If you’ve played any of the old Pokémon games, then you’re bound to be familiar with Monster Crown. From its visuals to its core gameplay loop, Monster Crown borrows heavily from the Pokémon series. However, while it never replicates it with as much polish or grace as those original classics, Monster Crown does offer up a plethora of original ideas and concepts. Well, just enough to keep the player intrigued over the course of its runtime.
“The muted colour scheme and low detail sprite work do successfully pull off the faux Gameboy Colour visual style.”
Monster Crown’s visuals are likely its weakest aspect, which is a good thing considering they’re rather beautiful. While some of the sprite work failed to impress, the attempt at replicating the old school Pokémon aesthetic is admirable. Admittedly, the muted colour scheme and low detail sprite work do successfully pull off the faux Gameboy Colour visual style.
While I can understand that to some this may sound like criticism, as someone who was brought up playing games on a small, dimly lit Gameboy Advance SP screen, Monster Crown’s visuals feel somewhat nostalgic. They’re not perfect, but they have absolutely accomplished what they set out to do.
The same can also be said of the game’s soundtrack, which is mostly made up of Pokémon-esque chiptunes. While none of them particularly stood out, they were catchy enough for exploring Monster Crown’s reasonably sized world. Should Monster Crown get a long-running series like Pokémon, then I’m sure these tracks will be as ingrained in our collective consciousness as the Pokémon battle tune is.
“Monster Crown’s gameplay is as one would expect from a Pokémon-like.”
Monster Crown’s gameplay is as one would expect from a Pokémon-like. Essentially, players duke it out against other Monsters by attacking with a range of moves. As is tradition, you’ll deal additional damage if your attribute or type is stronger than your opponent’s. It’s the same rock paper scissors mechanic you’ve seen countless times before, and it fares no differently in Monster Crown.
That’s not to say, however, that Monster Crown isn’t fun. Far from it. There’s something oddly comforting about coming back to this familiar, comfort-food style gameplay. It’s why it has appeared in umpteen different JRPGs across the past two decades. But I maintain that it is, to an extent, still enjoyable. It is made even more so by Monster Crown’s numerous enhancements.
For one, there are no more random encounters. Monsters pile up on screen before your very eyes. It’s up to you whether you fight them or run to the nearest town. While we’re finally seeing something similar appear in the Pokémon games, that didn’t lessen the sense of satisfaction I received when I realised that this was the system of choice for Monster Crown. Frankly, seeing a screen fade to black only to reveal an enemy when I least expect it is a thing I’m not partial to. Knowing where my enemies are, what type they are and that I can avoid them is phenomenal.
“The breeding mechanic is by far its most original idea and feels right at home in this genre.”
Monster Crown also has a range of much stronger opponents scattered across its world. These work well as incentives for players to return to certain locations at a later point. It’s a nice touch and one that kept me on my toes throughout. It also gave me something exciting to look forward to in the future.
Another more notable aspect of Monster Crown is the breeding mechanic. This is by far its most original idea and feels right at home in this genre. It essentially allows players to merge two Monsters together to create a vast range of unique Monsters never seen before. The rush I received from discovering yet another sub-type was exhilarating and one I craved constantly.
The final improvement Monster Crown makes over its competition is that it has extended its party count by 2. While other games allow players to have 6 creatures present in their party at any given time, Monster Crown allows you to have 8. This, I can only assume, was done to counteract the games startling difficulty, which I shall address momentarily. It is a nice addition, if only because it allows you to collect and keep more of the better-designed Monsters in your party. It ensures you’re rarely sacrificing one cool Monster for another, simply because you ran out of space.
“Unfortunately, Monster Crown does have a few weaknesses.”
Unfortunately, Monster Crown does have a few weaknesses. Firstly, there is the aforementioned difficulty, which comes as a result of some annoying additions. Foremost is the fact that upon death the player loses all of their items. While there is the option to store items in a bank, it is the added inconvenience of having to re-purchase those items whenever you die that causes a problem. Furthermore, for some strange reason, you are forced to pay whenever you want to heal your party in town. I suppose having my Pokémon healed for free spoiled me, as I found this to be an entirely unnecessary feature.
Additionally, especially earlier on in the game, items are scarce. Before you get to the first town, the player has to rely on discovering healing items in the wild. Otherwise, every time you die you’ll be returned to your farm only to have to retrace your steps for the hundredth time. It was a frankly frustrating start to the game, and something only really alleviated by the larger party size.
“I encountered numerous issues both graphically and mechanically while playing.”
There are a couple of genuinely frustrating mechanics included in Monster Crown too that make me wonder why they were considered in the first place. For starters, the player is level-gated until they beat this game’s equivalent of a Gym Leader. This is also not disclosed to the player for quite some time, so I spent a considerable amount of time grinding away for simply no reason. Also, Tamer Leaders steal one of your Monsters if you lose. The pro of this is that if you win you get one of theirs. But honestly, I cannot fathom why this was included as it is a baffling decision.
Finally, I encountered numerous issues both graphically and mechanically while playing. When exploring the large world, it is easy to get stuck in certain places. For example, when heading down a path that led to a dead-end, for whatever reason a man appeared to my right, blocking my way back. This meant I was stuck there and forced to restart the game entirely as there is no way back to the main menu. Additionally, whenever it rained, or whenever I entered a larger area, the screen would stutter constantly as I moved around. I’m unsure why, but it led to a deeply uncomfortable sensation that I can imagine would bother a lot of players.
“Monster Crown will be best enjoyed by those looking for a nostalgia trip.”
However, despite these issues, Monster Crown can be a really good game, albeit an inconsistent one. Its Monster designs, while not always entirely inspired, do offer that initial rush I got the first time I played a Pokémon game. Its combat is fun and often very engaging, its story is mature and at times even philosophical and its music is incredibly catchy.
I think ultimately, Monster Crown will be best enjoyed by those looking for a nostalgia trip. While it is by no means a bad game by today’s standards, it does rely heavily on familiar tropes. While it has perfectly captured the style both visually and mechanically of the old Pokémon games, this may only really appeal to fans of those older titles. For people wanting a more modernised and sleek monster-taming experience, Monster Crown may not be for you.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on Switch, code was provided by the Publisher.