Monster Tale

A game by DreamRift for DS, originally released in 2011.
Monster Tale stars a determined little girl named Ellie who finds herself flung into the Monster World, where she must fight her way through loads of sprite-based enemies and environments with the assistance of her newborn monster pal named Chomp, as they embark on a quest to save both of their worlds. But before we get into their adventure, we need to start with another…

In 2009, EA’s Tiburon studio released a game on the Nintendo DS called Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure. The action/puzzle hybrid game was something of an anomaly for the developer, which had theretofore focused on developing franchise sports titles. It was even more of an anomaly in the gaming marketplace at large, as it integrated puzzle-solving and action-platforming together into a single game, with gameplay split between the 2 screens on the DS. Both the puzzle-solving and platforming were important on their own, but they each affected the other in interesting ways that directly impacted gameplay.

OK, so what does the monocled avenger have to do with Monster Tale? Plenty. Henry Hatsworth was developed by Peter Ong (lead designer) and Ryan Pijai (lead programmer). After the game’s release, the pair left Electronic Arts to form their own studio, called DreamRift, which is the developer of Monster Tale. The relationship between the 2 games goes further than that, however, as Monster Tale also mashes 2 genres together which interact with one another via the 2 screens on the Nintendo DS.

On the top screen, Ellie is the platforming hero, while Chomp provides backup support. But through the course of the game, Chomp can learn new abilities and boost his stats via a pseudo-monster raising simulation that takes place on the bottom screen.

WAIT! HOLD UP!! Don’t go anywhere!

While there are plenty of people out there who absolutely love monster raising games, there are plenty of action-oriented gamers who are completely unwilling to tolerate this sort of doohickery (new word!). But it’s not quite what you think… Besides, if you chose to never play any game that has monster-raising as a feature, you’d never be able experience something like Alisia Dragoon, which would be a darn shame.

In Henry Hatsworth, enemies that were destroyed on the top screen were sent down to the bottom screen to become puzzle blocks that needed to be cleared (and which could give you powerups for the top screen). There is a similar system in place here. Killed enemies and destroyed objects from the top screen drop down to the bottom and become food, treasure chests, and books. While Ellie’s actions are restricted to the top screen, Chomp is able to move freely between the two, and he can utilize the objects on the bottom screen, such as reading a book to learn a new ability.

And, rather than forcing the player to stop playing the action game to break off and play a puzzle game, as in Henry Hatsworth, Chomp has some intelligence of his own. All you need to do is tap a button to send Chomp from one screen to the other, leaving you to play through the top-screen action game without having to constantly break away to solve puzzles or fondle some kind of needy sim-pet. He will go about opening gifts and reading books on his own without your direction, or you can use the stylus (or your thumb, since you’ll be using the D-pad, face buttons, and shoulder buttons to play the game) to make Chomp go to a specific object. There are also some unique objects that allow for some additional cross-screen interaction.

While the game features plenty of straightforward beat-em-up and projectile-firing action, it is also has hints of Metroidvania, with certain paths that are inaccessible until Ellie and Chomp learn the proper abilities. Ellie and Chomp can both learn new moves, including defenses and attacks. For instance, Ellie learns to clobber enemies with her handbag, unleash some projectile attacks, and even perform moves like a wall-jump. Chomp can learn to change the shape of his body to assist Ellie, such as stretching himself into a spear to attack enemies, or using his tongue like a trampoline to help Ellie reach higher places.

Chomp has about 30 or so forms that can be unlocked during the course of the adventure. In this respect he is somewhat like the blob from A Boy and His Blob, except that he’s a much more offense-driven character. Rather than simply standing by and waiting to be commanded into action, Chomp will automatically attack nearby enemies, and will move on his own to activate switches. That’s not to say you have no control over him, however, as you can command Chomp to perform specific special attacks as needed.

You impact the development of Chomp based on the types of food, toys, and items you give him, and you can supplement his development with purchases made from the Pet Store. Chomp is also affected by which of his abilities you use, what types of enemies he fights, and how long he spends on each screen. If he takes too much abuse on the top screen, he’ll have to drop back down to the bottom to rest up.

The goal in Monster Tale is to overthrow the Kid Kings who have taken over Monster World. Like Ellie, these are also kids that somehow made their way into Monster World, and each of them has a pet of their own. These are the game’s boss fights, which you will encounter as you explore each of the 5 Monster Kingdoms. And yes, there are some huge critters to be found, and there’s a bit of screen-crossing action to be had, just as there was in the boss fights in Henry Hatsworth.

The Art Director on Monster Tale is Michael Veroni, whose credits include the highly stylized The Red Star. Additionally, the art director from Henry Hatsworth, Jay Epperson, is also on the team, which may account for some of the visual similarities.

Monster Tale is DreamRift’s first game since the company was established, but they have a lot of previous game development talent spread across their sub-20 person team. Most of the team worked on Monster Tale, while others looked to start up new projects and expand the company onto other platforms, and potentially into doing some work-for-hire games.

The team cites their gaming inspirations as Castlevania, Metroid, and Pokémon, as well as games in the beat-em up genre.


Hanamigi said...

Now the question is: WHEN?

AJ Johnson said...

March 2011.

Rickey said...

You forgot that Monster Tale actually includes a reference to Henry Hatsworth in the dialogue, suggesting that it's actually the same monster realm in both games.

AJ Johnson said...

Gotcha. This article was originally written as a preview and wasn't updated after the game's release. I was hoping to revisit it after Monster Tale Ultimate (3DS) was released, but there has been no info about the game since its original announcement a year ago.