Monster Tale: hands-on preview

If you’ve owned a DS for any period of time, you’re familiar with the concept of two separate things happening on the upper and lower screens. In a lot of games, this translates to having an inventory or a map on the lower screen, and too few games really try to use both screens to their full benefit, presentation-wise. If you played Henry Hatsworth’s Puzzling adventure, however, you know that some developers have a better handle on it than others. Luckily, one of the key leads behind Henry Hatsworth, Peter Ong, is taking another swat at the market, and it looks promising.

The premise behind side-scrolling action platformer is that while you control a character on the upper screen at all times, the lower screen contains a “Pet sanctuary” in which a loveable little monster pal, Chomp, can eat and play and grow stronger. Chomp can also pull his weight, however, and zip up to the top screen to engage in combat and help solve puzzles. Over time, as chomp learns and uses new abilities, you’ll unlock new forms for him to evolve into, augmenting his stats and the aforementioned abilities. He gains experience by defeating enemies, as per usual, but the quickest way for him to level up is for you to give him items.

For instance, giving him a turkey will grant him XP and up his constitution. Giving him dumbbells will boost his strength, and so on. Some of these items also have an added effect on the upper screen, once used. For instance, when Chomp plays with a soccer ball, it’ll get sent all around the upper screen, bouncing off of everything for a short time and inflicting damage. It’s a neat little mechanic that forces you to be a bit strategic with what items you give him.

Meanwhile, your character on the top screen (a blue-haired girl named Ellie) is no slouch, and can tangle with the monsters alone if need be. She can string together melee attacks, use ranged energy blasts, jump, roll, etc. So she has all the standard moves of a side-scrolling platformer, from what we’ve seen thus far.

The game’s got a very bright-and-cute sort of vibe, with a very anime sort of style to the illustrations. The story’s nice and simple to follow, and the characters are all basically templates of well-known character concepts (haughty princess, moody prince). The basic plot is that Ellie finds a bracelet in the woods one day, and puts it on - only to be transported into some massive ruins in Monster World, where after a short time, she meets Chomp. Ellie begins to search for a way to get home, but is constantly beset with hostile monsters and some malicious humans who don’t seem to want her to leave. It’s not exactly an artful premise, story-wise, but the gameplay is nice and solid. It’s proving itself to be an interesting concept, well-delivered so far, and we’re interested to see if the game really starts to mix it up later on. Make sure to check back later, as we’ll have a review up soon.

Feb 22, 2011