Review: The Deadly Tower of Monsters

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The Deadly Tower of Monsters is a new twin-stick style shooter from Atlus that has you climbing a deadly tower, in which you fight monsters. As one would suspect from the name.

Heavily stylised as an homage to the B-Movie horror flicks that so typified 1950’s and 60’s science fiction, you will encounter shoddy ape suits, plastic trees, stop-motion animated dinosaurs, and very obvious strings holding up the flying creatures. It is an aesthetic that manages to maintain its charm long enough without ever becoming overused or cheap. There is a care and dedication to maintaining the feel of these movies, with the stop-motion dinosaurs have missed frames in their movement, or the ape costumes very clearly having no eyes in their costumes. The visual stylisation is best seen when diving from the top of the tower. It is a crisp clean style that knows exactly what it is aiming for, and the hefty draw distance gives fantastic views from the top of the tower.

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It’s great and made better by the dialogue and ’director’s commentary’ that act as both the game’s story and hint system. The game is framed as the DVD special edition of the movie The Deadly Tower of Monster, over which the director gives commentary on why certain choices were made or behind the scenes stories from shooting. This adds to the humour on display, and offers hints when you are apparently stuck, ’She didn’t realise she was meant to be shooting the power cores’. It lays on the references to this time in cinema throughout the commentary. It is continuously amusing, and a few times genuinely funny. There are continuous callbacks to the budget problems that build upon one another throughout the game.

Not just a charming game to experience, it is also very fun to play. The controls are generally solid and responsive. I found that using the controller (supported on Steam) lead to a better experience1 . The combat is split into two major sections – mêlée and ranged, with both featuring a diverse range of weapons. You have your standard sci-fi ray guns and laser guns, as well as rocket launchers and Tesla guns for ranged,  batons, whips, and lightsabers for mêlée. Each of the weapons can be upgraded to increase its effectiveness, via the use of collectible cogs found throughout the tower.

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The guns have enough impact to feel like they all have their use and place, and being able to carry two at any time means you can equip yourself for most situations. The same is true of the mêlée weapons, but you are most likely to just pick up the one that you think looks the coolest, I went with the giant tentacle and the lightsaber. The enemies are balanced nicely so you never feel under or overpowered as you progress up the tower. The game is never difficult but neither is it a complete walk in the park. The combat is consistently enjoyable throughout the entire climb, and the boss fights have a satisfying logic to them.

The game is quite short, with around 3 hours to complete the initial campaign, and another 2 or 3 hours to explore all the additional areas and collectibles. This time feels about right because it means that game doesn’t overstay it’s welcome. The games continually hangs the lampshade when it comes to its Universe, so by being over and out in just a few hours, as well as providing a great ending, it does itself a favour. If the game went on further the problems of those fixed camera angles may have exposed themselves more. The camera is locked at an angle 1 overhead (that you can adjust slightly) which can make the platforming chunks frustrating due to not being able to tell what you are above until it is too late.

The Deadly Tower of Monsters is a fun little game that will bring smiles to anyone fond of B-Movies, and should provide a few chuckles to anyone not. It provides a solid experience with only a few moments of annoyance or confusion.

Score: 8/10
Pros: Solid and tight combat controls
Fantastic and charming B-Movie aesthetic
Creative and unique weapons add tonnes of character
Cons: Platforming sections are unnecessarily finickity

1. With mouse and keyboard, I had better movement and control but I had inconsistencies with getting the mêlée to make contact. With the controller, I just had to aim in the right direction for both ranged and mêlée.

Frugal Gaming Review – Abyss Odyssey

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Deeper Underground

The only thing more frustrating than a bad game, is a game that comes so close so being truly amazing and yet just fails to completely pull it off.  It’s with these feelings always at the back of my mind that I’ve found it really hard to review Abyss Odyssey, a side scrolling action adventure game by Chilean indie developer ACE.

The story is rather basic, but serves its purpose of setting up the ensuing rouge like action.  A chasm has opened up, and spewing forth are the realisations of a sleeping Warlocks dreams and nightmares. Taking control of a suitably battle hardened hero, your mission is to descend through the depths and destroy said Warlock.

That’s as interesting as the story gets and it’s gameplay, rather than a narrative that tries to do the job of bringing you back for more.  A deep if rather confusing combat system is full of highs and lows.  It’s all about timing, skill and learning your enemies attacks.  So close to being perfect, its the sort of control system that would seem more at home in a traditional fighting game rather than this sort of game, problems do crop up a whole lot more frequently than I’d like though.  At times there is so much lag between pressing a button and seeing the corresponding action on screen, that it seems unfair if not unplayable.  This issue does seem directly tied in to the frame rate, which is rather inconsistent to say the least.  After playing for several hours on 360, I was tempted to just buy Abyss on steam, hoping for better performance but after doing a bit of digging around it seems the issue is not limited to the 360.

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Whilst you start your adventure as  feisty female Warrior; Katrien- as you progress you’ll be able to unlock a further two characters.  A slower but more heavy hitting Ghost Monk and a near naked Spear wielding Goddess.  Each character is definitely unique, with their own set of suitably special special moves, but the varied ways to play doesn’t stop there.  Defeated enemies drop souls, if you have enough Mana you are able to mark an enemy and take on its move set once you defeat it. So that leaves you with over 30 different combat routines to learn and master if you want to dive that deeply into Abyss Odyssey.

There is lots more I could mention about gameplay, but another frustration and equal joy is discovering all these little things for as you play.  The game doesn’t provide much in the way of hand holding or explanation, what is explained isn’t done so very clearly but it’s worth delving into Abyss with your eyes open and finding all these things for yourself.  The way the respawn mechanic is implemented is very clever, but I’ll let you discover that bit for yourself.

Levels in Abyss are short and sweet, all procedurally generated, and your path through them is also randomised.  From icy caverns to lush almost alien looking tropical subterranean gardens, they can be absolutely stunning, and often overshadow some of the excellent character design.  The enemies are equally as varied and beautiful.  From you standard skeletons, to more fantastical creatures and beasts, the developers have clearly let their imagination run wild, and when everything is running at a harmonious frame rate its really is a beautiful game, beating even Child of Light or the recent Rayman titles in the pretty stakes when it comes to 2D visuals. However as seems a running theme with Abyss, it does fall just short of perfection, the stuttering and sometimes shambling frame rate can be really jarring, it’s such a shame as it really can break the immersion that the artists have clearly laboured over.

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In Too Deep

Despite the issues, Abyss Odyssey is still a great game.  It’s a testament to what the developers have actually got right that despite the glaring problems it’s still getting a cracking score.  I can’t work out if the game feels slightly rushed or ACE have just tried to pack a little too much into what is essentially a very reasonably priced downloadable game.  One thing is certain, Abyss is completely unique.  It will frustrate as often delight but you will not find a gaming experience quite like it any anywhere else.

7/10

Abyss Odyssey is available digitally on Xbox 360, PS3 and Steam.