Before booting up MonsterBag, the Vita exclusive from developer IguanaBee, I knew virtually nothing about the game despite having watched some pre-launch clips. In some ways it was refreshing to dive into the unknown, but there’s always a risk that you’ll encounter something truly horrid. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case here.
It doesn’t get much simpler than this. You move your monster back and forth with the d-pad, scroll the camera with the bumpers and/or analog sticks and touch the screen to pick up and toss items you can interact with. My only complaint is that the camera scrolling is kind of slow, even when teaming the stick with the bumper. Otherwise, there are no issues.
There’s a hint of Happy Tree Friends in the world of MonsterBag, as cutesy characters tend to meet their demise in gruesome ways. It’s all rather endearing from start to finish, which is no small task since there are frustrating moments where V (that’s you; a blue backpack that also happens to be a monster) will get caught and killed repeatedly. The mix of adorable graphics and near-comic levels of violence isn’t a unique blend, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t lots of fun.
Musically, the game is quite varied, offering up some enjoyable tunes during its goofy cut scenes and then fading into the background during actual gameplay. There is no spoken dialogue, just a series of grunts and yells to convey emotion. It all fits well into the game’s theme.
Adorable Nia leaves the aforementioned sentient knapsack behind as she heads for school, and it’s up to you to bring them back together. Standing in your way are rows of people (and eventually aliens) that are none too pleased to encounter such a strange creature. Some will simply halt your progress, though many will kill you in some gleefully sadistic ways.
As such, it’s your goal to avoid detection, turning MonsterBag into a puzzle/stealth hybrid. Each level tasks you with making your way across a row of bystanders until you can reach Nia. For humans, they’re either blue (passive) or red (hunting) — some will change states based on your actions. This is where the stealth portion comes into play as you’ll need to move from one to the next while the red ones’ eyes are focused elsewhere. If they see you: X_X
You’ll also notice a number of characters with thought balloons over their heads. These are there to provide hints on how to progress. For example, a character might be thirsty, so you need to find them a drink. Once that thirst has been quenched you’ll be able to bypass them and acquire another item that you need and so on. It gets more complex (and obscure) the further you go, but the formula is almost always reach item(s), use it to open up new options and repeat until done.
It’s an enjoyable setup, but it’s one that the game moves away from as you progress in favor of more timing-based stealth segments — such as using TVs to distract aliens in such a pattern that it creates brief windows to move between them. There’s no denying puzzlers should get more difficult as you go; it’s just I would’ve preferred more intricate brain teasers rather than reflex-based ones.
There do seem to be some technical issues with MonsterBag, as there were several times during my playthrough where the game seemed to freeze up. Not in the traditional sense, but rather where a key element to progression wouldn’t reload or V wouldn’t respawn. It was pretty annoying.
MonsterBag is also incredibly short. Even if you factor in fumbling and stumbling about you shouldn’t need more than three hours to clear the entire thing. Finishing it unlocks “Oblains Mode,” which is a more challenging, but still incredibly similar, version.
There’s some fun to be had in MonsterBag thanks to its charming exterior and unique puzzles. It strays from its own formula late, however, and offers limited replay on top of a short run time. If you missed it on PS Plus, I’d recommend waiting for it to appear on a flash sale rather than parting with $9.99. At half that price go ahead and snatch it up.