Every now and then a game comes out of left field that surprises you in ways you didn’t know you wanted to be surprised. Shiny Shoe, the developer behind the deck-building strategy game Monster Train managed to do just that. Monster Train is a strange amalgamation of rogue-like level design, a tower defense-like objective, and a predominantly deck-building strategy game. In many ways, one would think that these designs would create a system that would be convoluted and confusing, but the result is something addictive and satisfying. Delve into what makes this indie game such a gem in our Monster Train Review.
It’s time to take back hell. How do you do this you ask? Board the monster train, obviously, and deliver the burning pyre to the frozen heart to start the fires of hell once again. That sounds easy enough, right? Unfortunately, there are several powerful enemies blocking your way intent on destroying the pyre you have burning at the top of your train, and you’ll need to hatch a keen strategy if you ever hope to regain control of the underworld. Monster Train does a fantastic job at loosely providing frameworks for your desired strategies through the monster clans you choose and the champion of your primary clan. Great examples of this are the Stygian clan and the Umbra clan. The Stygian clan revolves primarily around casting spells and racking up heaping portions of freezing damage which kills enemies over time. The Umbra clan, on the other hand, is built around “morsel units” and slow-building your teammates by consuming these morsels over each turn. Both strategies are completely different from one another, but provide a solid foundation to achieve your desired goal.
As you play, you eventually unlock additional clans, and new cards as well, which contain new clan units, new spells, and new artifacts. This gives players a lot to work towards when playing Monster Train, but even if you manage to unlock a clan you really like, and form a strategy that works well for you, the best-laid plans of monster and man often go astray, and you should never expect to proceed unchecked through every playthrough. Monster Train doesn’t allow for players to build the same cohesive strategy every time. Even after beating the main boss several times, the next tier will get harder, with enemies growing in power, while your deck of cards gets weighed down by cards you definitely don’t want, and can’t get rid of.
In addition to that, you start with a general set of random cards. Even when you get to pick a unit of your choice, you don’t always get the units you want. When you stop in to upgrade your favorite cards, you don’t always get the upgrades you want or have enough gold to purchase the upgrades that are available. It all seems so futile, that such randomness is volleyed at you from so many different areas, and it would be frustrating if it weren’t for how addicting these variances in game play are. For every little snag that you feel pulls you back, there could always be a major boon around the corner. For example, on one of my runs, I picked up an extremely powerful unit from the Headhorned clan that would normally cost 10 energy to play. Luckily I also pulled an artifact that randomized all of my cards’ energy costs between 0 and 3 energy, even cards that would cost more than 3 energy. Late on, I was able to duplicate that powerful card multiple times, creating a nearly unbeatable deck. The following play through with the very same team, never even gave me the option to pull that powerful card or that same artifact. Monster Train is a box of chocolates, you really never know what you’re going to get.
Monster Train is an addictive and unique deck-building experience. The single-player experience is enticing for not only deck-building fans, but tower defense and strategy gamers will also find quite a bit to love in this plucky little title. While Monster Train provides a premiere deck building experience, it isn’t perfect by any means. Some cards and encounters aren’t explained particularly well. I found at times I had to experiment with how some things worked, simply because you may find that certain enemies aren’t what you thought they were, and some cards or encounters don’t fulfill the expectations you had for them. The streak system, banking on how many concurrent wins you had is a nice addition, but it becomes frustrating as, sometimes, you just don’t have the cards in your deck to win. It would have been nice to have a reward system, to bring over at least one card from the previous run so that you can build on your past success. Still, even with these perceptual issues or missed opportunities, Monster Train still has me returning for more. Monster Train is definitely an unexpected hidden gem.
A copy of Monster Train was provided by PR for the purpose of review.