Review: Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom (Switch)

A gorgeous, but poorly paced adventure.

By Andy Hoover. Posted 12/26/2018 19:00 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Gorgeous worlds and animations throughout; whimsical sense of adventure; plenty of clever puzzles that take advantage of the many mechanics
Poison Mushroom for...
Hit detection issues with combat and platforming; boring beginning as you use get the least enjoyable forms first

Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is interesting in that it is an all-new sequel to a series of old-school games recently revived for modern consoles. While Wonder Boy Returns and Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap were remakes of early entries in Sega’s old Wonder Boy franchise, Monster Boy is a brand-new game based on ideas from previous entries. Considering this, it really isn’t surprising that the game has an old-school vibe, but that retro feel might go a bit too far.

The setup is simple enough: you play as Jin, a young hero who must save his kingdom after his uncle, acting way out of character, flies through town zapping everyone with a magic wand that turns them into animals. Jin initially avoids the onslaught but, after confronting his uncle, ends up suffering the same fate as he is made into an anthropomorphic pig. In this new form, Jin must set out to recover a set of magic orbs that might be able to restore the kingdom’s residents while also granting him the ability to transform into new animal forms. It’s not the most complex of tales, but the dialogue is written with enough lighthearted wit to keep things entertaining and the colorful world reinforces the same sense of whimsical adventure.

Once the game proper starts following Jin’s swine-tacular fate, you’ll find yourself in what is clearly a Metroidvania game. The world is made up of interconnected areas each with their own themes as well as plenty of secrets. You’ll find plenty of seemingly impassable obstacles that you’ll need to return to after getting new transformations, powers, or equipment in order to progress or find hidden goodies like more health or expanded stocks for your magic. This is where we actually experience the game’s first major flaw: the first few hours of the game are frustratingly boring.

The pig form you start with simply isn’t fun to play as; the fact that he gets a variety of unique spells to wield is relatively interesting but, early on, his boring movement and relatively limited supply of said magic really feels like a chore. The second form is a snake that also has some clever new abilities but, as one of only two options at the time, access to this transformation doesn’t make the game that much more interesting. The big issue with these two transformations is that they are utterly terrible at combat, with very low damage output and generally limited movement. This makes the first few hours rather annoying. As you unlock later forms, the gameplay evens out and you can focus more on what the game does well, but intermixing the more specialized forms with those better at combat would have made for a smoother, more enjoyable experience.

Thankfully the puzzles found throughout the game are well implemented and take advantage of each form’s unique abilities very well. These puzzles can also often be surprisingly challenging, especially considering the cartoony look of the game. Things never get overly difficult, but the game doesn’t make things too easy either, so there’s a pretty good balance. Unfortunately, issues arise when we start looking at the combat and platforming. To be blunt, Monster Boy feels way too old. There’s a strange disconnect between the animations and world itself as you will often see yourself fall through the edges of platforms and clearly land blows on enemies that don’t register. The problems with combat aren’t just limited to the snake and pig, because as you unlock more combat-oriented forms you will quickly discover their swords have shockingly small hit boxes. In some ways, it feels more true to the style of older games, but that doesn’t make it better or even really acceptable. Were these issues addressed, the game would otherwise feel really good and responsive, so it makes these frequent cheap hits and deaths incredibly irritating.

At least the game’s presentation is pretty much beyond reproach. Upon booting the game up, you are treated to a lavishly animated anime style opening complete with its own theme song, and the actual gameplay carries over this beautiful, vibrant style. The world is gorgeously drawn and every character is animated with an amazing attention to detail. Plenty of games go for the look and feel of playing a cartoon, and Monster Boy pulls it off incredibly well. One could argue that the look of the game and its areas isn’t really all that unique, but the execution is strong enough that it’s easy to forgive the game for not being more creative. The sound design and soundtrack pull their weight as well, further helping sell the sense of a fun, heroic adventure for the whole family; even the cheesy theme song feels perfectly appropriate.

Considering how much Monster Boy does well, its flaws feel all the more frustrating. It’s a beautiful throwback adventure that is, overall, quite enjoyable once it picks up steam, but its problems are hard to ignore. Simply put, the janky hit detection from decades-old games is a flaw that breaks up the flow of otherwise smooth controls, forcing the player to spend their first few hours with the least enjoyable transformations, leaving a poor first impression. Still, the overall experience should prove enjoyable for those looking for a retro inspired action-platformer with a beautifully produced visage; there are just some hurdles you’ll need to clear first.

Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.

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