It seems that every system is fated to have late-life gems that get overshadowed by the looming presence of the next generation. We’re sitting here crossing our fingers that Monster Tale, the new game from Henry Hatsworth developers DreamRift, doesn’t meet the same fate.
And it’s quite problematic to type with crossed fingers, so we’d really have to mean it to be doing this.
In Monster Tale, you play as Ellie, a little girl with a bracelet and a bag. She finds an egg and hatches it, and names the strange creature that pops out Chomp. And Chomp follows Ellie around everywhere. You feed Chomp cookies and give him toys and generally help him grow and be happy. At this point in the description, it may be hard to believe that this game is essentially the best Metroid-style game in years. But off Ellie goes, moving back and forth across the same areas, acquiring new abilities and using them to access previously-blocked pathways. She has melee attacks and ranged ones, and while range has its advantages, there’s a meter that depletes with each shot and fills with each melee hit, so a balanced attack is usually best.
Chomp comes into play too. While he resides on the bottom screen with whatever items you end up giving him, this is much less of a pet simulation game than it originally appears to be. Really, you’re just acquiring stat-boost items. (Think Chaos, but without picking them up and hugging them.) Chomp levels up, has different forms and elemental alignments and gets larger. Why does all this matter? He learns different moves in each form, and you can summon Chomp to the top screen with X and use his attacks with the L and R buttons. He’s very powerful, but he can only stay up and fighting until a meter hits zero and makes him rest. With a bit of micromanagement, you can summon Chomp up, use a move, send him back down and repeat, and generally have him when you need him. It’s in the game’s boss battles where it’s a bit more of an issue. (All of these boss battles are against the few other humans in this land of monsters, who have all seized power and divided the land to rule it.)
It’s not a perfect game by any means. Ellie learns new abilities a bit too quickly near the beginning of the game, so that the limited skill set isn’t explored as much as it could have been. The base monsters could have used a bit more variety, as you quickly learn the patterns and take them all out fairly easily. Also, and we hate to say it, but with only five areas, it’s a little short. Thankfully, the multitude of form options for Chomp, as well as the purchaseable upgrades for Ellie’s stats, make it worth a few playthroughs to fully explore, and the game stands up to a bit of repetition.
Generally, though, Monster Tale is impressive. The music is upbeat and, while the soundtrack’s a bit limited, it fades into the background so it’s not an issue. The visual style is clearly late-generation, going with a bright, simple palette that will age well and appeal to the demographic that may not be able to jump so quickly to the next device.
Monster Tale is destined to land on Most Overlooked DS Games lists. Thankfully, though, you’re reading this now, so you can totally go pick it up today. It has an irresistible combination of modern multitasking sophistication and classic tried-and-true exploration gameplay.
Pros: Deep customization, classic Metroidvania gameplay
Cons: A bit short, a few pacing issues