Sometimes you play a game and you just can’t categorize it as one particular genre. When it was first announced, different sources were calling Majesco’s Monster Tale a pet-simulator mixed with platform elements. I was hesitant at first to try it out mainly because of this “pet” portion thinking that I’d be playing one of those games that has you raising and caring for your pooch or kitty and watching him grow. Thankfully, that’s not what this game is at all and it quickly became a DS game I couldn’t put down. Dreamrift has created a game very similar in design to Henry Hatsworth, but they have replaced its puzzle aspects with a new feature that gives a spin to the classic Metroidvania games.
Monster Tale features a kind yet tough little girl named Ellie who finds her way into a fantasy world where bratty children are kings and queens and use monsters as their slaves. She finds a magic band that lets her shoot projectiles from her wrist and then happens upon a large egg that hatches into a small monster she names Chomp. Eventually she finds out the Kid Kings are children from her own world but harbor cruel intentions to take over that world too. Ellie, however, is different and befriends Chomp and makes it her mission to bring peace to the monster world. It’s a simple story, but Ellie’s adventure is sure to entice Metroid enthusiasts.
If you’ve played Metroid or Castlevania, you’ll know what you’re getting into. Monster Tale takes you on an adventure spanning five different kingdoms that are all interconnected via tunnels and doorways. You’ll have to find power-ups for Ellie’s band and new abilities along the way to unlock new areas. This means you will be doing a lot of backtracking. So much in fact that it gets a bit ridiculous traveling back through so many rooms only to find yourself traveling back right after getting your power-up. You’ve basically made your way across the entire map for just one item. This happens often, but there is enough action and cut-scenes here and there to make it less noticeable. Though I will say that it feels good to discover each one of Ellie’s new powers.
Unfortunately, the game doesn’t let you do much exploring since as soon as you get a new power-up, the map will display the next room you need to go to for the next power-up or switch. I understand this was perhaps implemented to let younger or less experienced players have a more enjoyable experience, but it might take some of the fun away from more veteran gamers. Also, some rooms have multiple levels and doorways that make using the map an essential part of playing the game. I always looked at it to avoid entering the wrong room and having to fight my way back through a horde of monsters.
Exploration aside, the game’s bottom screen is home to your little friend Chomp who lives in his Sanctuary until he is needed upstairs by Ellie’s side. I say upstairs, because that’s exactly how the game treats his location. Whenever you need Chomp, you can call him to your side to help you attack enemies and lend you his strength. He can also be called to help you activate switches that Ellie can’t reach. The game treats these two screens as if they were connected. Enemies will sometimes make their way to Chomp’s home and you then have to send him downstairs to take care of them or else they will attack Ellie from below. Whenever Chomp is upstairs, his life bar slowly goes down so you’ll need to send him to his Sanctuary to recover.
Each time Chomp defeats an enemy, he gains experience to level up. Monster Tale has a very engrossing leveling up system for Chomp that you could compare to Pokemon even. Each time he levels up, his stats go up and he can also learn abilities that you can assign to the shoulder buttons. These also require energy from his life bar, but they are a great supplement to Ellie’s attacks. Chomp can also evolve and his new forms can be either water, fire, or earth. His moves also reflect his element so that means certain enemies will react differently to Chomp’s various attacks.
Chomp has many evolutions that are locked at first. Their descriptions tell you what types of items you need to give to Chomp to unlock them. Pet items can be purchased from monster merchants and they can also be dropped by enemies. You can give Chomp food, books, and toys to help him unlock his new evolutions. Once he evolves into a new form, you can always switch back to other forms at will. Each form has its own attacks that can eventually be equipped by other forms after Chomp uses them enough. With so many evolutions and abilities to unlock, some players might spend spend most of their time just trying to unlock each one. Plus, there really is no wrong way to train Chomp as different players will have preferences over different abilities. My favorite one is his Vertical Spike. I think I used that move a little too much.
Ellie also gains new abilities through the course of the game that will remind some of how Samus gains her wall jump and charge abilities in her game. While the game is heavily inspired by Metroid and Castlevania games, hence giving it the “Metroidvania” sub-genre, Monster Tale is a more cheerful version of these two games, and perhaps even a lighter version. Ellie will travel through different colorful worlds inhabited by monsters and fight bosses that are unique and sometimes a bit difficult, especially in the final portions of the game. But the rest of the game isn’t too hard, especially with the map telling you where to go next. The game also doesn’t have many secret areas that can be discovered, so unlike the classics, Monster Tale is a bit toned down. Sometimes I wish the game had implemented some form of teleportation system to avoid all the cumbersome backtracking though.
No matter how you categorize Monster Tale, don’t let its childish appearance fool you. The upbeat soundtrack is catchy and not at all annoying. Though, some of the voice acting is a bit unnecessary, especially from one of the Kid Kings in particular. Any fan of classic “Metroidvania” games should definitely check out Monster Tale. It may suffer from a map layout that makes backtracking a bit of a pain, but it gives you a lovable monster to make up for it. He will grow though, so he won’t stay cute forever!
A copy of Monster Tale for the DS was provided to us for this review.