Monster Tale is one of the last few Nintendo DS games and promises to be “The next great DS game” on the packaging. Does this statement hold true?
You start off as Ellie, a little blue haired girl who, after picking up a mysterious bracelet, has somehow found her way into a strange land where monsters live. Soon she encounters a large egg out of which a cute, friendly monster hatches. Ellie decides to call that monster Chomp and promises it to find its mother while she looks for a way to get back home. The newly founded team thus starts its adventure.
You mostly control Ellie with the D-pad and the buttons on the Nintendo DS on the top screen, whereas Chomp’s abilities, which can range from supportive to ranged and close attack skills, can be set on L and R. By either tapping the lower screen or pressing the X button you can call Chomp to the bottom screen, where all the items you collect throughout your travels land. Down there Chomp will interact with said items as long as he’s down there. You can tell him what to interact with but you can’t directly make him stop doing anything unless you call him back up. As long as Chomp is on the top screen he slowly loses health, which can be lost during battle as well and also serves as the cost for his abilities. On the lower screen he regains his health relatively quickly, even while he does things. The items he interacts with give him experience points and – most of the time – stat boosts, which makes screen-management key in raising your friend and partner well. That is not all though, as Chomp gains different forms throughout the Tale, which are all either of the earth, water of fire element, providing a neat rock-paper-scissors-system during battle. At certain points, you unlock “older” forms, which might be stronger but slower and so on. Ellie herself can not level up and also won’t gain any abilities through battle or the likes. She starts off being able to swing around her bag for melee combat and shoot energy bullets from the bracelet, which uses up her “super energy”, which can be filled up again by hitting enemies with your bag. In order to progress, Ellie needs to find shrines which will bless her with new abilities like the wall-jump, the charge-shot, the dash and so on.
If you haven’t guessed it by now, this game has a lot in common with games of the so-called Metroidvania genre and doesn’t seem to try and hide that fact, as the map screen is almost identical to the one in those games. There is a lot of backtracking and exploring to be done in order to make it anywhere, but sadly, Monster Tale takes you by the hand a lot and points to exactly where you need to go almost all the time, not even giving you a chance to remember what you might have been able to do with this new ability you just gained. This “feature” kind of takes away some of the rewarding feeling you usually get in Metroid games and the like. The controls are tight though and there is a cool juggle/combo mechanic that is never explained, which nets you more items the more often you manage to hit your opponent, even after you have knocked them out, which is strangely addicting. At some point, I was specifically using a skill on chomp just to prolong the amount of times I could juggle defeated opponents.
The character, monster and world designs are cute and lovable, each area of the game very distinct from each other one and the animations leave no room for complaints. Only the fact that Chomp-abilities that he learned in one form will make Chomp look like he is in that form while performing it even if he looks entirely different at that point feels a little lazy. The music is pretty good. Not outstanding or incredibly memorable, but good and never a bother. The voice acting is kind of lacking though. There is not a lot of it, but Ellie herself sounds more like an annoying little boy than a nice little girl and the rest of the voiced cast sound decent at best.
My biggest gripe with this game is how consistently good it is. That might sound weird, but hear me out: At the beginning there is the huge promise of a great Metroidvania experience, lots of exploration and all that good stuff, but it never quite gets better from there. It always keeps up that “good” level but never makes true on its promises. It is thoroughly enjoyable and I can’t complain about a lot of things, but I really wish it had stepped up at some point and slapped me in the face with something outstanding. As it stands though, it is just a good game.