Tuesday, December 4

Review: Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom [Nintendo Switch eShop]

It may be a bit confusing to people but Monster Boy has come to the Switch… again. This time from a completely different crew and instead of remaking a console classic with wonderfully updated graphics Cursed Kingdom falls more under the “inspired by” banner. That works out to be both a good and a bad thing at times but my gosh does this title look incredible with hand drawn characters, big and often creative boss fights, and plenty of smart level design. All that said, I will warn you, it also has a bit of a mean streak and there are some difficulty spikes that could be enough to get more casual gamers to quit in frustration, including some pretty early on.

Starting with the positive this is absolutely a very smart and more modern take on the Monster Boy formula. You’ll start out a bit overpowered in human form, getting introduced to some classic mechanics and gear, but then misfortune hits and you’ll be transformed into a pig. Your goal is then to recover some special stones hidden about in a number of areas to restore normalcy to the world and over the course of recovering these you’ll gain the ability to switch into different animal forms, some that are more humanoid than others. These will each give you new abilities to use in fighting and in helping to solve tons of puzzles you’ll encounter along the way.

Speaking to the basic game experience everything is implemented pretty brilliantly. The level designs are catered towards you mastering all of the nuances of each form you take, initially throwing you softballs to get the basic mechanics down but then pretty quickly challenging you to use what you know and have available to you to work your way through things. When you’re in your snake form you can climb walls but can’t use anything but your venom attack, as a pig you’re not terribly capable but you do have full access to the traditional Monster Boy special attacks like the fireball, whirlwind, lightning strike and more, you’ll be able to use equipment in the frogman form which you’ll need to get through certain areas, and so on. Equipment plays an interesting role the further in you get as you find power gems and get to choose which gear you want to enhance for which effects. It all layers on to create a pretty engaging experience that will challenge both your mind and your skills of execution.

Taking all of that into account this is also a title that really could use some tuning or at least a difficulty slider in places. Perhaps a bit too much like the classic era games that inspired it this is a game with some pretty mean mood swings in places. Everything is going well, you’re enjoying yourself, things aren’t easy but after a few attempts you figure out the trick and move on… but then one area or room will hit you like a ton of bricks. Early on in your pig form and before you really have any powers to help yourself out there’s a section that includes those little bastard clouds (who I could have done without, or at least this early on) that I was able to get through but that made me concerned. If someone who plays just a ton of games and who has gotten through some crazy tough challenges over time gets this aggravated and feels like there a challenge is extreme and out of place that may not bode well for less experienced players. Some spots come down to unusually difficult challenge but others are even more benign and may just tie to making a weirdly-timed jump. People should be able to overcome these obstacles with persistence but in an era where even intentionally-challenging games are taking steps to be more accessible to everyone Cursed Sword seems, even if not on purpose, to be quite a few steps behind.

Despite the concerns and some frustrations Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is a very well-designed and gorgeous title as a whole. When you’re in the groove it feels absolutely brilliant and up to a point I appreciate the fact that you won’t be able to get through many sections on the first try as you may need to experiment a bit. The boss battles are challenging but often pretty smart and really none of them play out in the same way or even as you may expect due to their creativity. While I would have rated it higher if it either outright toned down its spikes in challenge or added a means to alter or skip them I’d recommend it without reservations. If you’re willing to either gut it out or assume that the game could get patched at some point to help out you’re in for a treat, just be aware that it can have a mean streak in places.

Score: 8

  • Amazing visuals
  • Some very smart level and boss designs
  • Tons of small puzzles to solve along the way, forcing you to leverage your various forms in many cases

  • There are sections that aren’t very well balanced or tuned and that could be too much for less seasoned or determined gamers
  • In some places the hand drawn style and wide characters can be tricky when trying to figure out jumps and just how far you can stand over the edge before falling
  • In the interests of reaching a broader audience it would be great to see a means of reducing the difficulty or have an option to skip a room after X failed attempts as has been done in other titles