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December 2022

Monster Crown

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: SOEDESCO
Developer: Studio Aurum
Release Date: Oct. 12, 2021


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Switch Review - 'Monster Crown'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on Oct. 28, 2021 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Monster Crown is a dark monster catching game with true crossbreeds, featuring a brand new dynamic breeding system and a deep story in a world filled to the brim with optional content.

It's not surprising to see indie attempts at creating monster trainer games. After all, Pokémon is over 20 years old, and the kids who grew up with it are now in game development. There are quite a few attempts, from Neomon to Temtem. It's always exciting to see a new attempt at the genre done by people who love it. Monster Crown is the latest in the lineup, but it shows that love for the genre isn't always enough.

At its core, Monster Crown plays a lot like Pokémon. You play as a young child who sets out on a journey, and you can find and battle monsters in the wild. You collect them by using Pacts, you battle powerful gym trainers who raise your level cap, etc., etc. The game wears its inspiration on its sleeve, and you know what you're getting. This isn't necessarily a flaw. It's possible for clones to outdo their inspirations and become something better. However, Monster Crown's a bit too caught up in its own problems.

For one thing, the story is a mess. It simultaneously tries to feel like an old-school Pokémon game while also being "dark" and "mature." In this case, dark and mature means that people swear and there is inexplicable violence. These two things do not go together. The game shifts from the cheerful friendly tone of Pokémon to lame attempts at maturity, and somehow, it ends up being worse. It doesn't treats the world of monster training any more seriously or logically; it's just as silly as any Pokémon game but with more swearing. This also puts it in the weird position of being a game in a genre designed for children that absolutely isn't interested in being for children, but it also doesn't manage to create a Pokémon for adults. It's basically a Pokémon for edgy teens.

The combat system is very similar to Pokémon but somewhat simplified. As in that game, you have creatures with different elemental types and different moves. Hitting an enemy with a move they are weak against does more damage, hitting an enemy with one they are strong against does less. Different moves have different attributes, such as poisoning, lowering stats, and so on. There are some nice changes, such as the complete removal of the "PP" system that Pokémon used to limit actions, but it's a bare-bones system, and the creatures don't have quite as much variety in attributes or abilities as their more well-known brethren.

Perhaps the coolest feature in Monster Crown is the breeding system. Again, this is rather similar to Pokémon in that you take two of your creatures and breed them to make a new, stronger creature with the attributes of both. This stands out because you can also crossbreed to create new variations of your existing creatures. There are a couple hundred monsters in the game, but most of them have different variations for each elemental type, leading to a huge number of possible outcomes. Repeated breeding can also provide access to much higher stats and abilities. There are even special items to transform your creature into new forms. It's a really satisfying evolution on the Pokémon system that offers more unique outcomes and more transparency. There are also other options, such as fusing monsters or randomized trading with people on the internet. If your favorite part of monster trainer games is building the ultimate creature, then Monster Crown has a lot of ways to achieve that.

However, one of the biggest problems on the surface with Monster Crown is that it apes Pokémon so closely but misses a few appealing characteristics, like the monster design. For the most part, the monsters in Monster Crown are visually unappealing mishmashes. At best, they feel like the Dollar Store version of existing Pokémon, and at worst, they're bland and unmemorable. The crossbreeding feature means that most of the monsters have multiple designs, so it's a neat concept but doesn't change the fact that none of them are as instantly appealing as Bulbasaur, Charmander and Squirtle. It makes Monster Crown feel like a lower-effort Pokémon rom-hack instead of a Pokémon-inspired title. I like a couple of designs, but none were particularly memorable. Compared to other monster trainer games, Monster Crown lacks that certain je ne sais quoi.

Likewise, the elemental strength and weakness system doesn't feel anywhere as interesting or robust. Each monster is one of five types: Brute, Malicious, Relentless, Unstable or Will. Each type is strong and weak against only one other type. In addition to feeling less interesting than even the first-gen Pokémon's elemental system, it's also pretty difficult to parse at a glance. Brute is strong against Malicious. Unstable is strong against Relentless. Why? Who knows? The game provides some reasoning for it, but it never feels natural, and I remembered the colors more than the types. Being able to take your favorite monster and change its typing is a cool addition, but it doesn't change the fact that it lacks the depth of similar franchises.

Additionally, there's no real way to get a sense of a monster's power. The game tells you early on that two monsters on the same level are not equal, and the stronger monster still easily defeats the weaker, but this goes significantly further. You can trivially defeat enemies many levels higher or lose a much higher-level monster in a single hit to a weaker monster, and it's never quite clear until it happens. Monsters on the overworld vary wildly in strength, and you have no real way to identify their power until you get a feel for it. Games like Digimon or Pokémon tend to have the stronger monsters look notably more deadly and powerful, but the lackluster designs in Monster Crown can make it difficult to do that.

Of course, these are all surface-level complaints, and the issues go far deeper. Monster Crown is remarkably buggy, to the point that I had trouble telling the difference between a bug and bad design. Let's start with healing for an example. One of the first healing locations charges money instead of being free, but healing doesn't provide a visual indication that it's occurring, so it's easy to think that you mis-clicked. When I tried to use the second kind of healing place (campfires), the game froze 100% of the time. It didn't matter what I had interacted with or what I did before; the game would just freeze.

The game is full of bugs or design problems like that. Sometimes the bug was obvious, like stuttering graphics. Other times, it felt confusing, such as characters walking through walls, enemies refusing to die, or mechanics working differently for no clear reason. There are so many little issues that add up to being frustrating. The original Pokémon games were by no means perfectly designed, glitch-free experiences, but it's frustrating that a game released decades later feels less polished than a Game Boy title.

One thing that Monster Crown does well is capture the aesthetic of the old-school Pokémon offerings, so it genuinely looks and feels like a Game Boy Color game. That is an arguable negative for some, but in this case, it does a good job of capturing the atmosphere that the developer was striving for. I'm not as thrilled by the character art, which feels bland and lackluster, but turning on the game gave me a nice nostalgia rush that I wasn't expecting.

At the end of the day, Monster Crown has very little going for it aside from that brief rush of nostalgia. The interesting mechanics are buried behind a poorly balanced combat system, a ridiculous story, and a mountain of glitches. There are some interesting ideas, but it's difficult to recommend the title based solely on that potential. It's a game that feels like knockoff Pokémon that you can play on the same system as the real Pokémon offerings, not to mention all of the other competitors. There are patches coming that will hopefully alleviate some of these issues, but until they do, there are much better monster trainer games out there.

Score: 5.0/10

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