DS | Majesco / DreamRift | 1 Player | Out Now (North America)
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17th May 2011; By KnucklesSonic8
Monster Tale stars Ellie, a blue-headed girl who randomly discovers a mysterious band in the park. She soon finds herself in a secret world where her determination and willingness to help will become an invaluable asset. Early on, she makes friends with a young foundling named Chomp, and together they discover how other monsters like her newfound friend are being mistreated by power-hungry children. Not one to back down in the face of calamity, she fixes her sights on rectifying all the chaos that's taken place in Monster World one step at a time. Together, the two characters form a friendship that rises above the relatively-emotionless master-pet relationship you see in some of the other simulation titles out there.
The action is split up into two main components, making good use of the DS' two screens. The top screen is where all the platforming takes place, while the Touch Screen is more geared to pet care. You control Ellie on the 2D plane by using the Left and Right Buttons on the D-Pad, pressing B to perform basic jumps and the A Button to fire a shot of energy from her Band Blaster. The Y Button is used to execute a basic melee attack, with variations being applied when you hold Up or Down at the same time. Even while performing a string of melee attacks, you're not stuck in one position. You can hold the opposing button and flip between the two so you can target enemies on either side of you. Those are the main parts about the control scheme that you should be familiar with.
The Touch Screen hosts a special area known as the Pet Sanctuary -- Chomp's abode of sorts. Shared in this space are two meters: the first representing Chomp's health and the second for Ellie's Band Blaster attacks. By staying outside the Pet Sanctuary and tagging along with Ellie, Chomp's health will decrease over time. The only way for him to recover is to send him back to his "safety zone" by pressing the X Button.
This area will also double as an inventory for your items. Once Chomp makes his way onto the scene, a white cursor will appear and automatically target offensive toys first, followed by food and other care products. Chomp will interact with whichever item is highlighted but it will take some time before it can be activated, as shown by a small energy gauge. Using your stylus, you can switch which item Chomp should focus his attention so he doesn't accidentally end up using something you were trying to save for later.
Items will appear in the Pet Sanctuary as Ellie picks them up on the top screen, and while some of these may be pick-ups, a significant portion of the items you'll receive actually come out of enemies as they fly off the screen. There are essentially six different classifications of items in this game: pet care (soap); exercise (jump rope, boxing gloves); art (paint brushes cameras); reading material (documents, scrolls); food (hamburgers, rice); and toys (catapults, magic hats).
Seeing Chomp interact with the different items is amusing in itself, especially for the first time. It's rather cute seeing Chomp take out a pair of glasses as he's examining a piece of reading material, for example. There are plenty of items to experiment with, each with their own benefits. The 'Video Game' item, for example, will bring out a little alien creature to move back and forth on the bottom screen, firing bullets at enemies up above a la Space Invaders. Toys are easily the most fun since the resulting effects transpire on the top screen while you're controlling Ellie.
Chomp can't stay cooped up in the Sanctuary for most of the game, though. Part of what makes the game so endearing is the way Chomp feels like a regular helper in the game, as opposed to an afterthought. As enemies enter into the picture, Chomp will give Ellie a hand by attacking them directly. In doing so, he'll earn himself experience points that will eventually get him to level up and improve.
The enemies you'll encounter are varied in their attack patterns, and when you're ganged up on, some of them can actually be tricky to defeat if you're not prepared. The pink octopus, for example, can invade the Sanctuary and attack Ellie from "below the belt", as it were, unless Chomp acts quickly to get rid of it. Whenever Chomp attacks an enemy, small icons will appear on the top screen to represent the Earth, Fire or Water elements. The ones that appear depend on the main element backing Chomp's attacks as well as the enemy's. Greater than and less than signs will appear between the two to quickly indicate who has the advantage over the other, which is somewhat useful.
As he gains more experience, Chomp will grow not only in intelligence and strength, but also in age. As a result, you'll unlock new forms beyond just the standard baby pet model. Chomp will come of age and develop into a teenager and, later, an adult. Along the way, he'll learn and master skills, like the Torpedo move where he'll shoot off like a rocket in Ellie's direction of travel. You can assign two of these skills to the L and R Buttons for quick access. Stat and Elemental Traits can also be equipped to increase defenses or give you more of an edge over a certain element. Overall, there's a big RPG-like element in the way system works and it really lends itself to a deeper experience than the game might lead on. And I honestly loved watching Chomp develop his intelligence and his reaction time.
The actual levels the game has you venturing to are well-designed, allowing a lot of room for exploration with the many branching paths that exist. Appearance-wise, most of them also sport nice colours and looks, like the golden yellows featured in the tree-centric Autumn Thicket, which was good. Pressing the Start Button will change the Pet Sanctuary into a useful map display -- something you'll be bringing up regularly. Important areas like the infrequent library-based save points are colour-coded to help you find things more easily. Item Shops also exist, and these are run by a monster named Jinx who sells upgrades for Ellie's blaster and vitality as well as pet care items for Chomp.
One of the other main attractions you'll come across in most areas are stone "alters" that grant Ellie new abilities. In the way of moves, you'll learn how to Roll, Wall Jump, and Dash while Band Blaster upgrades include Burst Cancel and the fun-to-use Super Wave ability. The fact that Ellie is constantly learning new abilities is a joy in itself to experience, and most of them do indeed add something to the gameplay. This is another area where I think the game really excelled and I was pleasantly surprised by this.
Aside from your standard annoying enemies, each Kingdom in the game is run by a Kid King boss that must be overthrown to advance. As a whole, the boss fights are good, but some bosses were definitely better than others. Deanu's was pretty cool as was Ethan's with his advanced electronic system, but Zoe's was kind of lame. Plus, I found the final boss in the game was a bit easy and anticlimactic. But I definitely enjoyed following the storyline, and I grew a liking to some of the boss characters even when they appeared again outside of battle. On a similar note, I found some of the dialogue that was exchanged amongst characters ("I don't know what audience you're trying to appeal to with that outfit!") to be quite amusing.
During my playthrough, I came to the realization that this game features a lot of backtracking -- perhaps too much for your liking. Sometimes you need to go back two full areas worth to get a new ability or advance the plot with a cutscene, then head all the way back to where you originally were. It's a bit tedious, and had it not been for the fact that the action is typically very enjoyable, players could have found themselves annoyed with this aspect of the game.
The music in this game didn't do a whole lot for me, honestly. Save for the Main Menu tune and the soft sounds featured in the Beach area, I didn't find anything particularly noteworthy that I'd want to listen to outside the game. Visually though, the game looked great. Animations were clean with nicely-rendered character sprites, and I found no sort of technical flaw. As if gameplay wasn't enough of an indication, Monster Tale is a high-quality effort all around.
It took me about nine hours to complete the game in its entirety and I did enjoy most of my time with it. However, after beating the final boss and seeing the rather abrupt ending, there isn't much else to do. You could see a degree of fulfillment in testing out Chomp's other forms that weren't used over the course of the adventure, but that can only last you so long. Still, just for the quality of the experience alone, I feel the game is indeed worth purchasing.
Monster Tale is thoroughly engaging and fun, blending two gameplay styles together with an excellent immersive feel. It's an adventure that's totally worth playing through and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this game to a lot of people looking for a quality DS title. And in case you're wondering which of the two DreamRift games come out on top, it's definitely Monster Tale by far.
25/30 - Very Good
Gameplay 10/10 - Great mix of two gameplay styles, wise layout, Chomp's growth is a surprisingly deep component, lots of abilities and items, good bosses
Presentation 8/10 - Good dialogue amongst characters, great levels, high-quality animations and sprites, a few good tracks but nothing really noteworthy
Enjoyment 4/5 - Engaging pet development, fun to experiment with the different items, backtracking may be irritating for some, anticlimactic ending
Extra Content 3/5 - Takes a few hours to complete, not much to do afterwards, multiple forms to test, still worth purchasing for the experience
Equivalent to a score of 83% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating)