Have video games sucked recently? I mean, no they haven’t. We’ve had an absolutely stellar year from the greatest showcase of AAA development to the smallest 2-person team monsters that come out of nowhere and take over the world. It’s been a wonderful year, so much so that GOTY contenders just won’t get the nod, purely because there have simply been too many to choose from. And yet.
The brutality of what’s made me need something far more traditional to almost make me fall back in love with what video games are isn’t really going away. Fallout 76-gate has once again showed us the murky side of modern gaming. Unfulfilled promises, broken games that have gone ‘gold’ and blatant lies to consumers who have already dropped cash on the product that isn’t what they said it would be. I needed a video game that was just that. A goddamn video game was all I needed to remind me that it’s not all going to hell.
Then we got our code for Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom and thank the retro gaming Gods above, it’s a goddamn video game.
Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom has made me giddy. So much so that once this review is finished I’m going to go back and carry on playing. Go back and collect everything I’ve missed and fall back into a video game world that’s almost designed for no other sole purpose than to put a great big smile on your face. There’s a pure delight in every corner of this one, from the utterly gorgeously crisp 2D hand-drawn visuals, popping off my 4K screen with very little to argue against the fact it belongs on the biggest screen you can play it on. Every inch of the game is polished, I don’t remember seeing a single technical issue in any environment during my entire playthrough, and for that FDG Entertainment must be commended.
You play as a blue-haired boy called Jin, tasked with bringing down his Uncle Nabu from using some evil magic which is turning inhabitants of their home into a variety of animals. It brings along the same charm you’d expect from the Wonder Boy series, featuring the additional transformations which can be switch between at will dependent on what you’ll need to do in order to finish an area using each transformations unique abilities such as a pig that can sniff out hidden obstacles and a frog that can swing from hoops.
Monster Boy’s most appealing nature is the gameplay, traditional old-school platforming and exploration. It’s not a fully retro experience (there’s no insta-death, for example. Rather every time you die you lost a little bit of health), but you’ll never get penalised for missing a platform or jumping a little too far. The levels are multi-layered, so being able to explore without the fear of constant deadness is a welcome one. There’s plenty to find too, whether it be just looting coins to buy health or new items or finding crafting gems to secure new weapons or armour, there’s always going to be an area you missed, so being able to replay and get that elusive 100% ensures you’re not always going one way. There’s plenty to find throughout each level and it’s going to be worth taking the time to discover what you can rather than pressing right and tearing through the level.
It’s quite the world to explore, you’ll find yourself backtracking a fair bit. Once the map opens up you’ll soon discover just how much you have to uncover. Fortunately, if you’ve missed something the game provides shortcuts, opening areas that you may have missed earlier on because you didn’t have the correct gear at the time to discover it. Most importantly, it never feels like a chore as backtracking can so often do. You get to see environments in very different ways once you go back and can tear through them and find treasure chests that have proven elusive.
It’s quite surprising to see just how much strategy goes into each level. Critical thinking is key, especially in later levels. It’s by no means an easy game to finish, and becomes much more of a strategy game as it progresses. At least it was for me anyway, this could be down to being rubbish at video games in my old age. The game doesn’t hold your hand later on, leaving you to decipher what’s around you and how you can best utilise the environment to work best with the gear, weaponry and transformations you have access to. The game is fair in terms of accessibility but will certainly have a deep wanting to test you throughout. There’s plenty of ways to get around, plenty of places to explore. If you want everything you’re going to have to do some hard thinking-ness. I know, it’s ok, when the game is as brilliantly designed as this one you’ll feel immediately rewarded (even on the slow walking water areas. Yeah, they’re a thing here).
Along with a lovely story that holds it all together, and a cast of characters you’re going to grow to love – I’m already considering cosplaying Jin’s pig form at EGX next year -, it’s far deeper than I perhaps didn’t expect. I’ve still got plenty to do and I couldn’t be happier about that.
There’s so much to love about Monster Boy and The Cursed Kingdom. I’m delighted it came out when it did, I’m certain its audience will grow and grow from this iteration and it’s fully deserved. In a year of tremendous 2D platformers, Monster Boy stands alongside the likes of Celeste and Yoku’s Island Express as truly fantastic representations of the genre, doing enough differently and with enough style, polish and care to ensure it’s kicking and screaming on the doors of the Game of the Year contenders.
Yeah, you heard me. It’s that good.
Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is available now on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, PS4 (reviewed on PS4 Pro) and PC
Developed by: Game Atelier
Published by: FDG Entertainment.
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a review code from the publishers. For our full review policy, please go here.