The game industry has had an obsession with bringing back the golden era of platforming games. When Mario initially paved the way for a torrent of platformers that would subsequently change the lives of many gamers and even introduce many to the medium itself. It is, simply put, gaming in its purest form. Distilled into a blend of fun, adventure and satisfying gameplay. Platforming games have become the darling of the indie scene with more platformers out there than you could ever believe. The reason for that is because the genre is so easy to emulate and difficult to really mess up, but that usually leads to bland and throwaway experiences.
The same cannot be said for Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom.
The game is part of the long-running Wonder Boy franchise that has had quite the storied history. It isn’t directly related to those games and is rather a combination of Monster World and Wonder Boy, hence the name. It aimed to capture the essence of the previous games but put some new modern spins on it and for the most part, they have succeeded.
Riding the cloud
Monster Boy puts you into the shoes of Jin, an unassuming boy with blue hair and the urge for adventure. His village gets uprooted by Uncle Nabu, a despicable old man riding a cloud who turns the entire kingdom into anthropomorphised animals, including Jin. This obviously creates some distress in his village and it ultimately falls on Jin’s shoulders to remove the curse and stop his uncle. The supporting cast is, as you can expect, also a bunch of animals and the back and forth between them and Jin is rather jovial.
The game is decidedly self-aware, throwing a bunch of meta jokes and humorous dialogue in which makes the whole experience feel rather light-hearted. The story isn’t anything to write home about and mainly serves as a framing device for the various levels that you’re going to be playing, but the funny lines and cute characters make an experience you want to see through to the end.
You’re an animal, baby
Jin’s ultimate goal is to collect six orbs that will put a stop to all the madness and each of these orbs grant Jin a new animal form. You first start out as a pig, who is able to sniff out secrets and do a ground pound, but as you progress through a level, you see that there are many areas that can only be accessed using abilities that you don’t have. As you can tell, the game is a Metroidvania and quite a proficient one at that. Each animal form you acquire gives new abilities that you can use for traversal such as a snake that can slither on mossy surfaces and cramped areas or a frog that can use its tongue to get to new areas.
The game is decidedly self-aware, throwing a bunch of meta jokes and humorous dialogue in which makes the whole experience feel rather light-hearted.
That’s all standard fare for a Metroidvania, but the implementation of all these abilities and skills is where the game shines. Each of these forms has different offensive capabilities as well, meaning you can swiftly switch between your various forms to do some damage to enemies and gain an advantage. In later stages, these abilities are also used for some clever puzzle solving, often in the form of multi-layered solutions that are really satisfying to ultimately figure out.
Hopping and stabbing along
Platforming is obviously a big part of Monster Boy and that is, in fact, what you will be doing for the majority of the game. Jumping around from platform to platform, fighting enemies that crawl out of the woodwork and finding your way to the next area is the name of the game. In that respect, it’s decidedly old-school and the game is definitely old-school in terms of its difficulty. While having the cutesy and often non-confrontational aesthetic, it doesn’t shy away from giving the players a challenge.
Monster Boy is an extremely easy game to like.
The difficulty curve is slightly too steep at the beginning of the game, throwing you straight into the deep end and not giving you much to swim with. This gets resolved once you get better gear and more transformations, but it would have benefitted the game a lot in the long run if it eased you into the experience a little more gently. What also makes the game more difficult is the fact that the controls don’t often work with you and can be really finicky at times. Plenty of times I’ve gotten hit out of nowhere or my jumps didn’t register like they were supposed to, making for some extreme and unfortunate deaths.
This does sully the overall experience quite a bit since the difficulty along with the wonky controls can become a big source of frustration. However, for the majority of the time, the game plays pretty well. It’s smooth, it’s elegant and it does the job with gusto. Also, the game is pretty merciful with mistakes, providing frequent checkpoints and chances to gain health. Sometimes the checkpoints are a little too far away and force you to do entire sections again, but it’s not a constant problem.
Slithering into your heart
Monster Boy is a beautiful game in terms of its art style. Each character is distinct and has a lot of visual personality and the hand-drawn backdrops are gorgeous at times. It’s extremely colourful as well and combined with the often chipper and upbeat soundtrack, which is also fantastic by the way, it’s just a really pleasant game to play. There’s also a constant sense of progression in the form of extra gear that you can buy using coins you get all around the world. It’s not a fully-fledged RPG experience, but the few RPG elements within it are a great way to give the game more variety.
I especially loved the boss fights in this game because of their often hilarious and clever designs and these bosses aren’t going down easy, often coming in the form of multi-stage fights that often forces you to be quick on your feet with your transformations. Some bosses are even mini-puzzles in themselves and it continuously surprised me what new tricks they pull out of the hat.
Monster Boy is an extremely easy game to like. It plays great, it looks great, it sounds great, there are some really clever designs and it’s altogether just a really wonderful little game to sink your teeth into. The game has a surprisingly considerable run time, clocking in at around 15 hours for just the base completion. During this time, you’ll be going through many worlds in a quest to return everything to normal and the combination of all the game’s strengths makes this a game that you shouldn’t ignore.
If you’re a platformer fan, this game should be a no-brainer as it pretty much embodies the genre in the most flattering way possible. For everyone else, I’d still give this game a hearty recommendation because of everything it just does so right. Be careful of the initial difficulty spike and the loose controls and you should have an absolute whale of a time.