Developer: Shiny Shoe
Publisher: Good Shepherd Entertainment
Review Context: I really enjoy playing single player card games and Slay The Spire was my third favorite game of 2019. I am also a huge fan of uniquely designed tower defense games.
Date of Playthrough: May 2020
PC Specs Game Played on:
OS: Windows 10 Pro 64-bit
Processor: Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-9700F CPU @ 3.00GHz
Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 SUPER
Disclosure: This review is based off of a review copy provided for free.
Monster Train, developed by Shiny Shoe, is a roguelike deck building game that I had no idea existed until weeks ago. At first glance I was skeptical that this was a Slay The Spire fake clone, but after playing the demo I was sold on the concept of the game. Monster Train is a game where you select a primary clan and allied clan, followed by putting you on a train path that takes you through levels and choices for your cards to upgrade to and also obtain new cards. Along the way you will fight bosses and have to face hard choices for your deck, as you use your limited amount of coins to adapt to how your run is unfolding with the RNG of card choices being put before you to defend your pyre each level and defeat the boss. Every run wont be the same and that’s just the short version of what makes Monster Train addicting and interesting.
The game starts with two clans, the Hellhorned and Awoken, giving you the option to pick one or the other as your primary or allied clan. That choice between primary and allied clan does matter, as the primary clan gives you the choice of a non-manually upgraded champion of that particular clan. Most of your card choices will likely come from your primary clan. The game has five clans in total, giving each clan eight different combinations of how to play with them between primary and allied. What is really nice about Monster Train is that each clan has a unique playstyle, mixing character units and using spells. For example, the Hellhorned uses berserker-like rage mechanics, while the Awoken use giant plants that can grow spikes that hurt enemy attackers. These are the two starter clans and the other three clans (Stygian Guard, Umbra, and Melting Remant) need to be unlocked.
The gameplay within each level for Monster Train is what makes this game stand on its own as a unique gaming experience. Every clan plays differently, but the level design remains the same throughout. Every level has three vertical train floors plus the top floor with your pyre that you have to defend. You have to place your units horizontally in a row, all while your enemies are on the opposite side with a boss lurking. The strategy is where this game shines because you really have to think of unit placement and every clan has different mechanic, not to mention the clan’s mechanics will mesh differently depending on the combination. Everything is not so simple, as each enemy can have different abilities that can trigger based on actions, so you really have to pay close attention. I found out the hard way if not paying attention because I was using spells on a train floor with an enemy that got armor whenever I used a spell. Mechanics like this add a different dimension of strategy, because while you might think putting your units on the bottom floor is the most efficient, placing units on the top floors might actually be more beneficial depending on the enemies presented to you. Your limitations in the game for summoning are ember (mana) and unit slots for each vertical floor on the train. There are cards and artifacts in the game, which can be obtained to affect both.
The tower defense premise of defending your pyre is also very interesting because unlike your average tower defense game, the end location (pyre) can actually fight back. Familiar to Slay The Spire players, the game also features artifacts that are randomized each run that can add various benefits and variations to your strategy. In a lot of ways the artifacts you acquire will likely dictate how you play if they affect status effects on cards like rage, spikes, or something else. All of the cards can be pgraded with coins to fill the card’s two upgrade slots, and you can obtain even more coins than normal if you activate trial challenges each level that make the enemies tougher and provide more rewards.
The the roguelite element in Monster Train is that each clan has a level and after each run you are given a score that levels up the clan to unlock new cards and artifacts up to level ten. This is probably the most grindy aspect of the game, as reaching the unlock goals for the other three clans and unlocking more artifacts and cards is very time consuming. Although the game is grindy, the game is still fun, but the game would be better if the clans unlocked much quicker. A lot of the intrigue in the game is mixing the clans and trying to find the best strategies to defeat each level. The endgame of Monster Train are the Convenant levels and they are unlocked after winning your first run. The Convenant level starts at one all the way up to twenty-five, each with modifiers that make the game tougher, in addition to randomizing your starting cards.
Perhaps the two greatest things about Monster Train are the multiplayer features and the relatively short length of each run. The game features many stat sheets, log books, and leaderboards to keep track of your personal progress and how your scores stack up to your friends and the public. There are daily challenges, custom challenges, and Hell Rush, a timed challenge with online matchmaking. There are so many stat sheets in the game to really give anyone the competitive itch to be the best and want to climb the leaderboards. I am also really impressed with how the logbook is presented because that can give the completionist itch. The logbook tells you everything you’ve completed and are missing, almost serving like a checklist. The presentation of the logbook is really well done.
Slay The Spire was my third favorite game of 2019, so Monster Train was likely to appease me unless it were to fail in execution…it didn’t. What Monster Train does a little better is that I don’t feel like each run is a huge time sink like it felt like in Slay The Spire. That feeling of “one more run” is what has me with nineteen hours played so far and I want to keep playing! It doesn’t hurt that Shiny Shoe put a kick ass soundtrack in the background to make it all the more enjoyable. There are so many variables in Monster Train that sometimes it may feel unlucky with the RNG, but there is a ton of strategy within each clan that it makes the process of strategy experimentation more fun, at least to me. Slay The Spire plus tower defense means Monster Train is the perfect combo of a game that I can easily recommend.
Similar Games Liked:
Slay The Spire (PC)