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Monster Force

Review By:  Siou Choy

Developer:  Digital Eclipse
Publisher:  Universal Interactive
# of Players:  1-2
Genre:  Action
ESRB:  Everyone
Date Posted:  10-3-02

With the Hallowe’en season fast approaching, one can’t help but hold one’s breath in anticipation of a probable plethora of seasonally spooky games unearthing their way into release. The opening salvo in this invasion of the undead, unseen and unearthly? Monster Force, from Universal Interactive for the Game Boy Advance. Monster Force lets you choose from three of the "classic" Universal pictures franchise monsters: the wolfman, a vampire (nee: Dracula), and the Frankenstein monster. This time around the monsters are considerably younger, with a far more pimply-faced Wolfie, Drac, and Frank out to save the missing Dr. Frankenstein. Along the way, these creatures of copyright ("children of the copyright, what legal noises they make!") get to contend with jack-o-lanterns, ghosts, and enough of the sort of shadowy menace that makes Hallowe’en so damn much fun in the first place.

There are a few problems, of course. First off, Monster Force isn’t incredibly flexible in design. You’re only allowed to play through as one character - no switching between characters to use one better suited for the level in question, or just because you’re sick of Drac and think Frankie’s being neglected. Each character has different strengths and weaknesses, so you’ll have to choose wisely (particularly since you’re stuck with whatever shmuck you pick for the long run). Frank is the strongest but slowest, Wolfie is the fastest but weakest and Drac is the most balanced overall (which would make him sorta weak, but not too slow – in other words, blandly average, like most people’s choice in a spouse).

Relics and power-ups can be found in the game to help aid everyone’s favorite trademarked, brand name-recognition style monsters. By defeating the more generic monsters in the game by means of a force combo shot you get rewarded with power-ups and relics. You can also buy power-ups and relics from Igor the robot (who shows up in some really neat pseudo-aged film sequences, described further below) between each level. Relics are more powerful, and therefore, make more of a hole in your budget. Saves are only allowed after completing a level. Since it’s a battery save, there are only three slots to save in (which allows exactly one for each monster).

Monster Force actually does do a great job in trying to give off that old monster movie feel. The cut scenes are done in black and white, with all the cracks, pops, hair on the lens, and shaking involved with old movies in the pre-DVD age in place, which gives the actual feel of watching some cheesy old movie from the 30’s. The in-game graphics are nicely done too, considering it’s a low-res GBA game. The monsters look great and the levels are well detailed – unlike some GBA games (Castlevania Circle of the Moon, Pitfall the Mayan Adventure), you won’t have any trouble trying to figure out who’s who. Each character also moves accordingly, with Drac floating and Wolfie running on all fours. The only flaw with the graphics is inherent to the strict overhead view, which the game utilizes without exception. Sometimes I’d find myself running into walls that don’t look like walls (in other words, something that looks like mud on the ground may actually be a wall).

The controls are very simple and basic. The B button is used to shoot (normal, force combo, and triple shot), while the A button is used to dash. Lining up the enemy isn’t always as easy as it should be. I find that some shots tend to go a bit high over enemies heads (irritatingly, you can still see the shots clip the top of enemies heads without causing any appreciable damage), and shooting at angles is almost impossible (while opponents are free to come at you from all directions). There are several levels where you have to work your way to a teleporter to exit the level; while in others, you have to complete certain tasks to finish the level, such as defeating a monster or finding your way through the maze before the clock counts you out.

The sound in Monster Force is nothing to write home about. It’s decent and does its best to fit the mood; but I was hoping for something a bit more appropriately spooky. The sound effects when your character gets hit or runs into walls (which can happen a lot when dashing) aren’t exactly up to par. Sound effects and music in the cut scenes are slightly better; but again, nothing special.

The bottom line is this: it may not be anyone’s idea of a masterpiece, but if Monster Force is any indication of the sort of Hallowe’en games that might appear this year, it may be a pretty good year for those of us looking for some spooky fun for the holidays.

Highs:

  • nice graphics, particularly with regards to the cut scenes’ faux-crappy old horror movie feel
  • hours of mindless fun
  • nice Halowe’en mood

Lows:

  • you’re limited to using one character at a time, no switching characters for different levels
  • sound isn’t up to par (a common GBA platform complaint)

Final Verdict:

Let’s keep this short and simple. Monster Force is a fun game, released just in time for Hallowe’en. The characters are cute and the graphics are nice. The game isn’t the most difficult, but it’s still enjoyable. It could easily be beaten during a rental, but you may want to pull this game out more than once, so it’s probably worth a buy. Anybody out there who’s a big fan of cheesy old one-dimensional Universal monster movies (to the exclusion of their more interesting continental cousins) should get a kick out of Monster Force.

Overall Score: 7.0

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