Monster Force Review

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Publisher: Universal Interactive
Developer: Digital Eclipse Software

Platform: Game Boy Advance
Reviewed on Game Boy Advance

Something is rotten in Monsterland, and it's not the Mummy's corpse. The brothers Frankenstein created some companions for themselves in the lab. But when these creatures scared the populace, the brothers took their creatures to Monsterland to dwell in peace and continue scientific pursuits. One of the brothers, Victor, kept Monster Force's heroes Frank, Drac and Wolfie as lab assistants. One night Victor is mysteriously kidnapped from the lab, and now its up to his assistants to try to find and save him. You'll play as one of the three members of the Monster Force in this action/adventure game for the Game Boy Advance.

Rob de los Reyes

You'll grind your teeth in frustration at how close Monster Force comes to being a splendid little game only to watch it miss the mark for what seem like silly things. Universal Interactive summons some old movie monsters (the Wolfman, Frankenstein's monster, and Dracula), turns them into tiny toon heroes and sets them loose to fight Halloween-themed enemy monsters. Gameplay is instantly recognizable as taking a cue from the original Gauntlet, but the personable characters and mild puzzle elements do just enough to give Monster Force a feel all its own. Unfortunately, some of that personality is overwhelmed by aggravating controls and "gotcha" moments. The result is a game with a fair bit of artistic inspiration dulled by a mostly solid, if unspectacular gameplay experience.

The opening cinematic and story exposition is as well executed as anything you'll see on the Game Boy Advance. It's a slideshow of "hand-drawn" animation cels set a-flicker like an old movie reel, complete with cheesy-spooky background music. Given the limitations of the GBA, the show is unexpectedly clever and attractive. There is no genuine attempt at horror here; these monsters are cute as little buttons. But that's the note that the game attempts to strike throughout – bright and cute, but detail-oriented and thorough. A worthy ambition. The cleverness of design is continued through the various user interfaces that, again, are possessed of a certain simple panache. No mean feat for a user interface.

For a time, it seems as though that same deft touch will continue throughout the game. The player characters (you pick one to play throughout) are not tremendously different in performance, but the Wolfman is noticeably quicker but weaker than the strong and slow Frankenstein's monster and the evenly balanced Dracula. The levels appear colorful, clean and well-animated, with some interesting challenges and a reasonable variety of enemies. But as the need to ramp up the difficulty arises, chinks in the armor start to appear.

Your hero has two run speeds – normal and turbo. The latter is achieved by holding down the A button while moving. The trouble is that anytime you come in contact with a wall (and there are many many walls here), you come to a complete halt and endure what seems, perhaps unintentionally, like a half-second stun period. That might not seem like much of a complaint, but the full stop is an intractable irritant when you're forced to race through a twisted labyrinth using the blunt control of the GBA's directional pad with only millimeters of maneuvering room. Interspersed throughout the normal levels are challenge levels that need not be defeated in order to advance. These tend to be timed levels, making speed of the essence. Yet even with the fastest of the three heroes, two or three abrupt halts at walls end any chance at success. Control problems also set in as you try to line up attacks on monsters that appear half inside a wall. Sometimes you can hit them, other times not. When you can't, you're forced to bob and weave until they emerge from their unassailable perches.

A related problem involves "gotcha" moments, though these seem more accidental than by design. You are generally unable to see even your immediate surroundings in their entirety. Certainly, part of the puzzle aspect is that limited view of the maze. But too often, you'll scamper around a room only to run smack into a monster generator or wandering fiend because of its placement just out of sight. Here again, distances are too short and the GBA's controls too clumsy to accommodate the hair-trigger movements required in such a minefield. Most importantly, it tacks an unnecessary layer of difficulty onto the familiar challenge of pattern recognition and repetition that also loom large.

All of which is a shame is an otherwise original game. Playing as cutesy movie monsters, whose animations and character are quite vivid despite their small size, is a simple but pleasant change of pace from the usual fare. Most levels are not completely overwhelmed by the problems described above, but only the first few seem free of them. The challenge levels, which are overwhelmed, happily need not be beaten in order to continue the story. Even so, you can't help but feel a bit cheated as you let those levels pass unfinished rather than hang in to fight with them. The rest of the time, however, you'll proceed apace, banging into the occasional wall, generally amused even if not completely endeared.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on December 4, 2002 5:14 PM.

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