PAX South: Monster Boy is Worth the Wait

It feels like it’s been a long time coming, but Game Atelier’s Monster Boy is chugging along with aplomb, and the results of the hard work speak for themselves. The studio started off with a Kickstarter and a dream to make a superlative platformer by the name of Flying Hamster. Work progressed before a boon: the joining of Ryuichi Nishizawa, creator of Wonder Boy in Monster World. Through a variety of circumstances, the French studio found itself making a true entry to the venerable franchise.

The story starts off with our hero, Jin, discovering that his uncle was having a bit too much fun and is now flying through the air on a barrel, transforming the land’s denizens into myriad creatures. So, kind of a mean drunk. What follows from there is a finely tuned action/platformer with some light puzzle elements.

At the show, there were three areas available to try out. The first takes the player through the opening, which involves travels under water, a battle with a screen filling squid, and some time after being transformed into a pig, sniffing out the secrets needed to solve the stage. The next casts the player as a  snake that somehow has the ability to crawl up walls and ceilings. Acknowledging that snakes cannot do this (animal keeper wife note: depends on the wall…), one has to remind oneself that people tend not to able able to change into animals either. So… there’s that.

The final section had our hero in frog form. More specifically, Frog from Chrono Trigger. Players can cut down foes with an ice enchanted blade, swing across rings with an extra long and sticky tongue, and launch themselves through the air using special hooks and that same tongue. There’s a reason Jin is so popular with the ladies. This particular section was the most enjoyable with its ingrained high flying antics.

The thing that makes the latter work as well as it did comes down to the finely honed platforming that it presents. Monster Boy goes heavy on the classic genre, hewing close to the series’ roots. Like a hat made out of freshly made pudding, it just feels warm, comforting, and oh so right. It’s second nature to go bopping along narrow platforms, making jumps that would be tricky in other titles. I did miss a couple of trickier bits, but that came down to the brain being addled with the sensory overload of the show floor.

It must be noted that the demo available here were discrete chunks designed to show off three of the five creatures that will be in the final game. The player will not be stuck in these forms outside of specific story beats. While it wasn’t used during my play, there control diagram showed that players will be able to swap forms at will. This should open up even more complex puzzling to provide for an even more engaging time.

It’s also looking gorgeous. The artists obviously love the classic anime that informed the original games and it shows in Monster Boy. This is a title that beats players about the head and neck with pure, weaponized whimsy. The art manages to be well animated without overdoing it in a way where extra frames hinder movement and platforming. Displaying a imaginative but cohesive whole, everything about the appearance and music is at least on par with the quality found in WayForward’s superlative Shanate: Half Genie Hero.

Overall, everything Game Atelier had to show off with Monster Boy indicates that the title might be one of the best 2D platfomers ever made. With PAX South being stuffed to the brim with so many quality titles to check out it’s almost impossible to name a best of the show. Monster Boy would easily make the top five list and have a real shot at number one. The only sad thing is that, while the release is sometime this year, the exact date is still a bit nebulous.