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Monsters & Monocles 24th of September 2016

To get straight to the point, this game is greatly held back by its current lack of polish. This multiplayer top-down twin-stick shooter of pixel steam punk fare is a conceptually sound game with all-too rough edges, certainly more so than their pixels would allude to.

The premise is that a professor accidentally unleashes an evil once sealed in a devil shaped jar (I suppose one could dispute the “sealed” quality of the jar if it as simple as “lift lid like a biscuit jar” but hey ho) alongside all sorts of ghoulish spectres to this steampunk world which summons our protagonists, a quad of gentlemen, lady and robot, to fly down from their dirigible to these areas and slay evil with firearms, all the while accomplishing random objectives (find the keygun, kill X Zombeasts and so on) to descend to the next stage of the current level. If the serviceable sprite work and lacking writing is anything to go by, you would be correct to suggest that this is not a game that tries to tell a story or give the players a universe to milk money from latter down the line, which is certainly a good thing if Fireforge Games’ death knell Ghostbusters is anything to go by.
The game’s aesthetics and general presentation is a sore-spot for me. While the guns mostly feel nice to fire and enemy death sequences look pretty enough, though it dulls quickly with the same purple smoke explosion, there are many points where the lost game feel or not fully fleshed out aesthetic choices actively hampered my experience with the game. The best example I could imagine is one time I backed myself into the wall closest to the player camera as enemies closed in, at first, I was impressed that the game presented an outline of my avatar that was obscured by the foreground blocking wall. It was only until I tried to move aside and discovered I was oddly not moving that the first problem dawned on me, the outline only told me where I was and didn’t tell me of the clutter that had trapped me between them (bear in mind this was prior to the update allowing players to dash through objects). The problem grew worse when the enemy closed in and leapt back from me, why did it do that? Well it actually hit me with an attack, something that I would only know if I was looking at my health bar at the far right, there’s no hit noise, no pained grunt from your player and as I was pinned to the wall the hit spark wasn’t visible either, just recoil either from me or the enemy. Even dying is off, rather than pausing the game to allow the player to pull a death animation of some kind, you get hit and, before you even know what happened, the game tosses a “YOU ARE DEAD” card in your face. These elements illustrate a game’s lacking polish which is definitely one of its strongest detriments.

Throughout the game you will encounter other weapons as pickups alongside and replacing the default revolver (including another revolver, go figure) each with different fire rates and tolerance towards overheating, those two properties being the primary moderators for reckless gunfire - though why the game tries to humour me that the revolver, handcannon, blunderbuss or even the keygun have a hope of overheating by providing them with overheat gauges is beyond me. They could at least fill the gauge to maximum and rapidly drop the bar to properly illustrate its fire rate or in the keygun’s case, have no bar at all. Alongside guns, the player can pick up coins for the shop, tea to heal back a portion of health and various “input required to pick up items”. For most of the latter category, this makes sense such as the “gun oil” that increases weapon fire rate but also increases weapon heat or even the time limited pickups like “Mercury’s speed”, and then there are things like the Ankh, an item that resurrects you upon death but only once. Where is the trade-off? Surely all I am getting from this is an extra life and if not, maybe that could be specified in the description?
The game is a simple and fun top-down shooter that, while not sporting notorious bugs of its contemporaries, has a fair quantity of kinks to work out. The most glaring for me was how it tried to handle my input devices. See, Monsters and Monocles has a cross hair instance that follows your mouse cursor to act as aiming when you are operating the keyboard and mouse controls, but this instance does not vanish with the use of the game pad. No matter the input device, your mouse will still show a big bulky cross-hair and waste screen space, but worse still is if you started the game with the game pad and commit to gameplay with it, you cannot just on the fly switch to keyboard and mouse and at least make use of the eye-sore target reticule. Then again, I wouldn’t even recommend the keyboard and mouse controls as how the camera handles the reticule movements and positioning is terribly stuttering, one has to wonder why they even bothered with the reticule in the first place seeing as they already had a perfectly sensible “point gun towards player’s input” with the game pad.

Monsters and Monocles is a game I sadly think will struggle to win against its competition such as Nuclear Throne particularly in its currently incomplete and just passable single player play. Given that foundation, one struggles to see how much multiplayer can improve my opinion of the title. While I wish the developers luck in their growth in Early Access, customers would be better with similar and more currently complete titles available on Steam.

Greg Baxter
 
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