My parents were good, decent people that tried their best to raise a superior Goggle Bob. In some cases, I can say they failed, as it is clear my unchecked narcissism will one day destroy the world. Because I’m perfect, I must blame my parents for that inevitability. However, in many cases, they were successful. For instance, my parents were deathly afraid of me watching any kind of super violent or super sexual material, so they steered me towards books. This meant that I was not allowed to watch the R-rated movie Stephen King’s Thinner, but I was allowed to read the source novel. This led to a lovely situation wherein, a few years later, I was a goddamned wizard at typing out vivid descriptions of oral sex, which was a boon when you’re a teenager in the early days of cybering. Unfortunately, this policy also had some drawbacks, as I was not allowed to see a number of potentially frightening movies from the time I was a young’un. As a result, I never saw Gremlins 2: The New Batch, and was forced to content myself with the NES adaption as a consolation prize.
And, in retrospect, Gremlins 2: The New Batch for the NES is clearly the most frightening form of Gremlins media, so go ahead and chalk up another loss for my parents. They tried.
Gremlins 2 starts pretty much like every other NES game. Gizmo is an adorable little fuzzball, and it’s his job to… walk around? The opening cinema reveals that Gizmo was released from a cage, and… I guess he’s just gotta walk over there or somethin’? Look, the first level is simply Gizmo tossing (genetically modified) tomatoes at rats and spiders in a Zelda-esque isometric perspective. Gizmo is pretty well equipped for this leg of the journey, and there isn’t even a boss to clear before moving on to level 2.
And that’s when things get weird…
First of all, go ahead and try to explain what the hell is happening there to someone who has never seen Gremlins. Bonus points if you can somehow elucidate it all to a child that is a little more used to magic mushrooms and frowning robot masters and not a wee fluff ball painfully launching ping pong balls out of his back.
Secondly, this is when the titular gremlins show up. To be clear, they’re not simply going to appear in cutscenes from this point on, they’re also replacing the rats and spiders as the number one opponent in every level. And they come in different forms! There’s a jumping gremlin, a skateboarding gremlin, a flying gremlin, a bat gremlin, a filthy wizard gremlin, and even a smoking gremlin that effectively breathes fire. These “individual” gremlins appear in great numbers, and every level is overcrowded with the monsters.
And, on their own, these gremlins might not be scary. The graphics are particularly nice for a NES game, so the gremlins are rendered well… but still matching their generally goofy big screen versions. Aside from the big, bad, boss gremlins, the average gremlin looks like it would be right at home in the Mushroom Kingdom. And Gizmo earns progressively better weapons, so, while he doesn’t exactly have a spread beam in his inventory, he’s also not the least equipped hero on the NES (that would be a certain elf boy). All in all, these gremlins should just be another batch of NES mooks destined for destruction, and not something that should still haunt this dear author.
No, what’s scary about the gremlins is that they hate you.
It may be hard to remember now, but most NES monsters… didn’t care. The goomba, the most iconic creature in Mario’s bestiary and the creature most seen on the NES, arguably doesn’t even know Mario is there. Dude is just walking along, minding his own business, and maybe if some plumber decides to stomp him into oblivion, well, that’s on that mustache man’s conscience. Similarly, even big bads like Bowser or the Hammer Bros. will continue facing forward well after Mario runs right past them. So it’s pretty clear that they may be malevolent, but they’re not trying too hard. An overwhelming number of “enemies” on the NES react the same way. Mets just sit there and wait, zombies and bats move forward with all the menace of a caterpillar, and even the most deadly monsters in Battletoads just kind of saunter over to the titular toads. And the general format of that day mitigates any overt hostilities. Everything is trying to kill you in a shoot ‘em up like Gradius, but the tiny sprites and excess screen real estate gives the impression that you’ve got time to deal with these threats. And, speaking of which, those Big Cores are big threats, but their mammoth size makes then lumbering giants compared to your lithe Vic Viper. Everything is slow and nonthreatening on the NES, because almost all NES games put their focus on other areas. You can either have a gigantic, expressive mechanical dragon, or a teeny tiny dragon that takes forever to clear the screen. Neither is going to scare anyone.
Gremlins 2 does not have that issue. Gremlins 2 decided to fill up its screen with large, expressive sprites for heroes and villains, and that drastically cut down on the amount of space Gizmo has to maneuver. The programmers also decided that nearly every monster would home in on Gizmo, so fire-breathers blow flames straight into his path, and leaping gremlins inexorably vault onto our tiny hero. And combine this with an office building that apparently includes live wires, spike pits, and a surprising amount of lava, and you can only come to one conclusion: everything is trying to kill Gizmo! And Gizmo is adorable! How could we live in such a cruel world!?
And that’s why Gremlins 2: The New Batch scares me to this day. It’s not an exemplary or even particularly memorable NES title, it is simply a game that taught a Wee Goggle Bob that even if you’re cute, even if you’re tenacious, even if you’re the best little fuzzball in the world and decked out with the same weaponry as Rambo, you still live in an uncaring, unforgiving world that wants to tear you to shreds. The training wheels of the rats and spiders are going to be coming off quickly, and you’ll be facing electric monster ghosts for the rest of your short, brutish life.
And your parents are going to just let it happen.
Happy Halloween, everybody!
FGC #458 Gremlins 2: The New Batch
- System: Nintendo Entertainment System. There were also versions for Gameboy, DOS, Commodore 64, and some manner of Atari… but they’re not nearly as traumatic.
- Number of players: Gizmo is alone in the world.
- Further indignities: You start with zero lives. You have to purchase even a single 1-up if you want to continue past your initial three hearts. You will not survive.
- Ahead of its time: I want to say this is the first game I ever played that contained bottomless pits, but simply dropped a little health before respawning the hero before an ill-fated jump. It took most franchises until the N64 to pick up on that QOL improvement.
- Favorite Boss: The finale features the gigantic spider gremlin (Mohawk?). It is a terrible boss, as you can basically just stand there and shoot and eventually it will catch fire. But, on the other hand, it’s a giant spider monster, and that counts for something in my book.
- So, did you beat it? Yes, though with liberal save states. I think I even made it to the end when I was a kid… though that may have been because Nintendo Power provided many a password. I definitely still have nightmares about the ending with all the Gremlins melting…
- Did you know? Sadly, Hulk Hogan does not appear in this game.
- Would I play again: I am terrified into not even bothering.
What’s next? Random ROB is taking the week off, because I just had an amazing dream. There were moblins! And chain chomps! And some manner of seagull girl? Whatever. I’m going to tell you all about it. Please look forward to it!