Review: Monster Lab

Monster_Lab_DS_300dpi.jpg While there are dozens of million-selling games for the Nintendo DS, few franchises on any platform have been part of over a decade of the constant popularity and high sales that has blessed Pokemon. Not surprisingly, there has been an endless stream of games that have sought to be ‘the next Pokemon‘. Some in concept only, others by adapting the ‘gotta catch em all’ mindset to a new concept. While Spectrobes has been the most visible of the recent entries into the ‘Pokemon clone’ field, you can now add Monster Lab.

Monster Lab is another example of ‘truth in advertising’ – you play as an apprentice mad scientist who is tasked to go around gathering parts to assemble new creatures. The setting is appropriate to the idea of assembling monsters – you are in Eerie, a supernatural world with an evil dictator named BaronMharti . You are apprenticed to three different mad scientists, each of whom has a specialty: one specializes in Alchemy, another in Mechanical things, and the last in Biological studies. All three are aligned against the evil Baron, and so without further explanation … so are you. And while that is a really cool premise to get you going with the game, it is also where the story pretty much begins and ends.

For the remainder of the story you take on quests that involve exploring the world gathering up parts to combine to create new monsters to use in battle. You can also gather ‘parts’ to upgrade existing monsters. While there are loads of side-quests and mini-games, they all center around a single thing: getting cooler and better monster parts to build bigger and more powerful monsters. This allows you to take on stronger enemies, thereby getting more cool monster parts, which allows you … you get the picture.

But don’t underestimate the content: you get to explore six different worlds as you take on quests, each with a variety of things to do. You also get to try out twenty-two different mini-games, and battle enemies ranging from trivial to nigh on impossible. You will need to pay attention as you develop your monster – things can get pretty rough at times.

The graphics are very well done – most of the time. The same is true for the sounds and music. Each has a very uneven quality – for example, the graphics of the environments you explore are highly detailed and colorful, whereas the battle graphics are dark and muddy and seem to lack detail compared to the rest of the game. There are cutscenes, but they lack voice-overs which seemed appropriate given the ‘Professor Layton’-like style.

You can even take your monster into battle against friends wirelessly. This is a great concept that fits perfectly with the Pokemon style, allowing kids to find out how well they have done building monsters by pitting them against each other in battle. It adds even more to an already densely packed game.

So who is this game for? It is squarely aimed at boys around 10 or so. It has a bit of a freaky monster vibe, but isn’t scary. I assumed that the ‘mad scientist’ thing would hook my older son, but it was my younger son – the former huge Scooby Doo fan – who was intrigued. The last couple of weeks have seen three games in heavy rotation in his DS – Spectrobes: Beyond the Portals, Korg DS-10 and this game. It is quite accurate to think of it as a sort of Frankenstein meets Scooby Doo meets Pokemon game.

With so much content and such an accurate targeting of their selected market, Eidos has a winner on their hands. It is not without some flaws – not the least of which is a lack of appeal to anyone outside of that target market. But for anyone attracted by the concept and the lineage of games that preceded this, it is an easy recommendation to go out and grab this cool little game.

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Pros:
+ Fun concept / premise
+ Perfect for the target age group

Cons:
– Limited audience
– Not much of a story

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on DS, also available for PS2 and Wii
Publisher: Eidos Interactive
Developer: Backbone Vancouver
Release Date: 11/04/08
Genre: Action, Role-Playing Game
ESRB Rating: E10+
Players: 1

About the Author

I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!