I found Monster Sanctuary to be a tough nut to crack. It took me a while to really get to grips with the game and I think that came from having a pre-conceived idea of what it was.
I had been made aware that it was a 2D Pokémon game, where you need to find, train and battle the monsters that inhabit the world. Except rather than an isometric world as shown in the old-school Pokémon games you are presented with a traditional looking 2D platformer Metroidvania style layout.
Honestly, my first thought was literally ‘it is Pokémon without trying to look like Pokémon’ which really did cloud my judgement. Which is a massive mistake on my part, as after a short while I found myself enamoured by all the game has to offer.
First and foremost the Metroidvania influence is welcomed when it comes to navigating the world. I found the Pokémon games to be a bit too open for me and would often get lost, especially if I had put the game down for a period of time. Here though I found it much easier to find my way. which speaks to some excellent level design and something the devs should be praised for.
The combat within the game is very similar to that of the Pokémon games, but there are some slight variations that keep this feeling fresh. Well, as fresh as you can be in a genre that keeps to a formula for the most part.
Battles are still essentially a game of rock, paper, scissors with multiple layers over the top. However, the elemental attributes of each monster really make a difference and you can get some excellent boosts when using the right monsters in the best combos. It adds a level of strategy that isn’t as hidden in other games and for me at least, was a very welcome addition.
The game is vast and will take many hours of play to get anywhere close to the end. Which in real-world terms for me means weeks of play. Yet what Monster Sanctuary does well is it gives you a game you can dip in and out of with no issues at all. I took a break at Christmas to play some other games with my family and had some trepidation about going back in. Yet within moments, I was feeling comfortable with the game again.
This comes down to what feels like a very clever and subtle hint system, that never once shouts out being a hint system. We are not talking about the annoying MS Paperclip here. Instead, you have your main monster partner who will guide you in subtle ways and keep you moving forward. The devs aren’t just trying to be clever here, they are using the world you are in to keep things moving naturally.
I am having a lot of fun with Monster Sanctuary and highly recommend it even for those who may be burned out on Pokémon itself. There is a lot of depth for sure,l but it is a light and breezy game that just feels lovely to play. I wonderful bit of escapism when it is needed.