Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Release Date: Q4 2008
Who doesn't love mad scientists? From their crazy hair to their bizarre fixations on anything from raising the dead to launching someone into space to watch terrible movies, they're the crazy nutbags that everyone loves. That's why it's so surprising that so few games actually put you into the role of a mad scientist. It seems like the perfect thing for video games: tons of innovation and the lack of morals or common sense to question if said innovation might, say, doom mankind. Thankfully, Eidos is looking to fix this glaring oversight with the family-friendly game of creating abominations against nature, Monster Lab.
Monster Lab puts you in the shoes of an up-and-coming mad scientist during a bit of a world crisis. The Alliance of Mad Scientists (AMS), the world's foremost group of kooky inventors, has split. Three of their members have all but retreated to their labs, and the fourth has decided that he's got a knack for being the evil kind of mad scientist instead of the wacky kind. He's looking to take over the world with an army of bio-mechanical alchemic monstrosities, and the Alliance decides that they needed someone a bit more sensible and courageous to clean up the mess. This is where you come in.
As a mad scientist, you're not exactly physically equipped to go out and stop the rogue mad scientist yourself, but your mentors at the Alliance of Mad Scientists (AMS) can help. Each of the three remaining members is an expert in one of the three branches of Mad Science: Mechanics, Biology and Alchemy. With their aid, you can turn objects you find and invent things. Inventions are fairly easy; you take any two materials you can find and combine them to create a new item. These new items are not simply created out of thin air, and it's up to you to create a great item using Wiimote-based minigames. Each of the different branches of science has different minigames, and for the E3 demo, we got to witness the one for the Mechanical branch, which is the first one you can access. By combining a rusty pipe and some screws, we were able to create a Laser Cannon Mark 1, which required some welding. The minigame involved guiding the Wiimote through an automatically scrolling screen to weld closed gaps in the armor. The higher your success rate in the minigame, the greater the quality of the produced item.
Even as a mad scientist with a Laser Cannon, you're still squishy and unsuited for combat, so like any good mad scientist, you create something to fight for you. Every invention you can create in Monster Lab corresponds to one of five body parts: head, legs, left arm, right arm and torso. Once you've got a part that corresponds to each, you can set them up on a table, hit them with a bolt of lightning, and blammo, you've got your very own heavily armed combat monster. You can't just randomly toss pieces together; you'll have to check the monster's stats to confirm that you're creating something worthwhile. Each part has different hit points, quality, and attacks assigned to them, as well as your torso generating energy used for weapons. For example, one arm may have a super-powerful cannon equipped, which can down an enemy in one shot. The downside is that this cannon may take a ton of energy, and the arm itself may be extra vulnerable to damage. On the other hand, you may equip a pair of legs that don't feature a strong attack, but include the ability to flee from battle, which can save you from a painful crushing at the hands of an enemy monster. It's all a matter of balance.
Once you've got a monster built, you can send it out to explore the world for you. The world is divided into a series of nodes, which you can move between at will. Different nodes may house certain things, such as quests or hidden items, or they could be empty space. Random monsters move between these nodes, and the random monsters move significantly slower than your creature (at least at the beginning), so that offers some interesting possibilities. You can outrun monsters if you can find a node path that leads away from them, or you can catch a fleeing monster without trouble. However, any encounter with a monster, expected or unexpected, leads into a fight.
Combat itself is fairly simple. You and your opponent monster take turns blasting each other with attacks from your weapons in good old-fashioned turn-based RPG style. Your goal is to either destroy all of an opponent's limbs besides the torso, or to destroy the torso itself. It isn't as easy as choosing your strongest attack over and over again, and there are a few things to keep an eye on. For one, each of your weapons attacks a certain part of the enemy. Some aim for the limbs, torso or head, and can only do full damage to those parts. Once that part is destroyed, you can use that same weapon to attack the torso, but it suffers from a decrease in power. Furthermore, any time either robot loses a limb, they also lose all weapons associated with that limb, so if you depend too heavily on a single weapon, you may find yourself in deep trouble when you lose it to an enemy attack.
Finally, you have to keep an eye on energy. Each attack takes energy from your monster, and if you lack the energy, you can't use that attack. It's possible to replenish energy, but it is a risky proposition. You can choose to recharge all of your energy, but it costs a whole round during which you can do nothing but let your enemy attack free of charge. The alternate choice is to use a dodge, which restores one-third of your energy, but gives you a chance to avoid the enemy attack. Dodging means that you'll have to soak up three turns' worth of damage to get the same effect as a single-use recharge.
Once you win a battle, you receive precious materials to use for inventions, but monster fighting isn't the only way to find material for inventions. One way to get better parts for your monsters is to complete quests; many of them are required to advance the plot, but there are a few that serve no purpose other than to get you new supplies for your monster. Your other choice is to locate Resource Locator Devices, which are scattered around the map and mark the location where a Wiimote minigame is waiting for you. The difficulty level of these minigames can vary; the one I saw required the player to precisely trace a spiral in a short time limit, and doing so correctly earned you some top-notch invention material, while doing it poorly earned you a bit of mockery in the form of a badge.
Badges are the Monster Lab version of Xbox Live Achievements. When you complete certain actions, you'll earn a badge, and not all of these achievements are things that benefit the player. For example, losing a minigame earns you the "Oops, My Bad" badge, which is a bit embarrassing to have sitting around in the middle of your badges for kicking monster butt. It should be rather interesting to see how completionists feel about the fact that one will have to intentionally fail to get every badge in the game.
Beyond the single-player mode, Monster Lab also is going to boast a Wi-Fi online mode. Players will be able to pit their monsters against other people's creations online through the use of Friend Codes. Unfortunately, no other information was available at the time about the actual extent of the multiplayer mode, but even if it is simply one-on-one fighting between player-created monsters, that is sure to give the game a nearly infinite amount of replay value.
Monster Lab bills itself as a kid's game, and the simplistic art style and easy-to-pick-up combat makes it pretty likely that kids will indeed be the target audience. However, the ability to customize your monster could be fairly addictive to an adult, and it may actually turn out to be a game that older siblings or even mom or dad enjoy playing along with the kids. Assuming that there won't be any major changes between the E3 build and the finished project, Monster Lab should be an excellent title for all ages.
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