It's a strategy I've never seen before. You take your game world, your characters, your objects and enemies and you hide them. Under the cover of darkness. You set all the action in your game to take place outside, at half past midnight, on a moonless night with full cloud cover and no ambient illumination from any other source. Then you let the player just fill in the blank patches of black on the screen with their imagination -- it's ingenious.
Monster Mayhem: Build and Battle is an incredibly dark game. It's dark to the point that you think the contrast ratio might be messed up on your TV. It's dark to the point that you'll check your contact lens prescription.
It must have been an intentional choice in development, of course, which makes me wonder if it actually was a strategy of obscurement -- why worry about making graphics that tax the Wii's processing abilities if you can just make a stylistic choice that forces the player's mind to do all the work instead? Are these visuals good or not? Who can really know?
They certainly make a negative impact on gameplay. Monster Mayhem is a game that tasks you to first create a custom monster, then explore a small town and its surrounding areas looking for other monsters to fight. The exploration sequences get the bulk of the playtime, so the darkness issue feels ever-present -- you're trying your best to walk around and get from Point A to Point B, but you keep tripping over unseen obstacles. Little objects on the ground that completely halt your 20-foot-tall creature's rampage of destruction.
You have to stop, shake the Wiimote up and down to smash the tiny barrier, and then move on to the next too-dark-to-tell obstruction. It's frustrating, and also doesn't make sense. Why can't my monster just stomp right over these little things? It's like Tokyo could have stopped Godzilla from coming in if they'd just put up a three-meter chain-link fence around the city.
If you manage to pathfind your way through the blindness, you'll only come to an even more frustrating part of this design -- the one-on-one monster battles. These confrontations between colossal creatures are what everything builds toward in Monster Mayhem, and it's a disappointing climax -- because it's just Rock, Paper, Scissors. I spoke on that at length over in the review of the DS edition
from a few days ago, and, if possible, the battling's even worse here on Wii.
You just pick one of three options. One, you win. Another, you lose. The third, it's a tie. Just like Rock, Paper, Scissors, the core of battling in Monster Mayhem: Build and Battle is an almost entirely luck-based system of random chance.
There's one twist introduced, though, and that's tonics. Support items that you can use, and must use, because they trigger attacks that are five, ten, fifteen times more powerful than individual punches or kicks. After you register a clean hit against the enemy monster, you're asked to vigorously shake the Wii Remote and Nunchuk up and down. Doing that charges a meter, and once the meter's filled you can unleash an assault like "Solid Rock" that takes away huge portions of your foe's health bar.
The tonics, though, must first be mixed together before you can use them in a fight. And the ingredients needed to make them are out in the exploration areas. The dark ones. With trip-you-up fences. So Monster Mayhem devolves into a constant cycle between luck-based Rock, Paper, Scissors battling and an endless fetchquest through a blackened, unlit environment to track down the little pick-up items that just might give you some kind of slight edge, to make Lady Luck favor you just a bit more in the next random battle sequence.
Before completely dismissing Monster Mayhem for its many faults, though, it's only right to give it appropriate praise in the one area it gets right -- its creature customization. The DS edition of this same game was very limited in its monster-building, with very few choices and monsters that all ended up looking the same no matter what options you picked. Here on Wii, though, the variety is much greater.
You can have a creature with curly antelope horns and huge gremlin ears. Giant fangs and back spikes, armored bones jutting out of its head and funny noses. Covered in scales, or bark, or slime. In any combination of colors. And lots of varied sizes, too.
The base body model for your monster will always be the same here, as the creature creation is not taken to the same extreme as something like Spore
-- you've got to work with the same starting point of a vaguely human-looking monster with two arms, two legs, a head and normal torso. But the customization available to make that base model your own feels pretty deep, and much more robust than the equivalent over on DS.
You might want to pick some sharp neon greens or yellows for your monster's color scheme, though. Otherwise you won't be able to see him outside, in the impenetrable blackness.
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