Developer: ACE Team
Format: PC, PlayStation 4 (Reviewed)
Released: January 19, 2016
Copy obtained via PlayStation Plus
I’m just going to come right out and say it: The Deadly Tower of Monsters is easily the most clever and hilarious game to release in 2016. That might be a bold statement, but no other game has even come close to being as smart, unique, or funny as what I experienced during my time with this game.
The game’s framed around a fictional 1970’s B-movie eponymously titled The Deadly Tower of Monsters. In it, we find our hero, Dick Starspeed, crash landed on a strange alien planet. Surrounded by all sorts of deadly forces (robots, aliens, dinosaurs, etc.), Dick must climb the deadly tower in the middle of the planet in search for a way back home.
However, it’s the way the game handles this story that’s so damn special.
In the game’s universe, the film was released in the 1970’s. It’s now the 1990’s and the director of the film is watching it while recording the audio commentary for the upcoming DVD release. The actual gameplay is you playing out the film while the director narrates your actions and discusses the process of making it. It’s a fresh and unique way of storytelling in a video game, the likes of which I haven’t seen in years.
The narration is so self-aware, constantly poking fun at itself.
Whether it’s snide remarks about how the director found the cast and crew annoying, sharp jabs at the film industry, or even joking about his film would make a great video game, The Deadly Tower of Monsters is borderline genius in its narration, and there’s so many small little details added to it. For example, if you stand still long enough, the narrator will complain about how he wished he didn’t make this scene drag on for so long. If you die, he gets surprised and exclaims that he doesn’t remember that happening. It’s little touches like this that made me laugh and experiment with different things to see what he would say next.
Likewise, the design of the game is really clever too.
The developer of this game, ACE Team, went to extreme lengths to make their game look and feel like a sci-fi B-movie. Airborne enemies have visible strings holding them off the ground, cut scenes occasionally swap out character models with dummies, and some enemies are very clearly people in costumes. However, it’s the dinosaurs that steal the show. I don’t how they did it, but ACE Team worked some kind of magic with these prehistoric creatures. They appear to move erratically and at a lower framerate than the rest of the game. The reasoning behind this is that the dinosaurs were done via stop-motion in the film. It’s a phenomenal design choice and one of the most original visual effects I’ve ever seen in a video game.
As for the actual gameplay, The Deadly Tower of Monsters is a top-down shooter / platformer hybrid. There’s a plethora of different ranged and melee weapons to choose from, several of which are on the humorous side. For example, there’s a gun that shoots butterflies and a melee weapon that turns into a giant octopus tentacle. While the melee weapons are simple enough, all ranged weapons utilize an energy bar. There’s no ammo to worry about, but the energy bar depletes with each shot. When fully emptied, it takes a couple of seconds to refill before you can fire again. There’s also different colored gears hidden all over the world, some of which randomly drop when defeating enemies. These gears can be used to transform your weapons into stronger variations of themselves. Likewise, you can also collect currency to upgrade your stats, such as health and energy.
And while I didn’t find any issues with the handling of any type of weapons, I did notice an oddity. I’m 99.9% positive that the game is straight up ripping the audio from the blasters in Star Wars for the basic energy pistol. It’s not a game breaking feature by any means, but Star Wars fans will surely be able to notice that iconic sound.
Another large aspect of the game is platforming, and this is actually the sole point of where my frustrations with the game kick in. For some baffling reason, the camera work in this game makes certain gaps and platforms frustratingly difficult to navigate. I don’t mind a challenge, but this feels more like torture. When you can’t accurately tell the height of a platform, the distance to the next landing, or that a landing even exists just off screen, it becomes a huge detriment to the player enjoying the game. Thankfully, the rest of the game is strong enough to make these segments worth suffering through.
As the game progresses, you’ll meet two characters who become your ally. There’s Robot, Dick’s aptly named robotic sidekick, and a young native woman named Scarlet. Both of these allies become playable characters, granting their own set of skills for navigating the planet. Robot has a time manipulation field and the ability to use electricity to open certain doors, whereas Scarlet can generate immense speed to traverse powerful conveyor belts. Dick has a few abilities himself, such as the ability to dash through enemies and drop landmines, but I found myself choosing to play more as Robot and Scarlet.
There’s also a pretty great cast of villains.
Sure, they’re all cheesy stereotypes (like a mad scientist and a cocky Emperor), but they fit the tone of the game perfectly. They also have some of the best lines in the game, a favorite of mine being about adding chainsaw tails to a creature because everything is cooler with chainsaw tails. The boss fights are all great as well, often working as puzzles to figure out how to defeat them.
The Deadly Tower of Monsters is one of my most pleasant surprises of 2016.
From its unique form of storytelling, excellent design, and zany characters, there’s a lot to love here. The combat is fun and full of weird weapons to play around with, but unfortunately the same can’t be said about the platforming segments. Thankfully, the perfect tone and feel of the rest game outweighs this issue. If you’re a fan of classic sci-fi, B-movies, or video games that try to do something different and unique, I whole heartedly recommend The Deadly Tower of Monsters.
– Zack Burrows