Thanks to FDG Games for the review code
Title: Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom
System: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 12/04/2018
In this successor to the Monster World series, you take control of a young man named Jin, who sets out on a quest to investigate the mystery behind everyone’s transformations into animals, all while gaining the power of some helpful animal forms himself!
Having followed this game from the very first announcement, I can proudly say that compared to the early state, Monster Boy looks much better than it was originally going to. Going for a fully animated art style, this game looks on par if not even slightly better than the sort of stuff Wayforward puts out, with the main character being very expressive, along with most of the enemies and bosses. The only real downside in this regard is that a few of the NPCs don’t look or animate nearly as well, but otherwise the game looks great in this regard, and combined with some beautiful backgrounds, you have one of the best looking 2D games I’ve seen in a long, long while, smashing the remake of Dragon’s Trap out of the water.
In fact, this game even takes that aspect to the musical score. Despite the fact that The Dragon’s Trap remake was meant to be a remake with lots of impressive remixes, I felt that most of the remixes paled compared to the original versions, which is why I left those versions on during my time with the remake. Monster Boy doesn’t offer a retro BGM option like Dragon’s Trap, but it doesn’t need to, as this game shows how you make good remixes.
While several new tracks are included, there are plenty of remixes that are absolutely stellar, helping to create what’s easily the best OST in the series. When themes like the Volcano and Haunted Mansion got stuck in my head ever since I first explored those dungeons, then you know you have a hit on your hands, especially considering how iPod worthy this musical score is. If it gets a soundtrack release, do yourselves a favor and pick this up.
Monster Boy plays like a mix of Monster World III and Dragon’s Trap, while also offering a few new elements to modernize the format and offer an incredible Metroidvania experience. Starting off, things will seem a bit slow at first, and I was honestly worried this would have the same slow start that Monster World IV had, with a lot of boring areas to explore before more interesting ones would unlock, all without letting you backtrack.
Luckily, this slow start isn’t nearly as bad, and really just consists of minor inconveniences at most, since the form you’ll get in the beginning of the game (a Pig) is slow moving and not as fun to use, especially since there are a few linear stretches where the slow movement speed doesn’t work so well for backtracking. Thankfully, in just an hour or two the game picks up immensely once you get another form, since you can switch between them on the fly and it leads to a lot of interesting puzzles. This is when the game really shines, and stands out as an excellent metroidvania, with each new form and upgrade allowing for new areas to be explored and secrets to be discovered in the older areas.
Speaking of the forms, they each add a new twist on the formula, with six in total. You start the game as Jin’s human form, which introduces the mechanics of equipment and magic, before being turned into the Pig form, which can use magic, but not equipment, and only gains the benefit of using his sense of smell to find secrets. From there you get the Snake, which has a handy projectile attack and can climb up certain walls, before going to the Frog and Lion, which can use equipment while also each offering a unique skill that helps them reach higher places. (and in the case of the Lion, a dash attack that allows for faster travel and even a triple jump of sorts) Finally, you have the Dragon, which is a bit weaker than the Lion and Frog, but can fly around for a while and shoot powerful flames.
With all of these forms in mind, the game cleverly works to make interesting puzzles and challenges with every single one, usually by requiring a certain skill, piece of equipment, or something outside the box that isn’t immediately obvious. Since the many pieces of equipment can offer different elemental effects or other aspects, they can come into play for the puzzles as well, which means that you may need to think really hard if a puzzle stumps you. Yet, just like in a Zelda or Metroid game, it never gets too frustrating to the point you need to pull out a guide or get stuck for long, and the game has a fantastic hook to it. Combine that with an incredibly useful map, satisfying combat (when you’re not the pig) and ways to find the more obscure secrets, and this game is a challenging yet incredibly fair and welcoming experience that anyone can enjoy.
In conclusion, Monster Boy is easily one of the best Metroidvanias that I have played all year long, and in a year with Guacamelee 2, that’s a very hard to accomplish feat. With a godlike soundtrack, a gorgeous artstyle, rewarding and clever puzzles, and an excellent gameflow, this is not only an outstanding Metroidvania on its own, but easily the best game in the entire Wonder Boy franchise by far. The twenty years which have passed since Monster World IV have led to not just a game on par with the greatest from the franchise, but easily a modern classic that will be remembered even more fondly than those games for years to come.
Even if you couldn’t stand any of the other Monster World games, or even the remake of Dragon’s Trap, this is still a must buy solely for how well it modernizes the format and remains very accessible to newcomers. Just be prepared for a slightly slow start, but after that first hour everything improves tenfold.
I give Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom a 9 out of 10.