Review: Monster Adventures

By Sean Clancy 17 Oct 2013 0
"Stay still. Their googly eye vision is based on- no wait he saw me." "Stay still. Their googly eye vision is based on- no wait he saw me."

As an adventure-RPG/collect-a-thon in the vein of... well... Pokemon is the most illustrative comparison (but don't put too much stock in that), Monster Adventures is a game about bending insufferably cute creatures of nature to your will, so that you can exploit them in cockfights and the day-to-day menial labor of a small fantasy town.

But, no, uh, it's also dark. Because the thing about Monster Adventures is that it gets the addiction, the drive to keep torturing collecting living creatures things just right. What's unclear is if, underneath the game's cuddly veneer, there's much else to it. Other than big ol' googly eyes, that is. Those are spot-on. Shudder.

Things start off innocently enough when you enter the hub town. And, holy hell, everything is BRIGHT and COLORFUL and EXCLAMATORY and KIND OF BOBBING UP AND DOWN TO AN UNHEARD DIRGE. Visually, Monster Adventures is straight-up cotton candy: simple, saccharine, and a little sickening if you overindulge. Everything, from the environments to the monsters to the menus, is chunky and inoffensive to the point of blandness. The fact that all of the game's opening monsters are variations on "blobs" says much about the design here.

Hey, that's cool though, 'cause guess what? You're, like, one of those super-rare-in-games savior-types. Which means you can control Monsters! (And we all know that Monsters are an established entity in this world, because they're called Monsters, and not monsters. Got it? MOVE ALONG.) Low and behold, you find a water spirit-looking thing in a well and soon all in town have placed their collective hopes and dreams on your succeeding as a Monster trainer.

Here's where things open up. In Monster Adventures, you've got two main modes of play. The arena, where your m(M)onster goes one-on-one with other creatures of similar ability, and exploration, where your monster ventures into the wilderness to beat up on and capture "Wildlings" (no, "Fix is in, Charger. In the third, your ass-like rear chitinous plating goes down." "Fix is in, Charger. In the third, your ass-like rear chitinous plating goes down."[/caption]

Here's a typical run, then. You walk up to the plains and, the first time, at least, say good-bye to your monster. They're who you actually control in fights, and in the wilderness segments sport a little backpack. Point is, now you're out in one of Monster Adventures' randomly assembled (from a handful of similar bits) open worlds. And you're fighting blobs. Some blobs shoot bile at you, some just rush and try to bite you. Depending on how difficult a foe is, they have a certain percentage chance for you to capture them with your net. Did I mention there's a net? You have this comical Looney Toons dogcatcher's net. Just hold on.

Easy foes start off with a higher base capture chance, while tougher ones need to be whittled down with punches and other moves. Capture and bring Wildlings back to this guy in town, and he'll enter them into his catalogue. Bring enough of a certain type back, and you get a move based on their particular skills, ranging from the staid (projectile attack) to the super (summons, charge attacks). Also, just killing things nets you XP and gold, so that's an option too. Murder.

All this is neat enough. Actually a cool fusion of borrowed monster-hunting mechanics and a Mega Man style upgrade system, to be honest. But goddamn is it poorly executed. Capture chances don't seem to jump past 50%, so even after an extended fight you've only really earned the chance to flip a coin and, on a miss, must continue to kite around whatever it is you're fighting until the too-long cooldown on the dog catcher's net resets. The action overall is sluggish and imprecise, your monster handling with about the same responsiveness as an ice resurfacer, and it's clear Monster Adventures suffers for lack of the sort of turn-based system one might see in other games of its stripe.

Venusaur by way of David Cronenberg. Venusaur by way of David Cronenberg.

There are some engaging bits of customization fluff, outside the main rinse, wash, and repeat of Monster Adventures' combat. Your little fella can be outfitted with new body parts! Besides letting you turn your structurally coherent starting Monster into an actual monstrosity with a hodgepodge of limbs (presumably burgled from foes' graves), swapping out arms, legs, heads and the like will change one of their four stats. It's basic, sure, but there are enough skills, different enough in terms of how they're affected by stats, that the choice of what build to go for is actually a meaningful one.

Ditto goes for the element system, where you can imbue your avatar with, say, fire, to yet again increase a stat, while also gaining a damage bonus against (guess) grass-aligned creatures and a concomitant weakness when fighting (just guess) water-affiliated enemies. Fair enough.

But, again, all this rests on combat which just isn't enjoyable. Skills, specifically, are grounded in a capture mechanic which emphasizes mindless repetition and waiting over skillful play. At times, the game just feels downright disrespectful of the player's time. Monster Adventures has the scope--all the concepts you'd expect in a game like this are here, even head-to-head and co-op multiplayer. But, seeing that most of those concepts are either undercooked or poorly implemented, well, it's a shame.

Monster Adventures was played on an iPad for this review.

Review: Monster Adventures

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