We’ve seen plenty of titles inspired by Pokémon release over the years, but none have added a Metroidvania-style twist to proceedings quite like Monster Sanctuary.
That’s the main hook of the charming adventure from the team at Moi Rai Games, with the player taking control of a Keeper as they head on a platforming escapade across the land and tame the monsters that are running rampant along the way. You won’t be taking any form of fancy balls to catch the monsters of Monster Sanctuary though, but instead collect the eggs of those that you defeat in battle and simply hatch them in the menu. It takes away some of the pressure of weakening your foes and tirelessly throwing some ball at them in the hope that you’ll actually capture them, but it does feel a little grim that you’re… you know… stealing the eggs of the creatures that you beat up.
Don’t worry, you won’t feel guilty for too long…
It is the Metroidvania-style mechanics of Monster Sanctuary that make it stand out when compared to its peers, with the player utilising all sorts of platforming mechanics to scour across the world. You’re given the freedom to go wherever you want too, though you will find yourself limited until you’ve unlocked certain abilities such as a double-jump. Wouldn’t be a Metroidvania-style game without some temporarily inaccessible areas, right?
However, it isn’t just your character’s abilities that’ll help you traverse the world in Monster Sanctuary, with the creatures you tame also essential to your progress. Find yourself in a dark area? Use a monster to light the way. Got some vines blocking your path? Burn them away with a fire-based monster. See some piece of treasure up high that you can’t get to? A flying monster will help you out.
It adds more meaning to collecting as many monsters as you can during your adventure, with their use not only essential to simply reaching inaccessible areas but also in finding the many treasures and secrets scattered across the world. I’m a big fan of exploration in games like these, so it just made finding a monster with the relevant abilities all the more rewarding. Gotta catch ‘em all, right?
Whilst Metroidvania-style adventures are most synonymous with real-time action-based combat, Monster Sanctuary changes the flow by making its encounters turn-based. Battles are three-versus-three affairs, with the player pitting their selection of monsters against the array of random mobs they encounter on their journey. Once in combat, things should feel familiar to anyone who has played a Pokémon title (or even just a typical turn-based RPG) before – the monsters take turns to perform attacks, with success earned by dwindling down each rival monster’s HP.
It’s a simple enough system that works really well, though there are some things you need to consider in battle. There’s an element system in place that can see certain monsters holding an advantage other overs for example, whilst the gear that you equip to your monsters can see their capabilities increase in battle too. Your monsters will also earn experience points when successful in combat and when they level up you can upgrade their stats and abilities via their individual skill trees. There’s even a multiplier mechanic in place if you manage to dish out a few attacks in succession, meaning you’ll do a heck of a lot more damage to your foes if you co-ordinate your actions carefully.
These are all typical hallmarks of the RPG genre really, but they add a strategic twist to each showdown you have in Monster Sanctuary. For example, it can be essential to establish a varied party of monsters of different elements and capabilities to ensure you don’t find yourself at a disadvantage against a specific group of foes. On the flipside, a bit of forward-thinking can give players the advantage too – if you know you’re going to face off against some fire monsters for example, you can get the upper hand by putting water-based monsters into your team.
The levelling up system is surprisingly deep too and allows for a lot of versatility in tinkering with your team to best suit your style of play. Don’t get me wrong, you can’t diversify their skillset too much, but you can focus on specific attacks or passive abilities to play to each monster’s strengths.
Everything comes together to make for a unique and compelling monster-catching experience, though Monster Sanctuary does have one or two issues that caused some annoyances during my adventure. For one, there’ll be times when you have to grind a little in order to progress, especially when facing off against some of the game’s trickier enemies. Whilst a bit of grinding is common in your typical RPG, it broke up the pace of the more Metroidvania-style aspects of the game and slowed my progress down.
Remember how I said you need certain monster’s abilities to progress through areas too? Well, I got caught out and left stumped at one point when I didn’t have the monster I needed to progress, leaving me wandering aimlessly and hoping I’d stumble across it. It was a one-off situation, but I can imagine a few other players may get caught out by this if they don’t encounter the right monster.
Other than that though, there’s very little to complain about. I enjoyed the battling, exploring the world is a treat (which also looks great might I add), whilst the monsters themselves are well-designed and full to the brim with character. There are some really cool creatures to uncover on your adventure, and believe me, it NEVER stops being satisfying seeing your collection grow.
Monster Sanctuary is a clever amalgamation of the monster-catching and Metroidvania-style genres that works really, REALLY well. I had a good time exploring the world and uncovering its secrets, whilst catching monsters and then using them in strategic battling made for some really enthralling showdowns.
It does have the occasional issue here and there that can slow your progress down, but it doesn’t stop the game from being a whole lot of fun to play. If you’re looking for a monster-catching adventure with a unique little twist, you really ought to give Monster Sanctuary a try.
Developer: Moi Rai Games
Publisher: Team 17
Platform(s): Nintendo Switch (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC