Do you like bland 3D graphics, endless mindless grinding, a complete lack of real objectives, randomized dungeons, and somewhat uninspiring top-down Action RPG combat? If you managed to say yes to all of the above, then perhaps you’ll quite enjoy the endless combat tedium found in Monster Adventures (out now, $2.99), a game from the makers of Block Fortress (our review) and Heroes and Castles (our review). While Foursaken Media’s latest interactive offering is far from the worst thing out there on the iDevice marketplace, the ultimate fact is that there’s easily so many superior choices.
The plot – a word I use here in a very loose sense – is that you one day moved to the town of Yerpa, immediately afterwards someone asks you to fetch him some water from the village well. While on the errand you find a human-sized spirit-monster that immediately begins following you around, a fact that doesn’t really seem to bother you all that much in the slightest. When you return with the water you are informed that you’re so lucky to now have a monster, and that you should immediately start training him up to enter the monster tournament for the glory of Yerpa. I swear that the above is the entire plot, and I that have in no way skimped out on any of the subtleties or nuances to be found in the rich narrative tapestry that is known only as Monster Adventures.
Is at this point that the endless grinding commences as you begin taking your monster to a nearby grassy field, which is comprised of a randomized dungeon each and every time you reenter the location. A mini-map in the upper left hand corner will show you the entire dungeon layout, including the escape point – the warp tile to the next level of the dungeon – and where the optional boss is (if the floor even has one). Although there exist single use items that can immediately advance you an entire floor, each and every time you restart the dungeon – whether you came out dead or alive during the previous run – your monsters gets to go back to the very first floor.
Usually most rooms will let you walk straight through them, but every now and then you will run across an area that locks the door/entrance and won’t let you leave until every last ‘wildling’ inside has been defeated/captured. While this can sometimes happen on rooms that you previously travelled through with no incident, it will always happen whenever you enter one of the randomly placed boss-monster rooms. Considering that a wipe means losing almost all of the progress you’ve made during that trip, and bosses are often brutal encounters, it’s nice that the developers let you know where these are in advance.
The entirety of your controls are – for the most part – handled through a virtual analog joystick on the lower left, and a singular action button on the screen’s lower right hand side. The action button will let you perform whichever action type you currently have equipped – assuming it isn’t in cool down – from the four abilities listed on the upper right corner, with a new action type selected by tapping one of the icons. The exception to this rule are any self-buffs – and also certain indirect battle options – which activate the moment you tap their icon, instead of replacing your currently selected attack option. You can easily change which four ability types you currently have equipped via accessing Monster Adventure’s pause menu, which is reachable both while in town and mid-dungeon.
As far as pure responsiveness goes, the controls of Monster Adventures manages to work quite reliably and you won’t find yourself touching the screen just to have the wrong response happen. That said, you’ll still be constantly vexed because this game has plenty of issues in how it is controlled other than whether or not your touch-screen inputs managed to register correctly. Every action button command – even the basic punch attack – has an annoyingly long wind up, meaning that you have to stand perfectly still until the animation ends if you want to hit the target. Considering that almost every enemy tends to have some way of hitting you from the opposite end of the room, and your monster dies rather easily, this request to not dodge is generally far easier said than done.
This problem is especially profound when you are first starting, where the game often seems to want to spawn a trio of enemies – known as ‘Fuzzies’ – right on top of you when you enter the dungeon. If you try to move while attacking, then you will miss and not hit any of them, but if you don’t move then you will instead get violently decimated – as your starting punch has no stun properties – by all three of them. Honestly – if it wasn’t my job to review this game – then a few rounds of this would have been precisely where I walked away from Monster Adventures, as there’s so many better games of this type available on iTunes.
Eventually you will get enough money to start buying essences to make your monster less than complete failure, but very slowly as you will be losing half of what little you collected upon dying. Each day a limited number of randomly selected essences will be purchasable from a vendor in town, with a booster pack of extra random unidentified essences available as an IAP. It is with these essences that you can customize both the stats and appearances of your monster, and also effect how much more powerful they permanently become on level-up, but not their abilities (more on that later).
When you equip one of these essences – which can also occasionally be found in treasure chests – you will have to first select whether you’re putting it on your monster’s head, torso, arms, or legs. The stats you get from the essences – which can thankfully be taken back off with no repercussions – don’t change based on where you equip them, just which part of your monster’s appearance is affected. Unfortunately there is no combination of essences that is ever going to make your monster look all that terribly interesting, as everything in this game is extremely simplistic looking in a wholly bland way.
Normally the point of simplistic graphics is to usually make something look cute – quaint – or charming, but there is no part of Monster Adventure’s presentation that comes off as anything other than just bland. Your human avatar – when in town – is basically a non-descript sphere sitting on top of a cylinder, and I’ve seen many Playstation 1 era games have character models that looked far better than your monster. Normally iDevice games use simplistic presentations in order to keep resource needs down, but I can confirm that Monster Adventures – even with its bland graphics – still has the potential to crash completely at random (costing you valuable progress).
Anyways, the aforementioned abilities are obtained by catching large – sometimes obscenely so – quantities of the ‘Wildlings’ that are constantly trying to kill you every time you leave town. These creatures – unlike Pokémon – are not going to be added to your army, instead they’re taken to a scientist in Yerpa to see what he can reverse engineer about their methods via study. Often times the amount of creatures you need to capture in order to learn something will be obscenely high, especially since this part of Monster Adventures involves massively painful fun-times with random number generators.
As you smack a monster around a percentage value over his head will count upwards, which represents the odd of you successfully capturing it with your trusty – or rather, not so trusty – butterfly net. The butterfly night is permanently set to a fifth icon next to the four buttons that represent your current ability load out, and when selected you can swing the net at any time – so long as you let it cool down first – via the attack button. The net also suffers from the ‘attempting to turn while swinging’ dilemma that your standard attacks are plagued by, but there is a far more grave issue here that makes Monster Adventures become a complete nightmare.
Your initial net can never have more than a 50% chance to capture any particular ‘Wildling’, but that in no way means you’ll actually succeed with 50% of your monster capture attempts. Realistically speaking it’ll often take anywhere upwards of five or more missed swings before you finally catch a monster, all while running around like a beheaded chicken as you attempt to avoid dying between attempts. This is especially painful early on when you have no abilities whatsoever to speak of, or later on when you finally start moving deeper into a dungeon and then discover monsters that profoundly outclass you all over again (and the only way to catch up is to first get their superior abilities).
Your first net upgrade, which goes for 1000 pieces of gold – which is already a lot – increases your maximum possible percentage chance for a catch only slightly up to a mere 55%. The next net after that – and they must be purchased in order – sells for a whopping 2500 gold and only goes up to a 60% catch rate, and the prices only get more staggeringly insane after that. There’s just no fun at all in grinding through a large number of monsters to get a new ability when you also have to grind multiple failures to catch the same singular monster, all while he tries to kill you, in a row.
Oh, and let’s not forget that you won’t be able to capture a monster at all if your spirit-creature hasn’t been set to the exact same element as the ‘Wilding’ you’re aiming to takedown. Your monster begins unaligned, with no weakness or strengths against any of the other elements, and can be set to one of the given elements for a fee involving a special currency type. The fire element is more powerful against those using grass, grass is better versus rock, rock trumps over bolt, bolt conquers water, and water decimates anything involving the fire element.
The special currency that imbues your monster with one of these elements are these blue spheres that are a extremely rare drops unless you purchase them with IAPs, or get them via the painful quest system. Quests – which will pay out horribly, unless you successfully do many of them in a row – will ask you to do things such as get two treasure drops in a single run (more RNG fun), capture a large volume of one particular monster (even more RNG fun), or capture some massively large monster quantity such as 75 (so much RNG fun you’ll explode with joy). You’ll be need to do this fast too, since as early as the first dungeon’s second floor you will start running into monsters – all of whom are elementally imbued – that are too powerful for any of the tricks you have so far.
One smart thing that Monster Adventures did do was to feature an in program menu that lets you queue up music on your actual iPod, instead of asking you to listen to its few repetitive tunes over and over. When you ask someone to do epic amounts of grinding, so that you can grind some more afterwards, all so that they can finally get around to the real grinding, and then eventually get on to even more grinding, you don’t want them going insane from hearing your soundtrack over and over too much. Honestly, this is an amazingly smart feature – since Apple’s devices began their lives with the intention of being music players first – that I think far more iDevice games should start including.
Ultimately, while Monster Adventures honestly isn’t too bad – and you certainly could have found worse – only a special sort of profoundly masochistic sort will enjoy the never ending bland grinding that it contains. However, for the exact same price – assuming you’re really hoping for some top-down 3D action RPG gameplay – you could just as easily get the far superior TrouserHeart (our review) instead. That game won’t make you grind your brains out, won’t randomly crash on you, features better graphics, has controls that won’t have you oddly missing attacks, and won’t force you to do extra grinding (on top of all the other grinding) if you don’t want to acquire lots of IAP money.
iFanzine Verdict: While a certain sort of masochistic power grinder may be in absolute heaven with the colossal grind that is Monster Adventures, and enjoy controlling their stat growth and ability pool, everyone else will be ground into a paste by the colossal monotony. Worse yet, the game is profoundly bland looking and provides so little motivation for anything going on that its sham of a plot makes many other paper-thin games appear to be written by Shakespeare. There’s just so much better than you can find – both paid and free – such as the far superior TrouserHeart, which is currently available for the exact same price as this unbearable grind-fest.