I’ve just beat Monster Tale, a fun little game from the makers of Henry Hatsworth that should be better than it is. Not that it isn’t good. It’s very good. But Monster Tale does a lot of things so very wrong that I have a hard time not feeling disappointed. It had gorgeous 2D graphics, pitch perfect control and mechanics and possibly the worst map I’ve ever seen in a Metroidvania style game. The map is only the start of the games problems. Still, it manages to be simply fun to play.
Monster Tale is about a young girl, Ellie, who is sucked into Monster world and finds a monster freshly hatched out of its egg. So she teams up with the baby to try to find away home, quickly running afoul of the other children in monster world, who are less eager to return home, instead being content to rule over the monsters with an iron fist. It is fun and childish in wonderful video game tradition. The abilities Ellie gains as the player advances all fit seamlessly into her moveset. In the end she is an easily controlled destructive force.
The game is set up like Metroid or recent Castlevania games, with a large connected map rather than separate levels. While running around is fun in and of itself, the map design is atrocious. Instead of the having some exploration available at all times, Monster Tale forces players along the one path that can open up more of the map. The openness is not there to facilitate exploration, but to pad the game length. The game hides power-ups behind doors that you need another power-up to open. Not a chunk of map that also has a power-up, just a room with a power-up. Meaning that to get power-up A, you must acquire power-up B and then backtrack all the way across the map. The game is about 40% backtracking. But as I said, it is a lot of fun to just run through the world.
At least its fun for the first half of the game. After that the enemies start taking so many hits to kill that it becomes a chore. Maybe its because I never got all the purchasable upgrades (because they cost so much) but the enemies take way too long to kill. My problem may also lie in how little I used my monster companion. I did use him some, but while the idea of the A.I. controlled monster is great, he seemed largely pointless through most of the game. I gave him whatever items I found, leveled him up in forms that seemed useful, but mostly I used him to solve switch puzzles that he is required for.
In the end, Monster Tale is a charming, if flawed game. It is more fun than it is frustrating, but it is somewhat frustrating. At times there are glimpses of the great game this could have been, the second coming of Symphony of the Night or Super Metroid. Most of the time it is hard to escape the egregiously bad map design and hit absorbing enemies. It is definitely a game to grab if you find it for cheap, but don’t expect great things.