Games

Pinkie Played Monster Sanctuary : Pokémon ..but it’s a Metroidvania

My little lights! As you may have noticed.. or may not I have been using the term “Pinkie Plays” for my Let’s play style blogs!  This one is titled Pinkie Played.. past tense! That is because this will be the format for my game reviews.  I recently saw a let’s play of a game and I immediately fell in love with this game. It was a game called Monster Sanctuary. After completing the game… I am STILL in love with it. Oh Team 17 you made me one lucky moth.. I can destroy creatures and gather strength on my own! Happy days!

What is Monster Sanctuary?

Monster Sanctuary is a game published by Team 17, it was created by Moi Roi games and designer, Denis Sinner. If mister Sinner would fail as a game designer, he will always have a career in porn with a name like that. He might have to change the pronunciation of his first name a bit. Do I think he will ever need to go into porn?! Hell no! This game is whoops sitting meat.  Scoring an 8.1  audience score and a 7.5 score on Metacritic with a very positive review rating on Steam, this game is sitting well. Myself would probably even rate it a smidge higher than the Audience score.. at an 8.6 or 8.7 or so. Monster collecting games in general review a bit lower than most of their peers because there is also a lot of hate for the genre. People who know this type of game isn’t for them to review it anyway in the hopes to burn it down and that is a shame. Because even if you aren’t a big Pokémon fan there is a lot to love here!  With a 16 bit esthetic and the 2d exploratory platforming.. this is a monster collecting game like no other.

This game plays much more like Metroid than like Pokémon. Except there is no shooting. When you touch monsters, you engage in combat.. which is turn based and involves Monsters selecting their moves. These moves can either be magical or physical and belong to one of the four elements. (Air , Fire, Water and Earth). Some attacks can be neutral as well.  Every enemy has a set of weaknesses and resistances you have to work around and explore. To a Pokémon fan it would feel as if 4 types aren’t enough but it is handled remarkably well.With very deep combat, that is also very easy and much more intuitive to grasp. Each monster can be examined before a combat round starts and weaknesses are always available to you.. so no need to learn all 101 monster’s typings and stats. This game makes collecting monsters more fun than in Pokémon. If you want to beat Pokémon you need to catch a decent team of 6, and while here you also battle with a squad of six, you are constantly encouraged to find the eggs of more monsters. That’s right, you do not capture monsters in this one.. you hatch them! You  can gain eggs from random groups of monsters..by performing well in combat and using tactics and playing smart!

The reason why you need to capture more monsters is because there are plenty of monsters that offer you new ways to travel around the world.  In the first area you might for example discover a small crevice you can’t fit through. Samus would use her Morphball to get through but since you do not have a fancy suit.. you will need to capture a Changeling that DOES morph you into a ball.. or cuter, a Rainbow Slime that can turn you into a slime.  You might need a bird to hover to a treasure high above.. but your current bird can’t fly far enough. You might need to catch that derpy looking Dinosaur you saw flying in the other room.. but that one is hidden behind a switch with a lighting icon above it.. what monster do you need to activate THAT! While you can only train up 6 monsters at the same time you can travel with basically endless monsters so you can make sure you can use your favourite monsters to get past a certain obstacle. Wanna clean up . .you can always donate monsters to the army or bring some of the monsters you can not currently use to the farm. There are so many options! 

What do you do in Monster Sanctuary?

In the game you take the role of a nameless Monster Keeper.. a Keeper is the word use for those who try to keep the Sanctuary safe by taming monsters. Humanity lives in a sheltered habitat that is called the Sanctuary and it’s many zones are inhabited by many monsters, that for the most part have been ..fairly friendly but recently the creatures have become a bit restless. As more Monsters of “Champion” Quality appear. It is the task of a Monster Keeper to defeat these Champion monsters before they can rile up the monster populus and make the area uninhabitable for humans. You play a boy or a girl, who is part of one of the four important bloodlines.  There is the Bloodline of the Eagle, The Wolf, The Lion and the Toad. All belonging to a certain elemental bias. Such as the Eagle belonging to the Wind and Fire element. The Wolf of Water and Wind, the Lion of is Fire and Earth and the Toad is Earth and Water. I of course chose the toad.. why?! Well it’s a Toad that belongs to the grass element! That shall forever be my starter and my number 1.

The Journey starts with you traveling across the land , searching far and wide to find enough Champion monsters to increase your Keeper Rank so you can finally live up to your three rivals and your grandfather’s reputation. However you soon uncover that an evil organisation of Alchemists is trying to destroy the Monster Keepers. Performing all sorts of weird and unsanitary experiments with Alchemy. One name keeps popping up! Marduk, a leader of the Alchemist that supposedly has found a way to make himself immortal. Now he seems to have found a way to take away monsters that are bound to people and his motivations seem to be rooted deep in Monster Lore.. something evil is coming! You have to increase in rank faster than any Monster Keeper before you.. to stop whatever is hiding in the dark.  Of course this is a retro style game so the story at times can feel a bit irrelevant.. but it is there and entertaining for those who choose to partake…but it is equally fun to go about and explore things on your own volition. Very little parts of the game are sealed behind linear progression, though you might wonder why you are hunting for a certain artifact in a new area if you do it all yourself.

The game counts 14 areas of which one works like a hub and safe house where you can shop, craft, get exposition and donate monsters to the army. Another one works as your  post/game  “bonus” content hub. Here you do things like challenging bosses you have defeated before to get greater rankings or fight against a series of challenging monster teams to see if you have truly mastered the game.. this area even has a room in which you can take your monster team online and battle other players. The other 12 areas are your basic Metroid like areas, in which you can find more monsters and sometimes items to explore terrain and overall find treasures and the likes. I only focussed on the story content part of the game and getting most of the monsters and I ended up putting about 30 hours in the game before reaching the end. I DID go out of my way to explore.. but I haven’t even scratched the surface off all the battle challenges, I have not done much of the postgame yet. This means the game for me is well worth it’s price of admission!

What is there to like about the game?

My response to the game is overwhelmingly positive. Let’s begin with the monster themselves. The games 101 monster count seems a bit lackluster at first, but when you realise that this game doesn’t really feature evolution that suddenly becomes a whole lot more impressive. Each monster is their unique thing.. except for the slimes there aren’t really any sprite swaps either. Only about 10 monsters evolve.. and in their cases it’s more like special ways to get a new monster, that require a specific monster and an item to create a new monster. Their designs can radically change so it really feels like there are 101 truly unique monsters. Later in the game you unlock the ability to swap monsters towards either the light or the dark. While it doesn’t change their ability a Dark Shifted Monk has significantly different stats than a Light Shifted Monk. So every monster has 3 slight variations. Unlike Pokémon their levelup path isn’t set either.. in this game you can choose skill trees.

Every monster in the game has four Skill trees, some with more abilities than others, but basically you choose how your Catzerker will develop. Do you let him focus on Neutral damage with a lot of points invested in getting more and more powerful critical hits? Or do you want him to use his Fire and Wind abilities to take advantage of enemies that are weak to that. Perhaps you want your Spirit Toad to be focussed on AoE Attacks with the chance to poison your enemies as you go.. or perhaps like me you want to build him like a completely support focussed tank, that can buff as he heals and heals as he buffs.  Are these choices not working out for you? Resetting their skills costs next to nothing!  Once a monster reaches the max level of 40, they get an ultimate and you can choose from three of them. This leads to one of this game’s greatests boons! All the monsters feel like YOUR unique monsters.  Yes there are Meta’s you can look up, yes some builds will work better than others.. but you can build your own challenge level here and my Toad isn’t exactly like any other Toad.

This of course also leads to a lot of depth in combat,which is reflected by the many areas of the game. Each of the twelve zones tend to have about two subzones.  For example in the great forest you first encounter a lot of woodland critters like monsters, bugs, bears and plant like creatures. More often than not they have a fire weakness, though there is some diversity, a bias can definitely be sensed. The second part of the woods is overrun by Goblins who all are strong against magic but weak against physical attacks.  Since each combat sequence sends out three monsters, you find you’ll have to swap out members semi regularly if you want to make it far. Luckily the game offers an easy level up token, that allows you to add levels to weaker monsters, for almost no money.. the downside to this token, you can’t use it to level higher than one level below your highest rank monster. If your highest monster is max level.. and it gains enough experience.. that is not wasted.. instead that monster now produces level-up tokens to save you from grinding. The diversity in the world, the leveling and the biodiversity in this game all come together. Which makes everything feel unique. 

The game is also very generous with rewards, there are lots of secrets for you to explore!  Remember that one room you could not enter before because you had no monster that could activate a pressure Switch?! Now you can.. and the reward in the chest is better if you get it at this level then later on. However if you choose to press on that item you find can later be upgraded to still be a viable find! Everything in this game oozes freedom. There are completely optional areas, but going there offers you some of the best gear. There are even secrets upon secrets which for example lead you to unique monsters such as the Team 17 iconic Worms to be added to your team who have skill trees that mimic the feeling of the little crawlers. There are plenty of cool references to the material the game maker “borrowed” from as well to show that this is a game made out of love!  And you can play it your way!

What is there to dislike?

Like any game this one doesn’t escape having a few downsides though. The most prominent one is the “loot chance” aspect of finding an egg.  Say you discover a monster that can cut through vines.. by performing well you get a higher star rating.. the higher the star rating the higher the chance is to get a rare item. Eggs always fall in this slot.. but many monsters also drop something else. So unless you get a five star rating (which guarantees a rare drop)  you getting a monster is already locked behind TWO RNG checks. To alleviate this a lot of monsters have overlapping abilities. Catzerker can cut the vines and destroy hidden walls, but Magmapillar can Burn the vines and light torches.  So overall progress is never locked away to harshly behind RNG but later on you will encounter elemental switches at hard to reach places. While my Frost-Slime can activate Ice switches it might not be able to hit a remote one.. because you need a monster whose “activate ice  switches” requires that trigger to be projectile based. There is no way to find out what variant a monster has until you catch it and if they don’t drop their egg due to RNG things can feel a bit frustrating.

A major grip I had with this game was not being able to put waymarkers on my map! It feels like the SNES metroid map, where you just have to remember that one room had no light and that the other room has a strange keyhole. On the one hand this really sells the classic vibe and in a way I like it but on the other hand.. since the map is so big that there is not a single screenshot of the entire explored map out there you can understand it might be kind of frustrating if you remember you encountered a room somewhere you can solve now.. but for the live of you , you can’t remember where. I have a good memory when it comes to those things, and since the areas look diverse enough it never feels atrocious but a quick reminder at times would have been nice. The game at times lacks those quality of life improvements modern games have.. I think just to be retro. For example the final boss is a two tiered fight.. if you lose the second you’ll have to repeat the first and since I work with a stall team that for me was a 20 minute fight I had to do over,  I had no trouble beating it. It just took time.

Which brings me to the final gripe I have with this game and that is the level of Tedium at later levels. This game HAS to be played relying on buffs and debuffs, if you focus on assault alone the enemy will debuff the heck out of you and it will feel like you are taking down a dragon with a potato peeler. While I had debuffers in the Underworld my debuff removers were weak to the enemies typing so I could not use them all that much.. which means in some fights my damage was reduced by 25% six times over or so.. When I  got that specific monster (a spider that ensnares you with web)  he became a staple in my team as well and I debuffed the heck out of enemies.. but combat can feel really slow. The game has a combo system.. the third attacker deals the most damage, and the first two build up your multiplier.. however if you have to switch because you are debuffed into infinity you also nerf your non impaired team members. While the game doesn’t punish you with DEATH too often, it does with a lot of delays.

So is it good?!

Overall it didn’t really kill my joy for playing this game, I loved it in the end and already want a sequel! This game is very dear to me!  I really enjoyed the time I spent with my monsters and have formed a bond with them. The combination of Pokémon and Meteoroid works super well and I would love to see more things in this universe. There is a lot of lore about every monster, like every “pokédex” entry is four or so pages long filled with much more text than in Pokémon, you can learn about their history and their current day use.. these monsters are very  concrete and well balanced out.. every monster feels different and you can make it stand out from its peers!  Adding platformer gameplay to that just made it more fun to me. 

It does make the mistake of going retro, just a bit to much in parts but for me as a retro gamer that is more of a minor annoyance something I have to do to get to the good stuff.. but the good stuff is worth it several times over, even if a sequel would not improve anything I would still buy it without a second thought.. and retro games all had that tedium or that sense of annoyance about them as well. It is just a shame that I do see this game take a lot quality of life improvements then skimping out on others. Perhaps if they had more static save points and leaned more into the retro I would be less upset.. which is kind of weird.. I would be less vexxed if the game was less good. Maybe I am just kind of sad I nearly got my perfect game.. and it JUST missed out on that. Kind of like getting that perfect gift for christmas.. the watch you want but there is this one tiny scratch you barely notice yet it gets under your skin! Regardless of that scratch though you should most certainly pick this game up!

Thank you for taking your time to read about me playing with monsters again! I do that a lot huh! If you want to help me get more monster games, consider supporting me on Kofi or Patreon! Of course you can also just tell how much you like Monster Games and I will probably be coaxed into it anyway.

4 replies »

  1. I remember first playing Monster Sanctuary when it was first released in Early Access. It was clear that there was still work to be done, so I quickly moved on to other games, but after reading your review, I feel like I need to go back and give it another go.

    Like

  2. That looks and sounds pretty interesting. I might have to look into it for the Switch. My hubby would love that retro look – reminds me of his lasting favorite Ghosts and Ghouls.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s