Monster Madness: Grave Danger Review

An improved control scheme and online campaign support aren't enough to save Monster Madness from mediocrity.

Released last year for the PC and Xbox 360, Monster Madness: Battle for Suburbia tried to dress up the fun of classic top-down arcade games such as Gauntlet in the trappings of a schlocky monster movie. But a host of issues, including lousy pacing and imprecise controls, made the game itself feel pretty schlocky. Now a revamped version of the game, complete with a new subtitle, is out on the PlayStation 3. But despite a few nice improvements, Monster Madness: Grave Danger is an awkward, tedious game.

A typically chaotic moment from Monster Madness.

The core game in Grave Danger is very similar to that of the original release. It tells the tale of four teenagers--a geek, a skater, a goth girl, and a cheerleader, all as stereotypical as can be--who find themselves fending for their lives against a massive invasion of ghosts, goblins, skeletons, zombies, and countless other denizens of the underworld. The game relies heavily on pop-culture references for its attempts at humor, riffing on everything from Superman II to Homestar Runner, and although it may occasionally get a chuckle out of you, most of the jokes fall flat. But the story isn't of much importance here anyway, given that it only provides the flimsiest of excuses for all of the action, and, really, how much of an excuse do you need to cut down zombies with a gun that shoots CDs? At least the comic-book style cutscenes that the game occasionally employs look pretty good.

When the game begins, you pick your teen and head into the fray. Although each character specializes in a different type of melee weapon, the differences between them are almost entirely cosmetic, which feels like a bit of a missed opportunity to add some replay value to the game. For a while, you'll find yourself hacking your way through the enemy onslaught with melee weapons such as swords, hockey sticks, and batons, and this quickly gets boring. The combat just isn't varied or precise enough to stay interesting for long, and the enemies are bone stupid to boot. The game tries to make up for this by throwing them at you in large numbers, but this just means that you have to spend more time whaling on the attack button to chop them all down, maybe tossing in an occasional dodge for good measure.

However, before too long the game introduces ranged weapons, which are a bit more fun. Throughout the game, you'll employ a nice variety of ranged weapons, from nail guns to shotguns to flamethrowers, and this is where one of this version's most significant improvements over the original release comes into play. Ranged combat is now controlled with a dual-stick shooter control scheme, and it's such a natural fit for the game that it's a bit mind-boggling that the developers didn't think to include it previously. It's totally intuitive and helps contribute to the old-school arcade action feel that the game is targeting.

Although this improvement is much-needed, it isn't enough to compensate for the game's other lingering issues. Grave Danger, like its predecessor, lacks any sense of pacing, and some battles go on for far too long. One battle on a rooftop near the game's end is positively interminable. And when the game does try to break up all of the hacking and shooting a bit, it frequently does so with a fetch quest that's far less interesting than the combat that it's serving to interrupt. To add insult to injury, you'll often undertake these fetch quests at the behest of a leprechaun whose horrible Irish accent just might be the scariest thing about this game. You'll also encounter numerous vehicle sequences, and though a few of these vehicles, such as a swan boat and mech suits, are mildly enjoyable, most of them are just sluggish and cumbersome. All in all, the game overstays its welcome by a good, long while, stretching its simple gameplay out across 12 hours or so, with each successive level feeling like more of the same. When goth girl Carrie says, in that sarcastic way of hers, "Wonderful, more trudging through sewers and dungeons," you'll know just how she feels.

Driving this buggy isn't as fun as it looks.

Like the original Monster Madness, the game also feels very unbalanced, though this isn't quite the impediment that it was in Battle for Suburbia, which could be downright punishing at times and had a checkpoint system that exacerbated the problem. Rather than addressing the balance issues in any kind of meaningful way, Grave Danger simply does away with the checkpoint system altogether and replaces it with one in which you are instantly respawned whenever you die, losing only a few of the monster tokens that serve as the game's currency as a penalty. This takes what was a frustratingly difficult game and saps it of all challenge, which feels less like a solution and more like a cop-out. You'll still die a lot, and it's still a drag. It's understandable that the developers would want to tone down the challenge somewhat to make the game more accessible, but an actual adjustment of the game's balance could have resulted in a far more satisfying gameplay experience.

The pace, balance, and overall enjoyment is improved somewhat if you have some friends tagging along with you, and the game's other big improvement makes playing with friends much easier: The campaign can now be played online with up to four players. Of course, the online functionality isn't without its quirks; on a few occasions while attempting to join a game, we got stuck on a loading screen and had to restart the console. But once you're in a game with other players, it works fine. Monster Madness feels like a game that was designed from the ground up to be played in groups, and playing the game alone feels not only unbalanced, but also oddly lonely by comparison. When you've got two to four players going at it, the screen fills up with monster-slaying mayhem in ways that the single-player experience can't match. The massive carnage of a multiplayer game is definitely a good thing, but as in Battle for Suburbia, the game's camera doesn't always seem able to handle that much action, and you'll sometimes find yourself as little more than a distant speck in the background, unable to tell where you're aiming or if you're hitting anything.

Grave Danger also includes 25 new single-player challenges, many of which consist of typical monster-killing fare like what you find throughout the campaign. The slightly more interesting challenges are the minigames, such as a home-run contest, a simple rhythm game, and a knock-off of the card game Concentration in which you must match identical monsters. Playing through these games will appeal to folks interested in unlocking all the character costumes, but aside from that, the challenges aren't compelling enough to add any real value to the package.The game also includes competitive online multiplayer for up to 12 people in modes such as Deathmatch, King of the Hill, and Capture the Flag. These modes work well enough, provided that you know a bunch of people who are willing to play them with you. Don't expect to find many public competitive online games. That scene is deader than the rotting corpses you'll slaughter throughout the game.

The game's 25 challenges include a sorting game, a memory game, a rhythm game, and more.

Graphically, Monster Madness is unimpressive from a technical viewpoint. The camera generally maintains a good distance from the action so that things have a clean, sharp appearance, but when the camera pulls in, a lack of detail in the character models and environments becomes apparent. Nevertheless, Monster Madness' focus is on tossing scads of monsters on the screen at once, and in that regard, the game performs well. There's also an evocative sense of style to the game's levels that makes up a bit for the technical shortcomings of the visuals. The park, high school, and shopping mall areas successfully suggest an "Anytown, USA" kind of setting. Sadly, it's hard to find much of anything kind to say about the game's sound. The music is generic, the voice acting isn't very good, and you'll hear the same obnoxious screams and taunts from your enemies so many times that you may wonder if the game is actually trying to drive you insane.

Compared to the original game, Monster Madness: Grave Danger is definitely an improvement overall, thanks to the vastly superior shooting controls and the ability to play the campaign online. However, these improvements aren't enough to actually make the game worth your time, and those who have played the original game will be puzzled at some of the omissions and awkward design choices in this version. Taken entirely on its own terms, Monster Madness: Grave Danger is an extremely repetitive, frequently tedious game that feels less like a nostalgic throwback to classic top-down arcade shooters and more like an exercise in dated gameplay styles that would have been better left in the past.

The pace, balance, and overall enjoyment is improved somewhat if you have some friends tagging along with you, and the game's other big improvement makes playing with friends much easier: The campaign can now be played online with up to four players. Of course, the online functionality isn't without its quirks; on a few occasions while attempting to join a game, we got stuck on a loading screen and had to restart the console. But once you're in a game with other players, it works fine. Monster Madness feels like a game that was designed from the ground up to be played in groups, and playing the game alone feels not only unbalanced, but also oddly lonely by comparison. When you've got two to four players going at it, the screen fills up with monster-slaying mayhem in ways that the single-player experience can't match. The massive carnage of a multiplayer game is definitely a good thing, but as in Battle for Suburbia, the game's camera doesn't always seem able to handle that much action, and you'll sometimes find yourself as little more than a distant speck in the background, unable to tell where you're aiming or if you're hitting anything.

How did we ever fend off zombies before CDs were invented?

Grave Danger also makes a number of other changes, minor and major, to Monster Madness. The nuts, bolts, screws, holy grails, and various other doohickeys that you need to assemble the game's ranged weapons are now gathered in tool boxes rather than scattered around the levels, which cuts down on exploration time. Characters can also be upgraded now with special gear that improves health, ammo capacity, movement speed, and the like, though this doesn't change the fact that all four characters are essentially identical. They all have the same bonuses available to them; one character's duct-tape bag is another's utility belt. Furthermore, the game's bestiary feature, which provided details about all of the monsters you've encountered, has been removed. It didn't add anything to the gameplay, but it was a neat bonus for monster enthusiasts, and seeing as how the vast, comically designed assortment of creatures that populate the game is one of its best assets, it's hard to comprehend what the reasoning could be for the bestiary's removal.

More significantly, the game cuts a few chase sequences and boss battles from the campaign. Some of these edits are seamless, so you'll miss them only if you've played the original game, but some stick out like a sore thumb. For instance, at one point an extremely evil garbage truck shows up, and you hop in your buggy, conveniently parked at a freeway onramp, clearly setting the stage for a desperate escape. In the original game, a desperate escape does indeed ensue. But here, the game jumps to the next level without so much as a mention of the garbage truck that was bearing down on you just a moment before. It's awkward and calls attention to the fact that some content is missing from this version.

Grave Danger also includes 25 new single-player challenges, many of which consist of typical monster-killing fare like what you find throughout the campaign. The slightly more interesting challenges are the minigames, such as a home-run contest, a simple rhythm game, and a knock-off of the card game Concentration in which you must match identical monsters. Meeting certain goals in each game unlocks a new costume for your characters, so completionists may feel compelled to play all of them until they've acquired all of the outfits. Aside from that, the challenges aren't compelling enough on their own to add any real value to the package. The game also includes competitive online multiplayer for up to 12 people in modes such as Deathmatch, King of the Hill, and Capture the Flag. These modes work well enough, provided that you know a bunch of people who are willing to play them with you. Don't expect to find many public competitive online games. That scene is deader than the rotting corpses you'll slaughter throughout the game.

Graphically, Monster Madness is unimpressive from a technical viewpoint. The camera generally maintains a good distance from the action so that things have a clean, sharp appearance, but when the camera pulls in, a lack of detail in the character models and environments becomes apparent. Nevertheless, Monster Madness' focus is on tossing scads of monsters on the screen at once, and in that regard, the game performs well. There's also an evocative sense of style to the game's levels that makes up a bit for the technical shortcomings of the visuals. The park, high school, and shopping mall areas successfully suggest an "Anytown, USA" kind of setting. Sadly, it's hard to find much of anything kind to say about the game's sound. The music is generic, the voice acting isn't very good, and you'll hear the same obnoxious screams and taunts from your enemies so many times that you may wonder if the game is actually trying to drive you insane.

The game's 25 challenges include a sorting game, a memory game, a rhythm game, and more.

Compared to the original game, Monster Madness: Grave Danger is definitely an improvement overall, thanks to the vastly superior shooting controls and the ability to play the campaign online. However, these improvements aren't enough to actually make the game worth your time, and those who have played the original game will be puzzled at some of the omissions and awkward design choices in this version. Taken entirely on its own terms, Monster Madness: Grave Danger is an extremely repetitive, frequently tedious game that feels less like a nostalgic throwback to classic top-down arcade shooters and more like an exercise in dated gameplay styles that would have been better left in the past.

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The Good
Dual-stick shooter controls are a great improvement over original game
Support for four players in online campaign mode
Good variety of ranged weapons
The Bad
Terrible pacing
Gameplay is repetitive and tedious
Unimpressive graphics and sound
Camera can't always keep up with online action
Respawn system removes all challenge
5
Mediocre
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Monster Madness More Info

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  • First Released
    released
    • Mobile
    • PC
    • + 2 more
    • PS3
    • Xbox 360
    Monster Madness is a four-player cooperative top-down shooter. You can play online with three friends to try to stop a monster invasion.
    6.3
    Average Rating666 Rating(s)
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    Developed by:
    EirplayGames, Immersion Software & Graphics, Artificial Studios, Psyonix
    Published by:
    EirplayGames, SouthPeak Games
    Genre(s):
    Shooter, Action, 2D
    Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.
    Teen
    All Platforms
    Blood, Mild Language, Suggestive Themes, Tobacco Reference, Violence