Monster Rancher DS Review
Developer: Cling / Publisher: UFO Interactive Games / ESRB: Everyone (Mild Fantasy Violence, Mild Suggestive Themes) / Played on: DS / Price: $29.99
If you would ask anyone familiar with gaming in the last decade to tell you what portable game features monsters battling each other by the command of their trainers you can guarantee the results would turn up Pokémon. A lot of us sometimes forget that another game series exists where adorable monsters beat the living hell out of each other while fans scream for more in the stands. Luckily, another game in the oft-forgotten Monster Rancher series is upon us in the form of Monster Rancher DS. Utilizing the DS’ touch screen and microphone to create a variety of monsters, could this be the game that dethrones the mighty Pokémon dynasty from its handheld pedestal?
Monster Rancher DS isn’t too concerned with its story, playing off some rather dull characters and uninspiring plot. As the new owner of a, for lack of a better phrase, monster ranch you’re first greeted by the cheerful girl Cleo who will act as your voice and guide throughout the game. As you are introduced to your first monster your goal becomes apparent: become the greatest monster breeder this side of the land of Bomba. A slew of characters make appearances throughout your journey, ranging from a love interest for Cleo that tries way too hard to a group of mysterious men set on something Cleo has at your ranch. Ultimately the story is forgettable and the game focuses instead on the raising of your monsters and how you spend your time on your ranch.
If you are new to the Monster Rancher series of games then let me break it down for you: by inserting different CDs, DVDs, or even other disc-based video games you could unlock certain monsters to use in your game. Seeing as this was the core of the previous games in the series and that the DS obviously cannot swap out discs (or cartridges for that matter) a simple compensation was reached. By drawing a picture with the stylus or speaking a word or short phrase into the microphone you can create a unique monster to train. Saying a funny phrase or drawing the best or worst picture you can think of is rather satisfying and easily the most entertaining aspect of the game. After you’ve got your little guy back from the lab you can return to your ranch where you can train him to increase his stats. Activities like rock climbing, swimming, and even chopping a giant watermelon raise the attributes of your monster, like its strength or life points. In a strange omission all of these activities are done automatically without requiring you to do anything. A mini-game or quick-time event would have made the experience a bit more rewarding, especially since many DS games like Pokemon HeartGold include these games. A variety of activities, ranging from a board game-like drill to having your monster roam about the wild to find new items and creatures to battle, are more than enough to keep you busy but easily become monotonous over time.
The other half of gameplay takes place during battle. Every few weeks you can enter your monster in tournaments to win cash, prizes, and fame. Battles are one-on-one affairs and attacks are governed by your monster’s GUTS which increase as the battle goes on. Each move or ability has a pre-set number of GUTS that must be expended in order to perform the action. While the system sounds solid the problems arise in downtime: attacks miss entirely too much (especially early in the game) and GUTS don’t refill fast enough. It results in an often-times boring match where you’ll be waiting for your points to refill while standing around doing nothing, with the opponent probably doing the same. Aside from creating your monsters, which is a rewarding process, the rest of the game is reading text and sifting through menus. A bigger focus on interaction from the player would have enhanced the game.
Since most of the game has you moving through menus there isn’t much to say on the control during actual gameplay. However the controls during monster creation are spot-on. Drawing monsters is like using a glorified PictoChat, complete with small and large brush sizes as well as a responsive drawing area. I found myself spending hours drawing things that came to mind and trying to see what monsters I could produce. The microphone option works just as well. If the game can’t recognize your voice, or if there is too much background interference, it will ask you to repeat your phrase. Monster Rancher DS handles well and offers a solid drawing interface.
Monster Rancher DS on the whole features some cute monsters but ultimately falls flat graphically. The game looks like a PS1 title (which I suppose could be a throwback to earlier titles) but on a smaller screen. A lot of textures look blocky, and backgrounds come across as simple surfaces with minimal color. Seasons change as the years roll on and the weather changes from time to time, but in the end it doesn’t really help to create a more appealing game to look at. Coming out this late in the DS’ life I would have liked to see a lot more attention to detail and texture from the game.
Monster Rancher DS is very much the same game it was ten years ago when I first played it. Finding and creating new monsters is still a blast. However raising, battling, and interacting with your newfound pet can be tedious and unvarying. Gameplay variety, like the dungeon crawling from series entries gone by, have greatly enhanced the overall experience. If you’ve never played a game in the series this would be as good an entry point as any, but borrowing it from a friend for the weekend should be enough time to enjoy this monster breeding escapade.