I’m going to tell you something unusual: I like to blether on here about games that I like, about games that gave me a nice surprise. But this time, as a bit of a change, I’m going to moan about a game I’ve always fancied trying that I thought was shit.
Back in the ’80s there were two things: the first was sweeties called “chewits” which were advertised on telly by a parody of Japanese monster movies which, for some reason, featured Americans including one called “Chuck” who saved a city from being destroyed by driving a huge chewit delivery truck near the hungry monster who promptly ate the container on the back as though it were a packet of chewits (nothing has to make the remotest sense in advertland). The second was an 8-bit videogame from Gremlin which was called T-Wrecks and featured a huge monster emerging from the sea onto the islands of Japan and wrecking havock in order to get some of its monster eggs back from thieving scientists.
Reader, the marketing men married them.
The Muncher (basically T-Wrecks as-was but with a different name and the monstrous star of the sweetie advert on the box) was released in 1988 for Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum. Now, I like the Spectrum but this game has really BIG graphics and moves a bit slow on the British machine so I decided to give it a proper go on the American breadbox instead, it having sprite-handling hardware and all of that.
It should be excellent: thematically it’s basically a single-player Rampagewhich takes place across scrolling levels and features huge buildings to trash and loads of enemies to eat, chomp and punch as well as, apparently, other giant monsters to battle later on.
So why doesn’t the damn thing play as well as it sounds? Because, even with the C64’s hardware-based nippiness it’s still too bloody slow; I’m surprised, in fact, at how sedate a game where you play a huge monster trashing a city and fighting off helicopters can be. The controls are also shite: I found myself “roaring” (an attack which releases one of a limited number of fireballs which could be used strategically and effectively if they weren’t so damn easy to use-up accidentally) without trying to, working out the punches and kicks needed to attack enemies and (especially) buildings was frustrating and occasionally counter-intuitive and, unlike Rampage, I found jumping-onto and climbing buildings a bit of a struggle. I also disliked the way the monster wrecked buildings with his tail if I changed direction: that might be realistic but it also simply added to the impression that I had limited control over the monster. And whereas in the Rampage games bringing-down buildings is a joy, here it’s actually a chore – more like work than playing a game as you smash up a bit here and a bit there and wish the bloody thing would fall down so you can see if there’s an egg in there.
I didn’t enjoy The Muncher. I think it’s not only a game that’s aged badly but an example of an older game with very modern problems: it looks nice and it appeals to gamers’ instincts, content-wise and I can’t help but think this, and a huge dollop of nostalgia, explains why there’s such a lot of love out there for both versions of this game. You’re wrong, the internet. You just bloody are.