How often do you play a game which completely smashes your expectations? Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom was a complete surprise for me since I expected a game that was simple but offered gorgeous visuals. It ended up being an exciting action-adventure that delivers on all front. It is not just a platformer but features some lite-RPG elements like managing equipment, using items, and with a pinch of Metroidvania that makes exploration a lot more exciting. Story presentation is great with characters taking the time to not just explain the events but also providing you an idea of their background.
Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is a labor of love. The visuals are stellar and pop out on any screen, whether you are playing it on your 4K TV or in the handheld mode for the Nintendo Switch. The game maintains a locked native resolution with 60 FPS that makes gameplay silky smooth while offering plenty of eye candy. The unique visual style that makes Monster Boy look like a living cartoon. This was possible through the use of hand-drawn animation and it is simply beautiful in motion.
In Monster Boy, the lead character controlled by the player is Jin. The story begins one day when Uncle Nabu, who appears to have some relation to Jin, goes crazy and starts transforming almost everyone with his magic wand. Jin also becomes a victim of his magic and gets transformed into a pig. To save the kingdom from the evil antics of Uncle Nabu, he sets out on a quest that demands him to collect five mystical orbs.
Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is not an easy game if you take it lightly. There are sudden difficulty spikes during certain story moments and the boss battles can feel brutal if you are not paying much attention, but it is not hair-splitting difficult. I think the sense of difficulty is about right for a game of this caliber, although even if some of the platforming moments are frustrating, they are still ultimately enjoyable overall.
The game mainly plays as a side-scrolling action platformer. Jin starts out as a human who can equip a weapon and shield. Once you clear the introduction, he gets transformed into a pig which means you have to rely on the sense of smell to uncover secrets and use close-quarter combat. The game continues keeping everything fresh by letting you unlock new abilities that help in combat. Later, both magic and gadgets will unlock that you can use to clear enemies easily, but they all offer a limited number of uses. You can recharge them through shops scattered across key checkpoints, e.g. before a boss fight.
There is a main hub in Monster Boy and the Cursed World and you will keep returning to it. The main story quest deals with Jin searching for five different orbs so you will explore different locations where in the end, you will have a boss fight granting you new powers. In the start, Jin has limited options for combat due to his pig transformation but he will gradually begin to learn new monster powers like a snake, dragon and so on. There are six different forms to transform by the end and each one offers its own unique advantage both in combat and for exploration letting you discover new hidden secrets.
Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom has excellent pacing, and this is why the game is so fun. It never bores you with mindless missions or useless backtracking but keeps most of the exploration and combat fresh. While the combat is not as precise and perfect as you might expect from a side-scrolling platformer, it offers diversity by providing you with many abilities. Boss fights are a gorgeous visual spectacle and feel more like an event that you keep anticipating while making your way through a new area.
Of course, the game wouldn’t be complete if there were no puzzles. Yes, you can find these puzzles during exploration that are sometimes tricky to solve or need a special type of ability. You can always come back to these locations where you get stuck and attempt them again with your newfound powers. Fast travel is available, so there is no issue getting between two different points easily. Checkpoints are aplenty so dying doesn’t really feel punishing but instead lets you grind for more coins. They work as a currency to buy new equipment, items, or powers.
The main story campaign took me between 10 to 15 hours to complete, but I was also ignoring some of the side content and didn’t really aim to unlock everything. I am sure if you add exploration and discovering the secrets to the list, the overall length of the game will likely be higher. It is still a solid and incredibly beautiful adventure that has an amazing soundtrack and on top of it, offers a pristine presentation and flawless technical performance. It is truly a surprise hit of the year, but the slightly higher price is perhaps its biggest hurdle for now.
Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom Review (Switch)
Game Reviewed on: Switch
Game description: Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is a platform game developed by Game Atelier and published by FDG Entertainment. The game is a sequel to Sega's Wonder Boy series, and was released for the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One in December 2018, with a Windows version set to be released in early 2019.
Final Score - 8.5/10
Easily one of the best platformers released this generation with striking visuals and great game design. Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is an absolute delight from the beginning until the end its epic story campaign.