Monster Tale is doubtless an ode to 8 & 16 bit games. In this package you'll find gameplay elements from titles that defined a whole era of videogames. The best is that it does it while simultaneously filling you with both a sense of nostalgia and freshness. The developers of Monster Tale at DreamRift did an excellent job creating an experience that despite blatantly grabbing elements from several sources still manages to project a very unique personality and charisma.
Monster Tale tells us the story of Ellie, a blue haired girl who arrives on Monster World and discovers Chomp, a small monster with huge potential. With her new mascot in tow, Ellie embarks on a quest to overthrow the Kid-Kings and return Monster World to its true owners: the monsters. The game is a mix of genres such as action/adventure, platformer, pet-raising, and even a touch of RPG. At the start you will immediately recognize elements taken from such classics as Mega Man, Blaster Master, & Castlevania. Further along the story you’ll also find elements taken from Pokemon and Metroid.
The game mechanics are based on the classic “MetroidVania” concept, with enormous interconnected worlds in which you will have to obtain the proper power-ups or items to keep on advancing. This means there’s a lot of backtracking to visit parts of visited worlds which were previously inaccessible once you obtain the tool to breach the blockade. Our main characters, Ellie & Chomp, each possess a small unique arsenal that they expand as they advance. Ellie, in a very Metroid-like style, finds new power-ups that allow her to open new doors and discover secrets. Meanwhile, Chomp learns new attacks as he evolves to new forms thanks to experience gained in combat. The course of his evolution follows a clear path up an evolutionary tree that is also affected by Chomp's maturity.
Chomp is able to visit both screens of the Nintendo DS. The lower screen is his main home; there he interacts with items dropped by foes (such as soccer balls, toys, books, candies, etc.) and wins experience by interacting with them. Chomp can also be called up to the top screen, where he becomes a weapon that can help Ellie vanquish her enemies, or as a tool that helps Ellie crack a riddle. The time Chomp can remain on the top screen is measured by an energy bar, which slowly depletes and can only be recharged by sending Chomp back down to the bottom screen. If Chomp’s energy bar depletes completely while on the top screen he’ll collapse down into the lower screen. There, he will remain unconscious (and unavailable) for quite some time. Chomp, just like the other monsters, has three types of attack based on the three dominant elements in Monster World: Water, Fire, & Plants. This adds a “Rock, Paper, Scissors” strategic element to the experience, where water is strong vs. fire while plants are strong vs. water, and fire is strong vs. plants. Choosing the right type of attack is vital, especially during boss battles.
The battles against the Kid-Kings are one of the strongest points of the game; each Kid-King sports his own monster that has to be defeated to capture the key that opens the door to a new section of the world. These battles are varied, entertaining, and action filled. The only negative aspect of these battles is that there is a rather lengthy conversation between Ellie and the Kid-King facing her. These exchanges are indeed interesting, but too time consuming, and worst of all, if you lose the battle you can’t skip it the next time you return to fight again.
Monster Tale is probably one of the most beautiful 2D games to have ever reached the screens of the Nintendo DS. The animations and sprites are ultra detailed, and the backgrounds are overflowing with color and depth. The enemies are charming, varied, and animated with extreme style. Enormous amounts of effort have been spent in refining even the smallest details. Complimenting the great graphics is an outstanding sound accompaniment. The tunes are catchy, and always match the mood of the situation. The soundtrack used is a fitting tribute to classic 8 & 16 bit unforgettables like Ninja Gaiden, Castlevania, or Blaster Master. The game doesn’t have any spoken dialogue, but the characters have small catchphrases that they repeat constantly and which sound very good.
The main complaint I can find against Monster Tale is the abuse of the backtracking gimmick to force you to revisit old scenarios over and over. This allows the game to run longer (some 11 hours) without having to create from scratch any new scenarios, but it becomes annoying after a while, especially around the middle of the adventure. At least the game helps you by always highlighting on the map the area you need to revisit next, but even that doesn’t fully make up for the annoyance of having to retrace your footsteps over and over. The adventure’s duration can be somewhat lengthened if you insist on unlocking all the available forms for Chomp (some evolutions take longer than others to unlock).
Despite these small flaws, Monster Tale is a great game that shouldn’t be absent from your collection if you love fun and beautiful games on your handheld. This game is a strong candidate for instant classic, thanks to its homage to several great games from the early days of video-gaming whilst at the same time still retaining a sense of uniqueness. If you are craving for a good experience on your DS, try Monster Tale, you won’t regret it.