MONSTER SANCTUARY First Impression: Smooth Side-Scrolling Monster Mayhem

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Monster Sanctuary brings the monster-leveling joy of games like Pokémon to the side-scrolling world of pixelated platformers. This unique title from Moi Rai Games is currently in Early Access, and the current content runs for about fifteen hours. Monster Sanctuary answers the question “What would happen if you created a monster-leveling game where turn-based combat sent trios of creatures into winner-takes-all battles? And what if the world was a metroidvania bundle of biomes?” As the name suggests, the land that you explore is a safe place for monsters that exists apart from the rest of the world, and the keepers of the sanctuary must quell any surges in violent monster behavior while raising their own beasts. 

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The game runs remarkably smooth. Early-access projects are frequently ridden with bugs and glitches, but I experienced none of those while playing through the currently-available content. Monster Sanctuary demonstrates a strong understanding of the genre. It’s satisfying to navigate the various locales in the sanctuary, and there are numerous monsters of varying elemental composition to both defeat in combat and to master once you have acquired them. As far as the monster collecting goes, the turn-based combat rates the speed and efficacy of the fight to determine the battle’s score. Higher scores factor into the likelihood of receiving rare drops, which are vital in obtaining monster eggs. Hatching the eggs then gives you a version of the monster that you defeated so handily.

The rating system in the combat is the only component in Monster Sanctuary that I didn’t care for. It seemed to lean too heavily on the number of turns used to defeat the other monsters. The disparity in level or the tactics used to win the fight didn’t seem to influence the score as much as I would have liked. There were many times when I felt that I had judiciously and craftily overpowered a stronger opposition and wasn’t rewarded. But that’s an aspect of the game that wouldn’t require much tweaking to improve the experience.

Overall, Monster Sanctuary impresses with a bug-free introduction to the metroidvania-like monster experience. Each monster possesses three or four skill trees that can be highly customized. You can make each monster learn skills in all of the categories for a weaker, well-rounded entrant in the fight or you can deeply focus on certain skill trees to develop potent fighters with noticeable weaknesses. There is a lot with which to tinker that can provide hours of replay. Three monsters make up your party for each fight, but there are six monsters always at hand to choose from. That allows for players to simply swap out monsters before the start of combat to effectively attack or defend against the enemy squad.

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It seems likes Monster Sanctuary is in early access because of a dearth of content. That’s not a problem, though. What exists at the moment is thoroughly enjoyable. The story intrigues, and Moi Rai Games have crafted a compelling world with interesting characters. Each new area that you explore and each new revelation from the narrative holds potential for additional content. I think that Monster Sanctuary will experience a lot of success once the final version is released. It has the depth of the Pokémon franchise with the appeal of something newer. The combination of genres has left gamers with a new plaything. I expect a lot of mileage out of this one. 

The early access version of Monster Sanctuary is currently less than $20. The game is very promising. The Steam page advertises the adventure as “monster taming meets metroidvania” so if that combination excites you, then you should jump in. New content on the way will broaden the scope of the game, and Moi Rai Games has done well so far. I have faith they’ll continue to deliver.

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