Monster Tale is one of those games that’s destined to be overlooked in the Nintendo DS’s spectacular library. Even with a solid pedigree, it was released during the twilight of the DS’s lifespan, and the box art doesn’t exactly appeal to anyone looking for a good tough game.
It’s a shame, as Monster Tale not only is another solid entry into the DS’s coveted library, but may stand out in history as a forgotten, underrated classic of this handheld generation.
If this is the first time you’re hearing about Monster Tale, I’m not surprised; that’s bound to happen when you’re overshadowed by the big Pokemon machine. Monster Tale‘s a platform adventure game developed by DreamRift, a company comprised of key devs in charge of underrated DS classic Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure. Similar to how Hatsworth was a melding of two seemingly incompatible genres, Monster Tale does the same: to be more precise, it’s a Metroidvania pet sim.
Now, if this were Game Dev Story, that would likely get dreadful reviews from critics, but luckily it’s not, and even luckier, the genres mesh together perfectly. Part of that credit goes to the story, as it’s simple and charming enough to keep the game captivated til the very end. You’re Ellie, a kid that’s somehow stumbled into the Monster World, and you’ve found a curious looking egg. Before you know it, the egg hatches, and you have yourself your own little monster companion. Named Chomp, your new friend will help as you free all the monsters from the clutches of some ragtag kids that have taken the Monster World and claimed it their own. The general plot is effective, even if it is explicitly for kids.
The gameplay, however, is not for kids. It’s a Metroidvania game to its very core, with encouraged exploration, save rooms, power-ups, and backtracking. Lots and lots of backtracking. Monster Tale‘s biggest fault is perhaps the excessive amount of backtracking; you’ll find yourself traversing entire areas multiple times to discover newer worlds, power-ups, and enemies.
The backtracking isn’t too bad though, as it aids with the development of Chomp. That’s where the pet sim aspects come in: Chomp resides in the bottom screen of the DS, and every so often, enemies will drop items and/or food when you defeat them. Collect these objects, and they’ll be transported straight to the bottom screen, where Chomp will then interact with them. Once he’s done, he’ll have gained some points in various stats; for example, reading a book will garner an increase in intelligence, or using a soccer ball will increase his speed stat. When Chomp interacts with these long enough, he’ll evolve into different forms, each of which have their own strengths and weaknesses.
Juggling enemies will garner more coins and more objects for Chomp to enjoy and use to level up, so going through past areas and essentially grinding through enemies is actually quite enjoyable. But that begs the question: what the hell does Chomp do beyond that? Well, at any point you can call Chomp up to the top screen, at which point he can help you with various special attacks mapped to the L and R buttons. You gain access to more of these special moves as Chomp evolves into separate forms.
Initially, Chomp won’t be of much use, but later on, the combat will get challenging enough that you’ll definitely want to use him. Monster Tale isn’t as ball-bustingly difficult as Henry Hatsworth, but it really will demand your attention in the last two worlds. In fact, the later levels of the game really do strengthen that bond between Ellie and Chomp, to the point where you really will end up actively caring about him.
There really isn’t much else to say about Monster Tale, except that it’s an absolutely engaging experience from beginning to end. It’s not a particularly long game; after spending ten hours beating the game, I had 98% progress in the game, including all the forms and special attacks and whatnot. Still, there’s nothing about it that I can say I truly disliked. Monster Tale is a meticulously designed game with an impeccable, vivid sense of charm that’s hard to come by in this generation. Even if you’ve moved onto the 3DS, you owe it to yourself to check out this game.