In the gaming world there are several old-school titles that gamers hold near and dear to their hearts. One of these is assuredly the SNES classic Zombie’s Ate My Neighbors. With Monster Madness it is obvious that the developers have a certain love and respect for this title as their game almost feels like a spiritual successor to the franchise. Monster Madness takes the principles of the aforementioned title and meshes them with solid co-op play (single-system only mind you), online competitive and cooperative modes, and enough zombies to make George Romero say “Damn”, you no doubt should have something special on your hands.
For the most part Monster Madness gets a lot of things right, however there are some speed bumps here and there that keep the game from being labeled a must-own. The biggest offender is the unforgiving checkpoint system. There are a total of twenty levels in this game and some of them are so massive in scale it will take you over an hour to complete each one. While this is all well and good when it comes to game length, it becomes frustrating when you put in thirty minutes of hardcore play just to have it wiped out by a cheap enemy who gets the drop on you. This is a common occurrence in Monster Madness and needless to say it can get frustrating.
The second problem, and this can be attributed to many of your untimely deaths, is the awkward control layout. Anyone who has played the demo will tell you that the controls are not up to par. Forcing the player to jump and dodge by clicking in the left and right thumb stick is a ridiculous design choice. In the games defense the developers have stated they will be providing a custom control option in a future title update, but this is something that should be standard in all games these days. The rest of the control layout works well once you get accustomed to playing a top-down action game with FPS style controls. There are two very distinct styles of combat in the game and mastering each one will take some practice, but for the most part they work well in conjunction with each other.
Attacks are mapped to each trigger with the right being used for melee and weapon attacks and the left for tossing projectiles. The bumpers serve as cycling buttons for each type respectively and the X button is used to interact with objects and pick up new weapons. You can tap the Y button to switch between two very different camera styles and the A and B buttons are just rehashed versions of the bumpers, which really makes no sense as you would think these could be mapped to the jump and dash controls for a much better result. The d-pad can be used to hotkey specific weapons for quick use, but most of the time it isn’t really a necessity.
All is not lost though as the game has plenty of greatness buried beneath its problems. As I mentioned earlier this is one massive game, sometimes almost too massive. There are five chapters, each one consisting of four levels and all of them, outside of the initial training level are more than adequate size. The levels are also very distinct meaning you won’t be drudging through the same palette for hours on end blasting away at the same monotonous creatures, in fact if you check out the game’s Bestiary in the extras menu you will quickly realize that the amount of enemy types in this game is absolutely astonishing. Very rarely did I ever get tired of fighting the same monsters or looking at the same background as the game does a nice job of changing it up just before it becomes stale.
This can also be a burden on players as the levels are sometimes crowded with too much to see and do. For instance every level contains parts, items, and other goodies that you can collect. The problem is that they are scattered literally everywhere; most levels have nearly 500 collectible items to find and if you die everything up to your last check point is lost and you have to collect it again. It can be overwhelming sometimes and usually leads to you skipping most of the goodies and concentrating solely on staying alive.
The downside to this is that collecting these tokens and parts is what will earn you weapon upgrades and new items. You can take these to Larry (an ally you meet early on in the game) and he will construct and upgrade new weapons for you to use. This is a crucial part of the game as melee attacks will only get you so far. It would be nicer to have fewer items to collect per level and perhaps lower the cost of items in the store as collecting them all is simply a task most gamers won’t care to partake in.
The key to any game of this type though is always playing with friends and Monster Madness offers several ways to do this, and is sans one that almost kills the deal from the get-go. In addition to the single-player campaign you can also set forth with up to three of your closest pals in single-system co-op. Tearing through the campaign makes some of the shortcomings seem less important, but it also highlights some others that almost deem it unplayable. The first is the horrendous co-op camera when more than one player is onscreen.
Trying to navigate and fight using this system is harder than some of the waves of zombies the game throws at you, which brings us to the biggest problem with the co-op feature; no online support at all. In this day and age you come to expect certain things from certain games, and in the case of a top-down action game in the style of classic SNES titles you would really expect to see some form of online co-op. Granted you have different modes of co-op available, but you simply cannot play through the story mode online, and that is a crime as it would have made most gamers completely forget about so many of the game’s other issues.
Outside of the core single-player campaign and single-system co-op options there are also a wide variety of online modes that should keep you intrigued for quite some time. You have the standard deathmatch, king of the hill, and even capture the flag as well as a special co-op mode that consists of you and your buddies slinging it out against an endless wave of baddies until no one is left standing. Some of the maps are small and feel confined, but once you start engaging in the larger maps with up to 16 players you will really come to appreciate this feature as it is a lot of fun. While it certainly won’t make or break your purchase it is certainly an appreciated feature, now if we could only get developers to stop holding back content until the game ships so they can charge us for more premium content.
Visually the game has moments of brilliance such as monstrous (like that pun?) amounts of stuff onscreen at once. The environments are very interactive and the physics engine in the game is one of the best to date. Almost every object can be manipulated and there are even environmental hazards and traps that really give the levels a certain charm and interactivity. The animations are still on the disappointing side, but with the visual flare and comic book style presentation the game has a certain charm that is hard not to love.
In the end Monster Madness is an extremely solid experience that has some issues that unfortunately bring it down a few notches. Granted it is not the Xbox Live Arcade experience some people would have you believe, as the game has so much content packed onto the disc it is more than worth the price of admission. The iffy controls and problematic camera system do hinder the gameplay and the truly unforgiving checkpoint system could easily ruin it for most players, but those willing to look past these will find an enjoyable romp with some old-school flavor that most of today’s games lack ten fold. While I can’t recommend going out and purchasing it, at least not until they fix some of these issues, I can suggest a rental. Then if you can look past its faults I guarantee you will find a great game just waiting to be discovered.