Monster Madness: Battle for Suburbia Review
Monster Madness is a monster mess.
- A lengthy campaign with four-player cooperative play
- lots of weapon and vehicle variety
- online multiplayer has its moments.
- Combat controls are sluggish and imprecise
- clumsy jumping and dodging mechanics
- campaign can't be played in co-op online
- graphics and audio are unremarkable
- camera nearly wrecks cooperative play.
Monster Madness: Battle for Suburbia really wishes it was born in the '80s. It's got its heart in the right place, aiming to capture the kitschy vibe of such zombie-murdering classics as Zombies Ate My Neighbors and creating a gameplay design that feels like a 3D mash-up of Gauntlet or Ikari Warriors. When you throw in four-player co-op play, a bunch of goofy competitive multiplayer modes, a lengthy campaign, and a ridiculous number of monsters to kill, the recipe for some good old-fashioned fun would seem to be in place. But Monster Madness botches the execution. This includes a counterintuitive control scheme, oddly balanced difficulty, obnoxiously repetitive combat, and a nearly useless camera in co-op mode. Eventually such problems become too numerous and too annoying to tolerate, turning what could have been a simple monster-killing romp into a scattered, clumsy mess.
Monster Madness revolves around a quartet of teenage stereotypes (the geek, the bro, the goth chick, the cheerleader) who find themselves in the midst of an invasion from a greatest-hits collection of the monster world. For some reason, ghouls, ghosts, goblins, skeletons, mummies, werewolves, gremlins, vampires, martians, UFOs, harpies, banshees, leprechauns, jack-o-lanterns, chupacabras, evil trees, demons, medusas, imps, evil clowns, spiders, gargoyles, swamp monsters, the grim reaper, zombies, zombie dogs, zombie pirates, zombie samurais, zombie Indians, zombie grannies, zombie tanks, and exploding zombies, among others, are attacking suburbia. And the four hapless kids are the only ones around to do anything about it. Armed with melee weapons, such as axes or plungers, they dive headfirst into this monster-killing adventure, cracking bad jokes and pining for one another all along the way.
The story is more of an excuse to get you killing monsters than anything else, though it's also an excuse to insert as much awful comedy as possible into the proceedings. Occasionally, the game elicits a chuckle or snicker, but for the most part, the script isn't all that funny. Part of this has to do with the jokes, which often rely too heavily on slightly obscure and rather lame pop- and nerd-culture references. The other part has to do with the voice acting, which is largely flat and unremarkable. Even in the rare instances where enthusiasm is mustered for a line or two, none of the actors seem to have much in the way of comic timing. The game often has characters repeating the same tired lines again and again, as well.
Monster Madness comes encumbered with a gameplay design that is best described as cluttered. You begin the game with just a simple melee weapon, but over time, you can buy and build a whole mess of new weapons with the help of a friendly mechanic named Larry Tools, who pops up in various level areas. Your weapons include everything from nail guns, shot guns, and tazers to rocket launchers, CD launchers, and laser cannons. As nice as the weapon variety is, you actually need very few of the weapons, save for very specific situations. You'll often find that it's more useful to upgrade a few key weapons as opposed to buying everything that comes your way, especially because you'll often need to switch between certain weapons quickly. If you've got a bunch of useless junk cluttering up your inventory, it makes the scrolling process much more difficult. Fortunately, you can hotkey a few weapons if necessary.
Combat might have been enjoyable if the controls were not so wonky. The control scheme on the PC is manageable only because you can configure it as needed. On the Xbox 360, you have no such luck. Attack buttons are mapped to the triggers, weapon scrolling is mapped to the bumpers, and to jump--of all things--you have to click in the right stick. Considering how much time you spend with your thumb on the right stick, that might sound like a good idea, but the stick button often seems unresponsive. That becomes a spectacular frustration during the few bouts of platforming the game tosses at you, which is made even more insane by the fact that the A and B buttons are just redundant weapon scrolling options. Melee attacks are easy enough because all you have to do is hammer on the attack button while enemies happen to be near you, but if you're still using melee attacks past the third or fourth stage, you're doing something wrong. Weapons combat is OK, except that aiming tends to be a bit of a chore. There's no target-locking feature, and moving the aiming reticle seems a bit slow (and there's no mouse sensitivity adjuster in the PC version). It's not that big of a deal when you're just blasting away at big groupings of larger baddies, but any time you've got quick, nimble enemies in front of you, hitting them is a severe pain.
Scratch that; the whole game is just a severe pain, especially if you're one of the unlucky folk who happens to play the game all by your lonesome. This is one of those games that thinks being really hard equates to being really fun. On the default difficulty level, the game becomes frustrating only a few stages in because the number of enemies you're fending off happens to be massive and because the game's checkpoint system is abysmal. You'll have to do multiple sequences all in one line without getting killed, or you'll have to do them all over again. These are five-to-10-minute chunks of the game too, and you'll be doing them several times each because of one crazy onslaught of enemies or another. Boss fights are even more infuriating. If you set the game to the easiest difficulty, it's more playable. It might be a little too easy, but you can get through it without wanting to take a sledgehammer to the game.
What makes that aspect even more frustrating is that the game encourages you to explore the levels as much as possible to find hidden parts for weapons. Larry uses these parts to build your upgraded weapons, and there are tons of them scattered throughout the game. That's all well and good in theory, but if you're being forced to replay big chunks of each level again and again because of the stupid checkpoint system, why would you want to waste your time going back to explore the same areas again only to lose all the items you just picked up? After a while, you'll stop picking up any items you can't just grab easily along your normal path.