While I don’t classify myself as being the intended demographic for Monster High Skultimate Roller Maze (especially since I didn’t know what Monster High was until playing this game), sometimes one is able to make peace with that so long as the quality of the core game can eclipse whatever license is attached to it. After all, do you think everyone who enjoyed playing Goldeneye on the Nintendo 64 was a James Bond fan? I bet not everyone who played the Knights of the Old Republic titles were necessarily that big into Star Wars. Heck, I can think of a few Naruto titles that non-fans would probably enjoy. Unfortunately for Monster High though, this is not one of those games.
The premise of Monster High Skultimate Roller Maze is quite simple: select a team of racers and engage in a rollerskating competition across a small selection of various courses. Each racer, as with the dolls they are based upon, is inspired by a famous monster from popular culture, and comes equipped with such catchy names as Frankie Stein and Draculaura. They are also organized into three different types, with characters in the light category being able to reach their top speed quickly, while those labeled as strong have a tough time getting knocked down. Medium, as you might’ve guessed, lands somewhere in the middle. Also, each character has a special ability unique to them, though I’ve noticed a few of them that function very similarly to one another.
There are four main modes to choose from. Race and Relay both will allow you to select between three different circuits, each containing four different tracks. As you win races, you’ll earn points that, when totaled up at the end, will determine your overall ranking in the circuit. Being successful in circuits will in turn unlock new tracks, difficulty levels, and characters that can be used in other modes of the game. Having many characters to choose from is good, since you have to put together a team of three different characters to even race. The key difference between these two modes is that while Race encourages you to switch characters on the fly as you run low on stamina, Relay only changes them out as you complete a lap. Quick Race is there to get in a single race on a track of your choosing, while Timed limits your items to speed bursts and is a test to see how quickly you can complete a course.
The controls are pretty simple to grasp, though you can change the default setup if you wish. The R and L buttons are to accelerate and decelerate respectively. X and Y can be used to switch skaters on the fly, which is a necessity in all modes but Relay since each character has a stamina bar that constantly depletes. Once it runs low, their speed is dramatically reduced, and you lose your advantage in a race. Along the way, you may encounter caskets that will net you items. They can be anything from roller skates that give you speed bursts or pails of water to trip up anyone behind you using the A button. You’ll also encounter coins that fill a meter in the upper right hand corner of the screen. Once this fills up completely, the B button will unleash whatever special ability your character has, such as bats that will carry you forward a part of the way down the track, or blow a kiss that will knock out one of your rivals. The lower screen doesn’t seem to be used for anything aside from displaying the map and the current rankings.
That’s really the bulk of the experience. Each track is home to various obstacles, such as tentacles that slap the ground and waterfalls that can pour over you, but that aside, there isn’t too much exciting that happens during an average play session. The core game is perfectly fine, as things seem rather balanced (if a bit on the easy side) and I didn’t encounter any crippling bugs or anything. It was a bit frustrating to have your character completely face plant any time one little thing went wrong (as funny as the animation is), though it was nice to see that some harmful effects can be shrugged off if you hit a corresponding button at the right moment.
On the presentation side, the character models are decent enough, though a bit pixelated, and the animations are a bit stiff. The characters themselves don’t seem to be capable of enough range of motion to accommodate such things as bumping into the side of the track, as it looks as awkward as having the face plant animation be used for everything. The 3D effect doesn’t help much in this department either, since having it too high makes the game look blurry, and the lower settings are really only noticeable in menus. There’s a good variety to the environments that the tracks take place on, as each one has a unique theme that it follows. Shame there isn’t more of them though.
While the soundtrack that loops in the background of each race is pretty forgettable, each racer comes fully loaded with a set of catch phrases they’ll exclaim each time they pass an opponent or knock them down. They’re about a cheesy as you might expect, though some of them are amusing. One of the added benefits of choosing multiple characters for a race is you don’t have to hear the same phrases get looped over and over again, though you should fully expect to have them all memorized by the time you’re done with the game.
At a $30 price point, Monster High Skultimate Roller Maze is a bit cheaper than your average 3DS game, which helps compensate for the lack of bells and whistles. The various difficulties and unlockables do add some replay value to the title, but the lack of tracks makes the experience grow monotonous far sooner than it should. Some sort of multiplayer or StreetPass functionality would have gone a long way to adding more value to the product, allowing players to engage their friends in a local race or even exchange high scores. Fans of the Monster High franchise, particularly children, may find some pleasure in the experience, but for everyone else, there isn’t anything offered here that can’t be filled by other, more robust 3DS titles.
Short Attention Span Summary
Monster High Skultimate Roller Maze can best be described as a blander version of the Mario Kart titles. The core game is mechanically sound, with various different racers to pick from and a light sampling of tracks with which to play on. Being able to swap characters on the fly is a neat concept, especially since it allows you to put together a balanced team to accommodate any track. Yet somehow, the races themselves fail to inspire much excitement with the limited amount of racers that compete at any given time, and the small selection of tracks make obtaining unlockables more of a chore than it otherwise should. Also, the various abilities and items granted to the racers don’t offer the kind of thrills one would reasonably expect from a game of this type. Kids and hardcore fans of the license will likely be perfectly fine with the game. For everyone else, unless you’ve completely mastered Mario Kart 7 and have a void to fill, I’d give it a pass.
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