Monsters and Monocles would be right at home at an arcade. The indie game falls is in the territory of top-down twin-stick shooters and has bullet-hell elements. Controls are tight and shooting feels good, although the game is simple. For a title like this, sometimes less is more. Each level’s BGM is nice. The score progressively gets more intense as you progress through levels, preventing you from falling into a lull. Most importantly, the soundtrack calls back to simpler time. A time where games were every bit fun as they were hard.
Monsters and Monocles was difficult enough to provide a challenge every time I played without me feel like I was cheated. Overall, I really enjoyed my playthrough of the Early Access title. Honestly, nothing about the game felt unfinished. It was a fun, colorful, explosion-filled bullet-fest.
Gameplay & Level-Design
In the case of Monsters and Monocles’ level-design, it was simplistic. Each three-part world is populated by unique monsters. The first two parts each have an arbitrary goal like “Exterminate 3 Slimes” or “Find The Key”. Although not terribly engrossing, having a set goal is useful in a game where you’ll be navigating through bullet chaos. Furthermore, the formula is kept fresh through the procedurally generated levels.
Aside from getting through the levels, you’ll be able to spend coins that monsters drop to buy health boosts and rare weapon power-ups in a store between levels. After finishing your tasks, you will face a boss. The tame layout of the game is spiced up through its colorful and memorable enemies. Each world’s monsters are a visual treat and are relentless in their quest to kill you. In fact, the game’s artistic direction shines most when looking at the enemies.
Each map has its own host of monsters with their own shooting patterns.They are different enough to keep you guessing and provide a challenge when they surround you. Combat is its most fun during boss battles. There is one unique to each world and they are designed well. Combat with these bosses is constantly evolving. Whenever I felt like I learned the boss’s attack pattern, it would bring out another move, drowning me in a barrage of bullets.
Power-ups are hidden in wooden crates and vases throughout levels. In traditional arcade fashion, players can find chests that hold coins and other good stuff. The solid run-n-gun combat of the game is kept fresh with vastly different weapon power-ups. Your character can hold two different weapons at a time. I often found myself scrutinizing whether to keep my tried-and-true loadout: a cluster grenade launcher and a burst rifle. There are many weapons in the game and each offers clear trade-offs. From unmatched firepower with the Heavy Machine Gun to the surprisingly useful Crumpet Cannon, there is a weapon for every player. These options are not unwarranted as I realized that there is no one best loadout. Furthermore, the enemies of each map, while sharing some similarities with others, require a different approach. This means changing your guns.
Visually, Monsters and Monocles is a throwback to pixel graphics. Aside from the intentional retrograding, the art is crisp albeit a bit forgettable. Characters don’t really have any personality to warrant players to have a favorite aside from their pixel portraits during the select screen or their in-game sprites. Featuring suave male and female agents, Monster and Monocles rounds out the cast by including a robot and a dog. And who doesn’t want to play as a monster exterminating dog? Environment designs are cliched but executed well. While the design was plain, stylish pixel flora and other cosmetic items decorated the borders. In fact, small details really pop in Monsters and Monocles. Bullets fired by the player or enemies pop against backgrounds creating a nice sight. Things like crates breaking and collecting coins looks really nice in all of their pixel-y glory.
The game is perfect for players looking for short bursts of fun. The single-player campaign is more of an arcade mode where players can shoot through levels. Monster and Monocles is not a game for those people looking for a deep narrative. There is no real premise but the gameplay was enough to keep me coming back.
Although I could not try the multiplayer, Monsters and Monocles seems like it will only be more fun with four other players. Procedurally generated levels will keep the same levels fresh and with regular updates that add weapons, Retro Dreamer could carve themselves out a nice playerbase. Aside from minor frame-rate issue when running into a room with many monsters, the game ran well. In its current state, I found it hard to believe that Monsters and Monocles was not in its final build.
For more information on Monster and Monocles, check out the developers’ website here! If you’re looking to swim through a sea of bullets with some friends and nice pixel graphics, you should consider picking up Monsters and Monocles when it releases on Steam and PS4! Will you be giving the arcade game a try? Let us know in the comments!
*Note from the editor – Even though this is technically a preview, we’ve scored Monsters & Monocles, something that we usually don’t do. Basically, it seems so close to being ‘done’ that we felt it deserved a score. Still, you should consider the game a work in progress since it’s still on Steam’s Early Access.