Somewhat hot off the heels of Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure, the developers at Dreamrift have teamed up with Majesco to bring us a new side-scrolling adventure. Monster Tale fuses Metroidvania elements with monster evolution to offer Nintendo DS owners a unique title that helps cap the system’s life cycle off nicely.
In Monster Tale, you’ll take on the role of young female protagonist Ellie who stumbles upon a secret world inhabited by monsters. Ellie isn’t the first child to breach this other dimension, however, and she’ll find herself pitted against a host of pre-teen villains in an effort to save this monster kingdom.
Though the character design and animation for Ellie are delightful, the story and dialogue left me unsatisfied. The premise and characters weren’t particularly endearing, and I was soon mashing the A button to quickly skip past text.
Ignoring the game’s presentation, Monster Tale is a solid action romp, a sort of consolation prize for fans who never received a true side-scrolling Metroid adventure on DS. Similar to past 2D Metroid games, Monster Tale is a somewhat non-linear journey, one in which you’re continuously adding new abilities to your arsenal. You’ll trek through corridors, fighting baddies along the way, and dead ends are always dealt with by issuing Ellie some new ability. It’s a tried-and-true formula that Dreamrift riffs on perhaps a bit too transparently.
Ellie has melee and ranged attacks, she can jump and wall climb, and as you progress through the story you’ll unlock quite a number of other abilities, most of which see ample use both in battle and as part of navigating the game world. Hit and collision detection are spot on, and the controls feel simply wonderful – controlling Ellie is completely satisfying.
Ellie isn’t your sole concern throughout the game, however. You’ll meet a monster named Chomp early on in the adventure, and he’ll follow you through to the end. Though you don’t exert full control over Chomp, you can command him strategically. Sending Chomp down to the bottom screen will allow him to consume items or battle enemies that have made their way down to the touch screen. Some items are consumed as part of leveling up and evolving Chomp, while others are used as weapons against enemy monsters.
When Chomp’s with you on the top screen, he’ll automatically attack nearby enemies or activate mechanisms. Additionally, you can make use of Chomp’s special attacks via the shoulder buttons.
Chomp will also take on different forms depending on what you feed him. A rock-paper-scissors system is in place, with each of Chomp’s various forms based around one of three elements. If, however, you reach Chomp’s level cap before unlocking the next form in the evolution tree, you’re pretty much out of luck as far as ever unlocking that particular form.
Though Chomp can often feel like dead weight, his purpose in the game is ultimately well designed and executed. The boss fights are a healthy challenge, and enemy behavior is smart and varied.
Unfortunately, the backtracking in Monster Tale is exhausting. Rather than take a page from the Castlevania games on DS and offer some type of quick travel between worlds, you’re constantly forced to trudge from one end of the map to the other. It’s an element of the game that is thrown in after almost every objective is completed. Tack on what are seemingly arbitrary difficulty spikes, and Monster Tale starts to feel a bit repetitive somewhere around the midway point.
In spite of a poorly conceived story, Monster Tale has some fun production values. The 2D sprite work and animation are great to look at, and the music and sound effects evoke plenty of nostalgia. Nods to previous work from the creative leads add a nice touch to the presentation, as does the homage to their favorite games.
Monster Tale isn’t quite the swan song this Metroidvania fan was hoping for, though it’s a satisfying adventure, nonetheless. Clocking in at roughly eight hours, it’s a pretty short ride – padding and all. The constant backtracking became quickly annoying, but the solid mechanics and attention to detail won me over in the end.