October 18, 2002 at 04:00 AM EDT

In the 1969 godzilla flick Destroy All Monsters!, the earth’s biggest and angriest beasts have been banished to Monster Island. That is, until evil aliens (who else?) release the fearsome animals to trample major cities (where else?) everywhere. Although why this game is named after that movie isn’t entirely clear. With the exception of a laugh-out-loud alien broadcast that opens the Adventure mode, Melee just barely resembles the film’s plot, and includes only a few of the featured monsters.

But let’s dispense with film history and get to the point: Yes, you can trash downtown Tokyo. And when it comes to urban renewal, monster-style, Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee is a fanboy’s Technicolor dream come true. Players can control the Big G — any of three versions — as well as Anguirus, Destroyah, Gigan, and five other stompers. The monster-to-monster mashes take place in eight arenas, including six cities — which end up as heaps of smoking rubble. And make it a blockbuster night: Picking up and throwing large buildings is crucial to winning, especially against airborne opponents like King Ghidorah. There are other distractions: Pesky humans will attack you with helicopters and tanks, while saucer-shaped alien spaceships plop power-ups around the map to further the mayhem.

The terrific four-player combat modes also reveal Melee’s shortcomings. The monsters’ moves are sometimes sluggish, and at other times too rapid to match the scale of the arena. No big deal, until you’re running through Osaka searching for a power-up with Rodan and two other ragers on your tail. And a couple of the cheat codes — the black-and-white and throw-all-buildings options — really ought to be accessible from the main menu.

But Melee’s biggest blunder is that it just isn’t campy enough. Why not, for example, swap Mecha-Ghidorah for one of Godzilla’s weirder matinee challengers — say, King Kong or the Sea Monster? And this could be the only fighting title that cries out for more cut scenes and a pushier announcer. Still, in keeping with Melee’s rich movie history, this game is very grade B.

STRATEGY To play in Technicolor mode, hold down L, B, and R — then release B, R, and L (in that order). In the resulting box, enter 661334.

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