Mail Order Monsters
Electronic Arts (1985)
In the fall of 1985, my parents opened Yukon Software, a computer store specializing in PC, Apple and Commodore software. Every week I drooled over the stacks of brand new games my parents received to stock their shelves with. Occasionally I’d talk my dad into letting me open a game to demo it on one of our in-store computers. Mail Order Monsters was one of those games. The thought of building and battling monsters really appealed to me as a young teenager, a fantasy Mail Order Monsters delivered.
In Mail Order Monsters, players purchase and battle “morphs”, short for Mail ORder Psychon Heroes. There are twelve different morphs available, ranging from dinosaurs and insects to giant worms, squids and even a carnifern (a killer tree). Each morph has individual stats, such as armor, muscle, speed, mind, and life, and one or more extras which fall under one of four categories: means of movement (burrow, teleport, etc.), means of attack (spit, sting, claw, fiery breath, etc.), defenses (anti-thump, anti-psi, etc) and natural aids (hands and tentacles, healing, etc). Each morph comes equipped with a couple of extras, but all of them can be purchased for the right amount of psychons.
After picking out a morph, building his stats and arming him with a few extras, you can further arm your morph in the weapons shop. Those who spent too much money in the morph-building stage will most likely leave with only a sword or a Boorang. Those who saved their psychons for a rainy day can purchase cooler toys like Lapistols (a quick-firing laser pistol), Mindsinks (which attacks your opponent’s brain, confusing them) or the always effective bombs. You’ll also need to stop by the sundries department to pick up ammunition for your weapons (food is considered ammunition for physical attacks). If you have any money left you might want to pick up some armor on the way out. Some morphs, like the mutant crab, have pretty strong natural armor. Others, like the giant amoeboid, not so much.
Mail Order Monsters offers three different levels of gameplay. Beginner mode, essentially an arcade mode, allows players to simply pick a morph and go fight. In Intermediate mode, players rent a morph and get 1,000 psychons to spend on goodies. In Tournament mode (which would be called career mode today), players buy morphs and store them in their corral. Tournament mode is the most challenging, giving players only 500 psychons to spend. You’ll need to be pretty quick on the joystick to survive the first few rounds. The coolest thing about tournament mode is that your morphs are actually saved to disk, so successful players can build a stable of monsters to have on-hand.
All three levels of gameplay offer three different game formats: Destruction, Capture the Flag, and The Horde. All three games pit you against a second morph which can be controlled by either a second player or the CPU. In Destruction mode, morphs battle each other until either someone wins five battles, or a morph is totally destroyed. In Capture the Flag, players race across a world map chasing flags. The flags are numbered 1-8 and must be captured in order; however, the flag’s numbers aren’t readable until you get up close to them. Each flag is being guarded by a warrior (which your opponent will control when you try and capture a flag). In The Horde, a massive wave of monsters invades your map. You and your fellow morph will have to prevent the hoardlings from reaching the bottom of the screen. Whoever kills the most wins. If one reaches the bottom, you both lose.
One of the neatest things about Mail Order Monsters is the insane amount of combinations available within the game. Certain weapons are only available to certain creatures. Others, like the multi-firing laser rifles, require tentacles (which, oddly enough, can be purchased) to operate. There are so many different types of attacks and defenses that no morph is ever 100% invincible. The strongest armor in the world won’t protect you from a wave of psi-blasts, and likewise a psi-helm is no defense against a run-of-the-mill missile. Another cool feature is that each player gets to pick one of two battle variables, which keeps battles fair. One player gets to choose the type of terrain, while the other gets to choose the style of battle. Even the most deadly land-based creatures move slowly over hills and through water — that is, unless you purchase a teleporter …
Each battlefield consists of two maps — a “world view” (in which your morph is a tiny colored dot) and a close up “battle view”, in which your morphs come to life. The battle sequences resemble the one from Archon (which comes as no surprise; programmer Paul Reiche III worked on both games). As your morphs run around on the battlefield, you’ll have to aim and duke it out on the terrain you’ve chosen. Win and live to fight another die. Morphs with multiple attacks can switch weapons mid-fight, but chance leaving themselves vulnerable while doing so.
Mail Order Monsters was a great idea for a game that was implemented relatively well considering the platform’s limitations. The graphics are adequate but lack detail. The weapon swapping system is one of the biggest frustrations, forcing you to stop moving/attacking during a battle to swap weapons (leaving you wide open). And, as with most “uncracked” software, Electronic Arts copy protection and drive routines were incompatable with most fast loading cartidges, causing long load times in between battles. For a while my friends and I built up morphs in Mail Order Monsters and then got together for big battle competitions, but as computer graphics and general gameplay evolved we moved on to bigger and better things. Our monsters were eventually shuffled off to morph retirement homes and spent their final years talking about the good ol’ days.
Fans of King of the Monsters, Rampage, and other monster-mashing games will get a kick out of this game. While its graphics may have not aged well, Mail Order Monsters was an ambitious title for the platform and is still fun to play today.