The segments of EGX reserved for independent developers featured a number of party games and roguelikes this year. Four player local gaming was a very strong theme and it’s great that independent developers are stepping up to the plate that triple A’s have left behind. Roguelikes on the other hand become a very popular genre, emergent sub-genre that larger developers have yet to tap into, and it was no surprise to see their presence at EGX.
With that in mind, a title that grabbed our attention was Monsters and Monocles, a roguelike for up to four players, developed by Retro Dreamer. If you imagine a blend of Jamestown’s 4 player, co-operative bullet-hell chaos and Nuclear thrones procedural generated dungeons and variable pickups, you’d have something that’s pretty close to what Monsters and Monocles offers.
The artstyle is crisp, and colourful, while very clearly inspired by retrogames and SNES era graphics, with visual discrimination between enemies, player characters and the environment were very easy to make thanks to crisp , defined sprites that stand out nicely from a colourful background. Despite four players present on screen, it never felt confusing, especially because each character possesses a distinctive colour assignment.
Monsters and Monocles offers its own sense of class, with everything presented in a uniquely British way. Health is restored by drinking cups of tea, and enemies can be defeated by firing crumpets at them. We’re not sure why crumpets are hazardous, but we approve of this feature.
Gameplay pits you across various stages, our team of four started on the slightly harder one where we were required to take down four sub-bosses, before being able to open the exit to the next floor and then eventually a final boss. You use the left stick to move, and the right stick to fire, and on occasion you’re given opportunity to change your weapon. It’s simple enough to be accessible, but the pickups and inherent difficulty of bullet hell make it challenging enough to remain engaging.
At the moment, the game lacks replayability due to a lack of variability, although the developer reported they were working on finalising aspects of the games engine and systems and bolstering its content later. The shop we visited offered repeats of the same items, but we presume these will be replaced with a considerably more diverse array of weapons and items as development progresses and can’t wait to see how these modify the experience.
Each stage is in the game is populated with a variety of enemies and each of which possesses their own unique and threatening attack patterns. We ploughed through hordes of foes, and destroyed all manner of scenery items in the process. Of what we played, it felt challenging but not quite as overly punishing as similar roguelikes like Issac or Nuclear throne.This is in large part due to the ability to revive allies a certain number of times. Though one of our teammates found it harder than the rest, and that can make things difficult when you consider that the game features a shared life pool. It’s unclear how this feature will present itself in later builds however, as the developers likely wanted everyone to be able to comfortably reach the end of the demo.
In all, Monsters and Monocles packs tonnes of promise as a co-operative, entertaining rogue-like or dungeon crawler. Fans of traditional roguelikes or frantic local multiplayer games like Gauntlet will definitely want to give this one a look when it releases on steam, or at a later date on PS4.