improved over the Gamecube game is a better sense of scale and varied terrain with San Francisco and other cities having hills for the first time. Audio is good with monster roars sounding just like the movies and sickening thuds from metal on monster flesh/rubber (go go Jet Jaguar!).
In addition to the single-player game you get various multiplayer modes including one where you can set your own win conditions. Add the fact that you can play with up to four players and you have a game that is a great multi-player monster fest with the right crowd. If you're lacking a ready-made crew of would-be Kaiju wanting to bash each other's heads in, multi-player modes can also be played against computer AI to provide a bit of variety for singletons. Make no mistake, there's a lot of rubber-suit action ahead with dozens of characters to play and loads of videos, concept art, multi-player stages and monsters to be unlocked.
Whilst the game lacks a little of the visceral impact of the earlier entry on the Gamecube, the greater variety of attacks, better visuals, more monster choices (pretty much the entire Millennium and Heisei series monsters as well a number of classic Godzilla movie monsters) and a better story mode make this the game to get if you're at all a fan of the films or like the idea of trashing Earth's cities with a giant monster. Just be sure to give yourself a chance to get used to the controls before making a final judgement -- especially if you've played an earlier entry in the franchise.