Monster Tale (DS Review) by Robbie P.
System: Nintendo DS
Release: March 15, 2011
April 13, 2011, by Robbie P. - Monster Tale is a unique title developed for the Nintendo DS by DreamRift, a company founded by former Electronic Arts alumni, Peter Ong and Ryan Pijai. Upon beginning the game it can feel a little familiar, but with good reason. Peter and Ryan also worked on another unique Nintendo DS title called Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure, which happens to lend a few elements to Monster Tale. However, as Monster Tale does feel a little familiar it isn't long before the game evolves into a one of a kind adventure.
Monster Tale is a story about a young girl named Ellie who accidentally stumbles into a secret world inhabited by monsters. After arriving Ellie immediately tries to find her way back home, but instead uncovers a devious plot to take over the human world. At the head of the plot is Queen Priscilla who leads a team of four other kids that also stumbled into the monster world. Priscilla and her loyal subjects enslave the monsters and use them for their own bidding, with invading the human world a main priority. Ellie eventually befriends Chomp, a mysterious monster capable of great evolution, and begins to unravel the Queen's plot as well as find her way home.
Gameplay is very reminiscent of Metroid and the handheld Castlevania titles, or otherwise known as a Metroidvania type game. Ellie explores a non-linear interconnected map consisting of multiple worlds fighting countless monsters and performing some pretty standard platforming. Ellie uses both her satchel for melee attacks and a special power bracelet for ranged combat against enemies. Throughout the game Ellie is also able to gain new abilities by approaching altars scattered throughout the game. These abilities can consist of rolling, extended melee combos and power band specials. Some of which are needed to advance to new areas.
Chomp can also be useful in combat. Chomp follows standard RPG procedure and uses experience to gain levels. As Chomp gains levels, he can gain new abilities and stat boosts that can help Ellie fight against enemies. My favorite Chomp ability has to be the Anvil attack, it's a very useful tool and perhaps even overpowered. However, Chomp also has other tricks up his sleeve. Chomp has the ability to evolve. Chomp begins as a fire monster, but can eventually evolve into earth and water elemental forms. Each form is aesthetically different and can produce new abilities that can be shared amongst any of Chomp's forms once mastered. To help Chomp evolve and stay healthy, Ellie can send him to the Pet Sanctuary on the touch screen where he can play with various objects and eat a variety of snacks that can influence his evolutions. You will also notice that Chomp sometimes has to solve certain puzzle elements and defeat enemies only accessible in the sanctuary. Chomp is actually an extremely fun companion and a very cool element of Monster Tale.
Ellie controls very similar to Henry Hatsworth, in fact the control schemes are almost identical save for a few slight differences. It is very easy to pick up and shouldn't cause too many headaches. Controlling Ellie is done with the D-Pad and jumping is mapped to B. Ellie uses her melee attack by pressing Y and her ranged attack with A. Other abilities are explained to you on screen and are extremely easy to use. Unlike Mr. Hatsworth, Ellie uses the rest of the buttons in a different manner. X sends Chomp to the Pet Sanctuary, and L and R can be used to assign Chomp abilities.
Visually, Monster Tale is a treat for your eyes. All of the character sprites are colorful and just very well designed overall. In fact, each of the main characters carries a certain charm that is hard for me to explain. Character and monster animations in Monster Tale are some of the best I've ever seen and can be summed up in one word, amazing. All characters exhibit smooth and fluent movements which really make the world feel alive. This brings me to my next point. Each world's visual design is also pretty outstanding. Backgrounds hold some very interesting sights, such as a huge Dragon lurking behind a wall, which is pretty intimidating upon the first encounter. Monster Tale also offers other cool looking areas such as the Monster Dance Club, which features an animated crowd and flashing lights. It is all of this attention to detail which make Monster Tale such a fun game to explore.
I have mixed feelings about the soundtrack as most of it is really good, but a very small portion feels a little lacking. However, that small portion is heavily outweighed by the good catchy tunes. Monster Tale also features some actual voice acting. Don't get too excited as the characters only say a few small phrases and you will read all of the dialogue. Regardless I thought the voice acting added a nice touch to the game.
12/15 - A pretty good soundtrack that is mostly outstanding save for a few lackluster themes. Some voice acting adds a nice little touch to the game that would be missed if it weren't included.
20/20 - Monster Tale has great detailed sprites with superb animation. Some of the animated backgrounds are visually some of the coolest I've seen in a 2D game and the colorful world is definitely pleasing to the eye.
19/25 - Monster Tale offers a lot of replayability in its Chomp evolutions, but fall a little short on exploration aspects seen in similar Metroidvania games. After playing the game once you've essentially seen everything unless you didn't unlock all of the Chomp evolutions. It took me 7 hours to reach the end credits; however, more time will be needed to unlock all the Chomp evolutions. Also those who don't enjoy the "Metroidvania" style and backtracking in general will likely stay away from Monster Tale, those who don't mind it will embrace the title for its other unique qualities.
35/40 - Combat in general is actually pretty solid, even if it is almost identical to Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure. Exploration is a little disappointing and could definitely be fleshed out more. Monster Tale isn't a hard game; it has difficult moments, but nothing too overwhelming. Chomp is a very welcome game mechanic and discovering the new evolutions is very exciting. I would love to see this expanded on in future titles.
86/100 - Monster Tale is a unique game that every Nintendo DS owner should experience at least once. Raising Chomp is fun and tinkering with his abilities and stat boosts add some cool customization features. Not to mention that his help is welcome during the tougher boss battles. However, its Metroidvania gameplay does fall a little short on exploration, but the non-linear approach is done really well and there is plenty of backtracking to get all of Ellie's abilities. Fans of Metroidvania and Henry Hatsworth are encouraged to check out Monster Tale.