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February 2023

The Deadly Tower of Monsters

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Atlus U.S.A.
Developer: ACE Team
Release Date: Fall 2015

About Brian Dumlao

After spending several years doing QA for games, I took the next logical step: critiquing them. Even though the Xbox One is my preferred weapon of choice, I'll play and review just about any game from any genre on any system.


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PC Review - 'The Deadly Tower of Monsters'

by Brian Dumlao on Feb. 11, 2016 @ 2:00 a.m. PST

The Deadly Tower of Monsters is an action-based adventure oozing with B-movie charm.

Buy The Deadly Tower of Monsters

Chile's ACE Team has garnered a reputation for developing quirky titles with some pretty solid game mechanics. Of its small catalog of titles, Abyss Odyssey stands out as the most grounded, as it combines a roguelike platformer with a more traditional story. The developer's latest title, The Deadly Tower of Monsters, seems to be taking on a similar vibe on the surface with gameplay mechanics and a story that doesn't seem out of place in the chosen medium. All you need is a few minutes with the title to discover that the team's brand of charm is still in full effect.

You play the role of Dick Starspeed, a space explorer who has crash-landed on the planet of Gravoria. While he is scavenging for parts to repair his robotic buddy, he meets Scarlet Nova, daughter of the planet's emperor. Her father is ruling the land with an iron fist and committing despicable acts of evil. Not one to let evil stand, the duo and a reassembled Robot climb the titular tower to stop the emperor.

Though the story seems pretty pedestrian, the charm comes from the surrounding tale. You're actually playing the DVD release of a fictional 1970s cult sci-fi classic film, "The Deadly Tower of Monsters." To prepare for the film's DVD release, director Dan Smith has been brought in to lend his commentary to the film. Stories about behind-the-scenes information on the film, explanations of plot points, and other trivia is revealed for die-hard fans who have been waiting for decades to own a copy of this movie.

The commentary system is reminiscent of games like Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and Bastion, but the allure is in the humor in the director's words. Lots of tropes, like the game options, are riffed on while other things, like the whereabouts of gathered loot, are explained in a way that is silly yet plausible. Deaths are treated like terrible footage that wasn't supposed to be in the film, and other trivia make the whole thing unbelievably hilarious. Combined with claymation special effects, obvious ragdoll stand-ins, set pieces that are completely out of place, and flaws like fingerprints on the lens and visible fishing wire, and you have an uproarious take on cheap filmmaking.

The Deadly Tower of Monsters is presented in a top-down viewpoint, and the mechanics are what some would expect from an action game. You have a basic melee attack and a stronger one if you charge it up. You have a gun with unlimited ammo but has a cooldown. You can jump, which is a rarity in this type of game, but you are nimble enough and the spaces are wide enough that it doesn't feel difficult. You also have a jetpack that is terrible for upward mobility and longevity because it guzzles fuel, but it's great for hovering.

Though you only control one character at first, you eventually form a trio, and while some of the abilities are shared among the group, others are distinct to each character. For example, Dick can use timed mines to attack enemies and destroy airbags that are disguised as rocks. Scarlet can use her super speed to outrun treadmills for a short amount of time, and Robot can use his force field to slow down time and activate switches. While you can't switch off your characters and there is no multiplayer function, you do encounter a number of sleep chambers that let you swap between the three heroes.

Combat is pretty fluid, and few enemies are pushovers, forcing you to use your dodging and parrying abilities if you want to come out of a fight unscathed. Enemies can get hurt by friendly fire and environmental hazards, so good players can kite foes into traps. You collect cash and cogs, which you can spend on upgrading the various weapons you find. The guns are fun to use and appropriate for the movie genre while the melee weapons seem like a mishmash of whatever could be found on the movie set (e.g., broadswords, maces, scimitars and space knives). Achievements have a purpose beyond being badges for your Steam profile; you gain points, which can be used to upgrade weapon cooldown and health.

What sets this game apart from others is the tower. There's a variety of monsters to encounter in the tower, and you get a nice mix of enemies to fight, from apes to bats to puppies stuffed in vacuum cleaners. You can peer over the edge of the tower and shoot at enemies below, a trick that is used quite often since the game alerts you of flying pterodactyls, giant ants, and UFOs. Should you fall off the tower, you can hit a button to warp yourself to your previous spot without penalty. You also have several teleportation points in the tower, giving you access to any section you've previously visited.

That last part is important to note since the game is very fond of having you descend and ascend. You'll pass loads of areas that are blocked off by obstacles, waiting for you to acquire a new power or ability so you can explore and gain your prize. There is a lot to explore in the world, and you can miss plenty of areas if you aren't looking hard enough. If you tire of teleportation, you can fall off the side of the tower and pass through the rings.

There are few flaws in The Deadly Tower of Monsters, but they are notable. The game is a decent length, but unless you take the time to explore everything before you reach the tower's summit, you'll have no real impetus to continue your journey since there's no New Game+ mode. As mentioned before, there's no multiplayer, taking away another incentive to go through the adventure again. Combat is very enjoyable, and the automatic lock-on system is great for guns, but there are times when the system wants to target someone who isn't an immediate threat. Finally, the game has a bad habit of making you go through a rapid bounce animation every time you run into a wall or barrier.

From a technical standpoint, two things immediately stand out. The first is the game's lack of loading. Beyond respawning after death, you'll never see a load screen, and transitions from one part of the tower to another happen almost instantaneously — if you discount the old-timey transition swirls that act as your warp. The second is the sense of scope, particularly height. If you go high enough and look down, you'll see almost everything you've passed by. They're all still interactive, so a pterodactyl that appears as a speck at your height can still be shot down if you aim. You can even take a leap from the highest point and make it all the way to the ape village without any hitches. For something that's not billed as an open-world game, this is amazing.

Despite citing cheesy science fiction movies as inspiration, the graphics are gorgeous. The stop-motion animated creatures look especially good because of how well they mimic the high watermark special effect of the time. The environments do a good job of conveying the alien world as imagined by an old cult sci-fi film. Animations are done well, and the use of a filter to provide a terrible film look is top-notch, though the VHS moniker it was given is a bit of a mistake since none of the traits of the format, like video streaking or banding, are visible. ACE Team has never disappointed visually, and this title doesn't break that streak.

The sound is just as good. The sound effects are exactly what you'd expect from an old film, and it does a great job of immersing you into the experience. The voice acting is purposefully terrible, again making the experience as authentic as possible. The director's commentary is good, as his voice is pleasant enough that you don't mind hearing throughout your playtime. However, the music goes above and beyond what is expected by delivering a rousing score that is befitting of something of a higher production value. You'll want to turn up your speakers for this.

The Deadly Tower of Monsters is a very enjoyable romp. The action is mostly what you'd expect, but the vertical moments make for some excellent additions to the gameplay. The presentation is good, and the commentary and the humor will keep you glued to the game even if there's not much reason to stick around once the credits roll. Overall, The Deadly Tower of Monsters is a very solid action title that most gamers will enjoy.

Score: 8.0/10

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