Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom Review (Nintendo Switch Version)
I've always been a sucker for 2D platformers. It's the genre I was raised on, so it makes sense that this style of gaming would hold a special place in my heart. During the PlayStation 1 and Nintendo 64 days, when 3D games started becoming the norm, I was worried that the era of the 2D game was coming to an end, and that I would never again experience the joy of moving along a fixed plane. Luckily, with the advent of the indie game, 2D has experienced a bit of a renaissance. We've seen some amazing games in 2018 alone, with The Messenger, Dead Cells, and Game of the Year candidate Celeste to name a few. This resurgence have also ironically caught the eye of AAA developers, as Mega Man and Sonic the Hedgehog also returned to their roots in 2018. I think I can happily say that 2D gaming is back, and it isn't going anywhere.
Which brings us to Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom, which, interestingly enough, falls under both categories of new 2D game and resurrected retro classic. Loosely based on the 80's Sega Wonder Boy series, Monster Boy is an open-world side-scrolling adventure game, with some heavy Metroidvania elements. You'll be traversing all over Monster World, fighting enemies and earning power-ups that help you reach new areas of the game. It's a tried-and-true style, and it still works.
In Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom, you play the role of Jin, a character who lives in Monster World Kingdom. One day, he sees his rather “eccentric” uncle flying around in a rocket-powered barrel, turning the world's inhabitants into monsters. Jin himself is also transformed, and your goal in the game is to find magical orbs, stop your crazy uncle, and turn everyone back into their human selves.
To do this, you will travel to various areas in Monster World Kingdom: from a misty forest and a creepy ghost ship to 2D staples lava and water worlds, you'll definitely see a lot of variety as you experience Jin's journey. Throughout the game, you'll battle common enemies such as evil mushrooms and fire-breathing bats, and take on some major battles with huge bosses. Once you defeat a boss, you'll earn an orb and the ability to transform into another creature, thus granting you the aforementioned access to new areas.
The Tip and the Top
There is so much that Monster Boy does right. The game's graphics are, quite simply, incredible. Everything is hand-drawn, and each frame of animation was meticulously inked to look as much like a cartoon as possible. From the opening cinematic to the adorable idle animations, everything about Monster Boy just “pops.” Just walking around as Jin in his frog form made me crack up on several occasions. Enemies are just as animated, and seeing some of their reactions when hit really brought a smile to my face. It is seriously like watching an 80's cartoon. The only thing missing is a bowl of Fruity Pebbles.
The audio is also amazing. The music contains a mixture of new tracks and reimagined tunes from Wonder Boy and the Dragon's Trap. Each tune gets you toe-tapping and head-bobbing along with each note, and fits each level perfectly. It doesn't happen very often, but I found myself saying out loud “I want this soundtrack.” Sound effects are also fun, and add a touch of humor to the game. The sounds each character make when you hit them matches their visual reaction. Hearing some of the enemies scream as they're hit is just oh-so-satisfying.
In terms of how it plays, I have to say that this game truly has that old-school feel. One of the best things about a good sidescroller is the challenging gameplay. A quality 2D game will start things off easy, allowing you to get comfortable with the mechanics of the game before, you know, punching you right in the face when you least expect it. Monster Boy plays this method perfectly. Once you're about halfway through the game, you'll be saying “I got this. Piece of cake” That's when you'll hit that point in the game where the platforming truly tests your skills as a gamer. You'll die quite a bit. Luckily though, the save points are strategically placed so that you won't be frustrated when you have to start the same section again and again. Like any good game, you'll get a little bit further each time you die, and once you do make it (I'm looking at you, cloud level), you'll get a real sense of accomplishment.
Not only will Monster Boy test your hand-eye coordination, you'll be giving your brain a workout as well. There were several points throughout the game, boss battles included, where I had to press pause, set the controller down, and think to myself, “OK, what am I doing wrong here? What do I need to do in order to reach that area, or defeat this boss.” The puzzles do require a bit of creative thinking, but aren't ridiculously tough. Bosses have patterns that have to be learned and taken advantage of. Once you figure it all out and are successful, that sense of accomplishment will come right back to you. The controls are spot-on, which is very important in a game that requires such pinpoint precision.
If you think that you'll blaze through this game in no time at all, think again. It will likely take you around 15-20 hours to beat the game, and about an extra ten if you want to find all the well-hidden collectibles. And yes, there are a TON of collectibles. Weapons, health, and songs are hidden throughout the game, and it takes some real gaming know-how in order to find them all. You Metroidvania completionists will have your hands full. You will definitely be investing a lot of time, but it really doesn't feel like it because you're having so much fun.
The Flip and the Flop
Though it is still an enjoyable game, Monster Boy and The Cursed Kingdom is not without a few flaws. There were some times where I got stuck in a wall, or used a portal staff instead of my sword on a down-strike and got frozen in my down-strike pose, but both times I was able to get out of it by switching to a different form. Also, the difficulty does ramp up pretty high, so once you get to the lava dungeon things may get a little frustrating.
The price point may be a bit of a turn-off for some as well. $39.99 is normally considered pretty steep for an indie title. But for the amount of content you get, the price of entry is well worth it. I would also suggest purchasing the physical copy, as it comes with a full color instruction manual, and yes – stickers too!
Everything about Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom just screams quality. And what's most fascinating about this it never really started off as a Monster Boy game. It wasn't until later in its development that the changes were made to make it a spiritual successor to Wonder Boy. And I couldn't be happier that these changes were made, because the final product shows that developers who are passionate about their work can produce stunning results.
Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is a testament to why 2D gaming is still going strong to this day. It's not all about shooting enemies, stealing horses, and crafting post-apocalyptic armor. A good game is a game that makes you smile, forget about the stresses of the day, and relax. And some games do all that, as well as bring you back to a time when you didn't have a care in the world. Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom does both.
Review copy provided by FDG Entertainment