Not just a clever name, Monster Racers is in fact a game about racing monsters. I initially thought this was going to be yet another kart racer on the DS, but the game is something refreshingly different. Borrowing heavily from a certain game featuring pocket-sized monsters, Monster Racers follows many traditional RPG conventions but replaces battles with 2D side-scrolling, d-pad controlled, on-foot racing. Does this twist on a successful, classic formula make a mad dash for the gold or is it more likely to take home a participant ribbon?
At the beginning of the game, I was given the choice to play as a boy or a girl (I chose the boy - girls are icky). I was then tasked with the more difficult decision of picking my first pet from one of three monsters (the baby tiger-esque Cuboom, the bird Phoechik, or the lizard Leefee). I ended up going with the Cuboom because he was cuter than the other two. When he unleashes his turbo-skill, Cublast, balls of electricity orbit about him shocking his competitors. A small, adorable, voltage-filled mammal – yes, please. Once I picked my character and my companion, it was time for world domination.
Monster Racers’ premise has you traveling to six of the seven continents of the world. The ultimate goal in all this globetrotting is to beat each region’s champion racer. Along with four different racing arenas, each land mass has several overworld maps to explore with your human character. These maps are where much of the charmingly written story plays out, and there are a good amount of optional side quests as well. Each region you explore has different environmental attributes (fire, ice, water, sand, etc) that influence the types of creatures which inhabit that area. These elements are also implemented into the side-scrolling track designs and can have major impacts on the race depending on the competing monsters’ traits. For instance, the Cuboom is lightning fast on sand, but slows to a crawl when running in water or snow.
Due to the variations in terrain, the game’s primary strategy involves utilizing monsters that mesh well with the courses. On top of that, though, there are a lot of other details that keep the game exciting. There are multiple paths through each level, power-ups to pick up along the way, and a good amount of obstacles to avoid. Additionally, running into the back of or jumping on top of other monsters will injure them and cause them to slow down. Factor-in figuring out the best moments to unleash each monster’s Turbo ability, and this cute looking monster game becomes surprisingly in-depth.
Obviously, you’ll need a good cache of monsters to succeed. In order to race monsters, a player needs to first befriend the monsters – a task achieved by racing against monsters. It’s the cyclical nature of the game, but rather than out-running the competitors, friendship is gained by shooting the potential friend with stars until they want to hang out with you. (It’s kind of like throwing stones at that girl you had the hots for in kindergarten.) With over eighty different breeds of monsters plus exotic variants, collecting a full roster of monsters is going to eat up a lot of hours. But as the saying goes, you’ve “gotta befriend ‘em all”.
As for me, I’ve befriended 58 monsters, but generally roll with my monster A-team consisting of “Kringer” (a Cuboom I colored green), “Wally” (a Mutigator) and “Pvt. Idaho” (a strange rock-lobster beast). (Yes, I named all those monsters… who hasn’t always wanted their own Private Idaho?) Leveling up monsters is as simple as winning races. Along with increasing their base attributes like speed and power, new skills are also awarded that unlock Turbo abilities like allowing for faster movement over various surfaces or making creatures invulnerable to certain hazards. The monsters don’t evolve into new forms, but the game does feature monster cross-breeding. These designer pets look identical to one of their parents, but are truly special because monsters with unique traits can be produced. For example, “Pvt. Idaho” is a crossbreed that is able to run well on three different element types (grass, fire, and rock). Additionally, the game allows for Wifi racing and trading of monsters, so there’s opportunity for even more variety. I did not test the online features of the game for this review, though.
I do have one major gripe with Monster Racers, and that is the pacing of the game. Early on races are simply too easy and end up feeling repetitive. Due to this, about half of the game can be conquered by simply forcing your way through without regard for matching up monsters appropriately to the environments. By contrast, later races can often require a lot of pre-race grinding should you get stuck in an environment without a suitably leveled monster.
Overall, I must say I’m pleasantly surprised by Monster Racers. The game puts a small twist on an already proven formula and the simple 2D racing is quick and addictive. It might not have quite enough heart to bring home the gold, but it's got enough soul to proudly run away with a silver.
Outstanding | Very Good | Fair | Poor | Awful
Recommended Buy Price: $20.00
Current MSRP: $29.99
Monster Racers was provided for review by UFO Interactive. I completed the main campaign in seventeen hours, but there were still a lot of side missions and monsters for me to seek out. Monster Racers is available exclusively on the Nintendo DS.