Monster in My Pocket
Developer: Konami | Publisher: Konami | Release Date: 1992 | Genre: Platformer | Website: N/A
The ‘90s was a great time for toy companies as every popular line typically got their own comic book, television series and video game tie-in as well. The monster themed toy-line that Matchbox brought out in 1989 was no exception, so by 1992 Konami did the honors of releasing the Monster in My Pocket video game for the Nintendo Entertainment System. According to the instruction manual, the monsters were busy with their convention of history’s greatest monsters when a volcanic eruption occurred. Instead of killing everyone, the monsters are all shrunk to pocket size and deposited in downtown Los Angeles. The Vampire and The Monster sprung into action and led a group of good monsters to the safety of a pocket, which happened to be attached to the leather jacket of a teenager named Jack. Fortunately for them, Jack was cool enough to allow the monsters to stay at his house, which they happily did until the start of this game.
Monster in My Pocket opens with The vampire and The Monster watching some late night television only to be interrupted by the evil Warlock appear on their screen and taunting them. It would seem that the leader of the bad monsters has tracked them down and has sent his evil henchmen their way to dispose of them. Of course, this means that the duo has no choice, but to leap into action and take care of the monster problem. The battle starts out upstairs in Jack’s house before moving on to the kitchen, into the streets, down the sewers, through a construction yard and oriental garden, before the big showdown at Monster Mountain.
Monster in My Pocket is a typical platformer, but the game does have a couple of neat tricks up its sleeve. The first is the two player mode, which allows players to team up and take down the other monsters together. This is something that wasn’t typically seen in platformers of this era and it adds a nice touch to the game. Of course, if one of the players loses all of their lives, they can then steal one from the surviving player, which is something that led to a lot of arguments in our younger days. Speaking of lives, Monster in My Pocket grants players three lives, although you can earn an additional one at 500 points and then at every additional 2000 points. The creatures you battle are all worth different amounts of points, which can make things a little competitive when playing with a friend. The game allows players to continue three times, but with only six levels, it’s not too hard to complete the game. It takes five hits for your monster to lose a life, but your health can be replenished by the heart containers that are scattered throughout the levels. Just bear in mind it is possible to pick these up even if you don’t need them, which can once again lead to some resentment in two-player mode.
In terms of gameplay, Monster in My Pocket feels very similar to the Castlevania series, which is also by Konami. The characters feel a little more agile, but their primary attacks are restricted to some type of close range energy arc. Thankfully, most enemies can be disposed off with a single hit, although you will eventually encounter more durable foes. The game doesn’t feature anything in the way of inventory items or power-ups, but you can pick up the occasional key or bolt to throw at your enemies. Both characters are also capable of double jumping and most of the levels give you a bit more vertical space to explore. For example, when making your way downstairs during the first level, you can hop down the individual steps if you want, or simply make a mad dash down the banister. One of the things that contributes to the whole Castlevania vibe of the game is the way in which getting hit by enemies will knock you backwards. This is usually not a problem if you don’t try to rush through levels, but can be a nuisance when your character is standing near water or bottomless pits as it results in instantly losing a whole life and not just a health segment.
Monster in My Pocket was released quite late in the lifespan of the N.E.S and it really shows when looking at the visuals. Konami has always had a knack for coaxing great visuals out of the 8-bit hardware, but they outdid themselves with Monster in My Pocket. Fans of the toy range will know that it had a huge amount of different monsters and somehow Konami has found a way to cram a lot of them into this game. Each level features a bunch of new enemies, so you’ll be facing off against skeletons, hunchbacks, winged panthers, witches, ghouls, ogres, ghosts, goblins, zombies, manticores, minotaurs, hydras and even a Tyrannosaurus Rex or two. In addition, you have the obligatory boss waiting for you at the end of each level, so be ready for Spring Heeled Jack, Bigfoot, Kraken and more.
The large, detailed sprites in Monster in My Pocket are pretty impressive and all of the monsters are instantly recognizable. Even the limited color palette doesn’t hold things back as it just makes the monsters look more authentic. In fact, Konami has tried to ensure that all of the monsters maintain the poses of the figurines as well, which is a really nice touch. What is not so nice is the amount of sprite flicker that occurs if too many monsters make their way onto the screen at once. This can quickly happen if you try to rush past enemies instead of defeating them and at times can become so bad that the entire game slows down. It would seem that Konami has maybe tried to push the aging N.E.S hardware too far for this title and it definitely shows. Interestingly enough, Konami included an exclusive Blemmyes figurine with every copy of the game and even featured this monster prominently on the cover, but didn’t actually include it in the game itself. This is a bit surprising, considering how many monsters there are to pick from in the toy range and that Konami typically offers more choices in their games.
Konami rarely disappointed when it came to the music in their games and, while Monster in My Pocket doesn’t feature their best work, the soundtrack is pretty decent overall. The game even has a hidden Music Mode to listen to the tunes, which can be accessed by holding Right, A, B and Select before pressing Start on the copyright screen. The sound effects are nothing special, but get the job done. Konami also limited their use of samples in this game, so you only get one scream from the bosses when you take them down.
Overall, Monster in My Pocket is a decent licensed title that doesn’t just feel like a cheap cash-in. When we originally played this game in the nineties, it was a definite thrill to see the plastic collectibles come to life on the television screen, but time hasn’t been too kind to Monsters in My Pocket. The visuals still look good for their time, but the slowdown and flicker feel a lot more annoying than what we remembered. The longevity of the game is also not that great as the six levels are over way too soon, even with the repeat boss fights tacked on at the end. If you were a fan of the toys and have fond memories of the game, then playing Monster in My Pocket again is definitely a nostalgic experience. However, compared to some of the other titles on the N.E.S, it is a bit lacking. There’s still fun to be had, especially when played with a very patient friend, but the faults in the game are a little more glaring now when viewed through older eyes. It’s really a pity that this was the only video game based on the license as the Monster in My Pocket range had so many neat collectibles. Who knows what could have happened if it went the same route as another famous pocket sized monster franchise.