Another week, another roguelite to review. Second perhaps only to battle royale games in the current climate, every genre seems to be getting a turn on the randomly generated, permadeath with progress game design merry-go-round. So ubiquitous is the formula that the term ‘roguelite’ is becoming stretched to breaking-point. In the case of Monster Slayers, however, the building blocks of the form are implemented well enough to provide a solid scaffold for a dungeon exploring, treasure seeking, card playing adventure that offers a challenge, but can still be finished by mere mortals.
The narrative background for Monster Slayers is basic to the point of abstraction. You are a budding Slayer who must earn their place in the annals of history by slaying three legendary monsters. No other explanation or plot development is provided and nothing gets in the way of the simple act of building up your deck of cards and defeating all the monsters that stand in your way. The procedurally generated dungeons contain an assortment of environmentally suitable enemies that are scaled to your level. This means that you can choose whichever areas you wish to tackle and in any order, which enables some degree of strategy once you become familiar with the range of enemies.
In true roguelite fashion, Monster Slayers entreats you not to spend too much time setting the look and name of your characters, as they will quickly die. Initial runs are to be treated purely as practice, with learning the various cards of each class the aim of the game. The UI is colourful and clear, although it can look a little cluttered during later fights when numerous abilities and powers are in use. There is still the promise of a Vita version which would be the perfect place for its lighter feel, and I actually played a lot for this review through Remote Play. Character models and monsters are just the right side of cute for you to feel a little guilty about stabbing them in the face and the range of enemies is pretty good.
As I mentioned, your first few runs will result in humiliating death, but not everything is wasted. Your progress is cumulatively added to a fame score that unlocks permanent upgrades for the different classes, and items you loot remain in your inventory. Individual characters also level up and receive upgrades as you work through the areas, but it’s this progress is lost upon death. Due to the strategic card playing mechanic, each attempt does help to teach you the best setups and combinations of cards for each class.
As each of the numerous classes has their own entirely different decks to begin with, your initial choice has a huge effect on the game. I found rogues easy to begin with, as their ability to stack many cards and layer damage obliterated early enemies, but I soon hit a wall when the monsters’ HP totals became much higher, forcing me to switch classes. My most successful runs involved the high defensive capabilities of the Knight class and I finished the game with an elite setup that chained blocking and counter attacking for massive damage.
Replaying is far less annoying than in many other roguelites as it is easy to switch to a different class when you hit a frustrating point. This is further helped by the upgrade system which allows you to redeploy ability points on the fly, letting you can adapt the upgrades to suit your character. One key thing to remember when replaying is that you must re-equip your items on new characters. Different classes have different item slots, but most are usable across the majority of characters. I often forgot and needlessly struggled in the early game.
Progression within each playthrough involves traversing a dungeon, choosing the order of your encounters and fights. This soon becomes strategic in and of itself as you balance obtaining XP with your dwindling health reserves. Alongside monsters, there are many NPC encounters which can result in healing, new cards, upgraded abilities, and treasure. You’ll soon be micromanaging the balancing between the core stats of your character with more powerful cards that require more AP to play. This whole approach reminded me of a suitably stripped back version of Magic the Gathering and perfectly fits the roguelite approach.
Perhaps the only real negative aspect I encountered in my time with Monster Slayers was the random nature of some encounters and boss abilities. One particular enemy, the Tiger Assassin, seemed massively overpowered as its poison effect stacked up to lethal levels. Equally, end of level legendary monsters have randomly selected perks, some of which are a pain in the arse for particular classes to deal with. If the match up of boss and character is a bad one, it can be an annoying end to a run, but it’s just another part of the roguelite experience.
Of the many roguelites I’ve played over the last few years, Monster Slayers is perhaps the most successful in offering enough variety and options to prevent the annoyance and frustration that so often accompanies repeated playthroughs. The different classes and range of cards mean that there is a fantastic sense of improvement and development whilst the random layout stops runs from being too simple. This is a roguelite that I’ll definitely be returning to, which can’t be said all many examples of the genre. If the cutesy graphics don’t turn you off, and you don’t have traumatic memories of deck building card games then Monster Slayers is well worth exploring.
Version tested: PS4
Also available on PC, Xbox One and coming to Vita