The Game Boy Advance incarnation of Monster House dispenses with the usual expository folderol that movies are often ruined by. The film's story of a cranky old man and his kid-eating house is summarized and dismissed in a few screens of text at the game's beginning. There isn't even the usual videogame setup. I'm simply plopped into the story's dusty brown, cobweb-bedecked house with the three main characters all under my command.
Whatever narrative sophistication Monster House the film had, Monster House the videogame has less. And yet there is a different sort of storytelling that the videogame manages to achieve. Monster House the movie was just waiting for a videogame (or three) to round it out. Why spend another 20 minutes and $10 million trying to entertain soda-soaked audiences when they can enjoy the experience in the comfort of their own homes at $25 a pop?
The movie is styled in well-rounded computer animation, while the videogame uses low-fi flat graphics. But the game's children themselves jive seamlessly with their cinematic counterparts. Chowder has a round, ambling gait, while DJ's hair waves in faithful reproduction of the hair-waving program he sported in the movie. Accompanying the children through the house's 10 floors, room by room, I witness many more monstrous things than the movie deigned to display. Furniture attacks me. The strange-yet-detailed objects in the midnight blue corners often begin flapping wings. Floorboards come alive under my feet. The videogame opens up Monster House's haunted psyche and packs it into a plastic cartridge so small it could get lost in a child's pocket.
THE GOOD: Monster House for the GBA eschews the standard hack videogame movie tie-in, and attempts to provide a genuinely fun videogaming experience. In order to do this, it draws on classic Legend of Zelda-style action, and focuses on a simple haunted house premise. The result may lack some of the comic pathos Steve Buscemi provided in the movie, but it delivers more in terms of adventure and haunted house high jinks.
THE BAD: When one of my three characters dies, I need to restart the game from my last saved point, even if the two remaining characters are perfectly healthy. It's frustrating in the same way that the old one-goes-out-they-all-go-out Christmas lights were frustrating. Likewise, it's not quite fair that the fire in the house's hearths can burn me, but I can't extinguish it with my water gun. Inconsistencies like these make what could have been a well-rounded part of the Monster House empire seem on occasion like a cheap child's videogame.
THE BOTTOM LINE: A childish and spooky adventure that's funner than the movie.