Monday, June 23, 2014

Monster Monpiece (PS Vita) Review

Monster Monpiece is a card-based strategy game that became infamous for its rubbing mechanic.  As a fan of trading/collectible card games, I decided to check it out and see if the game deserves its wrap or not.  After the story kicks off, you must travel around through the various regions of the world to procure their Magna Quartzes and keep them safe.

The map consists of various points connected by lines laid over a picture of the region's topography.  There are occasional gates that block your progress and you must fight in order to proceed.  Their are small offshoots where there might be new opponents, extra money, rub points or cards.  At the end of each area, you'll fight the boss, then see some more story and move onto the next area.

The card battles take place on a 7x3 grid separated into 9 blue squares, then 3 gray squares and lastly, 9 red squares.  Castles flank both of the short sides and represents you and the opponent.  On your turn, you can place one of your cards on any of the unoccupied blue squares.  They will attack any opposing cards in front of them, and move one space forward in any turn possible.  Each card has a mana cost to summon, and you recover 3 mana at the start of each turn.  If you have played any trading/collectible card games, you should be right at home with how battles flow.  It does seem really simple, but of course it's much deeper once you start playing the game.  There are melee units that are strong, but can only hit in front of them, ranged units that can hit a space a few in front of them, healers that can restore a card's HP, and magic units that can power up a card's attack.  You can even fuse cards of the same type, and summoning the same color card a few turns in a row will provide very useful bonuses.  At first you might not need to pay much attention to these, but they will become crucial towards the middle of the game.

There are various skills and "potentials" that cards can have.  Potentials activate when the unit is summoned.  Skills either activate when summoned (but take mana), an unit attacks a base or when the unit is defeated.  The two most common potentials are "hyper", which lets a unit move on the turn it is summoned, and "stationary", which, well, keeps the unit in place.  Skills are much more varied.  They can reduce an enemy's attack, HP, increase the opponent's mana reserve or other effects.  My biggest annoyance with the skills is just how many the computer opponent has.  It seems like every unit they have will at least give them mana when they die.  Even if I had the same card and it appeared to be the same level, mine didn't have those skills.  And if their cards were a lot higher a level, why would you be encountering them so early in the game?  I rarely lost because of it, but it's still frustrating to feel like the deck is stacked so much against you.

The base cards you get out of the packs will not usually have skills or potentials on them.  For that, you'll have to power up the card using a procedure that made this game so infamous: First Crush Rub.  You will have to spend Rub Points and then do a minigame to power up each card.  The minigame requires you to tap, rub or pinch the picture on each card while holding the Vita sideways.  If you do it well enough, you'll enter Extreme Love mode, where you rub the front and back touch pads rapidly to increase the tension meter.  It looks strange, but sounds innocent enough.  However, combine that with the fact that every card is a girl, and well... you can see why it became so infamous.  Plus, when the cards level up, the picture changes and the girl will be less clothed then they were before.  Not completely naked, mind you, but if you've watched any anime then you can probably guess how skimpily they are dressed.

Personally I didn't find it so bad, but it's not a function I would do around random people.  There was a funny instance while I was doing it though.  When I entered Extreme Love mode, I changed my grip slightly so I wouldn't drop the Vita while furiously rubbing it.  I accidentally put my finger on the volume up button, so as I'm rubbing and the monster girl is moaning, she keeps getting louder.  I see the volume going up, and try to simultaneously move my finger off the button, keep rubbing, not drop the Vita, and laugh.  It was pretty funny, and would have looked hilarious to anyone watching.

Anyway, the only real gripe I have with powering them up is that you won't know how a card changes until you do it.  Most times they get stronger, but sometimes it's debatable if it was an increase or decrease in usefulness.  Sometimes they would get stronger, but cost more mana.  Sometimes their attack would increase, but they would get the "stationary" skill, meaning they're better for defense than offense.  While each type of card will always level up the same way, it would be nice to be able to see what was going to change so you can effectively decide if it will be worth it.  It seems you will at least need to level up one card completely so you can see what happens at each level, and cherry-pick the best level of each card for your deck.

There are 8 areas to conquer, plus an extra one that opens up after the completion of the story.  Each area takes 1-3 hours, depending on what extra fights you do, and your wins/losses.  If you want to do any of the extra fights or routes, make sure to do them before entering the main city of the region, since you won't be able to go back.  After the story is completed, an extra area opens up with the hardest battles the game has to offer.  You'll get a decent amount of playtime with the game, and even more if you can't resist collecting the cards (which I rarely can resist).  You can even play other people online if you want to test your deck against the world or just play with your friends.

If you can get past the somewhat controversial aspects of the game, it's very enjoyable.  It might seem simple, but battles are surprisingly deep and fast-paced.  It also makes good use of the touch screen.  If you enjoy strategy games or trading/collectible card games, definitely check out Monster Monpiece.

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