I’ve been playing Ace Team’s games for years, from Zeno Clash to Rock of Ages to Abyss Odyssey. These developers jump from one insane idea to the next without so much as a blink, and that’s a trait I really respect and love about them. When an Ace game launches, I know I’ll be playing something I’ve never played before. The biggest problem with this approach is that the fantastic ideas don’t always translate into enjoyable gameplay. Something about their games always feels a bit off to me. So when I found myself with a review code of their latest game, I was incredibly excited to see if they’ve worked out some of the kinks. While The Deadly Tower of Monsters isn’t flawless by any means, I think it may be my favorite game by the team so far.
The Deadly Tower of Monsters is presented as a DVD re-release of a classic monster movie from the ’50s, complete with director commentary, film grain, and other little touches that do a good job of selling the whole lost-film presentation. Within moments of playing, you know exactly what the game is going for, because it wears its cheesy, outrageous inspiration on its sleeve. I’ve been enjoying The Deadly Tower of Monsters for the same reason I love those cheesy old monster movies: there’s something endearing about how schlock directors made these “masterpieces” come together, despite the odds. And Ace Team uses the can-do spirit of that era of film to really make this twin-stick, top-down, action game stand out from the pack.
Technically speaking, the graphics aren’t much to look at, but the dedication to B-movie style kept me excited to see every new floor of the tower. Flying enemies are attached to fishing lines, you can see the legs of the guys dressed up in squid costumes, and bigger enemies like dinosaurs twitch around like their stop-motion counterparts in the movies. Though the game isn’t very long–about 5-6 hours–it’s pumped full of a variety of enemies, weapons, and bonus activities to do, and so many of them play with the theme that I never got bored. Honestly, it was hard to put down.
Running, jumping and shooting from floor to floor is a breeze thanks to the simplistic top-down mechanics of The Deadly Tower of Monsters. With two melee weapons and two guns, you’ll be mowing down monsters with relative ease that almost brings back the feeling of classic beat ‘em ups. You’ll find an assortment of weapons throughout the game that can be upgraded if you’re willing to search for the components, but for the most part, there’s not much depth here.
That said, there’s a nice variety of enemies, locales, and things to do. Besides just looking for upgrades, there are other collectibles to find that helped break up the repetitive combat just enough that I was always entertained. “Oh I see some rings over there!” And so I would find the perfect jumping off point and dive through a few collectable rings a-la Pilotwings, or search for hidden targets to destroy. The playtime, too, helps keep things feeling punchy: at around 5 hours to complete, it’s the perfect length to get in, have some fun, and wrap up before it gets too stale.
Then there are areas where height is taken into careful consideration and applied to the gameplay. Since you’re climbing a gigantic tower, it’s nice to be reminded just how high up you are and how far you’ve come. Whether you’re diving after a giant falling beast, or sniping flying saucers below you as they move in on your position, you’re always aware of how far you’ve come. It’s a good feeling. One of my favorite things about The Deadly Tower of Monsters is that no matter how high you get, you can look down and you’ll always see the ground, further and further away as you ascend. And if you feel the need you can jump from the highest point to the very bottom – or anywhere in between – whenever you want, and it feels amazing to do that.
Notice how I’ve taken awhile to mention the story? Well that’s because–like the B-movies it takes its inspiration from–The Deadly Tower of Monsters isn’t really a story-driven game. Who really cares why you’re climbing up a deadly tower filled with monsters as long as it’s fun, right? After all, like the director says in his commentary, “dialogue is not a genre.” You didn’t come here to hear people talk, you came to blast some monsters in the face! For the most part that’s true but what really drives the game along is the director commentary.
Throughout the game, Dan Smith, the director of the film you’re playing, commentates on the action. He’s a chauvinist, a narcissist, and just an all-around jerk. And you’re going to hear him talk for the entire game. You may not like him, but that’s okay, because he captures the essence of a real ’50s era Hollywood director. Still, his commentary is hit and miss. While there are certainly times I’ve wanted to hit the mute button, every now and then he says something legitimately funny, redeeming the whole idea. But again, even when I hated listening to him, it worked for me, because the commitment to the performance drips from every line. Almost every aspect of the film/game is addressed and explained in some fashion, and that truly gives it a “behind-the-scenes” feel. He discusses the actors regularly, how shots came about, why monsters look the way they look, his disappointments with the film and so on. Even when the jokes fall flat, it’s still interesting to heart how The Deadly Tower of Monsters was “made.”
The Deadly Tower of Monsters isn’t going to win any Game of the Year awards. It’s not the prettiest game. It’s not the smartest game. But like the movies that inspired it, it’s a lot of fun, and full of heart. I hate to say it, because I’d love to see more people play it, but it seems poised to become a hidden gem in the endless vault of digital games.
I played and finished The Order: 1886 last week, and I’ve honestly forgotten most of it already. I don’t see myself forgetting The Deadly Tower of Monsters any time soon.
Invisible Gamer’s review of Deadly Tower of Monsters is based on final review code provided to us by Atlus. The game launches on Tuesday, January 19th, 2016.