Platform: PC (also on PS4)
Developer: ACE Team
# of Players: 1
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)
Score: B+ (85%)
Yep, they’ve gone and done it again. Chilean developer ACE Team’s latest game, The Deadly Tower of Monsters is a solid and fun ride that’s going to tickle the fancy of those gamers young to old with a knowledgeable love for “B” movies, primarily of the sci-fi variety. The Unreal engine-powered stylized visuals look great, and the offbeat humor comes from a few angles expected and surprising. While the game may not seem all that lengthy, finding some of its secrets will take some effort. A few flaws (that can be patched) keep it from perfection, but overall this is one of those great little sleepers you’ll want to take for a spin and add to your game library.
DToM is presented as if it’s a DVD release of an old VHS flick from… well, it’s hard to pinpoint an exact tine frame here. That’s because ACE has made a game that pays homage to elements from sci-fi flicks going way back into the 20th century and the colorful visual bombardment doesn’t let up for a second. When space hero Dick Starspeed’s ship crash lands on planet Gravoria, he finds himself teaming up with his robotic comrade, Robot and the lovely Scarlet Nova in order to save the planet’s inhabitants from certain doom (or something like that). You’ll see spaceships and floating aliens on wires, familiar looking weapons. cheesy costumes abound everywhere, and a “director commentary” that goes a bit too behind the scenes at some points.
Gameplay is generally fast-paced mostly isometric 3D (sort of a Diablo meets Metroid hybrid) with a floating camera in some spots and plenty of brief cut scenes that spell out the story. One of the more unusual things is other than a small section of ground-based action, you indeed need to make your way up a deadly (and seemingly miles tall) tower with plenty of monsters outside and in who want to do you in. The sense of scale is pretty astounding especially when you get very high up and look over an edge to see where you came from way down below. Yes, you can (and will) even jump from far up and free fall down in order to nab hidden items and/or do a bit of aerial combat.
It all works fantastically thanks to the dev team committing to the cause of making the their baby a total blast to play from the “tough but fair” side. Each of the three heroes can use any of the 18 weapons (10 ranged, 8 melee) once they’re located, and every weapon can be upgraded twice by spending found cogs and gold gathered from enemies or busted bits of the sets you end up on or in as the game progresses. Each character also as a few special attacks that make them a good choice for certain situations, so a bit of trial and error comes into play. There’s no traditional save anywhere system you’d expect from a PC game, just checkpoint saves that allow you to pick up from the last radar dish you passed. About 6 hours of gameplay is here, but my game clock shows almost double that thanks to me scouring the tower and the very small islands around it for cogs and other stuff.
The game even plays out like a film shoot gone awry in how it handles character demises. Make a mistake of some sort that gets who you’re playing bumped off and the director makes a comment about an alternate take or some other incident that happened during the shoot. In other words, you can’t get a Game Over here no matter how hard you try. The worst thing that happens is you get bounced back to the last checkpoint if your character expires or of you fall off something in certain spots, you can warp back to where you jumped. Occasionally, you may hit a falling loop until the game resets your character on the platform or ledge he or she took that death dive from. But this only happened twice during my time with the game.
On the performance side, DToM runs at a nice 60fps and between the well-rendered human characters and the fake-looking trees, kooky alien outfits, and moderately-sized to massive bosses playing their roles against some impressive set pieces, there’s a lot to love about the graphics. By default, the game has a scratchy and grainy “VHS” filter that can be toggled off if you want a cleaner picture. Yours truly went most of the game without it, but switched it off for one very tricky jumping section in the late going because it was a distraction during that timed sequence with disappearing platforms and the need to keep moving. The music is excellent, recalling older sci-fi flicks from the 50’s and 60’s and like the assorted aliens here, cleverly implemented throughout the game.
The review code Atlus provided was a beta version and had a tiny handful of minor issues that as noted, can or will most likely be patched up in the final code. In a few spots, a character on the hunt for hidden cogs got stuck between a tree or other object and a wall, there were a few hit detection and collision hiccups, and for an old fogey like me, that late game jumping section needed a spot to breathe about midway through. In the case of the latter, that’s just my old reflexes not being as fast as they once were more than the game’s fault. It would have been nice to have a few extras included like the ability to see the “film” version of the game’s events, get access to a “blooper reel” and perhaps even see some (free?) DLC at some point. But this one’s a solo player blast to and from the past best served up as an amusing side dish more than a “serious” game.
That said, seeing more of Dick, Scarlet and Robot in the future is something I’d love to have happen. ACE Team is onto something here and this trio is too fun to see only in a one-off game that’s part experiment and all intriguing. Buy it and hang onto your seat for a weird, fun and pretty nifty surprise that’s a welcome change of pace from games that take themselves too seriously.