Monster Slayer, developed by Nerdook, makes its debut on the Nintendo Switch on April 5th 2019. The Switch is, in my opinion, the best console for this release. In the age of games enjoyable in small sessions, the ability to play on the go, whether in long car rides or on a daily city commute, makes the Switch the ideal home for rogue-likes. Playing on the go allows players to make decisions in their runs through the dungeon. Does the player make it to the end of the dungeon, or do they end up re-rolling a new character with the deck boosts they gain from slaying the monsters? Either way the Switch makes it easy for players to jump into a game or pick back up from a previous adventure.
Diving into Monster Slayers the player gets to choose a class that matches their play style, knight, wizard, barbarian; all the traditional sword and sorcery characters are represented. Each class gets their own starting deck that allows for each play-through to feel unique and fresh. Our hero is a new member of the Monster Slayers Guild and is sent to the Northern Valley, a treacherous region known for its legendary monsters.
The core of the story is that this hero is a newly minted Monster slayer seeking glory and fame, which acts as in-game XP granting permanent upgrades that extend beyond death. As our hero arrives in the Northern Valley they are greeted with three different areas to traverse, loot, and of course slay monsters. The areas can be highlighted and display monsters of note that can be found within. As the hero clears these areas the dungeons and monsters will continue to increase in difficulty. It is from the fame and items found, or purchased, within the dungeons that our hero will continue to grow in strength with each reincarnation. The gameplay of Monster Slayers is one of interesting and rewarding aspects as it combines deck building, rogue-likes, and dungeon crawlers into a unique experience.
Once the player has their hero, they are able to delve into one of three areas of the Northern Valley. The core of the gameplay is based around the hero’s deck of cards. Each card allows you to take an action, whether it is offensive actions such as attacking or casting spells, or defensive like guarding or healing. The deck building nature comes into play as the player must make the decision to have a balanced deck that has defensive and offensive spells, allowing both damage and healing, or do they go the glass cannon route choosing to put their trust on offensive only cards. As the player enters the dungeon, they find themselves traversing rooms. Each room can contain a monster encounter, treasure, or merchant. The progression reminded me of Minesweeper as I cleared a battle or visited a merchant the surrounding rooms and their monsters or valuables became visible. The heart of the game comes with the monster encounters.
Card-based battle systems are an interesting way of approaching turn-based encounters but it is an approach I love. Each new encounter I started was another puzzle, a chance to see monsters with new abilities which often led to a death and a brand-new hero to dive right back into the dungeon. Building the deck is very simple. Each class starts with a pre-made deck that can be augmented with skills points you gain through out your dungeon crawling. As the player fights monsters and finds treasure they are able to either upgrade existing cards in their deck, add a brand-new card, or just gain new equipment with stats to buff your current and future heroes.
This is where that deck building experience comes into play; Do you want a large deck that has many powerful cards but few synergies or is a deck with synergies that allows for greater combos but less burst damage more your style. Building the deck and gaining abilities is simple compared to other games in the genre, though the UI does seem cluttered and a bit confusing for some players. Below was an encounter I had in the first area. On the screen you can see a few of the games many mechanics.
The graphics reminded me of many flash-based web games I played in the past. Monster Slayers is a full reimagining of a Kongregate game of the same name and by the same developer. With this bit of history, the graphics made perfect sense and compared to the game’s namesake, this release shows Nerdook has advanced quite a bit from the game’s web-based beginnings.
One issue I ran into was the UI for all the differing battle mechanics. There are bars for health as well as experience, two pools of skill points, one to cast spells and another to cast abilities, an indicator for number of cards left in your deck, cards discarded and all of this gets mirrored for the enemy that you are fighting. While players will quickly get up to speed as to what all of these bars and gauges mean, when your hero is casting spells and being attacked there is a lot of data to take in and it can get confusing at times. One of my biggest wants would be more time to see what each of my opponents cards did. There were matches I was sure I would win only to see a three card combo from my opponent obliterate my hero. I wanted to learn what had happened to not make that mistake with my next hero.
Monster Slayers may not have the polish of some of its competitors but it delivers an incredible experience that feels refreshing. Combing the rogue-like mechanics of keeping your gear and skills as you reset your adventurer made it feel like you stood a chance against the dungeons ever more difficult monsters. This led me to keep coming back after each defeat as I slowly saw my barbarian class get stronger and stronger with each merchant visit or legendary monster slain. Though I ran into some control glitches here and there and the UI was a bit cramped in the beginning, Monster Slayers delivered a fun experience that I found myself drawn to on my morning commutes. I’m sure to drop back into the adventure and set goals, maybe reach the end boss, or focus on gaining better equipment to make my next run even better. Monster Slayers was a fun adventure and a nice change of pace from your traditional action dungeon crawler.