Monster in My Pocket
Those of us who grew up in the í80s and í90s were subjected to marketing blitzes the likes of which previous generations never could have dreamed. As restrictions on corporations lessened, methods of advertising to children which had once been patently illegal suddenly became commonplace. Kids could watch the adventures of their favorite brand-name heroes in the morning, read about them in comic books in the afternoon, then be all fired up in the evening to shriek their throats raw demanding tie-in toys from weakened parents staggering in exhausted from work and willing to give their little hellions whatever they wanted in exchange for a few blissful moments of peace and quiet. Not surprisingly, direct marketing to children turned out to be big money, and everyone wanted a slice of the pie. It seemed like every day a new franchise appeared on the scene determined to be the next massive media empire. And some of them truly were massive. In fact, the likes of G.I. Joe, Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Masters of the Universe are still fairly popular, resurfacing every few years when the toy company executives bank on being able to manipulate with nostalgia the adults they once manipulated with greed as children.
Of course, for every property that became a mega-hit, there were dozens more that, for whatever reason, simply slipped through the cracks. One such property was Monster in My Pocket. Here and gone in just about two years, Monster in My Pocket launched in 1990 as a toy line consisting of small, monochromatic figures of mythological creatures -- M.U.S.C.L.E. Things for the non-wrestling set. You had your standard faces like the vampire, the werewolf, the mummy, and the invisible man, as well as some more exotic ones like baba yaga, the tengu, and the coatlicue. While the line initially saw a bit of popularity, it didnít last long, and the series soon disappeared into obscurity. Thereís no telling why it flopped, but chances are that its marked lack of ďattitudeĒ failed to grab the hearts and minds of children during an era in which television had convinced them that adults were all boring and mean and thus should be treated with nothing but sarcastic disdain. For some of us, these tiny, excellently sculpted monster figurines and accompanying mythological descriptions were enough to ignite our imaginations and inspire hours of play. But for the rest of Americaís young spawn in the í90s, if a werewolf wasnít wearing sunglasses, skateboarding, eating pizza, and screaming, ďRadical!Ē he wasnít worth paying attention to.
Before it totally vanished, though, the line did manage to spawn a four issue comic series and an NES game. Loosely based on the comic book, the videogame featured a tiny vampire and Frankensteinís monster being called out by the evil Warlock. The Warlockís botched spell had originally shrunk both the good and the evil monsters and transported them to the human world, and he had sent his minions out to ambush the heroes while they were watching television. From there the duo must proceed through the house, down the street, through the sewers, and even further afield, pummeling the heck out of the scores of monsters sent to kill them. Both heroes had at their disposal a powerful flaming punch attack, as well as a fairly high double jump. Most enemies attacked in swarms but went down in about one or two hits, giving the game a brisk pace. At the end of each level would be a powerful boss monster, usually with some kind of easily discernible attack pattern. It was a pretty standard action game formula for those days, and one couldnít fault players for overlooking it. But continuing to ignore it today is a truly unfortunate mistake.
For one, the game was made by Konami. Though not quite the licensing juggernaut that Capcom was in those heady NES days, Konami (and its offshoot, Ultra Games) had produced a healthy amount of quality licensed work for NES: The TMNT trilogy, Tiny Toon Adventures, and Bucky OíHare. While their licensed games may not always have been the most groundbreaking, they featured tight controls, detailed graphics, and excellent soundtracks. Monster in My Pocket was no exception.
Even if the Monster in My Pocket property was on the way out by the time the game was released, Konami clearly put serious effort into its development. From the rocking soundtrack, to the detailed in-game depictions of all the monsters, to the smoothness with which Dracula and the Creature leapt about while brutalizing their enemies, Monster in My Pocket holds its own alongside the best action-platformers on the system. The game even had simultaneous two-player co-op play. And as we all know, every game is better when it has simultaneous two-player co-op play.
Monster in My Pocket wasnít just a great game, it was a great licensed game. Capcomís plethora of excellent Disney titles seems to have convinced modern gamers that the NESís heyday was some kind of glorious era for licensed games, yet the truth is things werenít much different back then than they are today. For every Duck Tales or Chip Ďn Dale: Rescue Rangers, there was a host of unplayable abominations. Games like Total Recall, Back to the Future, and Namcoís Star Wars were not only awful to play, but also took significant, unfortunate liberties with the properties that inspired them. Iíve watched Star Wars dozens of times, and for the life of me I canít remember the scene where Luke Skywalker invaded a sand crawler, guns blazing, to rescue R2-D2 from a giant scorpion disguised as Darth Vader. Even the games that were actually pretty good tended to diverge significantly from their source material, whether due to the Japanese developersí apathy towards investigating what the original licenses were actually about or simply in the name of making things feel more videogamey. Duck Tales may be one of the greatest platformers on the NES, but I canít remember a single instance from the television show where Scrooge McDuck hopped around using his cane as a pogo stick. And while Iím sure somewhere in Batmanís thousands of comics he picked up a massive laser rifle, strapped on an anime-style jetpack, and flew around shooting down robot soldiers, I think itís safe to say itís not part of the traditional interpretation of the character.
Monster in My Pocket, on the other hand, is pretty much the perfect licensed videogame. Your character travels through a host of fairly standard NES-era stages while simultaneously punching out scads of mythological creatures that should technically have no reason for being there. A typical NES game on the surface, sure, but the great thing is that this is precisely what happened in the comic books. It was just tiny monsters brawling in typically urban settings. Okay, I guess the flaming punch and double jump arenít exactly canonical, and Konami did turn a couple of the comicís good monsters into enemy characters. Iím also not really sure how that Asian-themed level fit into the whole thing. But other than that, the Monster in My Pocket NES game is dead-on accurate to its license. The fact that the toy line included dozens of mythological creatures from every corner of the world meant that the game had a perfect pre-made bestiary and didnít need to resort to padding out its enemy list with weird stuff like Total Recallís pink-jumpsuit-wearing kung fu midgets. The Greek god, Triton, leaping out to attack our heroes in the sewer? Well, the comic had them fighting a radioactive tyrannosaurus in a bathtub, so why the hell not? Really, any kid back in the í90s that purchased Monster in My Pocket for the NES because he really loved the Monster in My Pocket toy line or comic book was getting exactly what he wanted.
Sure, if I had to pick only one NES game to play for the rest of my life it would probably be something like Super Mario Bros. 3, The Legend of Zelda, or Mega Man 2. But whenever Iím feeling nostalgic for Monster in My Pocket, rather than trying to find my figures in whatever box theyíve been stuffed into up in the attic, I can just pop the Monster in My Pocket game cartridge into my NES. It fits the bill just fine.