Monster Boy and The Cursed Kingdom Switch Review by SwitchWatch
Developer: FDG Entertainment / Game Atelier
Publisher: SEGA (Physical)
Release Date: 4th December 2018
Price as of Article: $39.99 US, £34.99 UK
Game code provided by FDG Entertainment
Ryuichi Nishizawa, creator of the original Wonder Boy worked alongside FDG and Game Atelier to produce this spiritual successor in the Monster World Series with an all new grand adventure! The series has a long and successful history, starting back in 1986. The original arcade game published by SEGA was a hit, leading to a number of sequels, spin offs and remakes.
This time around, you play as Jin, a young hero who is out to save the world and restore its inhabitants to their human forms after your uncle Nabu turns everyone into talking animals. At the beginning, we don’t quite know if he is an evil mastermind or if he is caught up in someone else’s devious plot. The story is a classic action adventure tale, filled with magic, monsters and mystery.
What I love about the story is how it’s simple whilst managing to draw you in, you want to help the worlds inhabitants with their problems and save the day across this 15-hour campaign that keeps you interested the whole way through.
I must confess that, at first, I thought this was a nice and pleasant, simple platformer with tight controls that looked and sounded great. As I delved deeper, however, the game stacked complexity and difficulty masterfully, I was hooked within an hour.
On the face of it, the controls are simple – you can jump, attack and perform a unique ability depending on which form you are in. You first play as Jin before beating the first boss and being turned into a one-eyed pig, though the game features six animals that you can transform into as you progress, and each has its own unique playstyle. The pig, for example, is relatively weak but can wield a number of spells that you unlock as you venture forth. These spells are limited in use and so you need to use them wisely to take out tricky monsters or unlock secret paths and hidden treasure – he can also sniff out secrets with his sensitive snout, unlocking hidden pathways which are often needed to progress.
Next up, you unlock the snake, who can wriggle through tight spots, spit venom at enemies and crawl up certain walls, opening new areas to explore that were previously unreachable. On this front, the game consciously makes it easy to travel around – the world is laid out in such a way that encourages exploration without making it a chore to travel back repeatedly, and when you do revisit an area, there are handy stones that let you fast travel.
Things get really interesting when you start you solve puzzles using multiple forms; the puzzles remind me of The Legend of Zelda, in the best possible way. Often, they require the use of multiple forms in a sequence to solve – for example: in one puzzle you have a switch trapped behind a wall and will need pig form to trigger it, which then moves a platform that can be reached using snake form. The trigger has a timer and on the other side you will need to switch to frog form in order to swim through a cavern, emerging at the other side back into snake form to climb up a wall, before switching back to a pig to shoot a fireball at a lamp, in order to light it up and unlock a door, all before the timer runs out!
These sections are tense and tricky, giving you a sense of achievement when you do succeed and, crucially, they feel very natural, more so than other platformers that utilise similar mechanics such as Shantae: Half-Genie Hero.
The developers took great care in designing the world, there are no “filler” sections. Everything is crafted to be explored and stumbling upon secrets is encouraged. There are musical sheets, lost by Ollie – a musician from the games main town – spread throughout the world, as well as gems which can later be used to upgrade equipment. There are unlockables to be discovered everywhere that wont make you overpowered but will make you more successful, for instance: each of your spells can be upgraded to give you 10 slots, instead of the starting 5. In this way, Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom throws RPG elements in, as you discover improved spells and better gear, you will be able to take on tougher enemies and come out victorious. In frog and lion forms, you get to equip weapons as well as armour such as shields, which have benefits such as reflecting elemental attacks or melting ice under your boots – you can even equip armour sets for additional perks.
The game is deceptively deep without burdening players in menus and stats. The combination of these features is a rich gameplay experience filled with little details. As a heavy pig, you can stomp down on the ground, stunning monsters temporarily. Another side effect of this weight is that you will sink underwater, whereas the lighter snake will rise in water. These subtle nuances lead to an intricate in-game experience that feels intuitive and simply fun and through this discovery you begin to unlock more of the world.
The soundtrack credits reads like a hall of fame list of iconic Japanese composers in the games industry and was 2 years in the making with 40 unique pieces of music produced. Yuzo Koshiro, known for many titles including Sonic the Hedgehog and Streets of Rage 2. Motoi Sakuraba, the lead behind Mario Golf, the Tales series and Phantasy Star. Michiru Yamane, whose accomplishments include Castlevania and Suikoden, and Keiki Kobayashi – known for Soul Calibur and Ace Combat – all contributed. The quality is what you would expect from such an star-studded cast; we have music that fits perfectly into the world that brings a sense of wonder and suits the mood throughout. Sound effects are equally well crafted and together the audio is superb.
Visuals & Performance
The visuals are beautiful, everything has been hand drawn in a comic style, reminiscent of an anime comic. The bright colours pop and the sheer scale of the world they’ve created is impressive.
The small details – such as the gorgeous backgrounds that add perspective and little critters in the foreground – work together to give you the sense of being in a complete world. Monsters look great and the movement is perfect – I never experienced any slowdown or odd animations that didn’t line up with my inputs. This makes the gameplay fluid and a joy to play. The bosses in particular look awesome; taking on giant mobs is a blast and they, and their moves, look and sound fantastic.
I always appreciate it when a game makes gear visible – when you get an awesome flaming sword and shield you want to see that reflected in-game, giving you that feeling of being a badass.
The game has a simultaneous release on Xbox and PlayStation. Often, Switch games have suffered from lower framerates for multiplatform titles, so it is great to see this runs at 60 FPS, 1080p when docked and 60 FPS, 720p in handheld mode. The fact that you can play this on the move is the obvious draw over and above those other platforms, and the fact that you have parity in visuals and performance makes this a no-brainer for me – the ability to pick it up and play on the move is a very welcome bonus.
Coming in at $39.99 in the US and £34.99 in the UK, this is not a cheap game, nor is it the longest at 15 hours to play through, but what I love about this game is the attention to detail and focus on making each minute thoroughly enjoyable. The fact that this game took 5 years to develop and the all-star audio cast gives you an insight into the developers’ passion, which comes through when you play. They have added in RPG elements but not burdened you down, we have a metroidvania world to explore and secrets to discover, but we don’t have a lot of boring backtracking to do – even death in this game strives to not punish you for exploring and having fun.
Fun from start to finish
Highly polished visuals with no performance issues