The-Deadly-Tower-of-Monsters-Review The Deadly Tower of Monsters Review

   21/01/2016 at 11:11       Chris Grapes       0 COMMENTS. - Score 3/5
 - Shooter, Freefalling, Metroidvania, B Movie, ACE Team

B-Movies seem to have found a resurgence. Flick onto SyFy and at any given moment you'll have Sharknados, Lavalantulas, space operas set in obvious plywood spaceships, all with a Hasslehoff or Sheen trying for one last self-aware grasp at the spotlight. All of them going for the so-bad-it's-good tangent, most of them sailing far past the mark and looping back around to just bad.

My theory is that B-Movies were so ridiculously successful in the 50s and 60s is that people really didn't have much else to do. There's still no denying, however, that they've left a huge legacy, impacting almost every facet of modern cinema. We look back at the crude stop-motion, the flying saucers on strings, with a warm sense of nostalgia enveloping us like the blob envelopes Steve McQueen's girlfriends.

It's the same feeling that The Deadly Tower of Monsters provides--at least visually--, that fuzzy feeling of lost history refound. From an artistic perspective, DToM, for all its low-budget B-Game nonpretentions, nails it. Rarely have I encountered a game that so smoothly connected a theme across multiple facets. There's those same flying saucers dangling from obvious strings. Dinosaurs and giant apes lumber towards the player like classic Harryhausen stop motion. Dust, hairs, and fingerprints smudge the camera. Giant boulders turn out to be balloons. All of it as tongue in cheek as the movies the game homages and lampoons. Special note to the way the Director's Commentary (a take on Bastion's reactive narrator) manages to juggle gentle mocking of the source material while lamenting modern movie making, even taking a few sideswipes at traditional gaming tropes. Lauding a scene where the woman rescues the man as progressive, then literally ten minutes later giving the explosive weaponry to the male character as "women can't handle explosives"? It's not only self-aware that the central framing is of a movie (character deaths are outtakes, skipping cutscenes fast-forwards like an old VHS, even the main menu has narration), but it's also keenly aware that it's a videogame.

It's a shame, then, that the gaming mechanics of it all feels (ironically, given the excellent thematics) generic and bland. A few novel tricks aside (leaning over the edge to briefly engage in some Space Invaders-esque shooting, or leaping off the same edge to skydive right from the top of the tower to the bottom), the action is flat and uninspired. At heart, the game is a Metroidvania twin-stick shooter, with zigzag progression up the tower, backtracking to bypassing obstacles with a newly obtained tool or weapon. To its credit, it's never too confusing as to where to go or what else is needed (and being able to teleport to any discovered checkpoint at will does away with the tedious padding that blights the genre), and the landscape is littered liberally with secrets and achievements.

There's plenty to the game, it's just too much choice and not any real consequence. While there are three characters to choose from throughout the game, they really only have cosmetic differences. Some tools and special abilities are unique to each character, but these seem to solely be used to pass obstacles, and rarely have any other use. There is a levelling aspect to both weapons and characters (using in-game cash and collectable cogs), but it too feels cosmetic, and there's minimal strategy behind the combat. Aside from energy weapons not working too well on energy-based enemies, I found little reason to play around with the myriad weapons available. Both melee and ranged combat are bereft of impact, and most battles were won simply by keeping a good distance and firing away, or following the obvious attack patterns and going in for some melee strikes. Awkward controls didn't help, especially with platforming sections. Just getting a character up onto a ledge was often a gargantuan struggle (one section I gave up trying to get a seemingly easy-to-get cog on a small ledge, the controls unresponsive, the characters flopping around like lycra-clad sacks of rice. Epic boss fights against King Kong-alikes and robot chameleons, while good visual setpieces, are little more than "hammer attack, dodge the counters".

Of course, this is a B-Game, aimed more at the indie market than trying to stand tall with triple-A titles, and even regardless of that, DToM is a fine example of how to nail a feel and theme. The overall aesthetic is accomplished and polished right from the initial load, and clearly a lot of thought was given how to best emulate schlockly sixties sci-fi. It's just a shame that the same level of care and attention wasn't given to the underlying game mechanics. Fans of pulpy B-movies will find enough to like in the four or so hours it'll take to reach the end (with secrets and achievements giving it some replayability for perfectionists), but others may wonder why the gameplay is as stuck in the past as the rest of it.

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