Isn’t it nice to be pleasantly surprised? Every now and then, a game will come along and just catch you off guard with its brilliance, and I’m pleased to say the Monster Boy fills that criteria perfectly. From the stunning artwork, through the catchy soundtrack to the constantly fun, rewarding gameplay, it’s hard to find fault with much at all. Monster Boy wastes no time in setting up your adventure. Jin, our hero, is quietly enjoying some fishing when his uncle flies past on a barrel waving a magic wand, turning everyone he passes into various animals.
Foxes, dragons and bears are just some of the transformations bestowed upon the citizens, while Jin is turned into a… pig… talk about the short straw! But even this early form soon shows hidden promise, allowing him to sniff out hidden objects or routes that others can’t. And it’s here that the game begins to shine. Each area features puzzles and challenges suited to the different form’s powers beautifully. As you progress, more animal forms are unlocked for you to use at will, with each providing different powers and abilities, allowing you to push further still, into the map.
It’s not long before tougher areas have you switching rapidly between forms to clear them, with tantalizing hidden routes or chests liberally spread throughout. Switching between forms can be a tad fiddly as the radial menu sometimes felt a bit slow to respond, but things at least come to a halt when you open it, so you are not too pressured by a time limit. The challenge is balanced almost to perfection too, with just the right amount of pressure applied in tricky platforming sections or fights.
Trying to reach some of the better hidden collectibles will put you through your paces, but it’s a credit to the game’s great balancing that you never feel under-powered without them. Combat is fun, with standard weapon attacks supplemented by magic powers and items. In the early going, things can feel a little basic, your sword and shield being your only real means of attack.
But soon you find the first power and, really, the game doesn’t stop giving you new toys to play with. It’s all fairly standard stuff – elemental buffs, perks such as double jump or resist poison and the like – but each one offers something new; rarely will you find yourself sticking to a set loadout for long. Switching between loadouts is a bit cumbersome – swapping clothing will see a several second delay before you are able to continue.
If you need to swap things out in quick succession this can start to grate, but thankfully those moments are rare. Despite a near constant flow of new items and upgrades, you never feel overpowered or too dominant for long. There’s a great rhythm to the game that rarely falters. Boss battles, too, are well designed set pieces, often asking you to use new powers in fun, creative ways.
They can be hard, but as with checkpointing throughout, a quick reload and it’s back into the action. Areas have a nice, organic flow to them, rarely leaving you unsure of where to go or what to do. Occasionally, foreground and background scenery can be a bit hard to distinguish – one late area had me running in circles for a while as the only obvious route was blocked, only for me to randomly jump and find that what looked like background detail was actually a ledge I could use.
However, other than that, the game looks beautiful. Stunningly colorful, packed with character and beautifully animated, it’s a real treat to look at – I’d even be so bold as to compare it to the great Studio Ghibli at times. Characters are unique, lovingly animated and charming as anything. It’s classic adventure platforming action then, but done with such style and panache that it outshines many recent examples of the genre.
Monster Boy is classic adventure platforming action, but done with such style and panache that it outshines many recent examples of the genre. There’s a brilliantly paced difficulty curve, with new powers, characters and items dispensed at just the right moments. Combat is standard, but intelligent use of the aforementioned aspects means it never gets tiresome or frustrating. It helps that the game looks and sounds sensational. This, is a must have.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.