- Developer: Game Atelier
- Publisher: FDG Entertainment
- Release Date: 04/12/2018
- Price: £34.99 / $39.99
- Review code provided by FDG
Boy, look at all this wonder…
Back when I first laid eyes on Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom (back when it was going by “Monster Boy and the Wizard of Booze‘), I was amazed at what I was seeing. A spiritual successor to the Wonder Boy series, with a beautiful art style and a more modern take on the classic formula? As a massive Wonder Boy fan, how could I not be excited for this one? Every piece of information and gameplay they showed looked incredible as well, so when I was given the opportunity to review this one, I jumped at the chance with both feet.
The story of Monster Boy begins with a drunkard wielding a magic wand wreaking havoc in the kingdom. This maniac is using the wand to turn everyone into animals, which is quite the nuisance to have to deal with. Unfortunately, this drunk fool is the uncle of our hero, Jin, and as such, he feels he has a need to set everything right, assuring everyone that his uncle isn’t really a bad guy and something must be wrong.
When Jin confronts his kin, he is turned into a fat hog with a strong sense of smell. Determined to get everyone back to normal, Jin sets off to track down powerful orbs that end up having the fortunate ability to allow him to change into different animal forms. And thus, the adventure truly begins.
Animal forms sure are handy
Monster Boy is a 2D platformer at its core, with aspects of a metroidvania. A lot of the blueprints of this game is very similar to the classic Wonder Boy titles, such as Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap (which you can read my review of that game here). However, unlike The Dragon’s Trap, you can change your animal forms on the fly, and puzzles are crafted around switching between your different bodies to take advantage of each creatures skills.
The different abilities of each animal are all quite clever, and are used for solving puzzles in interesting ways. For instance, the pig uses its nose to sniff out secrets, can butt slam the ground, and is of a heavier weight than the other forms. The snake is small enough to slip through small holes, can climb moss covered walls, and is also able to spit venom.
Switching between forms isn’t just needed for solving puzzles though. Traversing the world will also require quite a bit of form changes, and moving through each area is an absolute joy. Being forced to switch between forms makes getting around much more involved than just retreading the same areas you’ve been, so when the metroidvania aspects present themselves, retracing your steps doesn’t become a chore.
The controls themselves are very tight and responsive. This game just feels plain good to play. Your character moves as you would want him to, which makes the areas that require some precise platforming feel fair. There was no aspect of the game where I felt that I was wrestling with the controls. Switching between forms is done using a circular wheel, which comes up when you press one of the trigger buttons. I honestly would have liked the game to remember my last form so I could switch quickly to my previous form with a press, and select with a hold, but unfortunately you have to use the wheel every single time.
The maps themselves are a joy to explore… for the most part. In the early stages of the game, the areas are very reminiscent of Wonder Boy, in that dying due to falling down a death gap is just not a thing that happens. If you say miss a jump and fall down a gap, you will fall down to a new area, with potential items and secrets to find. This aspect is what makes the exploration so great, allowing you to not only be able to explore where you wouldn’t be able in other games, but also find things through making mistakes. Because of this, the game feels much more rewarding and just plain fun.
Unfortunately they abandon this about eight or so hours in, adding in falls that send you back to the start of the area, and having obstacles that will quickly kill you. This isn’t a bad thing by any means, but I found the shift a little jarring, and much preferred the stronger focus on exploration in the beginning, rather than the traditional platformer elements introduced after the strong opening hours.
Time for the stabby stabby
Combat is rather simplistic, but also quite fun. You have you standard attack button, which will use either your sword or a physical attack. Each form then has its own abilities they can use. For instance, the pig can use items and magic, while the dragon can spit fireballs and use fire breath. The different ways each form can fight will change the way you tackle an enemy based on what animal you are attacking with. Of course, you can change mid battle whenever you want, and some enemies are much weaker against certain forms than others.
You can purchase new weapons and armour as you progress through the game, each of which have their own stats and special abilities. You can get boots that allow you to double jump, swords that freeze enemies and water, shields that reflect certain projectiles, the list goes on. Some of these new pieces of gear are required to solve certain puzzles, and each are upgradable.
To upgrade your gear, you need to first acquire certain stones that are generally hidden away by optional puzzles. I found working out these puzzles very satisfying, so when it came time to upgrade gear, I had so many stones I could pretty much upgrade what I wanted. That is a testament to how much fun the puzzle design is. Anyway, upgrading items can do minimal things, like upgrade stats, to major changes, such as being able to freeze the water you walk on. These upgrades, though mostly unnecessary to progress, add a lot to the game overall.
What I didn’t like
The midway point of the game, I started to largely dislike certain portions of the game. This started at the volcano area, where they start to punish you with death for failing puzzles, rather than letting you work out what you need to do to continue. Dying itself wasn’t the main issue I had though, as that is a part of a lot of games. The issue I had was with the save points.
The save points started to be less forgiving, forcing you to trudge through areas you have already been just to attempt a puzzle you are trying to solve. Some of these points would be two minutes away, and would require you to redo puzzles you had solved to get to the new puzzle which you needed to work out. The save points from this moment on don’t get better either, with some areas it actually getting worse. This was quite a jarring change, as the save points up until then had been great.
I also found the game started to overstay its welcome a bit as well. I know a lot of people will enjoy the fact that the game is so long, but as the game slowly morphed into a game I wasn’t having as much fun with when I started, so too did my overall enjoyment of the game slowly wane. This is by no means a major deal breaker, and in fact some people may very much enjoy the fact the game keeps going and going and going. They may also enjoy the way the game changes more than the starting hours of the game, but for me the game started to push me away.
Cartoon charm at the farm
The art design in Monster Boy is just so incredible. From the cartoon art style, to the character and enemy designs, every aspect of this game is beautiful. The animations are so smooth too, and gives the game a level of polish that is just astounding. Little things like the lighting change when you use thunderbolts, to the way the backgrounds scroll in such a way to give you a sense of depth to the world, it is just a masterclass in visual design.
And then there is the music. Every track in this game is amazing, from the new music created just for the game, to the remixes of classic Wonder Boy songs, every single piece to the soundtrack is stellar. The audio design with quite good too, with each sword swing and enemy sound fitting perfectly within the world they have created.
Monster Boy is a worthy successor to the classic Wonder Boy series. It takes the feel of those old games, modernises the formula, and creates something that honestly stands against some of the big hitters that released this year. Although I did find the tonal shift in the gameplay midway through rather jarring and not to my liking, the game overall was still excellent. Its look is stunning, and the soundtrack is a pure joy to experience. This one easily ranks among my favourites in the Wonder Boy series of games.