Title: Monsters and Monocles
Developer: Retro Dreamer
Publisher: Retro Dreamer
Released For: PC (Windows, MAC OSX, Linux)
Reviewing: PC (Windows)
DRM Versions Available
Released On: Aug 16th, 2016
MSRP: $14.99 Steam Link
Copy Provided By Developer Or Publisher
Welcome to the world of Monsters and Monocles! In this steampunk *starts to walk away* no-no, don’t go! This steampunk theme isn’t just an aesthetic, we promise! It has a blunderbuss! *raises eyebrow* “alright Monsters and Monocles, show me what you have to offer.” Let’s take a look at the game, shall we?
Monsters and Monocles is top-down, twin-stick shooter with a Victorian, pseudo-steampunk overlay. You have a variety of weapons, abilities, enemies to use said weapons and abilities on, a handful of bosses to brutally kill with fire, and the ability to play online *cough* or offline with up to 4 players.
As of the build I played, you have three worlds to explore. These worlds include generic mansion world, generic Egyptian world, and less-generic olde english style abandoned city. With each world, you have two randomized levels each with randomized objectives, one randomized shop level, and a boss level. The randomized objects come in a few forms. Some are just escaping to an exit, while others include killing X number of enemies or killing X number of a particular type of enemy. While the randomized levels are nice, they’re often confusing to navigate, and (excluding the Egyptian themed world) makes the other two words feel like mazes more than actual levels.
On a better note, the combat is fine if a bit simplistic. While some of the enemies you encounter have unique attacks, most of them are reskins of other enemies, or enemies with very similar abilities. Because the enemies act more as fodder than a challenge, they’re often grouped up in massive hoards, rather than smaller, more powerful groups. The movement speed is also slower, making what should be a fast-paced shooting, far slower.
As you blast your way through each level, you have the option to carry two weapons, three abilities, and whatever powerups you find along the way. You have a selection of weapons from a cannon that shoot crumpets, to a blunderbuss and flamethrower. While it’s clear some of the weapons are unbalanced (flamethrower and tri-shot are basically unstoppable) they are all fun to use if nothing else. With the abilities in mind, you have 23 abilities to find [sixteen or so available as of this review] that allow you to increase the damage of certain weapons, increase fire rate, increase pickup chance of certain things, etc. Again, it’s clear that they’re rather unbalanced as some are clearly better than others, but these are things that Early Access is for, so I don’t necessarily mind a lack of balance. Once you find these abilities, you can switch them up in your blimp. You also have the option to level them up via the gold you find from enemies or destroyable objects. While your guns aren’t given back to you when you die, your level ups are permanent, so it’s best to just spend all your gold on leveling something up in case you die, as gold also doesn’t transfer when you die. However, this becomes counter-intuitive because you only get 1,500(ish) gold for each level, and once you find the three clearly over-powered abilities, it becomes increasingly more difficult to level them up because you are forced to just go through each world multiple times, unintentionally ruining any desire to replay the game. As for the powerups, most of them have one benefit and one negative. The only exception is an ability that basically gives you an extra life. They’re nice abilities, but you can’t see what they do until you already activated them, which defeats the purpose of them having pros and cons if you can’t see the pros or cons and have to either guess or rely on memory. As said prior, the combat’s simplistic, but it’s still dumb fun even including the lack of balance.
As for the co-op bits, I wouldn’t know how the online portion worked as I tried three different days at three different times and couldn’t find a game available. As for the offline co-op, I really didn’t feel like inviting my friends to my 99 square foot office hunched around my 23” monitors. It seems fun for an hour if I could actually get three other nitwits, but I can’t. The only experience I have with the co-op was when my controller detached, I reattached it, and the game acted like I suddenly put in a new controller and gave me two characters on my screen. I couldn’t get the second player off, I couldn’t pause the game with escape, and control-alt-delete wasn’t working, so I had to do a hard reset on the computer. I’m aware it’s just a bug, but the point of these ‘early access impressions’ articles are to address issues that are present. Other than that, I think that the lack of balance with one player might make the game almost too easy with any more than two people, but again, I wouldn’t know since I didn’t play online and couldn’t find a match. Most of this could be avoided if there was some way to figure out what keys are mapped to what, but there’s currently nowhere in the game to check the keyboard layout. Regardless of the fact whether you do or don’t have a controller plugged in, the game will still prompt you with controller-only buttons. Again, this is stuff I expect to see fixed by the time it’s released. This is just me listing the random bugs I found and the random quips I have that the viewer or reader may want to know prior to considering a purchase.
As for the game’s visuals, it’s probably the thing that first attracted both myself and others to the game. It’s bright, colorful, and stylized. Some things fall flat, like the lighting effects, but the game as a whole is still bright and colorful. While the themes themselves are rather generic, a good chunk of the enemies, specifically those in the city theme, is unique and looks interesting. The best way I could describe the look of this game is if you’ve ever played the game ‘Age of Zombies’. Visually, they both have similar qualities, with Monsters and Monocles being just slightly more pixilated in the same vein as Zombies Ate My Neighbors.
As for the audio, while leaning towards the generic side, it’s certainly not bad by any means and provides decent accompaniment as you play through the game. While playing, I noticed a few tracks playing one too many times, which would probably be why it leaned on the side of generic for me. If the style sounds familiar, it’s probably because it’s by Hyperduck Soundworks, the same people who did the Dust: An Elysian Tail soundtrack.
As for the controls, I’ve already mentioned my slight gripes with the multiplayer. For the controls themselves, they’re fairly responsive and work fine, though this is highly recommended for now as a controller only game until the gripes with the keyboard are resolved. As for settings, you have a basic variety of resolution options, vsync, fullscreen, etc. They do have some kind of ‘experimental camera’, but the game crashed as soon as I turned it on and tried to start the game, so take that as is.
Overall, I had fun with the game for the time I played with it. The visuals are great, the core gameplay elements are present, and a good chunk of what needs to be in the game is already in there.