Look, calm down, it’s okay, you just read the title wrong. It’s easy to do but this game is actually called Monster Prom XXL. Whilst it certainly attempts to be sexy in places, it is, thankfully, far from being pornographic. It’s also part of a niche genre, within a niche genre, within a niche genre. Genre inception if you will. I’ve no idea what a one-to-four player competitive dating sim is, let alone how one plays. Let’s find out together, shall we?
Monster Prom XXL is ostensibly a party game; one that’s framed around a high school dating sim. It has the style and narrative drive of a visual novel and the structure of a board game. It also has elements of roleplay bolted to it, as well as a virtual Dungeon Master who creates new stories for you on the fly. It’s a hodgepodge, it’s a bit of a mess, it’s certainly not for everyone, but it’s also oddly compelling and often very very funny.
You and up to three pals take on the role of one of four charmingly illustrated high school Monsters. Your challenge? To land yourself a date for the high school prom, it’s that simple. Monster Prom is wonderfully inclusive in it’s dating and its choice of pronouns, anyone – regardless of sexuality, gender, species, appearance or the fact they are already dead – can date anyone. There’s a number of candidates to impress, each unique in appearance and temperance.
Perhaps you’ll set your sights on a feisty and furious demon called Damien, who just wants to punch the world in the face – repeatedly. Or maybe you’ll endeavour to woo Polly, the party loving Ghost with the most. If you’ve any sense though, then you’ll be getting to know Calculester better. Why? Calculester is a “library computer who had become a sentient robot ready to experience life to its fullest.” This living computer also happens to have the most hilarious lines – and rude selection of emoticons – in the entire game. Which, seeing as the the standard of humour is impressively high here, is certainly saying something.
Humour really is the secret weapon of Monster Prom. The script writing is regularly sublime; fast, funny, full of character and deliciously meta. This is a game that isn’t afraid to poke fun at the player, at itself, or even at its developers. There’s so many cultural references, sly digs and exasperated nods that it’s nearly impossible to keep track of them all. Instead, just go with it and have a good laugh. Though one aspect of the script that does fall short is its attempts at adult humour.
Swear words are, in my opinion, overused and unwarranted, while references to sexual acts and the inclusion of overt sexual innuendo just feels plain awkward. Is a sentient robot really going to be interested in a blowjob? Surely a defrag would be more desirable? On the plus side, you can ignore these clangers by skipping through them and admiring the art style instead, Monster Prom’s comic worthy illustrations are gorgeous throughout.
What of the gameplay then? This aspect of the game is a little hit and miss for me. The story takes place over the course of a three week – or two week in the shorter gameplay mode – run-up to the high school prom. Each player answers a silly quiz that provides their character with stats in various attributes (boldness, creativity, fun etc) and a prospective date that best suits them.
This is where the board game similarities come in: players take it in turns to visit certain areas of the school, each time triggering a different event. They’ll meet a selection of characters ensconced in different scenarios and then be given a number of – usually ridiculous – choices to make and actions to take by the virtual DM. Make the right choice and you’ll be awarded a stat boost and develop your relationship with a specific monster. Make the wrong choice and your stats will take a dip whilst your beloved will show you the hard shoulder – or hard tentacle in some cases.
If I’m honest the changes to your stats felt arbitrary and made little sense – they certainly appeared to play no part in whether or not I was successful in getting a date for the prom. The game also suffers from quickly becoming repetitious. Whilst there’s hundreds of possible scenarios to experience, the board game structure remains unchanging: visit an area of the school, choose a table to sit at in the canteen, visit a couple more areas before moving on to the next week and doing it all again.
This tedium is exacerbated by a very limited cast of monsters during any one run through. Despite the story and script work regularly surprising then, the actual gameplay quickly becomes formulaic. It’s a shame that Monster Prom doesn’t vary its own structure, perhaps by putting more events in one week and less in another, or by having a large group of characters involved in a scenario, rather than just two or three. Either way, it would certainly have benefited from a couple of extra game modes or activities to shake things up a bit.
Local play is, of course, the best way to play the game – putting a wrecking ball to a friend’s blossoming relationship by spreading slanderous rumours never gets old. Though playing together in the same room is oddly hampered by a curious mechanic that seeks to encourage ‘real world’ debate to decide which player goes first at the start of every turn. Players are asked to choose an object, animal, brand or similar and then are given a crazy criteria. A debate must then ensue as to whose choice is better suited to fulfil the criteria, the winner getting to go first.
There’s nothing wrong with a party game that encourages social interaction – that’s the whole point, right? The problem is that for a game that aims for accessibility, the questions asked are far too niche and not applicable to a wide audience – leading to some members of the family feeling left out and unable to contribute to the discussion.