Monster Tale serves as an interesting swan song to the Nintendo DS, while it probably won’t be remember as one of the last titles, it is a quirky mixture of old school design, and the capabilities of the DS, that truly embodies some of the best of the best on the little handheld. Monster Tale isn’t without its fault, but offers a solid package thus far.
The basic design (at least for the top half of the game) will remind fans of Metroidvania style of game play. You get to explore an extremely vibrant planet with some interesting foes. You’ll encounter (in my experience so far), lush grassy areas, damp water based areas and ancient ruins! I’m sure there will be more varied and interesting location as the game opens up.
Speaking of opening up the word, the game uses an upgrade system with RPG elements. The main character, Ellie, who you control throughout your adventure is equipped with the BAND (spelling from the game and yes that’s the name!) which allows her to shoot projectiles at her enemies. As the game progresses, it is upgraded to shoot further, and faster with various power-ups scattered throughout the planet. She is also given a melee ability quickly into the game which allows her to knock around foes when her ammo meter is low. All in all it works pretty well, and the upgrades come quickly, I’ve amassed more than half a dozen in the first 90 minutes of playing.
The RPG elements come into play with your partner, CHOMP, who serves as your second in command. The little creature ( at least at the beginning) follows you around on screen, and is willing to take out some foes/damage them for you. However, being exposed to the world drains CHOMP’s energy and you must send him to his sanctuary on the bottom screen to re-energize.
This all sounds pretty tame, but it starts to take on a life of its own when the items you collect come into play. During the course of your journey, you will come across cookies, turkeys, dumbbells, scrolls, books and so much more. Instead of going into an inventory, all of this stuff is dumped on the bottom screen and can be “acquired” by CHOMP for various stat boosts and EXP. Some of the stuff even has practical applications for assisting Ellie, like the race car which would drive around the edge of the screen hitting enemies or the Frisbee which serves as a shield for a short period of time.
In addition to this uses, the items also grant CHOMP EXP as I mentioned before, but depending on what you find him, you also unlock various powers and forms. For example, finding him a lot of ice cream, I was finally able to unlock his first water based form. If you give him a lot of scrolls and books to play with, he will unlock a smarter, but not nearly as strong version of him. The great thing about this system is it allows you to go back to any prior form at any time so you don’t have to worry about unlocking the wrong path and being locked out of a certain type of CHOMP. Though variety is the spice of life so be sure to check out his various forms.
While this hasn’t come up often thus far, there are also occasions where enemies will venture down to the bottom screen, and you must send CHOMP down there to do battle.
Like I said before, I’ve only encountered it twice in the game so far so I’m not sure how much of a staple it becomes.
Some of the issues I’ve had with the games will vary from person to person, but I really can’t stand the sound effects used for the main characters. It makes my ears bleed whenever they grunt during battle to the point that I want to mute my DS.
Also the game does kind of hold your hands, if you didn’t like the hint system in the Metroid Prime games, you are REALLY going to hate this system, which not only points out exactly where you need to go, but is nice enough to tell you if you have to venture to a completely different part of the world. In essence, it pretty much takes out any of the exploration needed in these types of games. And I’m sure some games would like it, while others will scoff at the idea.
Finally, I should touch on the story, which is done with text based conversation. It seems pretty cool, but rather generic with a youthful touch. All of the main characters are kids, and the game kind of plays up on that. The main villain so far reminds me of a spoilt Princess Peach, but I’m not sure if that was the intended purpose.
Recommendation: I’m roughly 2 hours into the game and have already completed 25% of it based on the game’s internal counter so you are looking about 8-10 hours to beat the game. It is fun and enjoyed especially if Other M and Lord of Shadows didn’t give you your Metroidvania hit. With that said, I would recommend it as a rental. It doesn’t seem like it will offer much replayability, and coming out between the 3DS launch and the release of PokeMon Black/White all but guarantees that it will be ignored, but still worth a play!