Developer: Artificial Mind And Movement
Release Date: July 18, 2006
Almost every neighborhood has one – one of those spooky houses in which nobody seems to live. They've been the basis for countless television shows and horror movies, but the titular Monster House is a bit more active than most. It gobbles up any toys, pets and people that stray too close to its bounds, devouring them without a trace. The only person who seems to notice the House's strange behavior is 12-year-old D.J. Walters, who lives across the street. He's been obsessed with the House for years, and recently, the amount of disappearances has increased. It's up to D.J. and his friends Chowder and Jenny to stop the Monster House before Halloween comes and the local trick-or-treaters are subject to its evil.
The game opens shortly after the House traps the kids inside, splitting them up with a series of traps. Armed with only water guns and their wits, the kids have to find a way to silence the House forever, before they become the next to vanish. Luckily for them, it just seems to hate water, and their water guns are capable of destroying anything the House throws at them.
Fans of survival horror games like Resident Evil will find the controls of Monster House eerily familiar. The analog stick moves the kids around or turns them left or right, with the Z button doing a 180-degree turn. A fires, B "pumps" the water gun, and Y activates the kid's unique secondary weapon. (D.J. has a flash camera, Jenny sports a slingshot, and Chowder possesses water balloon grenades.). The X button is context-sensitive and does everything from lock on to enemies, to climbing walls. Locking on to enemies can be frustrating due to the nature of the X button, but it rarely becomes an issue, since the kids automatically fire at the closest enemy. R causes the kids to hit an enemy with a squirt gun for a melee attack, but the combination of infinite water and nearly infinite secondary ammo means this is all but useless. It would have been far more useful to replace it with a dedicated lock-on button. Finally, L causes the kids to duck, which is used to dodge flying books or vases.
Each of the three kids has different abilities. D.J. is the most balanced, with a water gun that eventually upgrades to an extreme powerful hose. Jenny's primary gun is fast and great for pushing back monsters, and Chowder's water-shotgun is powerful and equipped with a water balloon launcher. As the kids move deeper into the House, they'll find presents containing upgrades for their water guns, making them even more powerful. Unfortunately, regardless of this variety of weapons, combat doesn't really differ between the three kids. Most monsters are disposed of in the exact same fashion by all three, and the only real difference is in how long it takes. The water guns have infinite ammo, although they need to be "pumped" every so often, so conserving ammunition is not a concern. The secondary weapons do have limited ammo, but ammo for these weapons is so plentiful, and your water guns are so powerful, that it rarely becomes an issue.
In order to drive out the kids, the House has created monsters from within itself. Chairs scuttle across the floor like crabs, lamps reach out to strangle the life from the children, and boilers rip themselves from the wall to shoot flame and smoke. Despite the unique enemy designs, however, there is almost no variety in them; for every boiler monster, there are hundreds of floorboard spiders and chair crabs. The only difference is the occasional red monster, which is slightly stronger than its brethren, but not enough to cause any worry. A few boss monsters serve to liven up things, but they are few and far between.
In spite of their startling looks, none of the enemies provide even the smallest threat. They do minimal damage to the heroes and fall within seconds to even the weakest of the kids' water attacks. The only real threat comes when you are surrounded on all sides, but health-restoring soda is so common that even this is nothing but a minor danger at best. Experienced gamers probably won't ever die once, and the difficult is low enough that even young gamers can breeze right through.
The greatest enemy is the House itself. As the kids progress deeper into the bowels of the Monster House, it will do anything to make their quest harder. Pipes constantly burst through the floor to block entry to doors, chasms open in the floor, and air vents try to suck the children to certain doom. It uses its windows as searchlights to track down the kids, and while it rarely is as dangerous as the other foes, it is certainly more annoying. One of the more interesting bits is when the House sends the trees smashing through the windows to grab at the kids. Like Resident Evil 4, players have a few moments to quickly tap a button or meet a grisly fate. These are among the most pulse-pounding moments of Monster House, but sadly only occur a few times in the game.
The primary way the House serves to thwart the kids' quest is with puzzles, and again, Resident Evil veterans will find these puzzles very familiar. While they vary slightly, almost all the puzzles boil down to pushing crates, finding keys, or retrieving lost machinery. The only help available is from Skull, the local pizza clerk, who talks to D.J. via walkie-talkie, but his cryptic rants are often more difficult to decipher than the actual puzzles. The puzzles themselves are all very simple, although some are difficult enough to provide a challenge to young children.
The graphics for Monster House are top notch. The character models are all excellent, with the humans closely resembling their film counterparts, and the monsters having an impressive level of detail. The House itself rumbles and shakes, with doors and windows flying open and dust being kicked up by falling debris. While the graphics are not perfect, they are still high quality and serve to draw you into the game. The only real complaint is with the repetition of enemy models, which recur constantly and quickly grow dull after the first few experiences.
One area where Monster House falls especially short is in replay value. The game itself is not very long, and even an unskilled player will probably finish it within five hours. Other than a few pieces of collectable art, there are no hidden secrets within, and once you've finished the game, there is no real reason to pick it up again. The one bright spot is the bonus mini-game "Thou Art Dead," which can be accessed with tokens found inside the House. A 2-D sidescroller that feels like a mix between Castlevania and Super Mario Bros. isn't particularly lengthy or difficult, but it's the only replay value this title has.
In the end, Monster House could just as easily have been called My First Resident Evil. While less violent and more family-friendly, many of the same aspects are there and will make Monster House feel strangely familiar, from battling monsters to solving illogical puzzles. Sadly, the low difficulty level and cartoony feel make this title a poor purchase for any but the youngest of fans.