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Kaiju Wars review: Monster mirth

(PC/Mac) **** Age: 12+

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Godzilla was a metaphor. You probably imagine him just as an enormous green lizard emerging from the depths of an irradiated sea to wreak havoc on the Japanese population. No, for the film-makers who created the first kaiju monster, he actually represented the destructive power of nuclear weapons, which, um, wreaked havoc on the Japanese population.

Kaiju went on to become an incredibly popular genre of monster movie, featuring everything from giant bats to massive moths. But it was equally well known for its ropey special effects and dodgy scripts. This is where Kaiju Wars comes in, with its knowing riff on the sci-fi creature feature wrapped around a turn-based tactical conflict.

In this series of challenging missions, you control a city and its defences as it fends off the attack of one of five kaiju, including a gorilla and a Godzilla-esque hairy lizard. The game’s creators describe the gameplay as a cross between Nintendo’s classic Advance Wars and the more recent indie hit Into The Breach.

More simply, it combines elements of tower defence and the familiar strategic plan of turn-based tiled battlefield. The icing on the cake is the amusing faux-hysteria of the kaiju genre, full of self-important military, panicking civilians and, of course, the relentless march of the towering beasts.

Kaiju Wars is full of twists on the formula, the main one being the fact that the monsters can’t be defeated with military might. Instead, your firepower is just buying time while the scientists race to develop a serum to repel the oversized enemy permanently. So you construct and deploy your units – tanks, aircraft, infantry, etc – with a view to slowing the kaiju’s assault, even baiting them with civilian buildings. Now who’s the evil monster, eh?

Neatly, there’s a card deck at play each turn too, where you can pick a choice of, for example, experimental weapons or a cash boost to your economy. Perversely, a rival military group strikes at you from the shadows occasionally, with moves such as buffing the kaiju’s strength or setting battlefield tiles on fire. Clearly they want the monster’s power for its own nefarious ends.

Juggling all of these ingredients makes for a deeply challenging game – sometimes to the point where the random events feel unfair. Yet the sly humour and thorny puzzles prove an addictive combination. The lo-fi presentation – like a conversion of a Game Boy Colour pixellated classic – feeds the retro vibe that marks out Kaiju Wars as a smart and amusing triumph of gameplay over superficiality.

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