Review: Monolith 

Monolith

Monolith (PC)
Developer: Team D-13
Publisher: Team D-13
Released: June 7, 2017
MSRP: $7.99

Monolith is another one of those indie pixel art roguelike shooters with randomly generated levels, only it is damned good. Here players control a little space ship with twin-stick shooter controls on a quest to journey deeper and deeper into a dungeon killing enemies and huge bosses along the way. Along said journey, there are various shops, and secrets to find to purchase upgrades for your current run including extra bombs and health. Additional consumable weapons can be found in each level, with more to be purchased in the game’s lobby from a blob-like cat.

You read that right, you buy weapons from a cat blob, who is heckin’ cute. For a game about going through dungeons and killing things, Monolith manages to be about as adorable as you can get. Not only does the feline orb have a fun little personality, but so do many of the enemies that will randomly pop by your humble abode from time to time to non-violently chat. Perhaps cutest of all is the pause menu that features your ship sipping a cup of coffee while a flurry of bullets scatter around the screen and an upbeat chiptune song plays.

The soundtrack here is one of the more memorable chiptune offerings I’ve heard in some time that compliments the game well. Each level has its own music that seems to match the theme of said levels such as fire, ice, mechanical, and so on. I especially like one of the small touches the developers added in the water dungeon in which anytime you submerge your ship in water the music slows down just a bit, same as your ship.

Small touches like this set Monolith apart from other games in the genre for me, such as the HUD fading and flickering the closer you are to death. Backtracking through empty rooms? Not here, you can simply press a button to pull up a map and instantly warp to any rooms you’ve visited. Another such example, which also falls into the cute category, is that skulls (one of the frequent enemy types) will every now and then spawn with an accessory. Off of the top of my head, I think I’ve seen a wig, glasses, cat ears, and maybe a monocle if I recall correctly. I don’t believe I’ve seen a duplicate yet and I’ve put over 12 hours into the game.

Kawaii skeletons aren’t the only thing with variety here. As I’ve said, Monolith is randomly generated, a phrase that typically turns off a lot of people, myself included. But there is so much variety to be found here, I rarely even thought about that fact. Every run I played felt fresh and like going through a whole new configuration of each dungeon, and not just with the same 10 or so rooms copy and pasted around. Not only have I been discovering new rooms I’ve never seen still, but I’ve also been coming across new bosses.

Each dungeon has a boss, and from what I’ve gathered bosses are randomly selected from a pool for each dungeon. At the very least I believe there at least 3 different possible bosses per dungeon, if not more. Fighting the bosses are such a joy thanks to Monolith’s tight controls and smooth graphics. Unlike other rooms, bosses mostly give you the full screen to play with and are far more bullet hell like than the rest of the game; so conquering them just naturally feels rewarding.

Rewarding is a good way to describe Monolith in general. The twin-stick controls feel great (you can play with mouse and keyboard if you so choose) and taking down even smaller enemies just feels fantastic. Aside from shooting, the ship can dodge through bullets and even be upgraded to allow teleporting through enemies. Each dungeon has a number of minibosses that must be defeated before you can even face the monstrous bosses, and the minibosses themselves are no pushovers. In my time with the game I probably took more damage from minibosses than any other boss other than the final boss, but mostly because fights with them can be a bit cramped.

Monolith

One thing that may turn some people off is that the game screen is displayed vertically with the side of the screen empty, much like CAVE bullet hell shooters. I didn’t mind this fact but was disappointed that I couldn’t get the game to display only the gameplay area on my monitor that I keep set vertically. Another issue I found is that for some reason the game is finicky launching on Windows 10, and I had to manually set the executable to Windows 7 compatibility mode to alleviate this issue. Aside from that, I experienced no glitches. One other disappointment is that the game currently doesn’t support Steam Cloud Saves, which meant I couldn’t take my save with me on the go when playing on my laptop.

Monolith might sound like a million other indie games on Steam, but I just found that is a perfect goulash of cute, fun, challenging, and addictive. I’ve been doing run after run with no hesitation, back to back, over and over; and I’m still not tired of it. The music is great, the enemies are cute and Zelda-like as are the dungeons, and the bosses are hellish and taking them down feels oh so good.

It might not be as graphically impressive as many other recent roguelikes (although the screenshots and trailer don’t do the game justice as it certainly runs at a buttery smooth framerate certainly 60fps or above), but for me, the gameplay loop makes Monolith one of the most addictive roguelikes I’ve played. It’s well worth the $8 asking price, and if you’re not sold there’s a free demo.

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