Review: The Deadly Tower of Monsters

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Inspired by low-budget science fiction flicks of the 70s, The Deadly Tower of Monsters is the latest screwball game from Ace Team and Atlus, a developer-publisher collaboration that has resulted in other weird gems like Rock of Ages, Abyss Odyssey, and the Zeno Clash series.

The Deadly Tower of Monsters carves out its own niche in the Ace Team catalog, a spoofy beat-em-up platformer that embraces and revels in B-movie camp with an outlandish story about the intergalactic exploits of space explorer Dick Starspeed, his trusty robot companion named, well, Robot, and Scarlet Nova, the daughter of the planet Gravoria’s evil Emperor, who defies her father’s rule to help Dick get off. Yes, that’s a poor attempt at a dick joke, something the game specializes in. Check out these screengrabs I took through Steam to see what I mean:

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If that’s the type of humor you’re into, you’ll find plenty of silly laughs in this game.

But forget Dick and his two sidekicks (sorry, there’s another one), the real star of this production is Director Dan Smith. You see, the game is presented as a mock home video release of a crappy sci-fi movie titled The Deadly Tower of Monsters. Somewhat akin to Bastion‘s narrator, Dan Smith provides running Director commentary throughout the whole game, a parody of the commentary feature available on any modern Blu-ray or DVD movie. While you’re playing, the Director reveals behind-the-scenes stories about the cast and crew, explains the reasons behind some of the crummy set designs and special effects, and talks about deleted scenes that would have explained some of the game design tropes at play (like why enemies leave behind gold when they die) to the fictional movie’s audience.

The game is constantly breaking the fourth wall with clever effects explained away due to budgetary constraints. For example, a small section switches to black and white because the budget didn’t allow for shooting in color for a brief time. At another point the director goes on a rant about the use of lens flare as the player character moves past a lit torch, revealing the residue of finger smudges on the screen that got on the camera during filming when Dan wiped the lens with his bare hand against the cameraman’s advice. Just the way the game looks and sounds is brilliant. The music and voice acting slather on thick glops of B-movie cheese, while the visuals perfectly mimic low-end movie production values, stop-motion animatronics, and the slapdash aesthetic of cheap prop materials like Styrofoam and rubber. Flying bats come onto the screen hanging from visible wires. Huge stone barriers are revealed to actually be inflatable blocks that deflate like whoopee cushions instead of explode when destroyed. Giant squid enemies walk around on two human legs, not even bothering to hide the fact that they are unaccredited extras in costumes. What’s more, audiovisual settings allow the game to run in VHS mode, which turns on filters to replicate the dated quality of videotape cassettes, or DVD mode, which is straight HD quality without any of the filters and distortions. The option can be toggled independently for graphics and sound, but for the true experience it’s full VHS or bust if you ask me.

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Stripping away the whole B-movie vibe, The Deadly Tower of Monsters, on its own merits as a videogame, provides a thoroughly average play experience with a few nifty tricks up its sleeve. The bulk of the game is spent ascending the tower–all 65 stories of it!–while navigating simple platform-hopping sequences and button mashing through hordes of brain dead aliens, poo-slinging apes, dinosaurs, robotic monkeys, human clones, lizard men, and various other sci-fi flick monsters. Combat is shallow but hits the right notes of a fun twin-stick shooter or isometric brawler. The three playable characters–Dick, Robot, and Scarlet, who can swapped at sleep chambers located around the tower–each have unique special abilities, but except for a few instances of having to blow up blocks with Dick’s land mine, activate switches with Robot’s chain lightning, or speed dash across conveyor belts as Scarlet, all three draw from the same pool of melee and ranged weapons and lack any meaningful differentiating characteristics. The jumping also feels kind of wonky, as it can be too easy to get hung up on the environment, and the fixed isometric camera view gets stuck from time to time and also tends to make judging jumping distances and angles annoyingly tricky.

For a game called The Deadly Tower of Monsters, it’s fitting that the tower, and the impressive verticality of its level design, is one of the highlight features. Though the world is fairly large, it’s not open world in scale. However, the way you’re able to seamlessly ascend and descend levels of the tower (no loading screens!) provides a freedom of exploration quite unlike any other game. The single most enjoyable part of the game comes from base jumping off of any ledge, freefalling to a lower floor, and jetpack boosting at just the right moment to avoid landing a painfully hilarious ragdoll death (or using a mid-air reset mechanic to instantly rewind to the last jump point). You can scale the tower to the final boss area, leap off the platform, and freefall all the way down to the ground without a single loading screen (though there is some ugly draw distance pop-in). You’re even able to shoot downward at enemies while hurtling to the earth below–which is cool, but, like a lot of other features, is never utilized to the fullest. For more precise navigation, a teleport console can be pulled up at the push of a button, from which you can teleport to any activated checkpoint beacon across the entire map.

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To some extent, this method of backtracking to previous floors adds a dash of Metroidvania flavor to the exploration. Certain areas only become accessible after certain special abilities are found or once you’ve reached a high enough jump-off point that will allow for enough in-air hang time. On a straight shot through, the game is only around three to four hours long, but for OCD completionists there is maybe eight to ten hours of achievement and collectible hunting, made all the more addictive by the smart world design. (I’m up at around nine hours of play time, primarily due to one pesky target board blocking my 100% completion that I just can’t seem to locate.) There is no form of New Game+, but after defeating the end boss the pre-boss checkpoint is saved to reload and continue exploring from. Although entirely optional, the achievements and collectibles are the driving forces behind the game’s upgrade systems. For each mission completed–beat bosses, freefall through floating hoops surrounding the tower, shoot hidden target boards, etc–you earn an achievement for your Steam or console user profile, as well as a skill point to spend in-game on character upgrades like increased attack damage, extended health and energy pools, and boosted regeneration rates. Upgrading weapons is more direct, collecting cogs of varying value and rarity to use as a form of currency.

Unfortunately, as the game is almost entirely devoid of challenge, the character progression becomes superfluous, and the weapon upgrades feel largely cosmetic. Similarly, special abilities, hold-to-charge attacks, and dodge and parry mechanics that should provide greater combat system depth simply get lost in the shuffle because enemies rarely put up enough resistance to demand more than straight button mashing. Even the bosses are cake, requiring nothing but the most rudimentary of pattern recognition to defeat. The only times I ever died were from failing to jetpack in time during freefall. Worse, there is no option to adjust difficulty, so the game is the way it is. Hopefully Ace Team will consider adding variable difficulty settings in a future update, for those of us looking for more of a challenge.

Overall, I really appreciate what Ace Team managed to accomplish with The Deadly Tower of Monsters. It’s an enjoyably schlocky romp that totally nails the vibe it’s going for, which will surely be more than enough for many gamers to extract full value from. The director commentary, simulated B-movie presentation, silly humor, and vertical world design are defining features that truly set this game apart from the pack. Eventually, though, as the novelty begins to lose some of its luster, the middling gameplay grows increasingly shallow and forgettable. As a tribute to and parody of vintage B-movie science fiction, The Deadly Tower of Monsters is pretty brilliant. As an action-adventure game, it’s merely okay.

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Pros:
+ Hilarious director commentary
+ Flawlessly captures the endearing tone and chintzy quality of B-movie sci-fi
+ Intricate vertical tower design
+ Seamless freefall exploration is a hoot
+ Secrets and collectible hunting add solid replay value for completionists

Cons:
– Core gameplay is shallow, unremarkable
– Too easy without any variable difficulty options
– Fixed camera can be a bit of a pain
– Only about three to four hours, minus side missions

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PC, also available on PS4
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Ace Team
Release Date: 1/19/2016
Genre: Action/Adventure
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1

Source: Review code provided by publisher

Buy From: Steam, PlayStation Store

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!