Written by Jonathan Wojcik
KEITAI DENJU TELEFANG!With Artwork by Rachel Briggs!
Long ago in the ancient far-flung futuristic year of 2000, a certain monster-training Game Boy title had recently taken the planet by storm, and developers were still scrambling to throw their own collectible beasts into the ring. One particular imitator, released on the Game Boy Color, was infamously bootlegged and repackaged as Pokemon: Diamond and Jade, translated sloppily and full of game-breaking bugs. It's a shame that this would be much of the Western world's only encounter with the world of Telefang, because it offered some truly delightful, inventively odd creatures and an even odder gameplay concept...
Set in the distant space-age year of 2020, Telefang imagines a world where mobile phones now allow humans to teleport at will, and under unusual circumstances, the network crosses over into an alternate world - a world populated by monsters called Denjuu, who carry around similar phones of their own.
See, it's not that you "collect" or "capture" Denjuu, but that you have to get their phone numbers and add them to your contacts. A single monster accompanies you at all times on your journey, but when it comes time to fight, you'll need to call up some of your other monster pals to help out - and it actually matters where they are at the time. The farther away they live, the longer it might take for them to enter battle...or maybe they're kind of busy at the moment, or they got tied up doing something else along the way.
HOW ADORABLE IS THAT?!
Long ago fading to obscurity, Telefang would be all but forgotten if not for a small, scattered fandom and especially the hard work of Rachel Briggs, who not only maintains the fan wiki and keeps the official site going, but has illustrated a sizable chunk of Denjuu over on tumblr, and its her renditions that are going to give us a beautifully detailed look at some of the coolest and weirdest creatures in the original game. Thirty of them!
We're going to start off with one of the "secret" Denjuu, its phone number originally given away by a Japanese television ad and later a few special publications. Though it's a hidden, non-evolving monster, I kind of feel like Gamuru is especially archetypical of the series design style and even series mascot material. Gamuru's design is interesting, because it's clearly a four-limbed, lizard-like reptile, but its armor plating and barbed, taloned forelimbs give an impression closer to a preying mantis.
Telefang has only a few true arthropod-themed monsters, but they're all cool enough to make our list. Spearneedle is the end in a whole line of scorpion-like creatures with an assortment of specialized limbs. Spearneedle's harpoon-gun tail is apparently used to reel in its prey, while its whirling claws are employed like "drills." At least, that's what its official description says, though those things look more like they would render an impaled victim into a juicy flesh-smoothie.
Veenica here is part of a family of monsters with the same fleshy, bean-shaped bodies and cutesy faces, but a variety of dangerous appendages on their heads. They're quite creepy, and the creepiest might be the one with a scalp full of paralyzing, electrical tentacles. It's like a naked, pink bunny-anemone!
Most of this monster's evolution line shares its swept-back, alien headgear, which they apparently use as both a shield and battering ram. As the first in its line with a humanoid stance, Gilgierth carries a more menacing, sort of martial-artist vibe. It's the natural "sleeves" on its arms that feel really unique.
This non-evolving monster feels quite different from most other Denjuu, with its very simple design and lack of limbs. It's probably supposed to invoke a sea urchin, but its fearsome eyes and jaws feel more reptilian. It's almost like a giant, thorny dinosaur head.
I love how much this monster looks like a Narwhal, but isn't actually at all a cetacean. It doesn't even act like one. It walks around on its forelimbs and attacks with both its horn and its three-pronged, wire-like tail.
Yes, this is a ball-shaped, chicken-footed creature with an almost normal looking hippopotamus head. It evolves from another hippo-faced beast with pink feathers and an accordian body, while evolving into a fang-covered hipposaw. This isn't the only telefang monster with a jarringly natural looking face - there's also a series of creepy bears and a number of canines - but the hippos are probably the funniest.
Another reptile with insect-like characteristics, and another monster with a gruesome combo attack: with its beetle-like-horns, this nasty lizard holds its victims point-blank against the organic energy blaster in its back. This isn't even getting into the tail, which looks like it could tear most of your skin off in one swipe.
There's something hilarious about a monster that fires missiles out the very top of its big, cone-shaped head, even moreso when it looks like an awkward, tailless duck-billed dinosaur.
We just have a sprite for this one, but Gonum is pretty unique looking among Denjuu. It looks like an adorable, single-celled protozoan or algae, though official texts seem to imply it's patterned after a water flea, which makes just as much sense; a water flea has a single, compound eye as well. An interesting thing about Gonum is that, for a tiny, goofy microbial-looking creature, it's one of the last few monsters in Telefang's official numbering system.
I've been picking only one monster out of the evolutionary lines featured here, but I have to make an exception for Telefang's various boars, three of which are so wildly different I couldn't rightfully choose one over the others. The first of these is a "ghost" boar, which apparently means a giant porcine head that floats around with a rippling tunic of skin. It's like a flapjack octopus!
Speaking of which, another prominent monster family simply combines pachyderms with cephalopods. Side-by-side, you almost want to think this is an evolution of Ghosboar, but the two are totally different! Octor's gimmick is that it's kind of like a giant water gun, which really does make sense for both an elephant and an octopus.
I'm always partial to chameleon monsters, assuming they preserve at least sme of what makes chameleons so weird looking, and Chamelan here even elaborates on that, covered in warts that bear a curious resemblance to its eyes, and replacing the strange lobster-paws of a chameleon with giant sucker-feet. It's even got another one on its tail!
Because sometimes you want a boar that's a ghost, and sometimes you want a boar that's a mummy. Mummyboar also boasts cool scars, stitches, and actual tusks, whereas Ghosboar oddly opted for a set of bull horns. Mummyboar is not, however, a giant flying head, so that's a couple points we have to detract.
Lampgera is a final evolution in a line that begins as a sea angel, evolves into more of a tentacled jellyfish, and finally into either the same jellyfish with viking horns, or this thing, which preserves aspects of a clione, invokes a jellyfish with its pretty membranous skirt, and throws in a squid-like feel with its bulbous electrical head. It's everything you could want in a gelatinous, aquatic, tentacled electricity monster!
If you're only going to have one snake-like line in your mons title, it may as well evolve into a snake-within-a-snake. The cobra hood exaggerated into a whole giant, outer mouth is pure genius, especially how it's the hood that apparently bites prey with gigantic, venomous fangs, possibly while they're held in place by the chitinous arms and twin tentacles. Add an enormous organic gun on its head (the barrel of which continues behind the monster) and stylish feathers for a quetzalcoatl vibe and you've got a snake monster with maybe a few too many things going on at once, but would you honestly want to sacrifice even one of them?
Our second "bug" Denjuu is the crustaceoid ARMCRAB, which really doesn't actually look like it's related to any Earthly arthropod, but it's almost everything you could ask for in something called ARMCRAB. It's mostly one giant, grouchy crab-face, but with one blade-like claw and one tripartate, crushing claw. The former really reminds me of a stomatopod's "smasher."
Like ARMCRAB, Hitodeight draws from a sea creature, and it looks even more like a starfish before it evolves, but it ends up looking more alien - more like something only superficially reminiscent of an echinoderm. Good. I love a monster that's just a wheel of claws or tentacles, and I love Hitodeight's darling little upturned V-mouth. It apparently crawls around face-down, according to its bio, which helps it to surprise its opponents. That's even more adorable. Does that really even work? Like they just don't recognize it until they see its grumpy little face?
Midotor would just be a cool, shaggy lizard if not for the ultra-weird gimmick of carrying a mysterious egg on its back. It evolves from a lizard with multiple eggs on its back, and in both cases, their descriptions inform us that nobody knows what's inside them. I doubt they would dangle that mystery in front of us if the answer was as obvious as their own young, so it has to be something else. Some other monster's parasitic larvae? Psychic, degenerate lizard siblings? A developing cosmic abomination? We'll never know. Maybe even Midotor doesn't know.
Concealed by a cyclone, all we know is that Rhodanthe has spooky, reptilian eyes and three whirling, mantis-like claws. It's a simple, unmistakable and really memorable design, the kind of thing a game like this is wise to cart out as a sort of flagship monster, which makes it such a shame that it loses everything unique to it as it evolves into a totally non-mantis, non-cyclone gargoyle thing.
Our third and final boar, and we have looked at them in evolutionary order. We skipped over the normal, living boar, so what we have here is a pig that dies, becomes a ghost, becomes a mummy, and then becomes a jet engine. Yeah, I can't say I would have ever guessed that progression. I guess the original boar always wanted to be a jet engine, and got its wish after dying for a while and atoning for its earthly sins.
This is a favorite of both mine and Rachel's, though she didn't finish artwork of it yet. It still looks great, and you can plainly see what makes this one so cool. This is a final evolution in a series of six-legged, spider-like Denjuu whose abdomens function as various objects of destruction; there's one that fires needles, one with a giant sawblade, some other one I'm forgetting, and this one, with giant monster jaws for an ass. This is one booty you DON'T want backing up! Wakka wakka!
Musa here seems to be an extra-special Denjuu, featured on some promotional art and definitely carrying a kind of "ancient dragon" vibe. I love how it kind of combines a turtle with a shaggy goat, but the organic missiles all over its shell are obviously its stand-out feature.
Yeah, you heard me. It's a purple dog with goggles grafted onto a motorbike and it's called EASY DOG. This is totally something a preschooler would make up, and that's something I will only ever say as a compliment. How can you not love any game that brings us EASYDOG?
We're entering the territory of my top favorites here with Godetia, a monster that brings to mind an inchworm, a centipede, a snake, a newt and an accordian without actually looking like any of those things. Its official artwork gives it only one pair of forelimbs, but its description says it can sprout additional limbs all along its body, at any time. Why? What does that accomplish? It sounds pretty cool, at least, and I side with Rachel's interpretation that the arms sprout out of every blue segment. Its other segments, meanwhile, are devoted to spouting noxious fumes. An alternating chain of noxious fume nozzles and optional arms. The best of both worlds! Sometimes I don't really know what I'm saying anymore, but it still feels right.
Our next-to-last bug-like Denjuu line actually begins as a fat, adorable caterpillar monster. Its second stage looks more like a caterpillar molting into a paler maggot, and its third stage, rather than some sort of flying insect, is basically a maggot walrus snail. I'm glad its official artwork looks a lot more like Rachel's rendition here; that sprite really doesn't do the concept justice. It's almost like the original caterpillar skin collapsed into a heap and hardened into a UFO-like shell. A shell that apparently spins around to create a wind vortex.
Really. Seriously. This non-evolving Denjuu is like a waddling seahorse with creepy human arms, a party hat growing out of its head, a gas bladder tail and a violin for a stomach. This thing is so completely out-there it doesn't even fit in with the other Denjuu. Bouvardi looks weird, absurd and incongruous in a game with Easydog and mummyboar. Beautiful. That is precisely why it's in my top four. Though its phone number is secret, the game actually has a whole dang village for these ridiculous things.
Every single [GOOD] mons game has at least one flabby, slimy, disgusting blob of monster and it's always an automatic hit with me. The best thing about this tubby slug-man is that its unevolved form seems to have been one of the game's more prominent monsters, featured in promotional art and as an NPC shopkeeper. It's like if Pikachu or Meowth happened to evolve into a big mountain of puke. The other best thing about Geron is that it rips off its own warts and chucks them as bombs.
Our last insect-like Denjuu, and truly my kind of bug monster - there isn't a single detail of Zea that I don't adore. The frog-like arms, the gaping red pores, the spines, the shock of scraggly witch-like hair, the whole gnarled, hunchbacked countenance of the thing...and then there's that tail. The way Zea's slimy, legless trunk ends in a single sucker makes me wonder if it's not supposed to be as much a leech as a mosquito. Both are swamp-dwelling vampires, after all. The coolest thing of all, though, is how the official manga establishes that Zea creates and controls whole swarms of actual mosquitoes!
This nasty bastard is PROBABLY the one monster I'd have to pick as my "official" Denjuu, but it's still not quite, not entirely, not definitely always my number-one favorite. It kind of wavers around a grey area with one other monster, and I don't know if anything can prepare you for what you're about to see.
How magnificent a concept is this? Gamazumi is nothing but a laboratory rat with the entire face of some non-specific Denjuu hideously grafted onto its back. Is the rat even a Denjuu itself, or just a regular, garden-variety animal? Do the two heads have distinct personalities or one mind? Gamazumi makes almost zero sense, unless you're familiar with the Vacanti mouse or "earmouse," which went viral right around when Telefang would have been in development. I'm not sure if the real-world connection makes Gamazumi more or less ridiculous, though I certainly don't think any context is necessary to appreciate a big, grumpy turtle head stitched onto the back of a tiny rodent. I'd be practically obligated to team up with the mosquito-leech, but I'd still hold a strong soft spot for face-rat. Maybe just a smidgeon stronger.
That's almost it for the original Telefang and monsters we can look at through Rachel's fan-art, but we're gonna go ahead and pick out a few things from the second game, too. We may as well!
TELEFANG II BONUS
Now, I will say there's a part of me that almost doesn't even want to give Telefang 2 the time of day. It leaves out most of the monsters we've just looked at, including my last six favorites, the boars, the hippo heads, damn near everything that stood out the most from the first game...but it's not fair to write it off entirely. Even though it should be a cardinal sin to take any mons out of a mons series, ever, several creatures added in this sequel are definitely worth a look.
Strangely, in Telefang 2, Denjuu keep the same name even when they evolve, which gets kind of confusing when their designs change this drastically. I can't say I can really pick which of "Bicolor's" forms I like more. It begins as a slimy sucker-tube that apparently prefers to hang from ceilings, licking passersby with its long, yellow tongue. When it evolves, it becomes some sort of preposterous, top-shaped monster with a flip-top head and mean little teeth. Both have adorable beady eyes and pinkish, amphibian skin, features that also always endeared me to Lickitung.
This monster begins as a tiny, squat squid with a sort of Egyptian headdress motif, but eventually evolves into what appears to be a tentacled brain that plays CD's. Huh!
In its unevolved form, Muscovy is almost a pig-like creature, though it has the same disturbingly luscious pink lips on the end of a trunk. Of its two possible evolutions, one is a more turtle-like aquatic version, and the other is...this. A skittering, spider-legged, stinger-tailed horror with an absurd lipstick-pig-mammoth face. You may also be aware that a "Muscovy" is a kind of duck. Yeah, that's not confusing at all.
A very strange, creepy and unique design, Regulus has a knife-like head, radiating toes and a camel-like body dripping with waxy slime, complete with a gigantic candlelight on its back. A downright eerie design for a fire-wielding monster, foregoing the usual phoenix, dragon and lava monster motifs.
This monster evolves from what more closely resembles the prehistoric Opabinia, and its final form certainly retains enough of that to please most Cambrian invertebrate fans, though just distorted enough to look pretty alien. What used to be rippling "fins" are now luminous, electrical tentacles!
This is a pretty simple one, but I really like both the idea and execution. It's a flying, bladed creature shaped kind of like a squid, but also like a badminton birdie, which is even mentioned in its first stage, which has a bird-like beak for a "head." We can assume the "squid" head on this form also splits open like a beak. One of those really alien monsters just familiar enough to be believable.
I was necessary to share these three evolutionary stages at once, so we can really appreciate how freaky this thing really is. We begin with some sort of bloated embryonic tadpole-eel-man, a horrible pink nose on its uncanny face and a pinkish orifice on both its tail and head-tentacle, neither of which I'm keen to learn anything more about, but it apparently belly-slams opponents. When it evolves, it seems to just...deflate. It withers up like a lungfish during a drought, and clubs things with its now dense and knobbly tail. Why? It's weird enough before you get to the final stage, where it now mimics an evergreen tree and claws at passersby with its head-tassle. What in the WORLD does that have to do with the previous two stages?!
This is the only Telefang 2 monster we've got a Rachel drawing for, and it's definitely one of the game's best concepts. This creepy, toxic monster is almost like a sinuous, ghoulish anteater without any hind legs, but it drags around a gigantic, humanoid skull almost like a snail. Were I forced to participate in this Zea-free wasteland, Kagu would probably have to be my new go-to monster. It's almost cool enough to make up for some of the things they discarded...almost.
Perhaps if they'd imported the entire original roster when they did this sequel, the series might have had a little more staying power? Nobody wants to get attached to a virtual monster only to leave them in the dust forever.
Who would your Denjuu be? Why? We've only looked at a fraction of them, so why not check out the rest over at Wikifang, and don't forget to thank the artist who may very well be Telefang's most faithful and devoted fan. She also draws lots of other, non-Telefang things, and even brought the gift of realistic arachnida to the world of giant, spherical plush toys.