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Even Motion Pixels Can't Combat The Cerebral Shiatsu Massage That Is GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH On NES!!


Throughout the history of videogames, various consoles have served as one of the many pulpits for the gospel of film marketing. Videogame adaptations of movies are a strange breed. Motion Pixels will examine one such game each week, dissecting the basic gameplay, the graphics, and how faithfully it adapts the film on which it is based. Some are good, some are awful, and some are just downright weird, but they are all interesting experiments. We will also take a look at other cogs in a given film’s marketing machine. Grab some popcorn and a joystick and let the games begin!



Game/Movie: Gremlins 2

System: Nintendo Entertainment System

Developer: Sunsoft

Year of Release: 1990



Graphics and Mechanics

Gremlins 2 utilizes an exceedingly simple game design. In fact, it is so simple, there’s no imperative to take up the entirety of the screen. It is a top-down adventure platformer with very narrow fields of play. As you play, the screen closely resembles that of Algernon’s maze, with sharp turns bordered by vast expanses of empty black. The game tenders very little confidence to the player as the angles of view remove any mystery in navigation and present but one path to follow. The most difficult thing about maneuvering through the levels is sometimes discerning the next safe landing spot once you’ve boarded a moving platform. Even then, it’s pretty self-evident.

The one inordinately exasperating aspect of the controls lies within Gizmo’s dexterity with his weapons. There is a function that allows him to not only fire in a forward/backward and side-to-side capacity, but also at diagonals.


This function actually proves invaluable for taking out certain baddies. The problem is that the NES’s cross-shaped directional pad isn’t really adept at executing this trick…especially if a certain gamer’s fingers aren’t as *AHEM* slender as they used to be. Making large circles becomes a requirement as vainly you attempt over and over to enter the clandestine NXNW quadrant of the directional pad and eventually you luck into this coveted angle. But so many of the incidents that call for the angled attack are centralized on tiny shards of platforms over foreboding chasms. Suffice it to say, Gizmo’s range of motion is painfully limited and therefore any attempt to circle around results in an unfortunate plunge.

As for graphics, the environments are adequate given the 8-bit limitations. The pervasiveness of techno game elements (electric barriers, rotating dynamos, and circuit board decorum) gives many of the levels the appearance of leftover Mega Man aesthetic. But why are so many of the recognizable gremlins in the level woefully monochromatic? It makes them difficult to recognize and is especially unfortunate given that other, non film-specific villains are more richly designed. However, the 8-bit recreation of the scene in which Gizmo spawns the first mogwai brood...

...and gets locked in the air vent is fantastic and lovingly detailed. 



Playing Before Instructions

The simplicity of Gremlins 2 in many ways precluded the need for any instructions. Again, owing much to a two-button controller setup, the basic gameplay is quite intuitive and very novice-friendly. Typically, it is unwise to recklessly blunder your way full-tilt through a level when playing any game for the first time. But Gremlins 2 accommodates the more bull-headed gamer by providing an endless supply of continues. As if that weren’t enough, it also employs the familiar password system so that even switching off the system need not send one reeling back to the first level.

Then there is the incredibly bizarre balloon extraction element. During each attempt at each new level, the first time Gizmo falls into any of the numerous pits, he returns to the screen tethered to a shiny balloon the trajectory of which can then be controlled by the player until it disappears.

If you manage to fall before losing any of your health, this whimsically absurd flight will cost you no such loss. It’s similar to the “save ball” function in a pinball machine. If manipulated correctly, one could simply intentionally fall into a hole in order to sail over the more difficult portions of the level that follow. This may make the game seem shamefully unchallenging, but it actually nicely counterbalances the fact that each level provides only one opportunity to replenish one’s health.



Mission Accomplished?

This is becoming my least favorite section to address. I am ashamed to admit that I was unable to triumph over Gremlins 2. I made it all the way to the final boss, an impressively animated 8-bit likeness of the sinister spider gremlin...

...but never with enough health in reserve to facilitate my victory. The final level—which serves as the gateway to the boss of bosses—is so taxing, so aggravatingly difficult that on the handful of occasions in which I was able to successfully traverse it, my health was so depleted that I was unable to put up much of a fight. It was obvious that the key to defeating the final boss lay in finding safe haven between two of his legs as he commenced his forward attack. But reaching him with only the capacity to withstand a single hit was insufficient to take full advantage. Damn this game for combining two of my greatest fears: spiders and failing to destroy spiders.

As much as I appreciate, and was in some small way aided by, the myriad continues offered by the game, it struck me as odd that the levels themselves were often far more difficult than the bosses lying in wait at the end. Apart from Arachnid McSpiderpants at the finale, the key to defeating each level’s boss was discovering the limitations of their movement and slowly exploiting it, be it traveling in large circles or shooting through objects you understand your nemesis cannot. So why is it that dying at the hands of the boss would result in having to play the entire preceding level over again? Maybe it’s a personal inclination, but I always prefer games that subscribe to the die-at-the-boss-respawn-at-the-boss model, especially after levels that are seventeen kinds of difficult. Otherwise it’s like completing a cross-country road trip, stepping on a jagged seashell at the beach, and having to start the trip again from your driveway.



Faithful to its Source?

Many of the film’s signature creatures make an appearance: the brain gremlin, the bat gremlin, the spider gremlin, the especially dopey gremlin who turns up in the noodle pot during the cooking show, and that electro gremlin who proves to be far more crucial to the film than he does to the game. The game also takes place entirely within the Clamp Premier Regency Trade Center and Retail Concourse, which is another faithful film-to-game carryover. The fact that almost the entire movie takes place in one location with various floors (or levels if you will) lends itself quite nicely to game adaptation. They even go so far as to evolve a throwaway joke in the film about bouncing tomatoes into one of the first villains the player encounters in the game. Throw in Dante’s manic obsession with (read full-on genuflection to) Looney Tunes and you’ve got the film’s mirror image.

I also enjoyed the fact that the game includes an ongoing reference to one of Gremlins 2’s most memorable scenes. Upon completion of the first level, Gizmo obtains a match. His weapon then graduates from tomatoes, another reference to that terrible joke, to balls of fire. Defeating the first of the game’s bosses then secures him a paper clip, which in turn leads to another graduation of weaponry to the almighty…paper clip? In any event, what is happening is that Gizmo is slowly building his makeshift Rambo bow-and-arrow from the film.

When all the requisite pieces have been gathered, Gizmo is afforded the opportunity to be the pint-sized badass we saw in the movie. 

Beyond that, Sunsoft’s interpretation of Joe Dante’s film takes a few artistic liberties (to put it mildly). First, and not at all surprisingly, the human element of the film is almost completely exorcised. The most we see of any human character is a singular shot of pixilated Billy releasing Gizmo and giving him a motivational thumbs-up.

I don’t count this change a minus in any way. After all, the most interesting part of Gremlins 2 is the titular monsters themselves and not the carbon-based interlopers. Besides, it seems oddly apropos that the 8-bit representation of Zack Galligan would appear and disappear in the blink of an eye—just like the career of his flesh-and-blood antecedent.

I am totally at a loss to explain why a character that dies at the beginning of the movie, Mr. Wing, keeps showing up throughout the game to assist Gizmo and sell him power-ups and rejuvenating potions.

I mean, would a Red Dawn video game feature recurring appearances from that ill-fated history teacher? I’m also surprised that, apart from the aforementioned moment in which the game reconstructs Gizmo’s unfortunate run-in with H2O, there is no incorporation the memorable rules for mogwai ownership. Not that I expected some sort of clock atop the screen counting down to midnight and dictating Gizmo’s next meal, but it would have made sense to include an element wherein he must avoid the intermittent flashes from a spotlight or rising shades revealing sunlight.

The one missing element of the film that keeps the game from attaining greatness is the music. That Gremlins theme is so iconic and inextricably linked to the franchise and I would have loved to hear its 8-bit cover. Its absence from the game often amounts to a hollow experience utterly divorced from the geeky reverence many of us have for the film. Even for those who don’t enjoy the sequel, the music would have at least been a warm, welcome reminder of the first film.



Final Thoughts

After the sound trouncing I suffered at the hands of last week’s Super Star Wars, playing through Gremlins 2 was like a cerebral shiatsu massage. Sure, I again failed to accomplish the ultimate goal of beating the game. But unlike Super Star Wars, it didn’t seem as if the game had a personal agenda against the player. Interesting little tidbit, the Gremlins 2 game that was developed for, among others, the Atari and Commodore 64 was a side-scroller in which the gamer played as Billy and was charged with taking out all manner of evil gremlins with things like flashlights, Frisbees, and those damn tomatoes.



Licensed to Sell

It’s interesting how aggressively the Gremlins franchise was marketed to kids, as so little of the actual film is kid-friendly. I’m not necessarily referring to the violence in the films, which is actually quite cartoony, especially in the sequel; nor is there a prevalence of explicit vulgarity. But the satirical humor, cameos by John Landis, references to Marathon Man, and monster gender confusion represent content and humor that hovers far above the heads of children. But the inherent cuteness of the mogwai and the amazingly cool design of the fully developed gremlins made them instant kiddy commodities and their merchandising potential superseded any gaps in contextual comprehension. Case in point, this collection of snazzy Gremlins 2 trading cards.

Whatever you do, don’t get them wet…because they are made of cardboard. 


Brian Salisbury 




Readers Talkback
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  • April 28, 2011, 10:30 a.m. CST

    I Just Read This, But Then It Disappeared


    What's up with that?

  • April 29, 2011, 9:48 a.m. CST


    by knowthyself

  • April 29, 2011, 9:49 a.m. CST

    Sunsoft did play fast and loose with established properties

    by darthderp

    Batman and Fester's Quest (Addams Family) are two that come to mind. Thus Spake Movienut.

  • April 29, 2011, 9:51 a.m. CST

    Arachnid McSpiderpants...NOPE

    by darthderp

    That would be Mohawk, my friend. Check the movie out. Thus Spake Movienut.

  • April 29, 2011, 9:55 a.m. CST

    "GERMLINS" (sic) ?

    by livingwater

    ....aka Gremlins ?!

  • April 29, 2011, 9:58 a.m. CST

    Oh, no! Germlins!

    by Keith

    Get some Domestos.

  • April 29, 2011, 10:02 a.m. CST

    gremlins 2 game commerical

    by moviemaven83

  • April 29, 2011, 10:04 a.m. CST

    Zach Galligan teaches acting at NYU...

    by moviemaven83

  • April 29, 2011, 10:07 a.m. CST

    This game was the SHIT back in the day

    by Nasty In The Pasty

    I miss the days of NES, 8-bit era cut scenes where the characters' mouths would move with a ticker-tape clicking sound while the text of what they were saying appeared at the bottom of the screen. I *think* I beat this game as a kid, but can't really remember. Great soundtrack, too.

  • April 29, 2011, 10:07 a.m. CST


    by the new transported man


  • April 29, 2011, 10:10 a.m. CST

    Upcoming Articles

    by Masked Avenger

    Have you ever played the Disney's Aladdin game? One of my favorites and SUPER easy, whereas The Lion King game is like pretty much any of the Super Star Wars games. It's as if they didn't want you to have fun.

  • April 29, 2011, 10:18 a.m. CST

    Sunsoft made good games for the Nintendo

    by Terrence

    Graphically and music wise, it was hard to imagine they pushed those specs as far as they did.

  • April 29, 2011, 10:24 a.m. CST

    phoebe cates looked like a mom in this


    oh phoebe--why did you have to grow up?

  • April 29, 2011, 10:32 a.m. CST


    by elsewhere

  • April 29, 2011, 10:35 a.m. CST

    Replace daily BTS with this

    by KoolerThanJesus

    This column is the best part of AICN. How about making this one daily and going weekly with the Behind the Scenes pics?

  • April 29, 2011, 10:39 a.m. CST

    Man that was an awesome game.

    by room23storeblogspotcom

    I remember renting it.Thanks Brian!

  • April 29, 2011, 10:44 a.m. CST

    Billy looks more like the Hoff in that pic

    by cookepuss

  • April 29, 2011, 10:47 a.m. CST

    Vaguely remember this game, but looks like

    by cookepuss

    some of Sunsoft's other games from that era. Reminds me a bit of their Batman movie game. Not THAT game kicked ass.

  • April 29, 2011, 11:11 a.m. CST

    imagine if the movie reviewers didn't watch the endings

    by durhay

    of the movie they reviewed.

  • April 29, 2011, 11:18 a.m. CST

    I remember my friend telling me...

    by Dolph

    that he'd seen a trailer for Gremlins 2, and I couldn't believe it. I thought there was no way they would make a sequel! I finally saw the trailer and was so excited. Enjoyed the hell out of the sequel hit at just the right age to become iconic in my memory. Like we cheered when we saw the bat-sign...haha...losers! Anyhow, these films have a strong place in my heart. Particularly the first.

  • April 29, 2011, 11:23 a.m. CST

    also, remember GHOULIES?

    by Dolph

    ...i used to love those movies when i was young. haha. i remember i was older and more tasteful, but i saw a Ghoulies 4 at the video store, and I remember better the crushing disappointment when i realised they had replaced the puppets with little people.

  • April 29, 2011, 12:08 p.m. CST

    Not to get nitpicky, but..

    by 3-d

    Aren't the "Germlins" just as "carbon-based" as the interlopers?

  • April 29, 2011, 12:17 p.m. CST

    I enjoy giving milk

    by darthpigman

  • April 29, 2011, 12:33 p.m. CST

    I used to love playing Germlins

    by Inexplicable_Nuclear_Balls

    I can't think of a better way to spend the afternoon, blasting away at wave after wave of microscopic single-cell Nazis. Truly a modern classic. And why is the Facehugger slumming as a final boss here?

  • April 29, 2011, 12:40 p.m. CST


    by spire_walk

    I need to find out what happened to them, because I don't remember anything of theirs past the NES and Genesis days. This was also the company who made Blaster Master, which seemed to be EVERYONE's favorite game on the NES, like a Shadow of the Colossus of its day. Gremlins 2 and Batman were probably the two best movie games on the NES. If there was another, I'm drawing a blank.

  • April 29, 2011, 12:58 p.m. CST

    I had 'Germlins' once...

    by Loosejerk

    in my pants.

  • April 29, 2011, 1:03 p.m. CST

    Not Sure I Ever Played This...

    by Acquanetta

    ...but it looks very similar to Fester's Quest.

  • April 29, 2011, 1:04 p.m. CST

    Funny to think...

    by Keith

    ...that in 1990 most Americans were playing games on fairly rubbish Japanese machines, while the Brits, Australians and Europeans were playing much, much better games on really GOOD American machines (the Amiga and ST).

  • April 29, 2011, 1:29 p.m. CST

    Sunsoft History

    by room23storeblogspotcom

    Sunsoft's history in video games began in arcades with two arcade games released in 1978: Block Challenger and Block Perfect. They later had several arcade hits in the early 1980s such as Arabian, Ikki and Kangaroo. In the latter half of the 1980s Sunsoft began developing original games and technology for the home video game console market, with emphasis mostly on the NES. Sunsoft had gone international at that time, and it had the publishing might to secure major licenses of the day (such as Batman and The Addams Family). Outside Japan, the definite golden era for the company was the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), on which their games were widely considered state of the art in graphical and aural prowess. Sunsoft was slow to transition to 16-bit consoles, however, releasing several NES and Famicom titles that went unnoticed at launch, and have only been rediscovered by enthusiasts recently, such as: Ufouria (Hebereke), Mr. Gimmick (Gimmick!), and Journey to Silius (Raf World). The games Sunsoft produced in the 16-bit era were no longer as polished or cutting-edge, the licenses were less prominent, and no new hit games appeared. Finally, in 1995, they heavily restructured in the face of bankruptcy, eventually resurfacing with a scant number of video games for the PlayStation and Game Boy Color. Additionally, a number of Sega games, including Fantasy Zone, Fantasy Zone II and After Burner, have been ported for Nintendo consoles by Sunsoft. The last games released and published by this company in the USA were Eternal Eyes, Blaster Master: Blasting Again, Blaster Master: Enemy Below and Power Quest. Citing several factors, like yet-another "next generation" console transition, and high overhead production costs, Sunsoft closed its offices in America and Europe, and initiated a re-organization. To this day, Sunsoft has continued to operate in Japan, developing and publishing a steady trickle of RPGs, pachinko games and mahjong games. On September 14, 2006, Nintendo announced that the developer was a partner on the Wii's Virtual Console. Although this relationship with Nintendo took a few years to bear fruit, on December 4, 2009, Sunsoft announced that they were partnering with GaijinWorks to bring Blaster Master to Virtual Console that month for 500 Wii Points. Also as of December 10, the company has also acquired Telenet Japan's entire game library.

  • April 29, 2011, 1:43 p.m. CST

    Final Boss Battle

    by room23storeblogspotcom

    Heres a youtube video that I found of the last few levels/final boss/ending. Or if you just want the final boss battle and ending. I love it how most video games now days are on Youtube in case I need help getting past a tough part.

  • April 30, 2011, 12:38 p.m. CST

    might be the best column on AICN right now.

    by RedHorseVector

    only problem? you better start BEATING these games homie! i don't care if you have to sit there for DAYS! teach that spider a lesson!

  • I totally hear what you are saying about continuing at the bosses. Ninja Gaiden, which was an otherwise stellar NES title, had the most insanely hard last level (tho my memory is not so good, I recall a bridge of instant death). The were so many occasions I made it to the final bosses (there were two in a row) and couldn't pull it off. What made it worst was that NG had such a great storyline and awesome cinemas, and I wanted so badly to see how it wrapped up. The sequel was a bastard too, but slightly less so.

  • I got all the self-referential jokes: the Marathon Man joke, the Leonard Maltin cameo... all of it. Did you know there are actually 2 versions of the movie? In cinemas, the film melts away and gremlins start running amok in the cinema. On home video, the Gremlins cause the tracking on the video to go off and customers complain about the tape at a video rental place. I haven't seen the movie in over a decade. What version do they use on DVD?

  • April 30, 2011, 2:05 p.m. CST

    Never beat it...

    by RollingBarrelDotCom

    I remember I loved this game and I too never beat the game. This was back when we would walk to the Video Store and RENT a NES game for $2. One of the reasons I LOVE Wii and its Virtual Console is that I can beat the games finally. You can basically pause and turn off the game and come back whenever. I FINALLY beat Ninja Gaiden & Castlevania from repetition and memorizing what jumps out of where. Loved old games... sometimes a lot more than all the new games.

  • April 30, 2011, 2:21 p.m. CST

    I had Gremlins 2 for the GameBoy

    by photoboy

    It was a side-scrolling platformer, with Gizmo as the main character. His main weapon was a pencil IIRC. It only had 4 levels so they made it utterly bastard impossible, with spikes hidden behind foreground objects and invisible holes in floors to fall through onto more cunting spikes. I managed to beat it with an Action Replay infinite health cheat, but there was no way I was going to beat it with just my own skill. On the subject of Sunsoft, the music in their NES and GameBoy games, particularly the Batman games, was absolutely fantastic. While it's true they completely ignored the themes of the films they were referencing, the music was so good it was possible to overlook the omission.

  • May 1, 2011, 1:05 a.m. CST

    germlins was hard as fuck

    by stranger in the alps

    aggravated the hell outta me as a child... but had a bad ass soundtrack! sunsoft always came through with the jams

  • May 1, 2011, 12:05 p.m. CST

    Here's the end scene

    by symphy :)

  • May 1, 2011, 2:41 p.m. CST

    I beat the last boss

    by Dr. Chim Richalds

    One of my "friends" as a kid would have me over, rent a game, then hog the damn game until he got to a point that he couldn't finish, at which point he'd turn it over to me (I got a NES a few years after everyone else did). Anyway, the last board was about the only stage of that game that I was allowed to play, and I finished it without too much trouble. That was also pretty much my experience with my "friend," Ninja Gaiden II, and a few other games. He also watched while I beat Mike Tyson in Punch Out.

  • May 1, 2011, 2:58 p.m. CST

    John Landis is in Gremlins 2? I think not...

    by brodiebruce_405

    At least, I never noticed him. Are you perhaps thinking of Leonard Maltin? I know Joe Dante appears in a few of John's films, such as Beverly Hills Cock 3 and I think maybe he shows up in Innocent Blood (I know Sam Raimi did too), and also John cameod hilariously in the forgettable Spontaneous Combustion...maybe they both appeared in Sleepwalkers together? And I think John shows up in The Stand. I think maybe that lot, Landis, Dante, Hooper, Carpenter, Cronenberg, Mick Garris and Craven loved to do that kind of shit. But I don't remember Landis in Gremlins 2. It's not in his acting credits on imdb.

  • May 1, 2011, 3:05 p.m. CST

    knuckleface, about the film breakdown...

    by brodiebruce_405

    They use the cinema version with Hulk Hogan ("Do you think the Gremsters will last five minutes with the Hulkster?") but the video version, with John Wayne, is an extra in special least on the Region 2 special edition (which I imagine is a straight 'port) Some guy made a DVD version but it didn't get used cuz it was just a fan thing: he did some excellent CGI and it would have been awesome if they'd used it, but in addition to lotsa WB titles, he used footage from some Paramount titles too. I think the logic was since those (Indiana Jones/Raiders of the Lost Ark) are Spielberg productions, the rights could clear. Regardless, a great piece of fan filmmaking