Review: Monsters Rising09 Dec 2013 0
Considering I went in knowing nothing about it, few games this year have sold me on their premise as thoroughly or quickly as Monsters Rising. Following an uprising in the hell of Chinese legend (or one of them anyway) and the appearance of a mysterious power source on Earth, the king of hell launches an invasion of the over world. You command one of the groups of demons sent to subjugate the United States, which is a pretty cherry assignment for a demon, you have to admit.
Chinese myth and legend isn't a source that's been extensively tapped by Western pop culture, making Monsters Rising immediately fresh, sporting such oddities as horse-headed soldiers, hopping vampires and decapitated ogres. If you're sick to the back teeth of the 'humanity as plucky underdogs' scenario and want to play the infernal conqueror for once, this title has you covered.
Monsters Rising's promising concept is backed up with bright, stylised artwork somewhat reminiscent of Wind Waker, right down to the thick swirls in the smoke and clouds. It keeps a light tone, with the mission text being delivered not by a sombre commander but by a vain, egotistical infernal bureaucrat, and the lengthy campaign sees you go from fighting cops to meme-spouting X-Com rejects to battling your fellow undead and damned.
Although the game isn't technologically stunning, it manages to go a long way on style. If the thought of minotaur clerics and spear wielding horse-men doesn't sound inspired to you, your soul may have already snuck off to hell without you while you weren't looking.
Genre-wise, Monsters Rising is a click-and-kill action RPG controlled by touch screen gestures, with the RTS-ish wrinkle that you must juggle control of multiple units as you move across a map destroying anything between you and your objective. Simply selecting your monsters and a target is enough to have them wander up and start bashing, but that's a losing ploy. Instead, players must switch between monsters once battle is engaged, selecting them one at a time and performing a range of swipes, circles, arcs and zig-zags to unleash each monster's unique skills.
The game starts you off with straightforward attack powers but as your demons level up you gain a range of attacks, buffs and debuffs to play with. Objectively, the gesture controls accomplish nothing that players couldn't do more quickly given the option of a button press for the same result, and whole thing sounds like the mis-shapen bastard offspring of Fruit Ninja and Dawn of War. In play, when everything is working smoothly, then the rhythm of frantic swiping in between switching targets and monsters is, if not particularly tactically interesting, certainly exhilarating and enjoyable.
The qualifier there, though, is 'when everything is working smoothly', and that ends up being the main problem with Monsters Rising. Simple swipes can be done reliably. Zig-zag or back-and-forth motions are hit and miss. Anything more intricate than that? You're looking at inputs as consistent and effective as a fucking rain dance.
Choosing between a quick attack and a stronger one that takes up more time and attention to execute I can accept as an interesting decision. Having to select attacks solely based on which ones won't leave me pawing ineffectually at the screen like a distressed kitten makes a game an exercise in disappointment. Worse, the fact that the most unreliable moves are mainly the more esoteric ones mean that the game becomes most frustrating when it should be at it's most engaging. Saving your shields and stuns for problematic foes like bazooka wielding troops or armoured medics should be a source of satisfaction; if you can't perform that stun reliably because the game takes exception to the cut of your circles it's a cheap death waiting to happen. As an extra kick in the teeth, this is one of those most hellish creations: a paid app which waves IAP in your face.
The game offers the standard array of consumables, xp boosters and so on to spend your shards on. The most significant cost is the extra monsters you can buy, while the most irritating feature is the recovery period that requires you to wait before using a downed monster again - which you can of course buy your way out of. Monsters Rising does allow everything to be bought with in-game currency and is just about generous enough that I avoided spending any cash, and even the timers are fairly brief. Still, the presence of IAP, particularly in a game with an up-front cost, wears away at any goodwill the player has left after dealing with the dodgy controls. Monsters Rising isn't a focused cash-scrounger. The game's monetisation strategy rather feels like that of an intended premium title that someone lost faith in; as inadequate and pitiful as sticking fins on a cat and calling it amphibious.
It's a shame, as at its best there is a lot to recommend to Monsters Rising. Although the missions tend towards the 'head towards this checkpoint and kill those guys' approach there are enough curveballs thrown at you to keep players on their toes, supported by a respectably diverse cast of antagonists. The powers and upgrades available to each monster are genuinely well thought out, my favourites being the Xian's ability to turn damage it takes into an attack boost and the Jiangshi's selection of debuffs and traps: abilities which, like the game, hint at all sorts of intriguing possibilities.
It's never a game that reaches the dizzy heights of genius but there's enough content and style in Monsters Rising that I was willing to give it a few second chances. Every time, though, that I thought I'd cracked the gesture controls and could get down to enjoying the game I found myself inexplicably stymied once again. It's a game with good ideas bought low by a single feature that must have looked good on paper but is lousy in execution. If you're willing to overlook or overcome the controls, Monsters Rising is worth a go, IAP warts and all. But as it is, it's a game I reluctantly send back to the hells from whence it came.