Monster Tale

Monster Tale
Monster Tale Cover
Platforms Nintendo DS
Genre Evolving Metroidvania
Score 6  Clock score of 6
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I love genre mashing, and Monster Tale is certainly a special case of mixed, but excellent heredity. We have the popular and super combination of Metroid and Castlevania, plus monster training that mixes Pokemon, Tamagotchi, and E.V.O.: Search for Eden. Excellent genes also bears the burden of high expectations, however, can Monster Tale possibly meet them?

Released on the Nintendo DS late last month, Monster Tale was developed by DreamRift and published by Majesco. It pairs up a young girl and her monster that evolves and grows throughout the game. Trapped in a world ran by children who think themselves royalty, our young heroine is a bit like Dorothy in Oz, just with Chomp for companionship.

I originally meant to write at least a half-hour handheld review of Monster Tale, but I kept playing and before I knew it, the game was over. Here is my review of Monster Tale for the Nintendo DS.

I was drawn to Monster Tale for its Metroidvania gameplay, one of my favorite types of games of the last decade. Konami released a series of excellent Castlevania games on the GBA and DS, but that well has been dry since 2008 so fans are left looking to other sources. While seemingly directed towards a younger audience with its kid friendly palette and young protagonist, there aren’t a lot of other options out there for gamers who like to fight their way through the same room multiple times in search of the next sequence advancing item.

Let’s get right to Monster Tale’s big issue: it is way too short for it’s own good. Okay, the size of the game is fine albeit a bit small, but the real problem is that the Metroidvania gameplay is only half of the fun. The other half is leveling your monster, evolving him into different forms and learning new moves. There are 30 different forms your monster can take across three different stages of life, but the game is only long enough to support half of those at the most. That means if you want to experience every single form (and ultimately achieve 100% completion), you’ll run into the final boss well in advance of finishing that task and have to resort to repetitive grinding. Nobody likes grinding in any game, and it’s not welcome here either.

Monster Tale Ellie Chomp BossSince I’ve basically 100%’d every single Castlevania game on the Game Boy Advance or DS, I was excited to tackle Monster Tale’s complete challenge, too. But at merely the eight hour mark when I reached the final boss, I couldn’t believe how many evolutions I still had left to unlock, let alone level up and experiment with. So I went ahead and beat the final boss and finished with an 85% completion rate. In a typical Castlevania game, even 99% wouldn’t have been good enough, but I figured at least four hours of grinding were ahead of me. Bah.

Don’t get me wrong, leveling up your monster throughout the game is great fun. Our heroine Ellie has just a few attacks to herself, including some basic melee attacks and a pew-pew gun, she needs her monster Chomp to make it out of this crazy Oz alive. Chomp can hang out on either the top or bottom screen, while Ellie sticks to just the top screen of the DS. While Chomp is fighting on the top screen, a stamina bar slowly drains and can only be refilled by spending a few seconds on the bottom. Chomp receives experience for any enemies he helped kill on the top screen, and since Ellie doesn’t level up, you want to utilize Chomp as often as possible.

Ellie and Chomp can team up on the bad guys to build a combo meter, the higher the combo against the enemy the better drop you’ll get from them. Sometimes this just means more money or gun ammo, but often you’ll receive an item that gets tossed to the bottom screen. While Chomp is on the bottom screen he’ll work on either eating, reading, or studying the item to increase his stats and earn some experience. Sometimes the items will serve as short-lived weapons that will automatically be used against the top screen, but more often than not these are useless.

As Chomp levels up, he learns new moves and stat upgrades. As he levels further, he masters these techniques and can use them in any other form. This is an important fact as you’ll generally level up any form to at least level 12 to master their move, though you’ll actually receive some of the most useful attacks in the game right away. You also unlock further evolutions in the tree by gaining experience, so there is always some carrot hanging out there.

Monster Tale Ellie Chomp FightSo the typical Metroidvania gameplay gets a pretty great addition in Chomp, and some of the battles can quickly become ordered chaos as both Ellie and Chomp tag team the slew of enemies on both screens. You get a real sense of accomplishment from coming out of some of the areas alive, especially later in the game when the difficulty goes from a four to an eleven in a matter of minutes (and then back down to a seven through the end of the game). This jump in challenge is a bit jarring and I can’t imagine anyone playing this game getting past the spiky floor battle on their first try. For a game aimed at kids, they’re going to have serious trouble getting past the five or six hour mark.

Couple this difficulty curve with the amount of backtracking required just to progress and I began to question some of DreamRift’s design decisions. While the game is always flashing on the map where to go next, this Crazy Taxi arrow means the route from point A to point B is too obvious. So to lengthen the game the developers continually force you to run from point A to point B back to point A and finally back to point B just to pick up the right item and advance. Annoying, yeah, but without it the game would be about four hours long.

Speaking of the map, I know that viewing Chomp’s lair on the bottom screen is cool and essential, but that means we can’t follow the map continually while playing. It would have been nice to be able to swap between viewing the map and seeing the normal bottom screen.

Though it has some major flaws with length and more minor issues concerning difficulty and general design, Monster Tale is a pretty fun game. Leveling a monster along with the lighter fare Metroidvania gameplay is a great combination, I just wish the execution could have been pulled off better. We might have ended up with a truly stellar title and challenger to the previous Castlevania games as one of the best platformers on the Nintendo DS.

Overall: 6

Monster Tale Ellie Chomp art