Thursday, April 23, 2015

A Mixed Bag of Puzzles and Mayhem - The MonsterBag Take Your Time Review

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Quick Note: The Cartoon Network style graphics hide a simple, yet violent, puzzler. Great for players looking to play something in quick bursts or those who enjoy puzzles, but be ready for the difficulty spike with the last few levels.   

Despite what many fans (and detractors) may think about the lack of big titles on Sony's handheld, the PS Vita is the perfect playground for smaller, independent games that are great for pick up and play sessions. MonsterBag joins this pantheon of games that fit so well on the Vita, though it falls just short of the greatness many more before it have reached.

MonsterBag is a 2D puzzle game that puts players in the role of V, a MonsterBag who is left behind by its friend Nia as she heads off to school. Not wanting to be alone at home, V heads out to find its friend. There is one small problem for V. Being a MonsterBag, most people aren't as understanding as Nia. So V must navigate environments and solve puzzles to get past the crazed masses in between itself and it's best friend.

The cartoony style may detract for some, but it makes the game stand out and is quite refreshing.
The premise is simple and fits well with the art style, which is gorgeous. The look is very reminiscent of various Cartoon Network cartoons, such as Adventure Time and Fosters Home for Imaginary Friends. It's a style that isn't used very often in games, and is quite refreshing, but be warned - this game has plenty of death. A surprising amount of death that includes pink blood galore (just like Danganronpa, another fantastic Vita franchise). This isn't Call of Duty or Metal Gear Solid, so there isn't realism to it, but the stark contrast of innocent art style to brutal death sequences can be startling. 

Be prepared for lots of death and blood, despite the cute art style.
The game play is what is so great about MonsterBag. Each level involves the player moving V from person to person without being seen. Pressing left or right on the D-pad moves V from one person to another, and tapping on items within the environment allows V to pick them up and throw them at other characters. However, hitting the wrong person with an item will make them angry, making it harder to get past them. Despite the simple controls, each level has a surprising amount of variety for puzzle solving, forcing the player to move V back and forth to appease or destroy people who are in its way. This makes the game more accessible to a larger audience. The puzzles themselves are never too overwhelming, so the lack of a hint system is not as off putting as it can be in other games in the genre.

Unfortunately, the ease and accessibility of the puzzles change during the last three stages of the game, where the difficulty is ramped up for no apparent reason. The final stage, in particular, feels like it was designed around the fact that the player will fail over and over again until V is re-spawned at exactly the right moment to make it past an enemy pattern that's seemingly random. This one level became a sticking point for me for well over 30 minutes, which is frustrating when the game's levels are designed to be beaten in 5 - 15 minute spurts.


You're brain won't hurt after playing through the puzzles, so even non-puzzle gamers can enjoy the quick levels.
The game's length is another detractor for MonsterBag. It's the perfect length for what it is aiming for, and I appreciate the developer not trying to pad the game with puzzles that feel redundant, but the game is only 18 stages long with each stage being played for 5 - 15 minutes, and 15 minutes is being very generous for most stages. Once you've conquered the game, there is a second play through mode titled 'Oblain's Mode', but it simply makes the puzzles a bit more challenging. So if you've already taken care of the levels, there isn't much incentive to go back unless you truly enjoyed the puzzles in the game. The game is only $10, but the short length at the price point may irritate those expecting more bang for their buck.

Never have I worked so hard in a game to not piss the NPCs off.
Aside from these few sticking points, MonsterBag is an excellent game to play in short spurts on your Vita. Between the simple but satisfying puzzles and the unique art design, you'll be hard pressed to find something so different on any platform, let alone on Vita (which is saying something considering the size of the Vita library). If you're looking for something relaxing, simple, and great to pick up and play MonsterBag is definitely worth your time. If you're looking for something challenging and long reaching, you probably should pass this one up. 

7.0 out of 10

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