Title: Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom
Developer: Game Atelier
Publisher: FDG Entertainment
Genre: Adventure, RPG, Action, Platformer
Platform: PlayStation 4
Audience: 7 – Mild fantasy violence
Release Date: 04/12/2018
Price: £32.99 – Rapid Reviews UK was very kindly provided with a review code for this game.
What the Developers say
- Stunning hand-drawn animation and over 15 hours of epic adventure
- Based on the legendary Wonder Boy in Monster World series
- Switch between up to 6 playable characters, each feeling different to keep the gameplay fresh
- Unlock new paths and secrets with special equipment
- In-game languages supported – English, French, Italian, German, Spanish, Japanese, Brazilian Portuguese, Korean, Simplified Chinese.
Developed by Paris-based studio, Game Atelier, Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is a 2D side-scrolling Metroidvania, which offers as much challenge as it does charm. The game carries on from Sega’s early 90s ‘Wonder Boy’ series and comes twenty-four years after the last instalment.
The protagonist, Jin, is first encountered enjoying some downtime; he’s fishing by his home when he spots his uncle Nabu wreaking havoc across the land by transforming people into animals. When confronted, Nabu transforms Jin into a pig, and the primary mechanic of the game begins. Upon visiting the main village of Lupia, our adventurer is tasked with the world-saving mission of collecting five orbs from around the kingdom. Through collecting each orb, Jin is then able to transform into different animals, each with their unique abilities. Once all five have been collected, it is believed the orbs will lift the curse that plagues ‘Monster World’ and restore the kingdom to its natural order.
Before release, the publisher of Monster Boy, FGD Entertainment, stated that there would not be much emphasis on the story and they have stayed true to their word. It is the traditional tale of good vs evil, and Game Atelier definitely won’t be winning any awards for storytelling. In addressing this issue, however, FGD Entertainment commented that the real focus for Monster Boy was on gameplay and mechanics, and it is in these areas where the title truly shines.
Looks and Sounds
The hand-drawn animation of Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is visually stunning. Each of the six playable characters has been designed in a crisp, clean aesthetic and the scenery through which they traverse is vibrant and full of colour. The world map is not overly vast, but there are a great variety of locations to explore. From grimy sewers to the beautiful sky village of Aeria, the kingdom of Monster World is a joy to behold. All dialogue in the game is delivered through text boxes that are well written and extremely fun and witty – the pirates of Skullrock Beach and the citizens of Aeria Village are particularly amusing!
Not only does Monster Boy look great, but it also sounds excellent. Soundtrack production took two years to complete, and over forty pieces of music were composed for the title. This includes rearrangements of songs from previous Wonder Boy instalments and the attention to detail is indeed reflected in the resulting soundtrack. Each location has its unique sounds – the hub village of Lupia is lush and joyful, whereas an epic score accompanies movement across the dangerous and deadly volcano. Moreover, the guitar-laden pop-rock music that plays over several of the boss battles helps to bring scale and grandeur to each encounter. It cannot be understated how magical Monster Boy both looks and sounds.
Gameplay and Replayability
Monster Boy is a joy to play. As mentioned previously, progressing through the story unlocks the ability to transform into one of six characters, each with their unique attributes. Playing as the pig allows you to sniff out clues and secrets, such as hidden chests that may contain gold or gems for upgrading your gear. The lion, on the other hand, is a force to be reckoned with in combat and can dash and perform downward slice attacks.
One criticism of the gameplay is that these moments of minute-to-minute combat can be rather dull and generic, offering nothing new or creative to the genre. For the most part, Game Atelier has been remarkably clever concerning character design, as all work together with no one character feeling more important than the other. Throughout the story, each character has their opportunity to shine and as you near the finale, changing between characters on the fly to solve challenging and complex puzzles is an absolute blast.
The puzzles in Monster Boy are exceptional, and Game Atelier has achieved perfect balance in creating clever and challenging puzzles that never become frustrating or repetitive. Environments grow in complexity throughout, increasing the challenge to the player. Haunted Manor is a standout for its impeccable level design and genius use of puzzle mechanics. It would be a shame not to mention the boss battles, which are all puzzles in themselves. At times a bit too easy, the bosses towards the latter half of your adventure allow you to show off everything that you have learned while swapping between the playable characters at breakneck speeds. Upon rolling the credits of Monster Boy, my playtime was just short of seventeen hours with a total completion of 56%.
There is an abundance of collectables to search for, and gameplay can extend far beyond the initial playthrough. For example, collecting different types of truffles drastically improves the spells that both Jin and Pig can utilise in combat while finding upgrade gems in hidden chests allows you to enhance items and imbue them with unique abilities. Although there is not a vast amount of gear to collect, their different properties help to mix up your playstyle and certain weapons are required to be upgraded to solve puzzles and continue the story. In total, there are over 150 collectables to find and, when the world looks this stunning, exploring it to find the Golden Armour Set is just too good an opportunity to pass up.
Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is spectacular. The ability to swap between six playable characters, each with a unique skillset, is balanced to perfection and one never feels more useful than the other. While the story is forgettable, Monster Boy truly makes up for this with intelligent level design and challenging puzzle mechanics. From the music to the art style, Monster Boy is a triumph.
Traditionally, a Metroidvania becomes easier to play and navigate as you unlock more skills and abilities; for Monster Boy, this is the complete opposite. The more abilities and skills that become available to you, the more challenging and complex the puzzles and the overall game becomes. Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom has been well worth the wait, and I cannot recommend it enough.