In general, card games are something that aren’t really appealing to me, though I’ve appreciated many of them from a distance. However, Nerdook Production’s Monsters Slayers had me intrigued by its claim to combine roguelike, deck building, and everyone’s favorite additive – RPG mechanics – into a single experience. Descriptions are cheap though – the real question is whether or not this title will serve as my gateway to enjoying more card-based games, or if it would instead achieve little in diverging my current mindset. Also, if I haven’t made it clear already, the following review should be taken more from a non-card player’s perspective rather than that of a seasoned one. Now, on to the review!
Monster Slayers does little in the form of storytelling, but it does at least establish a basic framework. As a new recruit to the Monster Slayers Guild, you are thrust right into the heat of battle in the Northern Valley, a land full of dangerous subzones that demand player choice – and action – to progress. Interestingly enough, the recruitment officer says there are “too many recruits right now” when you show up, but I’d beg to differ. As a roguelike, you can bet that frequent, brutal deaths are in your future, but we’ll get into more on that later.
Aesthetically speaking, Monster Slayers presents itself with a clean, “cartoony” art style art akin to games like Castle Crashers. While the UI can feel a bit busy at times – with the whole dealing cards part and such – the simplistic approach helps keep it from being too cumbersome. Characters, enemies, and abilities are, again, lightly animated but provide just enough eye candy to not be boring. While I’m certain the music is decent by itself, it does tend to get lost amidst the sound effects associated with slamming down a bunch of cards at once. Those sound effects, however, are appropriately chunky. Nice. Overall, I have no real complaints sound-wise but the graphical package may not do much for those disinterested in the cartoon-like approach.
As a member of the Monster Slayers Guild, your ultimate goal is to defeat the fiend: Harbinger, but before any of that you should probably create your character. After selecting one of eight different classes, each with their own different playstyle – Dragon, Rogue, Ranger, Knight, Barbarian, Cleric, Wizard, and Merchant – you then have the opportunity to do some minor cosmetic customization and set a character name before moving on to the death tra-I mean, actual game. Okay, before that you actually will need to complete a brief tutorial section explaining the gist of the game mechanics.
Now, you are put onto the world map, which serves as your base of operations for planning your next dungeon, managing inventory, checking on your upgrades/rank, among other things. Every time you start or complete a dungeon, you will have the option to select between a few different labyrinths for your next dive. While the contents of every dungeon are always randomized, certain kinds of enemies will only spawn in specific areas.
Since every enemy type has their own gimmick, choosing different paths on different runs based on the strengths of your currently chosen class might be a useful strategy. Inside, dungeons are traversed room-by-room in a grid-like fashion, with each room typically housing an enemy encounter, treasure, trap, merchant, or something else entirely. At any given point on the dungeon map, you will have 2-3 movement options to consider, and being able to naturally see the contents of rooms adjacent to you is highly useful in planning out your route.
Dungeons end with a boss fight, and upon completion reward some fame – used as a currency for a talent tree of sorts – among other standard loot. Clearing a dungeon opens up a new trio of dungeons to choose from that are much more difficult than before, and you cannot re-challenge previous dungeons for an easy “beef-up”. Yes, Monster Slayers does proudly wear the tough-as-nails roguelike stereotype with pride, but not as gracefully as I had hoped. Personally, I prefer roguelikes that have a more consistent, steady stream of difficulty rather than massive spikes beyond your control – and by that I don’t mean the freak occurrences that are commonplace in these kinds of games, but rather static “progression walls” that come seemingly out of nowhere. As it stands, a new player has little hopes in making it past the initial steps into the second tier of dungeons without putting in a healthy amount of grinding – and inevitable deaths – first.
Some progress does carry over across runs, though. Gear obtained through dungeon diving and unlocked upgrades will slowly improve your chances of success during your next go-around. Characters are capable of equipping a wide array of Diablo-esque randomized gear that not only provides typical stat bonuses, but can supply some buffs (and additions) to your deck as well. Seeking out powerful equipment and banking it for future runs will certainly make life easier.
As for upgrades – or the talent tree – these are unlocked through points accumulated after obtaining a certain amount of fame, which is naturally accumulated through play. Perks range from class-specific bonuses, of which there are lots, to class-agnostic boons like increased health potion drops and permanent life bonuses. As a new player, the biggest mistake I made was not going for some the generic bonuses first, instead trying to grab the character-specific upgrades. While you’ll eventually unlock both, many of the general bonuses are pretty much mandatory for progression, and are better knocked out first before investing deep into class-specific ones. You have the option of resetting your upgrade tree, but only once per save file, so choose wisely.
Monster Slayers utilizes a traditional turn-based combat system, with cards acting as your ability pool. Typically chosen randomly from your deck each turn, each card in your hand often expends one of two resources: action points (AP) or mana (MP). Most of the time, you will have enough resources available to play your entire hand every turn, but often that is not the ideal course of action. You can always end a turn prematurely, keeping some cards in queue though you are limited to the amount of active cards you can have at once. Once your turn is up, your opponent has a chance to play their hand.
Although most cards can only be played during your turn, some are geared towards being reactive, allowing you to block and cancel out certain cards should you use them while your opponent is actively playing their cards. Every class starts out with a base deck, but you’ll be able to adjust it over your run through upgrading individual cards, finding (and adding) completely new ones, or deleting some that you deem to be trivial. As a whole, it doesn’t use the most meaty of card mechanics out there, but ultimately setting up and laying out a huge combo of cards can be quite satisfying, both from a gameplay and graphical perspective.
While not necessarily my go-to roguelike of choice, Monster Slayers ultimately does “walk the walk”. The amalgamation of RPG mechanics and deck building is sound, although neither component achieves the depth likely to be found in products dedicated completely to one or the other. But that lack of depth could also be a part of its appeal – you aren’t bogged down by lengthy tutorials or overcomplicated card mechanics, and instead are able to jump into the fray almost immediately. Regardless, the challenge is there, at least until you get some base grinding out of the way. For the price, the deck-building Monster Slayers is a nice choice for those looking for a more unique approach to the rogue-like RPG.