Anyone familiar with Q-Games' first instalment of the PixelJunk series, PixelJunk Racers, will be forgiven if they expected this next outing to be equally unimpressive. Fortunately, however, Monsters is as far removed from Racers as possible, and is hands down one of the most addictive titles released on the PSN thus far.
The gameplay derives from various tower defence titles and it's your job to prevent waves of enemies from reaching your base, which resembles a small hut, and the 20 villagers gathered outside. Each enemy that gets through will kill one of these villagers and if they are all killed it's game over. If you are wondering what Q-Games could do to really revolutionise the genre, the answer is they haven’t, but that is in no way a bad thing in this case. What Q-Games have done is kept the core gameplay that has made this genre so popular the same, and built a sleek, attractive, but most importantly fun game on top of it.
Now, to protect your hapless village folk from these relentless attacks you are provided with a wide array of towers - each with unique attributes, from simply firing arrows to sending out a stream of hot fire or shooting out a large cannonball. At the beginning of the game only 3 towers are available - others must be unlocked by collecting small gems, which are occasionally dropped by enemies. These gems can also be used to give a quick upgrade to a tower if needed, so make sure you keep a few in reserve.
The controls are very simple: you move with the left analog stick, press X on a tree to bring up a small rotating menu of available towers, and X again to build. Towers naturally gain experience by defeating more enemies, which can be seen by a small bar at the side of the tower. You can also stand under a tower, at which point it will turn translucent and your character will dance to level it up. Small touches like this give Monsters a distinctive feel.
You select levels from a world overview. There are three areas in total - easy, medium and hard - as well as three special levels which, upon completion, will grant you a unique ability to help you through the stages. To unlock the medium and hard sections, players must obtain a certain number of rainbows, which are awarded when a player completes a stage without any of the villagers dying. This can be quite simple at first, but the later levels provide a much harder challenge, and even the most simple of enemies can squeeze through and kill a villager, forcing you to restart if you’re aiming for a rainbow on that stage. Frustration is lessened by the fact the waves do not change between attempts; each level has a set wave pattern, so it's simply a case of trial and error until you get the level just right. Perfection on these levels is imperative if you want to rise to the top of the online leaderboards that Q-Games have set up to track scores from all over the world, which is a nice addition.
Enemies themselves are quite diverse; they may start out quite basic but eventually gain shields and even resistances to certain towers. The layout of levels vary - some have a simple entrance, some have multiple entrances (which more often than not are difficult to guess until it's too late), while some have multiple paths via which enemies can travel. There really is a fair amount of diversity between levels. Because the game mixes things up, you are forced to think about every possible outcome, and constantly be ready to build towers anywhere on the map.
The game’s charm undoubtedly lies in the visuals. Presented in full 1080p resolution, the graphics are quite impressive for such a simple game. The artwork is, for lack of a better word, adorable. For me, however, the greatest experience of all is the multi-player portion. Running around in panic as enemies break through your towers with a good friend is worth the price tag alone.
One of the most impressive aspects of the game, which you’re introduced to immediately, is the soundtrack provided by Otograph. The obscure background music certainly adds to the overall allure this game provides. However, it unfortunately gets slightly repetitive if you’re playing for a prolonged period of time. Monsters does offer a range of extras such as offline multiplayer and online scoreboards, and it joins the unfortunately small list of PS3 titles which support remote play, so Monsters is fully playable via your PSP's remote play functionality.
It’s quite easy, at first, to put Monsters off as a simple clone of games before it, but despite the familiarity some may have with the genre, it does offer a unique and rather endearing experience that shouldn’t be missed. The price is relatively low given the potential hours and hours of gameplay it can provide, and with the recently released 'Encore' expansion pack adding a whole new island to play through at a low price, Q-Games have shown us they can develop a hell of a game, one which I would recommend to any PS3 owner.