IGN Review of Monster House
Imagine if there was a dangerous threat in your neighborhood that no one else wanted to acknowledge or believe. No one was willing to listen to the truth; even the police laughed off your concerns, which left it up to you and two of your friends to confront the hazard on your own. Plus, people and things are starting to vanish from the street in front of your house, and with Halloween fast approaching, any trick or treater is a potential target. What makes matters even worse is that the focal point of all the trouble centers on a spooky house that seems to be alive. How do you confront this hazardous situation? Well, if you're DJ, Chowder and Jenny, the protagonists of Monster House, you take up arms (well, water pistols, anyway) and prepare to assault the evil dwelling on its own turf.
Based on the Columbia Pictures movie of the same name, Monster House follows the three kids as they confront the possessed Nebbercracker estate. Picking up after they've seemingly been "swallowed" inside of the house by a carpet "tongue," the kids barely escape certain death before Jenny and Chowder are sucked into large vents that separate the trio. Over nine chapters of linear play, each kid is forced to explore the house on their own, looking for their friends while at the same time looking for a way to defeat the beast they're now stuck in. You'll swap between the three kids as they journey through the attic, laundry room, and cellar, amongst other places, solving puzzles and discovering the cause behind the house coming to life. Unbeknownst to them, the building is also searching for them as well, seeking to fiercely protect itself from intruders by using windows as searchlights, pipes as barricades and even creating enemies out of itself. Many of the lower level monsters, such as spiders made from floorboards, crab-like creatures made from chairs and room heaters, and lamp beasts are just a section of the household objects corrupted by the malevolent structure's presence.
While you can always smack a monster with a melee attack, your primary strikes will be with the water pistols that each kid packs. Thanks to the flashlight attached to each pistol, the kids can lock on and target moving beasts to ensure that they get completely soaked. You'll need to keep an eye on the pistol's water level, because if it runs out, you'll need to quickly pound the reload button to pump the gun and refill its reservoir. You'll also discover some water gun upgrades scattered throughout the house, which should make your job a bit easier when the game starts throwing monsters at you. Either you'll notice an increase in the firing rate, more damage, or the ability to lay down a stream of water to wash away opponents. The stream of water is perhaps the most useful and destructive to enemies, although it can make things rather easy since anything that comes near its path is almost instantly crushed.
Each kid also comes with a "limited" number of secondary attacks that they can fire at oncoming threats: DJ has an instant camera that will stun enemies, while Chowder has water balloons that can drench a large area of beasts. Jenny's slingshot and marbles can be used to break locks and inflict painful damage on individual enemies. I say "limited" because there does seem to be an awful lot of these items scattered around; maybe they're the only things that remain from the previous kids eaten by the house, but you will find a lot of them in crates, trunks or other items that you'll open or break into. Similarly, you'll notice energy items like soda cans, ice cream or smoothies in these containers in case the kids get injured and need to heal themselves.
Monster House isn't solely filled with combat though: there are a number of times where you'll need to use your brain to solve some puzzle elements. In some cases you might need to be a little destructive, such as breaking the source of music in one room to weaken the regenerating monsters inside. In other cases, you might need to manipulate the environment by dragging crates around to reach out of the way objects or blocking pipes. These puzzle elements, while not terribly difficult, offer a decent break from the sometimes repetitive fight sequences against generic creatures that crop up; after you've broken up your tenth chair or smashed through your fifth herd of wood spiders in three minutes, you'll notice that the creativity behind the monsters quickly dries up. The only challenge from these beasts are when the harder versions show up, who sport a red coat of paint that gets washed away once you've hit them enough times with your water pistol.
However, the game does take a page or two from the Resident Evil series to provide some interesting jump moments. Every now and then, you'll notice a television creature clawing its way past a doorway that you just passed, which makes the game character wonder if they just saw something or if they imagined it. That makes the inevitable battles between your character and these electrical monsters so much more exciting. Monster House also takes the contextual button and analog stick system from RE4 during certain action sequences to test your response time. While it's not mentioned in the manual, you'll need to hit the corresponding button or toggle the analog stick to escape from a specific environmental threat, whether that's an air duct, the house itself, or a malicious tree that wants to drag you into the earth.
Gameplay isn't terribly long within Monster House -- the nine chapter experience can be completed in about eight hours or so -- and there isn't much in the way of replayability of the main story since you can't toggle the difficulty level. There are two decent extras included in the game though: strewn through the house are 32 toy monkeys and arcade tokens. By finding the toy monkeys, you unlock concept art in the game's Art Gallery that can be accessed from the Extras menu. The tokens, by contrast, can be used to play Thou Art Dead, a side-scrolling 2D action title that pays homage to Castlevania's level design and monsters. With a Super Mario Bros.-like twist (killing the dragon boss in the game results in a "the Princess is in another castle" statement) and an increasing amount of difficulty, Thou Art Dead should provide some mild interest for gamers who've finished the main quest.
The game looks nice, with character models that are rather close to their CG-movie counterparts. Environments are decently detailed, and while not every element that can be interacted with are highlighted, the key items in a room are usually given a sparkle effect to help direct those players that are somewhat lost or confused. Monster House also runs at a pretty decent frame rate, although you may experience some mild slowdown during some fight scenes. The largest visual issue that comes about during play are moments where you might have to fight the camera to see where you're going: it may want to present a camera angle that doesn't necessarily help you in a tight corridor or a room because it will so readily lock on a monster or an object instead of letting you fully control the camera action. The audio in the game is quite nice though, thanks to the movie-like soundtrack and the voiceover work from the film cast.
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