Developer: ACE Team | Publisher: Atlus USA || Overall: 8.5
B-Movie science fiction is always characterized by its low-budget charm. You could see right through the awful costumes, terrible props, and strings the monsters would hang off from — all of which added to the fun. The Deadly Tower of Monsters seeks to recapture this aesthetic of effects supplanted by computer graphics… by replicating them with computer graphics.
ACE Team, the developer of The Deadly Tower of Monsters, did an amazing job in recreating the B-Movie feel as you play, keeping it interesting throughout. The set up for the story begins as if you are watching the “movie” on DVD with commentary by the belligerent director, Dan Smith. As you defeat stop-motion monsters, while completing missions across the sprawling tower, Dan Smith will acknowledge and give background on certain aspects of the production — breaking the fourth/”fifth” wall, reminding you that you are “watching a movie” while playing the game, or rather listening in on the recording session for said commentary. There are a lot of layers here.
Though the game is not usually laugh-out-loud funny (there are a few great jokes), it is entirely tongue-in-cheek. Throughout, they introduce new elements that kept me consistently amused. The attention to detail adds to the goal of being a successful B-Movie homage and the commentary track spreads a layer of cynicism about the film industry on top. It is important to listen to the commentary while you play, as it is an integral part of the story, and the uniqueness of the game. Your typical gaming tropes are also explained away using movie tropes, such as blaming watching deleted scenes for when you die and the director “intentionally” wanting the actor to stand still for five minutes “because it is artistic” if you decide to idle for a while. Some of these tropes are less clever than others, but the narrative essentially includes all of your deaths and “mistakes” as part of the experience.
The visuals and art style are very important to the successful execution of the B-movie homage. A stop-motion frame-rate effect is used on many of the monsters and is one of the best effects used. Since most of the game runs at a higher-frame rate than an actual movie would, the most “filmic” part of the game comes with the stop-motion effect and serves to distinguish it from the rest of the “movie” quite well. Homage is paid to practically every genre of classical sci-fi, with obvious references to Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, and others including dinosaurs, bugs, an evil scientist, giant robots, clones, and a galactic emperor among a wide range of other characters and monsters.
The level design of the tower is essentially a humongous and vertically sprawling 3D platforming level. You will go for what seems like miles in mostly one direction: up. While the prevailing theme is space technology, on the ground-level you will encounter things like mutant insects and dinosaurs. As you climb, the tower is very elaborate and changes themes more meticulously within science fiction. You will encounter aliens, disembodied brains, space slugs, and other fun monsters. All parts of the tower are fluidly accessible, and there are no loading screens unless you warp around to checkpoints.
The tower is used to the game’s advantage occasionally. You are usually tasked with shooting enemies from below in reverse-Space-Invaders style. At any time you can be knocked off the tower, sending you into a free-fall towards the bottom; mistiming your platforming will also have the same result. To counteract the annoyance of having to re-scale the tower you can easily warp to any checkpoint, or use an “Air Teleport” button that is available if you haven’t landed on another platform yet. You also take fall-damage and have a very low amount of jetpack fuel to adjust and break your fall. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to control the camera very much, which can be annoying at times, but it wouldn’t make sense in the context of watching a movie to be able to switch an angle at any time. On the plus side, the platforming is designed well enough where this isn’t usually an issue. For similar reasons, the game is very linear and there isn’t as much exploring to do as you might expect in a 3D platformer.
Combat gameplay is fun and light, and the weapon variety is also great. Enemies and weapons alike keep the “B-Movie” aesthetic, where you can plainly see re-purposed household items or other everyday items, such as a vacuum cleaner or a puppy, being used as space-age weaponry and monsters. As you have access to three different characters, their real difference comes in their special abilities. Dick Starspeed is able to use landmines, Scarlet Nova has a running speed ability, and The Robot is able to use a time vortex ability. All of the characters will gain more unique abilities you can use during combat and only cost a time-based cooldown, whereas your energy weapons deplete from an energy bar.
Upgrading weaponry, skills, switching characters, and other gameplay systems are accessed via in-game computer consoles. While they show up often enough, it can detract from the “joy” of playing around with the progression systems and possibly even the “movie” aesthetic. The systems aren’t very complicated, but it is sort of questionable why they give you 16 different weapons, but only allow you to have access to four at any given time before switching around at a console. It would have felt better to be able to switch out weaponry through a pause menu (a prop closet?) since in-game consoles aren’t necessarily used in an intriguing gameplay fashion other than to be more props to put in the levels. The in-game consoles bring up a game-based UI regardless, so the argument for being immersive doesn’t hold very much weight. It might have also been more convenient to halve the variety of weapons and allow you to use them at all times; instead I just keep four random weapons and rarely trade them out. Despite that, the variety of weaponry is still a nice part of the game.
Difficulty and challenges in the game are not too bad. If you die, checkpoints are usually pretty close to where you could possibly die. That isn’t to say you don’t need to play smart (as health is hard to come by), but the only real punishment for dying is wasting time. Puzzles aren’t too trying on the intelligence and there’s only a few situations where you need to use one of your special abilities to get items or into certain areas. There are also miscellaneous missions that aren’t easily earned on your first trek up and will require you to backtrack certain parts of the tower to complete. One fun side-quest is jumping off the tower and skydiving into floating hoops, using the tower’s height to the game’s advantage. The game can be pretty short as well, but its nice to be able to get through a whole game in a couple of days.
If you are a fan of classic film and games, you will get a blast out of The Deadly Tower of Monsters. Even if you aren’t knowledgeable about older sci-fi film, it is a light, fun, and short game that is visually pleasing and humorous. It is available now on Steam at a sale price of $9.89, and regularly priced at $14.99.