On the outside, MonsterBag is everything I love about the modern era of gaming we live in; an era where games being made by hundreds of people can co-exist on a console with a game made by only a few. In this era it’s the smaller studios, like IgauanaBee, that aren’t afraid to think outside the box – no art style is too crazy, and no story is normal.
IguanaBee let their creative juices flow into MonsterBag, a game about a monster back-pack named V, and his journey to reunite with his friend Nia. Unfortunately, that’s where MonsterBag’s appeal ended, and where actually playing the game became a painstaking task.
Playing as the little monster V, your one and only goal is to catch up to Nia (a friend you were separated from to start the game). Although the premise seems urgent, the game manages to stay relatively cheerful throughout most of the adventure – the game both looking and making you feel joyful… at least at the beginning.
Characters look like they’re straight out of a Cartoon Network show and serve to make up most of the game’s spirit, giving great contrast against MonsterBag’s lifeless environments – for most of the game at least. It isn’t until the later half of the game that situations become more dire; backgrounds get darker, the game gets harder, and the pressure to succeed feels even greater.
This is all amplified a step further thanks to the atmosphere-matching soundtrack that follows you to the end. While there isn’t one track that stuck out among the rest, the music definitely did its job of immersing me further into the ridiculous situations that V got himself into.
Looking to the gameplay, MonsterBag is a stealth game of sorts; nobody likes you, most humans are actively out to get you, and just when you think it can’t get any worse some aliens get thrown into the mix and want you erased as well. Because of this, you’re supposed to sneak your way through stages on the backs of others – avoiding their glare and keeping incognito. In the beginning it’s simple, as there will only be a few angered humans looking around trying to find you… but things change, and the game ends up neither easy nor straightforward.
Once the game becomes invaded by space blobs, puzzles become redundant and the stealth mechanic is everywhere. By the last couple of levels, every single alien will be on the lookout for you – as opposed to the few angry/agitated humans in the beginning. Getting past the AI becomes annoying due to their synchronous tendencies, and on top of that you’ll have stupidly-small windows to make your move; making the game one of patience and not skill. Combine all that with the hassle of getting sent back to the same checkpoint over and over due to trial and error, and you’ve got a game that starts great but ends up getting quite annoying.
Looking back, my play-through was full of trial and error due to me not fulling grasping every concept as it was given. While I’m all for figuring games out on my own, it got to the point of being counter-intuitive; there were valves that wouldn’t respond to me turning them all the way, and a door at the end that refused to respond to my fingers because I didn’t touch it early enough. I did enjoy the puzzles (that worked) and their progression, however, like being given a picture and having to figure out its color pattern on an in-game computer screen (with limited hints).
For me though, I found that my favorite parts of MonsterBag were ones when I was doing more platforming than anything else. The first boss battle where I had to avoid a giant blob from eating me by maneuvering through people’s backs was a high point, and if there’s ever a sequel or spiritual successor I hope that the platforming is the bit they build upon.
In the end, MonsterBag is a fun and imaginative puzzle/platformer that delivers a tear-jerking narrative through visuals and sound alone. Unfortunately, the gameplay doesn’t share the same set of ideas, making it better to look at than to play. A short game, it should also take you no more than three hours to complete – unless you’re in it for trophies, which may take you a bit longer. Aside from those few trophies you may have to go back for, however, there’s no real incentive to re-play the main game other than new mode called “Oblains” which offers more of the same only harder.
While I applaud IguanaBee’s acceptance to do something different, I can’t wait to see what they do next.