Inside Pulse 12

Review: The Deadly Tower of Monsters (PC)

The Deadly Tower of Monsters
Publisher: Atlas
Developer: ACE Team
Genre: Action/Adventure
Release Date: 01/19/2015

I remember being a li’l guy, lying on the floor bright and early Saturday mornings, turning on the TV, and getting lost in fantastical words of sci-fi adventure. Whether it was the classics, the newer wave or any point in between, I was lost in worlds of monsters, aliens, jetpacks and dinosaurs. I didn’t care that I could see the seams in the costumes or the strings making beasts fly; I was completely absorbed in their worlds. ACE Team reached right into those sorts of memories from my past and created a game that recreates my Saturday mornings, as The Deadly Tower of Monsters is a love letter to sci-fi of days gone by.

Moving on Up

In The Deadly Tower of Monsters you have one goal: climb a monster filled tower that is deadly. ACE Team often takes up weird and very creative ideas, then leans into them all the way, and they did the same thing with this game. This game just oozes style. The setup is simple: The Deadly Tower of Monsters is a “classic” 1970’s science fiction movie that is set to get a DVD rerelease, and the director has been called in to do a commentary track. So throughout the game you hear our director, Dan Smith, chiming in with stories of behind the scenes shenanigans. He can go on about budget issues, where they found the actors, how the special effects came to be, and so on… it is all incredibly charming and often pretty dang funny. The game features a trio of playable characters chock full of personality: our steel jawed hero is Dick Starspeed, Scarlet Nova is our alien Vixen, and Robot is a robot (who also has the best lines in the game).

It’s All in the Details

The Deadly Tower of Monsters is all about presentation. It found its style and went in 100% to great effect.  The screen has a VHS scan effect overlaying everything, and the graphics are sharp, retro, and beautiful. The creature design is creative and fun, and best of all, the developers embrace the classic science fiction traditions. Flying creatures have strings attached, you can see the human legs sticking out from under beasts, monkey suits are designed where you can see through the eye holes, and you can tell enemies were made from old vacuum cleaners to cut corners. Many of the enemies are stop-motion animated and it is a loving nod to the style of Ray Harryhausen. Seeing that first dinosaur made me ridiculously giddy as I watched its weird, stilted walk that is a trademark of Harryhausen.

The music is fantastic and evokes the feeling of grand adventures. It grabs you and holds on tight, making you feel like a hero ready to take on the evil forces ahead. The only concern is there just isn’t enough of it, as some tracks get repeated too often. That said, the compositions are just so good that it leaves one wanting more.

Time to Play the Game

The game is viewed from above your character and features shooting and melee attacks along with special moves. The amount of weapons leads to some variety in play, but mostly you zap or whap your way to the top. As you gain power-ups you can go back to previously inaccessible areas, much like Metroid, and acquire various collectibles along with gears you can use to upgrade your weapons. As you complete tasks, you are also given the opportunity to buy upgrades for your heroes.

The game does feature a bit of variety, including areas where you can aim down over the side of the tower and kill enemies flying up from below. It mostly works, but at times you will get kind of trapped and take hits that don’t feel fair. Due to the game being a large tower, you often have the option to jump off the side so you can explore otherwise unreachable areas or to jump through rings. It can be pretty thrilling, but the camera is incredibly slow to reorient itself behind you, causing some unfortunate circumstances of death or damage to your character just because the game didn’t keep up. Another issue with the game world being a tower is that you can get knocked off. Thankfully ACE foresaw this and gave you a teleport button that puts you back on the ledge; the problem is that you often teleport right back into trouble and get knocked off again. I sometimes had to use the button five or more times just to get back on sure footing.

Unfortunately, the game doesn’t feel as good as it looks and sounds. Every blow feels glancing and lacks weight, and the shots are not as easy to line up as one would like. It isn’t bad gameplay, but it doesn’t live up to the lofty heights of the rest of the game. Luckily, to offset these gameplay issues a bit, the game is pretty easy and is generous with health.

More Than Meets the Eye

The story starts out pretty pedestrian: climb the tower and beat the bad guy. During this, the real fun is listening to the director go on and on about all kinds of odds and ends. It is all fun and often pretty hilarious, but it doesn’t drive you forward. I was ready to write the story off, but then the 4th act happened, and suddenly things got meta in a hurry and everything about the narrative changes. When you get one specific item late in the game… good lord, it was such a brilliant idea and so damned funny. There will be no spoilers, but it is well worth playing to the end to see one of my favorite final boss fights in a while.

Short Attention Span Summary

The Deadly Tower of Monsters can be properly described in one word: delightful. ACE Team went whole hog with their idea and churned out a game that has so much charm it covers its flaws. Sure, the gameplay is just okay, but in every other way the game excels. If you have ever dreamed of being in the Land of the Lost or put a fishbowl on your head and pretend to be a spaceman, The Deadly Tower of Monsters will make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. You have to respect a team that puts in so much effort to make an idea come alive.