By: Brian Gunn
ACE Team, the minds behind eclectic cult hits like Zeno Clash and Rock of Ages, have always had a bit of a following, but they haven’t seen much mainstream success. With the The Deadly Tower of Monsters, an action RPG immersed in old Hollywood B-movies, they may have found their most approachable game to date.
The Deadly Tower of Monsters is an isometric action RPG that’s a bit on the lighter side as far as the genre goes, playing more like Gauntlet than Diablo. You’ve got melee and ranged attacks, a dodge roll, jump and a few special abilities; that’s about it, for the most part.
On a gamepad targeting enemies is sort of finicky, as the game has a lock-on system that guides your attacks innately and can be kind of annoying in larger encounters. If playing on PC I’d recommend using keyboard and mouse as it lets you have greater freedom of control.
Rooted in the style of sci-fi serials like Flash Gordon from several decades ago, your appreciation for the visuals of the title may depend on your exposure to films from the time period. Enemies are garbed in obvious costumes or animated stop-motion creatures. Strings hold up cheap props and weapons sometimes look like electric razors. There’s a ton of visual effects and tricks as well as Easter eggs that show great attention to detail.
Like the visuals, a great amount of care goes into replicating movie audio. There’s a bombastic title theme and the usual style of eerie ’50s sci-fi songs that feel instantly familiar. It is filled with some wonderfully stilted acting, particularly from the lead character Dick Starspeed doing his best William Shatner impression. The standout, however, is Bastion-style narrator Dan Smith, a cheesy cornball of a director that thinks far too much of himself.
The setup for the game is that of a DVD audio commentary being recorded for the titular film. Most of the story is really in what the director is saying, rather than the fairly bare-bones plot of the game world. He’ll comment on a huge variety of things, like why enemies look a certain way or explain contrivances that arise from the product being an actual game rather than film. There’s loads of personality and polish based around this concept. The director even comments when you are in the options menu.
While you big the adventure as Dick Starspeed, you’ll eventually accrue a ragtag group to choose between as you ascend the tower. For the most part they control the same, though each has an ability that sets them apart and is useful in both combat and environment traversal.
For instance, Robot has the ability to slow time, allowing navigation past fast-moving obstacles. While you can generally play as whoever your favorite is, you’ll still want to switch things up to find most of the game’s many secrets. There are loads of items that are blocked off or hidden from view that you’ll only be able to reach with a change of perspective from much higher.
Most of the gameplay is fairly simple hack n’ slash material, and the game could use a bit more polish here as objects and enemy bosses are sometimes easy to accidentally catch on while jumping. However, there’s a nice variety of enemies even early on.
There are the traditional melee mooks but quickly exploding eyeballs and enemies that can redirect laser blasts get into the mix, and the game becomes a lot harder than it looks at first glance. Sometimes this ends up being frustrating as you can find yourself in a long chain of getting knocked down. This is balanced somewhat by generous health pools, and the ability to deflect practically anything with a perfectly timed parry.
One of the most unique aspects of The Deadly Tower of Monsters is how vertical it is. Dick and company will find themselves leaping off the structure frequently for midair free-fall battles. Pretty much any segment of the tower you can look down from in a vertical camera shift if you stand at an edge, which allows for a lot of secrets and ambushes from enemies.
There are generous checkpoints in place and you can warp between them at any time, encouraging exploration without having to trudge back up every time you spot an upgrade.
Speaking of upgrades, there are a few systems in place. Gear can be upgraded with found gears, while the characters themselves have “missions.” Sadly, these missions aren’t too compelling, mainly just some extra challenges — like parry 20 times or general story progress markers. This can make leveling up a bit tedious when it comes to the more esoteric ones.
While there are some rough edges to the combat, the presentation in The Deadly Tower of Monsters is the true star. It’s a funny and engaging title with delightful surprises around every corner, and it seems destined to gain a cult following.