[Review] Monster Sanctuary – Nintendo Switch

  • Developer: Moi Rai Games
  • Publisher: Team17
  • Release Date: 08/12/2020
  • Price: £15.99 / $19.99
  • Review code provided by: Team17

Introducing: Monster Sanctuary Switch Review

There are games where, once you read their description-2D metroidvania with monster collecting and turn-based battles in pixel art style- in our case here, you wonder how that is going to work out. Then, after you’ve played the game in question for half an hour you start asking yourself why no one ever before created a fusion of these genres because you’re absolutely having a blast.

The game opens with you, being a Spectral Keeper, choosing the familiar of your bloodline (aka your first monster and the monster that talks to you whenever you wonder what to do next). Right afterward you’re sent out on your first quest to learn the ropes of keeping and fighting monsters in the world of the Monster Sanctuary. While doing so you notice that various troubles are brewing and you’ll be tasked with uncovering these secrets as well as becoming the best keeper of all. Sound familiar? Well, we are talking about a monster collecting game after all!

Jump, Double Jump & Getting Carried

But, how are you going to do all that? Nice that you ask! The game being a metroidvania, you traverse a 2D world by jumping, double jumping, gliding and falling from one screen to the next. You solve puzzles, flick switches, move blocks and activate orbs to basically explore the world around you.
Well, actually you don’t do most of that, but the monsters on your team do it. Each monster has a special ability which you can use to your advantage. Flying monsters let you glide a short distance. Swimming monsters let you ride on their backs, thus giving you access to new areas. Orbs can be activated by monsters of a corresponding nature: fire activates fire orbs and so on.

Now, how do you get all those creatures into your team? Allow me to explain! The world is full of monsters and should you happen to run into one, you’ll battle them in a 3v3 turn-based battle. Before the battle starts you have the chance to select three monsters out of your team of six. As your opponents’ strengths and weaknesses are on display, this will give you a slight strategic advantage. At least if you have fitting monsters on your team.

Is it My Turn or Yours?

Then battle commences. During your turns, you have the standard actions at your disposal: attack, use an item, switch out your monster or use a monster’s skill (this costs mana). What heats up the battles is the combo-counter. Each skill you use will add points to it. The higher the counter gets, the more devastating your last monster’s attack will be. This is an interesting concept and really makes you think about the order of your monsters. Needless to say that your monster’s skills come in different affinities and have to be unlocked in a skill tree, points for which are awarded when your monster levels up. Oh, this is important, all the monsters in your team of six get experience after battle, even if they didn’t take part in the fight or were defeated.

Reward me, senpai!

After each battle you’ll receive rewards. Some are common like food stuffs which you can feed to your monsters to change their stats. Be careful, though, because only the last three food items will have an effect! If your battle went very well you’ll receive a rare item. This could be a gem with which you can upgrade either a monster’s weapon or accessory. Yes, you’ve not misread this: Each monster carries a weapon and up to three accessories which, no points for guessing correctly, change its stats. All of these can be upgraded, as already mentioned.

The most important rare item is a monster’s egg. Breed this and you’ll have another critter to add to your roster. Try to get as many monsters as you can, because they all have special abilities which will come in handy while exploring. Without their abilities, parts of the world will be inaccessible to you. This sounds frustrating at first, but is a clever way to fuse the different genres together perfectly.

Apart from following the story, which I will not tell you about, other than that it is interesting and full of sidequests, there are other things to do in the game. Located in the Keeper’s Tower, there are a number of facilities for your inspection. There is the Champion Challenge to re-battle formerly defeated champion monsters in the hope of collecting better rewards. This one is available from the start. After you’ve reached the second rank, the Duel Circle becomes available. Here you can battle against other Keepers in 6v6 fights. The next facility is the Infinity Arena which pits you against ever stronger opponents for as long as you stay undefeated. The rewards you can receive get better the longer you survive. Lastly, after reaching yet another rank, you can enter the Online Arena and fight other Keepers from all over the world.

Counting pixels hovering down to the earth

Monster Sanctuary is presented in gorgeous pixel art. It’s clean, crisp and colourful. The various parts of the world have distinct patterns and watching pixel art snow falling down on pixel art ground is a sight to behold. The music blends in nicely, as well. Each environment has its tune and apart of the single battle music, which overstays its welcome after a few rounds, they are delightful.

Getting challenged!

I’m happy to report that apart from one glitch where I could not leave a room because I was both unable to open a door-I didn’t have the right monster to activate an orb-and unable to jump to the correct ledge-might be a case of lack of skill-I didn’t encounter any bugs.
The platforming parts are well constructed and could be done even by me, because the controls are very tight and responsive. That goes for using the Joy-Con “dpad” as well as the Pro Controller. It was a delight to jump around and explore.
The battle system is, I’ve already mentioned it, very deep and full of options. That makes it very inaccessible to those who do not want to delve deeper into the various customization features. I would think that a “best setup with current inventory”-option offered from other RPGs would make a huge difference here.

Conclusion

Monster Sanctuary promises a perfect fusion of usually incompatible genres. And boy, does it deliver! Sure, the turn-based battles stop the flow of platforming. But hey, with good platforming skills, you can avoid a lot of them. You shouldn’t do that, really, but rather speed them up in the settings, because you would be totally underlevelled when it counts if you do. Also, the platforming sections can be difficult for some people only accustomed to RPGs. But it feels so rewarding when you finally reach those difficult places! In short, I love this game!

PROS

  • Very little handholding (in case you like to discover everything for yourself)
  • Pixel artstyle
  • Battle system/monster mechanics (fine-tuning!)

CONS

  • Very little handholding (in case you prefer to have a bit of support)
  • Battle system/monster mechanics could be made more accessible
  • Some difficulty spikes

Verdict
A game like a dram of Laphroaig. It’s not for everyone, but for those of a discerning taste it is wonderful, indeed!

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