Review: Monster Madness: Grave Danger (Sony PS3)

Monster Madness: Grave Danger (PS3)
Genre: Shoot ’em up
Developer: Psyonix Studios/Immersion Games
Publisher: SouthPeak Interactive
Release Date: 08/05/2008


I love a good old fashioned shoot ’em up (I refuse to say shmup, it sounds like a new internet term coined to describe something unpleasant involving bizarre sub-genres of fanfic). Nothing takes the edge off of a long day like sitting down in front of the television and taking a machine gun to legions of mindless enemies; mowing them down even as their replacements stumble across the corpses of the fallen, only to meet the same end. Lather, rinse, and repeat.

And in that respect, Monster Madness: Grave Danger really tries. You can feel the love of shoot ’em ups they put into their game, and the desire to improve on that classic formula. But history has taught us what happens when people try to mess with a classic. And while it’s not as bad as New Coke, it does miss the mark a bit.

1. Story / Modes

Let’s be honest, you don’t need a reason to kill things. The fact that they’re walking slowly in your general direction is more than enough. So when I say the story fits the game, please don’t think I’m being unkind.

Monsters invade.

Why?

Dunno.

‘kay.

(Alright, there is more to it than that, but it’s really not important.)

The game is overflowing with options. There’s multiplayer adventure online in case you don’t have a friend to help out. There’s also multiplayer deathmatch, ctf, etc. You’ve got around 2 dozen mini-games ranging from the amusing (burn as many cats as possible in the time limit) to simply odd (home run derby? matching game?). Combine this with tons of unlockable costumes per character and lots of upgradable weapons, items, and equipment, and you come away with a pretty hefty game experience.

Too hefty for my tastes, actually. A zombie-killing game should be simple. And while the upgradable weapons and individualized equipment are nice, the scope is way too broad. You’ve got far too many options for what should be a mostly mindless killing rampage. Keeping on top of all your new weapons while trying upgrade the old is difficult, especially when you don’t find out what a weapon does until you’ve purchased it. Keep It Simple, Zombie-killers. (KISZ?)

Story / Modes Rating: Decent

2. Graphics

Let me start by saying to all developers everywhere, not all of us have HDTV. Okay? So making your text pixel thin and in 4-point font does not help. While it’s not as bad as the debacle that was Dead Rising, it certainly doesn’t help the game any.

The cut scenes are done in an amusing comic book style, and feature some nice artwork. But when you get into the game itself, everything seems to blur. Even for a top-down shooter, the graphics are disappointing. Most enemies seem like shambling sticks with various colored novelty afro wigs for heads. Even the characters that are more defined still maintain a pixel-y blurriness that makes the game less enjoyable.

The enemies, what can I say about the enemies. *sigh* They tried, they really did. And I can appreciate the effort. But some of the characters come across as, well, pointless. Hip-hop, air-humping Smurf demons that build turrets? ICP members in Radio Flyer Wagons? Zombie Chihuahuas?

Okay, the Zombie Chihuahuas were kinda fun. But for every Volkswagon Beetle Mecha, there’s an insipid ATV or flame painted semi. Again, the game gives the impression they tried to go in every direction at once, instead of concentrating on doing a few things really well.Quantity versus quality doesn’t work.

Graphics Rating: Mediocre

3. Sound

The sound on this game really puzzled me. The cutscenes are clear and crisp. Some of the voice actors read their lines like they’re the lead in their 5th grade play, (and some quick Googling seemed to confirm that) but the overall effect is fine and fits the point(lessness) of the story.

Then the game starts.

The game starts and sends an invisible little gremlin through the screen and into your speaker system. The gremlin then replaces your speakers with tin cans covered in wax paper. You have to admit, it’s a neat programming trick!

No only does the sound quality go down the tubes, the volume is increased tenfold. I had to turn up the volume to 11 (literally, I’m not saying it’s really loud, just that my television said 11) to hear the cut-scene dialogue and then down to 2 to play the game. There was a mecha level that just about destroyed my speakers with 10 minutes of loud, thashing, crashing, metallic noises, individualized for each mech. I can’t imagine what would happen if I had all 4 players going at once.

There’s no reason and no excuse for the sound to be this way.

Sound Rating: Very Bad

4. Control / Gameplay

The previous installment of Monster Madness on the 360 got all kinds of flak for its control scheme, and the pubs/devs were quite proud that they took the fans comments to heart and implemented changes. It’s stuff like this that lets me know that they really love this game. They want it to work. But it still has a way to go.

The new and improved controls are still awkward (O-button attacks?) and take some getting used to. Vehicle control is typically disappointing, with the UFOs being a surprising highlight. Jumping is an almost random affair, with your character sometimes landing on their target, and sometimes needing a running jump. Camera control would be a nice feature as the translucency of objects is unreliable. And while it’s somewhat out of place in a shoot ’em up, lock-on would make a welcome addition.

In regards to the gameplay; playing through Monster Madness is a lot like going through the 5 stages of grief.

    1. Denial: “Nah, it’s just a glitch. The game will sort itself out. I just haven’t figured out how to play yet and that’s why I keep dying.”

    2. Anger: “WTF?! What killed me?! You sonnuva… he wasn’t even there! What?! Why isn’t this guy dead yet? Did I just blow myself up? *$#%!”

    3. Bargaining: “If I give it just one more level, it’ll get better. There’s been some good stuff here, I’m sure they’ll have more of it.”

    4. Depression: “I just spent 20 minutes wandering an labyrinthine graveyard and I still can’t find the opening to the next section. Why, gods, why did they make the levels so unnecessarily huge?”

    5. Acceptance: “It is what it is, you know? It’s a game, where you kill things. There’s stuff to kill, and different ways to kill it. What more can I really ask for?”

Once again we return to the well of overkill. Some of the levels really are needlessly big. For example, one rooftop area was the relative size of two football fields and contained 10 enemies. The rest of the space was decorations and cinder blocks. In addition, some of the bosses take waaaay too long to kill. You just stand there, firing and being killed, for what seems like an eternity, watching their health bar decrease pixel by pixel.

But then there are moments where everything is just right. Just the right sized swarm, just the right amount of damage, just the right weapons.

When the game works, it works well, but those moments are too sparse and spread out to make the game what it could have been.

Control / Gameplay Rating: Mediocre

5. Replayability
If you can enjoy the game for what it is, you’ll definitely enjoy replaying it. You’ve got 4 characters to mess around with, lots of costumes and options, challenges and things to collect. You’ve got to hand it to them, they packed the game with a lot of material for such a low price.

Replayability Rating: Good

6. Balance
The balance teeters back and forth a bit. Not nearly as bad as most games, but it rarely hits that balance you’re looking for. Like I said, the sweet spots are great, but finding them takes time.

If the game came across as madly hard or pointlessly easy, I’d give it a much lower score. But instead it’s just… not right. I don’t know how else to put it.

Balance Rating: Decent

7. Originality
Credit where credit is due. As absurd as some things are, and as pointless as others seem, MM:GD really packs in the originality. Not content with simple zombies and other undead kith and kin, you’ll find yourself pairing off against aliens, robots, demons, and a whole host of other beasts. Here’s where their overkill really pays off. Every level has you seeing something new, and most importantly, unexpected.

Originality Rating: Very Good

8. Addictiveness
It may the the Bargaining and Acceptance stages talking, but I did find this game to be mildly addictive. Not in that I couldn’t wait to play, but more that once I started, momentum built up. I’d keep playing for “one more level”, and then find myself still playing a couple hours later. No doubt some low-level demonic essence bound to the game compelling you to continue playing. Still, I found myself playing far more than I expected.

Addictiveness Rating: Above Average

9. Appeal Factor
Appeal is tricky. As you can tell, I’ve got a love/hate relationship with the game. Like a bad relationship, the good times are good enough to keep you going though the vast expanses of bad. But does that relationship hold any appeal? My vote is no, but then I remember that some people thrive on bad relationships. So what say we split the difference?

Appeal Factor Rating: Decent

10. Miscellaneous

Monster Madness: Grave Danger really wants to be a great shoot ’em up experience. It’s got all the right ingredients, and a few new ones, but the sheer hubris of the game makes it collapse under its own weight.

I see the game as a great second draft. They’ve obviously made improvements from the last time around, but they haven’t perfected it yet. I’m hoping a third installation will yield more mature results.

Miscellaneous Factor Rating: Decent

The Scores
Story / Modes: Decent
Graphics: Mediocre
Sound: Very Bad
Control / Gameplay: Mediocre
Replayability: Good
Balance: Decent
Originality: Very Good
Addictiveness: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Decent
Miscellaneous Factor: Decent

FINAL SCORE: Decent

Short Attention Span Summary
Monster Madness: Grave Danger is a decent attempt at making a fun shoot ’em up. It’s worth a play with a couple of friends, just don’t expect too much out of it.

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