The Deadly Tower of Monsters Brings it's A-Game with B-Movie Charm
Atlus and Ace Team are releasing The Deadly Tower of Monsters today. Gameplay wise, it's solidly stuck between Diablo and Smash TV, with a dash of exploration and character-specific puzzle solving thrown in for good measure. Aesthetically, though, it is sold as a classic B-Movie being released on DVD for the first time with a director commentary playing along. It feels like a game running with an MST3K track along with it, if the host was the original director admitting to all of the terrible flaws in the film as you watch it.
DToM's entire advertising campaign barely notifies you that it's a game. Their selling point is the true hackneyed aesthetic of the 1960's era sci fi shows. Enemies look like stop-motion animated clay or terribly costumed extras, while our heroes are bedecked in shiny silver space suits with fishbowl helmets and pointless antennae on top. We can choose between dashing hero Dick Starspeed; Scarlet Nova, the rebellious daughter of the emperor; or the aptly named Robot. Each character can operate melee and ranged weapons, while each brings their own special ability needed for certain sections.
The game's hokey presentation works wonderfully. Dinosaurs move chunkily and look like clay. UFOs are suspended by wires. My particular favorite is when our protagonist is caught by an alien. You can tell that the character in the jaws of the enemy is obviously a doll as the arms and legs flail about at impossible angles.
Meanwhile, the director and his assistant yammer on about how and why things look certain ways. They were always under budget, which is why you get the occasional black and white section or places where the lens flare shows the fingerprints on the dirty camera lens. There is a grainy filter on the game that makes it look like an old VHS tape, and even the actors bring their classic 1960's training to the table.
Gameplay is fast and frantic. As you progress up the Deadly Tower of Monsters, you activate portals that allow you to teleport anywhere and everywhere you have been before. You also have the ability to teleport back to the last ledge you were on. This allows for some neat bonus areas and shows off processing power, as you can jump from the tower to dive through rings or collect floating power ups, choosing to zip back up to the last ledge or use your rocket booster to buffer your fall and land on any ledge you have already visited all the way back down. Enemies swarm in waves, and you have to combine your ranged and melee attacks, while slowly getting more powers as you ascend to get through tricky areas.
Unfortunately, some of the best points of the game can lead to it's downfall as well. As the game progresses, the "director's track" of audio keeps up with it's witty banter, but dying (which just has the director complain that someone got the wrong take into their review pile) results in you hearing the same joke again. At a particular place (meeting the robot) I had a hard time and about six times got to listen to him banter about the guy in the suit that didn't get paid. Funny time one, amusing time two, but six times in and you just want to turn him off. I feel discouraged to play through a second round on completion, as it'll just be the same jokes over again. Also, the characters differ only in their aesthetics and special move, which could have been delegated to a single character. Perhaps they didn't want you having access to all special powers at one time, but it makes it a bit of a hassle to find the "swap pod" for the (director admitted) lazy reasons that more than one person isn't on screen at the same time. This game could have shone brightly as a multiplayer title, where the three buddies could team up, much like oldschool Lost Vikings, and they could traverse the tower as a threesome instead of one lonely hero at a time. Also, the melee and ranged combat is fun, as is the "shoot down the tower" style that feels like upside-down Space Invaders, but when you have to swap quickly between those styles it can be jarring. Miss too many enemies as they climb the tower and you end up having to slide away from the wall to fight the ones beside you, only to allow more climbers to get closer.
As long as you are good at it and don't die repeatedly, The Deadly Tower of Monsters is a blast. The only hiccups come from repeated dialogue (which is surprising, as the narrative is varied through the entire tower minus the deaths) and the chaos inherent to swapping action styles mid combat. At times, the narrator made interesting comments (such as the female lead not getting explosives solely because of her gender), but his humor definitely kept me from looking for an "off" menu. The terribly animated enemies and cheesy dialogue may be off-putting to young AAA fans, but those who grew up during the space race or ever enjoyed classic "Lost in Space" episodes are going to get a surprisingly well-done dose of nostalgia. If a sequel ever materializes, multiplayer would be a welcome addition, but The Deadly Tower of Monsters is worth the time of any action-craving, sci-fi loving, tongue-in-cheek humor appreciating gamer.
Final Score: 4/5
A review copy was provided to The Gamers Lounge by Atlus and Ace Team.