Publisher: Universal Interactive
Developer: Digital Eclipse
Release Date: 08/2002
If games like the old-school version of Gauntlet are your bag then Digital Eclipse may have the game for you. Monster Force for the GBA is a Gauntlet-esque puzzle/action game that has been quite a while in the making. In fact, the original plan was to release this game on the PSX but then it was delayed because it needed to be “retooled”. Well after more thoroughly fleshing out the character design and tweaking the gameplay Monster Force is now surfacing on the Gameboy Advance. Not to say that the game is now completely devoid of faults though, a little more time in development might have been a good idea since there are still play-control and design issues present. But even with its problems it manages to be an entertaining title that will keep you playing for quite some time despite its shortcomings.
Right from the onset of the game you’ll have access to three playable characters, each a infamous monster. You got Frankie (Frankenstein), Wolfie (Werewolf), and Drac (Dracula). These three characters are all unique in their own right and you’ll have the option to control them through a myriad of stages. To wit, there are a total of no less than 35 out of the ordinary levels in which to conduct your monster funk. The two-player simultaneous support doesn’t hurt matters much either. Taking out enemies with your default Monster Force blaster is only one facet of the game, you’ll also need to collect Atoms which can be used in between levels to upgrade your attributes. By holding down the B-button you’ll charge up your blaster and the more enemies or pumpkins, as it were, that you destroy with one blast the more Atoms you will receive in return.
Traversing through the maze-like stages in the game will also require some puzzle-solving skills as activating switches, finding keys and using teleportation devices will be necessary to make your way to the end of the stage. Not every level is the same however, some insist that you obtain a certain amount of Atoms or complete the stage within a set time-limit in order to progress. On the whole, though, Monster Force is essentially based off the same dynamics that made Gauntlet so popular: progressing through stages in an isometric perspective and destroying enemies is the base foundation of the game. The control method is somewhat irritating however; specifically the problem lays in the mechanics of running. Holding A down you can run instead of walking but coming in contact with a wall or object will not only make you come to a complete standstill but forces you to wait a second before you can start moving again. This is particularly jarring in stages where time is of the essence.
Digital Eclipse did a great job with the visuals on this game, the sinister, spooky presentation is huge fun. The animation in Monster Force is excellent (especially the boss fight with the shadow creature) and the film-grain filter used on the cut-scenes is very original. Your characters move around smoothly, enemies are diverse and react differently depending on circumstance, and the environments are appropriately dark and spooky. The level design from stage to stage tends to look a little too similar to each other but since the mechanics of completing them are always so different you’ll hardly notice. Overall though, this game has quite obviously been refined and tweaked to a shiny polish and looks way above average when compared to other GBA titles currently available. The soundtrack is fittingly spooky and conveys a high sense of creepy audibility. Sound effects are pretty weak though. It doesn’t hurt the overall enjoyment of the game very much but a more varied sound catalog could have helped alleviate the notice of control issues in the game.
Overall, Monster Force offers up some good times that hearken back to the days of yore but the awkward gameplay elements get in the way far too often. While this game is certainly inspired by Gauntlet it doesn’t manage to purport the same methodic intrigue and amusement as the timeless classic on which it is loosely based. The two-player deathmatch mode successfully prolongs the longevity of the title but four-player would be better. To sum it up, Great concept, middle-of-the-road execution.