In a year that is gushing with amazing platformers, including Celeste and The Messenger, Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom from developer FDG Entertainment took me on a grand adventure that I never thought was possible. The attention to detail in the visuals, coupled with a heartfelt story and amazing soundtrack, made Monster Boy one Metroidvania platformer I will not forget for some time.
The story starts off with our hero Jin relaxing and fishing, when all of a sudden his Uncle Nabu is riding a barrel turning everything into monsters and the villagers into animals. It’s here that Jin has to figure out what has possessed his Uncle to become such a menace. The only way to save everyone is to collect the sacred orbs and to release the curse to the kingdom. The world is teeming with life and it all feels like a world you can engulf yourself in.
If you played last year’s remake of Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap, you’ll be very familiar with what Monster Boy has to offer. It’s an action RPG platformer with six awesome and different forms that have unique platforming and combat abilities to make to make your adventure exciting from start to finish. Monster Boy stands out from other Metroidvanias in the wide and diverse landscapes it provides, along with a vast variety of abilities and tools you can use to defeat the many different types of enemies.
Changing into different creatures is where the Metroidvania aspects come into play. For example, the different forms have their own perks like the pig form which is able to use magic and sniff out secret paths. The snake form can slither his way through tight areas and climb green vines on the walls. The frog is great at swimming and using his tongue to swing from platform to platform with a single flick. Not once did any form feel like a hindrance or nuisance to control. Each ability gives you a chance to backtrack to previous areas to unlock more secrets and loot to customize your armor, spells, and status.
While I wouldn’t describe Monster Boy as a difficult game to play, it does try to get you to think outside of the box, taking into consideration the powers of your forms and tools you have. Aside from the monster forms, certain creatures can equip swords, shields, shoes, and other accessories. It adds some more RPG elements on top of everything else. The attributes of these tools can then be used to manipulate the environment and also solve puzzles.
Unlocking each monster form felt rewarding and I chased after that feeling with every new orb I collected. This is turn allowed me to unlock another monster form that would help me to further explore the world. With every new orb collected also came boss fights that were very rewarding to face and a cherry on top to an already sublime adventure. While they weren’t particularly taxing or too difficult, they did push me to use my powers in different ways, oftentimes in combinations of different forms.
In the past five years Monster Boy has taken many different looks in development. In today’s gaming world of graphics having intense realism or using a retro pseudo 8-bit/16-bit art style of nostalgia, Monster Boy took a different path of hand drawn sprites and the amount of detail is nothing short of breathtaking. No moment was dull and the animations were spot-on with emotions and shades color. Not your typical indie look for a not so typical indie title.
The visuals help to sell Monster Boy’s charm, but much of it also comes form its brilliant sound design. Just how the smallest visual details got attention, so do the sounds of the world. You’ll be able to hear the pitter patter of your footsteps in a damp cave thanks to the amazing implementation of HD rumble on the Nintendo Switch. The soundtrack goes well with each area of the island you explore with jungle beats while in the rainforests, or a somber string track while in a dark cave.
With over fifteen hours of solid platforming gameplay, I have to say Monster Boy made me just feel happy the whole time I was playing. I felt like this was the perfect title that encapsulates what video games are about and just was an experience I didn’t want to end.
Overall, Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom delivers on everything you want from a video game. With the over saturation of platforming titles coming to the Switch, Monster Boy finds a way to stand out and capture my imagination. I had a lot of fun exploring the world using the six different forms, with each feeling like a whole new way to play rather than just a pallette swap. It was all presented in a gorgeous and bright art style, supplemented by a fantastic soundtrack. You can’t go wrong playing Monster Boy and it is, without a doubt, one of the best titles of the year.