Unless they secretly harbour ambitions of world domination and doing bad deeds, most kids dream of going on adventures and conquering evil. It is a far smaller percentage who expect that adventure to begin because their uncle has gotten drunk and started turning everyone into animals.
This is how your epic journey begins in Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom. Your brother flies over to you – which is already a big red flag because he doesn’t normally have wings – and tells you that your uncle has gone on the ultimate bender. I mean, who hasn’t stopped off for one, ended up drunk with power and decided to transform the whole kingdom into animals?
So it is that you decide to try and stop your uncle, and start jumping and slashing your way through the overly aggressive fauna in order to find out why this is all happening. Except it doesn’t quite go to plan; when you finally catch up to your beloved uncle, he turns you into a pirate pig, which is something I never thought I would ever write. This is where the journey truly begins, because nobody wants to be a pig for the rest of their lives, even if they can cast a badass spell or two.
The only way to undo this curse is by finding the magical McGuffins hidden away around the world, each of which is guarded by a tough boss fight and rewards you with a new animal body with brand new abilities. You might end up as a wall-crawling acid-spitting snake, or you might become a frog with mighty jumps and a sword. These abilities let you access previously unreachable areas, treasures, and challenges.
It should be clear by now that Monster Boy isn’t just an action-platformer, it has a fair few Metroidvania elements too. It uses this game design incredibly well, as while backtracking isn’t something many enjoy, the plethora of shortcuts and secrets help to make the journey back much more enjoyable. In fact, the whole experience is so immensely enjoyable it’s hard to put down.
The platforming is simply spot on; your jumps need to be precise in order to avoid falling and either starting again, or just dying out right. The enemies have easy to learn attacks and can be taken as long as you aren’t too gung-ho. There are also plenty of checkpoints everywhere, so even if you do come a cropper, you will never be too far from where you tragically succumbed to the cutesy enemies.
The other things you’ll find dotted throughout the land are puzzles. There are plenty of them to try and overcome and while many of them are a simple matter of timing, others require you to be really paying attention to solve.
The graphics are gorgeous, a wonderful, joyous style that is beautiful animated and feels reminiscent of a high-quality cartoon, while also paying homage as a successor to the Wonder Boy series. They help to really tie everything together into one brilliant package.
The sound design is just as grin-inducing. The musical swells are matched by the small notes that accompany everything you do and tie together for an incredibly pure experience. The presentation is perfect throughout and helps to keep some of the more frustrating moments enjoyable.
Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is one of those brilliant retro throwbacks that captures how games used to feel, but without any of the nonsense that arises from how they actually were. It’s consistently entertaining and a blast to play. If you want something to sink your teeth into – human or otherwise – then this is a great choice for sure.
Version tested: PS4
Also available for Xbox One, Switch, and Q1 2019 for PC