"If you want to get all of your characters' upgrades (and/or look at the concept art, 3-D character models, etc. you also can purchase), you'll be following up a number of stages with mini-stages covering the EXACT SAME ground you just crossed. Holy repetition, Batman!"
Monsters vs. Aliens doesn't waste any time in letting players know what they're in for. After a few minutes of dialogue that introduced me to the important characters from the recent DreamWorks/Paramount kids' movie this game is based on, I was right in the middle of the action as my heroic band of monsters and misfits attempted to break out of the top-secret military fortress that had become their new home -- whether they liked it or not.
This escape attempt lasts for a number of stages, with control switching between three different characters on a level-by-level basis. Susan (aka: Ginormica), who came into contact with a meteor and became nearly 50-feet tall, "commandeers" a pair of vehicles as roller skates and leads her comrades on a wild rush for freedom. Her stages tend to be fast-paced tests of a player's reflexes, with her dodging lasers, jumping over holes and contending with a really big robotic machine that seems pretty determined to make sure no monsters are going anywhere.
The other two playable characters spend their time working to disable this contraption. The Missing Link, a hybrid of fish and ape, is the most agile of the three. His stages revolve around him scaling the exterior of the gigantic adversary, finding a way inside and destroying various important bits of machinery necessary for its operation. Attempting to prevent him from accomplishing this are a ton of small robots, mounted guns and other foes, which leads to his stages being the most combat-intensive.
Also in the machine was B.O.B., an amorphous blob, whose main skill is using his chemical make-up to access places other characters can't. B.O.B. can affix himself to walls and ceilings, and due to not being solid in form, can sluice through grates. However, by temporarily swallowing enemies or crates, he's able to walk on these grates without falling through, which is very handy, as many serve as platforms you'll have to cross. His stages seem a bit more cerebral than the rest, as instead of constantly bashing enemies or dodging obstacles while skating down corridors, he has to manipulate himself (and his surroundings) to get where he needs to be. However, B.O.B. gets his share of action, as well. His stages also have a handful of shooting parts where he rapid-fire spits hunks of......himself, I guess......to take out helicopters attempting to prevent the groups' escape.
It was all rather fun, even if Susan and The Missing Link seemingly couldn't go more than 15 seconds without putting players through quick-time button tapping segments (with the term "quick-time" being misleading, as I seemingly had forever to punch the proper button). As expected, since this game is designed for younger players, it was easy, but I still had fun. And then I went to the second stage, where the gang was now teamed up with the military to stop a gigantic alien robot terrorizing San Francisco. Susan used her make-shift skates to get the attention of the massive thing, The Missing Link brawled his way up and into it, while B.O.B. alternated between maneuvering through maze-like stages and shooting the crap out of generators.
This causes the alien leader to send a massive scorpion-like robot after the monsters. Once again, Susan skates, The Missing Link brawls and B.O.B. navigates mazes and shoots down stuff. Which leads us to the final part of the game aboard the alien mothership. By now, I think you can guess how the stages go. After doing the same handful of tasks over and over for a few hours, I wasn't having so much fun by the end of Monsters vs. Aliens.
The game's DNA Lab didn't help out as far as my feelings went. After every stage, you can access this place and spend points you've obtained to buy all sorts of things, including health upgrades for your characters. However, to access these goodies, you'll usually have to complete a "challenge", which tends to involve doing a portion of the stage you just completed in a short amount of time or without taking damage. Which means that if you want to get all of your characters' upgrades (and/or look at the concept art, 3-D character models, etc. you also can purchase), you'll be following up a number of stages with mini-stages covering the EXACT SAME ground you just crossed. Holy repetition, Batman!
B.O.B. saves the game from being overly tedious, though, as his stages take a huge leap upward in quality as the game progresses. By the time I'd reached the alien mothership, he was going through gigantic, complex areas, including an absolutely epic four-sided maze in his final level that was a highlight of the game for me. His levels tended to be the only ones where I'd have to use any degree of brainpower to figure out how to get from one point to another, so as time went on, they were the ones that stuck out in my mind as a reason to recommend this game. The only thing I really didn't like about his stages was that the play control seemed a bit lacking, as I often suffered cheap deaths by falling through grates or off ledges because I got too close to the edge and the game apparently recorded that as going too far. Still, this is only an annoyance because the game gives players very frequent checkpoints, so any death is only an inconvenience of a few moments.
Interestingly, the frequency which which checkpoints are bestowed makes Monsters vs. Aliens an easy game that isn't overly EASY. There are plenty of tricky areas in this game and I died far more times than I would have expected while playing. But since I was constantly reaching new checkpoints, I was consistently progressing through the game. In one of Susan's mid-game stages, I did a little test and found out that as long as I didn't fall into a pit, I could make it from one checkpoint to the next as long as I was able to avoid a handful of hazards. This is pretty neat, as it both makes it possible for a younger, less-experienced player to progress through the game; but also can make things enjoyable for veteran players. They might have an easy time getting through stages, but it takes some work to get through them unscathed -- as I found out while doing DNA Lab challenges where I was only allowed to take up to two hits in doing a sizable chunk of a level.
While probably not being in the target demographic for Monsters vs. Aliens, I still had a decent time playing it and might have had even more fun if I'd had a gaming buddy handy. Two people can play this game cooperatively with the second person controlling a contraption designed by Dr. Cockroach (the goofy mad scientist character who constantly tells you where to go and what to do while you're playing), which also can be upgraded in the DNA Lab. Stlll, as a solitary gamer, this was an alright experience. While parts of it felt overly repetitive, the B.O.B. levels got better and better as they got longer and more complex. I can see me playing through Monsters vs. Aliens a couple more times just to go through those again.
Staff review by Rob Hamilton (May 01, 2009)
Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.
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