Monster Madness: Grave Danger Review
|Release Date:||September 5th, 2008 (UK)|
|Reviewer:||Duncan Lawson (sinna01)|
Monster Madness: Grave Danger is a port and upgrade of the 2007 Xbox title Monster Madness: Battle for Suburbia, reengineered by Psyonix Studios. It is essentially the same title, but with a little more graphical muscle from the PS3 thrown behind it, a couple more bells and whistles tacked on, and prior grumbles about the control system addressed.
The essential gameplay is the top-down hack n’ slash formula that hasn’t changed at heart since the grand old days of coin-op Gauntlet. The top-down slasher is one of those love or hate genres, like racing or sports titles, of which you either tend to buy every single example produced, or you’d rather chew your own thumbs off before being made to pick up the controller. Happily, I fall well into the first category – so my apologies to all you newly thumbless. It’ll stop bleeding faster if you hold it over your head.
Some of the best top-down slashers ever made were the Hunter: The Reckoning series, most notably the Redeemer and Wayward instalments back in 2003 on the PS2 and Xbox. They happily balanced ranged weapons with mêlée, developed rewarding RPG-lite character customisation, and wrapped it all up in a moody demon-slaying motif. They were not terribly innovative, but good fun and represent some of the best co-op gaming to be had to this day. Monster Madness is almost exactly the same game concept, but given a teen-comedy makeover and instruction not to take itself so seriously.
It starts as it means to continue – rolling and fairly narrow levels filled with all manner of comedic spun zombies, werewolves and ghouls that need a good slaying from one of four clichéd teen characters – to wit: nerd, goth, cheerleader, and skater dude. There are comic book cut-sequences between the levels, but they do precious little to actually suggest why Hell has unleashed itself upon your town, or what we’re supposed to be doing about it. About two thirds through the game a vague mission starts to emerge, but otherwise it just helps to chart the characters stumbling from one level to the next. In most games this would be quite a sticking point, but the rest of the gaming experience is sufficiently pleasing bubble-gum nonsense that it doesn’t feel too jarring. After having recently sat through the opus that was the last Metal Gear, I’m quite happy not to see another hour long dénouement where the last anonymous ghoul reveals itself as both your lost comrade in arms and clone-brother, who then explains why the military-zombie-industrial complex is really just a front to control the world. Or is it?
The graphics wouldn’t have been too much of a stretch for the PS2, so if you’re looking to flex your High-Def muscles you would definitely be better off looking elsewhere. There are even not-infrequent examples of dropped textures, and if the game takes exception to the particular Hertz or resolution of your screen there can be some eye-fatiguing jaggies and fuzz around moving objects. That said, the ‘wacky comic book adventures’ look lets it get away with being a little more low-def than Tactical Espionage Action would.
The control system is one of the major improvements over the original title. Mêlée attacks are wholly and entirely the Circle button, with the occasional charge-up special on the Triangle. The right stick controls ranged weapons, nudging it in any direction will have your character independently fire as they move. The shoulder switches will change the ranged weapon and cycle through available grenades and special items, and the left stick moves you around. There are a few other bits and pieces such as block and roll; they turn out to be strictly decorative.
With the gameplay essentials and the control mechanic this simple, the key element that the Psyonix Studios needed to secure to keep the player interested is variety. The complete depth and breadth of the fighting mechanic and what little tactical concerns there exist are covered in the first three minutes of gameplay, so novelty needs be thrown at us thick and fast. Psyonix actually pull this off with a reasonable degree of aplomb – with only a few minutes of play ever occurring between new types of monsters to fight, new set-pieces, new vehicles and heaps of new weapons. This is of course, at heart, fairly vacuous and is the equivalent of bamboozling you away from the shallowness of the gameplay with a series of shiny objects. On the other hand, if you are prepared to suspend your cynicism for the duration, it is good clean family fun. The game soon mission-creeps to include cultists, alien invaders, Bigfoots (Bigfeet?) and just about anything else that could even be considered to be within the purview of the monster mash horror genre, adding to the sense that the game hasn’t a clue where it’s going, simply having fun along the way. There are some fun touches for the genuine enthusiast, such as the irate way a character will swing the chainsaw once it’s out of gas, mimicking the closing shot of Leatherface, him off the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Otherwise its pretty lights, explosions, and none too challenging gameplay.
Each of the four characters doesn’t seem to handle particularly differently, and will find on every level a new mêlée weapon specifically for them. Any character can pick up any weapon, but will swing them about clumsily to little effect. These will range from the silly to the seriously dangerous – from cheerleading batons and Zimmer frames to broadswords and matched ninja sickles. The ranged weapons come in a bigger variety, and can be equally enjoyed by any character upon being purchased from Larry Tools, travelling weaponsmith and general facilitator of whatever contrived plot McGuffin is used to get us from level to level. The game currency is tokens automatically collected from slain monsters, and constituent parts that need to be harvested from scattered tool chests. The guns follow the ‘wacky’ feel of the game, and look like what Wallace and Gromit would have been making in their shed after three tours of duty in Vietnam.
Pieces such as pipe-shotguns, nailguns, and Napalm SuperSoakers fill in for their more serious counterparts. The later stages of the guns are satisfying to use, with laser cannons and chainguns chattering and bucking pleasingly, mowing down the damned by the swathe. All such ranged tools can be levelled up with enough parts and ‘cash’, and provide incentive to replay earlier levels to find the right bits and pieces to butch up your weapon of choice. There are a good dozen or so weapons, each with 3 upgrades, characterising the use of novelty and shiny distraction that keeps the game chopping along. The guns and the mêlée attacks are balanced enough that neither feels like a bad choice if you decided to specialise your character in either.
The simplicity of the controls will let just about anyone engage quickly, and the gameplay itself is just as welcoming. Monster Madness, whilst not particularly notable in itself for the individual player experience, is actually excellent friend or family co-operative gaming. A personal bugbear of mine is the decline and near extinction of good same-screen cooperative gaming. Just about every title made will have online multiplayer, and everything from the new Call of Duty to Fable II has online co-operative. But what of us strange and fading types who live in the same time zone or city as our gaming buddies – who actually like to congregate in the same space to socialise, drink and game? This may blow your mind– and I know some of you folk just lost thumbs here so I’m sorry in advance – what if you actually live with some sort of kissy-kissy life partner who you enjoy gaming with? “Fancy a game of Fable II, dearest?” “Why yes I do darling – I’ll just catch the bus to your mothers and use the console there shall I?” . Nearly gone are the days when you’d take the words ‘P 2 Press Start Now” blinking in the top left corner of the screen for granted. Some titles are trading on being playable by different ages or hardcore and non-hardcore gamers together, but frankly, these tend to assume you’re playing with an infant or an idiot. Monster Madness is an actual game different ages and abilities can get into, rather than gardening or seeing who can stand in front of the Wii on one leg for the longest.
As far as I have worked out, it doesn’t actually seem possible to die in Monster Madness. Your life bar depleting will just result in instant and unpenalised respawn whilst in multiplayer, meaning that level progression and the novelties it throws at you will be constant and satisfying. The controls are simple and quickly accessible, and the goals straightforward enough for no one to feel left behind. Up to four players can join in at any one time, and the amount of pyrotechnic silliness this causes will guarantee a fun, social experience.
Monster Madness: Grave Danger is neither big nor particularly clever, but it clearly has had enough work put into it to elevate it from just repetitive slashing to good clean family-friendly entertainment. Some of the additional bells and gadgets tacked on for the PS3 version are fairly uninspiring, such as mini-challenges to unlock additional outfits, but the tune-up the core gaming experience has received makes it a valid addition to the PS3 catalogue. If you’re a lonely shut-in then you can no doubt find a better single player experience. However, if you’re a friendly shut-in with friends, especially friends with beer and their thumbs still attached, then it’s probably the most co-op fun for the PS3 today.
- Excellent co-op
- Weapon and monster variety
- Level replay-ability
Not so good stuff
- Repetitive shading to tedious on ones own
- Graphics sub-par for current gen consoles
- Non-existent plot
- Unnecessary mini-game additions
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