An extraordinarily poor racing game based on the question, “What if Excitebike but unplayable?”
Karmic balance: A game to put an end to a solid run of good Game Boy releases. This spoiler takes the form of an import-only racer called Monster Truck.
So far as I can tell, the thinking behind Another and Varie’s Monster Truck for Game Boy was: “What if Excitebike, but bad?” The existence of this game is bewildering on some levels. After all, monster trucks with their giant tires and insane suspensions seem like a decidedly American hobby. Yet Monster Truck for Game Boy was created in Japan and only ever shipped in Japan. The answer, however, is in the playing.
Monster Truck is awful. One assumes U.S. publishers had the opportunity to publish this game. Despite the obvious appeal of this game’s premise to 1990s kids who loved their fire-breathing funny cars every Sunday-Sunday-Sunday, these companies took one look at Monster Truck in action and said, “Um, no thanks.”
It’s a real bummer, because at a glance you really want to like Monster Truck. We’ve seen quite a few racers on Game Boy to this point, but they’ve always been side-scrollers or top down racers. Monster Truck mixes things up by adopting an Excitebike-style three-quarters perspective, which flattens out the circular race track into a single linear strip dotted with hazards and obstacles. It should be a perfect match for the limitations of a platform like the Game Boy, and that makes it infuriating that it works out so poorly in this situation. Sadly, this absolutely has to be one of the worst interpretations of the Excitebike format ever committed to silicon.
On the plus side, Monster Truck helps you appreciate how much we take Nintendo’s talent for game development for granted. They make this sort of game look so easy, but it turns out that it is indeed possible to bungle this style of racer in extremis if you don’t know what you’re doing. I feel like there was an earnest effort to do something good here by developer Another—the studio responsible for creating Hot-B’s few first fishing games, such as The Black Bass for NES. Alas, Monster Truck truck falls more in line with Another’s most infamous creation: Hoshi o Miru Hito, a clumsy RPG widely regarded as one of the worst things ever published on Famicom. It even carries forward a few RPG-like elements: A handful of active stats to manage, a reward-based currency for purchasing upgrades, and a variety of different terrain types for your truck to deal with. And, as in Hoshi o Miru Hito, they all exist in service of a generally crummy video game.
Your truck’s body stat grants you the ability to withstand more damage, which proves to be important. Every time you crash or smash into another racer, you take a little damage. Run out of truck “stamina” and you’re forced to retire. Better engines allow you to drive faster, and tire upgrades improve your traction on unfriendly surfaces.
These all seem like features that speak to a quality game! The problem with Monster Truck is that playing it feels awful. Unlike in Excitebike, there doesn’t appear to be any sort of lane change mechanic—you’re always in the lane closest to the player’s point of view. In reviewing this game, I was unable to advance beyond the third track (of 12), as race three is the first time you encounter other racers. Your opponents occupy your lane, and I was unable to get past them. You can “rock” your car up and down beyond the track boundaries momentarily, and in doing so you can cause other races to spin out. Despite my best efforts, though, I was unable to ascertain how to actually pass other trucks.
Instead, my efforts simply bumped them forward, allowing them to win slightly faster than they would have otherwise. I admit this is probably a failing of literacy; the manual likely has information on how to pass other trucks in Japanese. However, it does speak to the fundamental mechanical limitations of Monster Truck. Likewise, the fact that there is no information on the game whatsoever in English—no FAQs, reviews, videos, nothing—speaks to how terrible it is. Video game fanatics love their kooky import obscurities, but no one can muster up an ounce of enthusiasm for it.
The closest thing I can find to information about the game on the English-language web is a notation that the UK’s Mean Machines magazine reviewed it back in the day. They gave it a 65 out of 100, which seems surprisingly generous given their love of great racing games… though they tended to grade on a scale of 80-100, so something that earned a mere 65 must have been poor indeed.
Info about Monster Truck is scarce even in the Japanese corners of the web. Wikipedia’s sole mention of the game links to a “kusoge” review—a “shitty games” roundup. (Clearly, this game is dearly loved in its homeland as well.) But no, the racing here just isn’t fun. Your truck spins out constantly, especially when handling road obstacles. Given that road obstacles are kind of the point of the game, that’s an issue. You have to overcome a number of complications in the track and terrain, but the controls don’t precisely lend themselves to doing so.
There seems to be just a perfect bit of finesse required in order to climb steep stairs or make it over logs without flipping your truck, but the particulars are difficult to lock down. Feathering the gas and brake while rearing the truck back seems to be critical, but across several sessions with the game I was never able to find the right combination of inputs to be able to tackle the tracks perfectly every time. On top of that, the visuals look terrible, combining ugly sprites and wretched frame rates. The soundtrack consists of a grating four-second loop. This is simply an extremely bad video game, and that’s all there is to it.
To make this whole mess extra heartbreaking, Monster Truck appears to be Another’s final project. Not that anyone in the world was ever a huge fan of their games, but any developer deserves to go out on a better note than this.
I’d love to be able to tell you more about this Game Boy obscurity, but no dice. If you were hoping for a Game Boy equivalent to Excitebike, keep dreaming. Your best bet is still Motocross Maniacs. Monster Truck is a mess of a racer, and one that—despite its theme—rightfully never made its way overseas.
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