Saturday, October 6, 2012

Kohdok Reviews Monsterology

So I was recently sent a new game to review which is made by Nuko Toys called "Monsterology", based on the popular series of "ology" books such as "Dragonology" and "Wizardology". Monsterology is a turn-based strategy game for smart devices such as the iPad and Android similar to Final Fantasy Tactics. In order to unlock the various monsters, you purchase some real-life trading cards to input them into the Monsterology app which you can download for free.

Now, trading cards interacting with video games is certainly nothing new. These sorts of things have been around for at least a decade and for a while were all the rage in Japan. I stayed in Japan for three months and discovered some very interesting input methods.

There are, of course, scan cards such as Scan2Go and Swypeout which use barcodes and swiping mechanisms in order to work with the game or device. Some arcades in Japan used QR Codes to recognize the cards, such as Zoids Card Colosseum, but are mostly aimed at young kids as a simple rock-paper-scissors game, such as how Dinosaur King started out. Even more primitive is the use of one-time-use input codes which act as copy protection as seen in Chaotic, Bella Sara, and Bakugan Dimensions. Another game, Spectrobes, used an overlay card over the DS touch screen to input the card (again, only once per game)

Gundam Card Builder
Getting more technical, there are games that use optical systems which recognize the cards by sight, such as Eye of Judgement and Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom. One of my favorite optical arcade games in Japan was Gundam Card Builder, which used folding card sleeves in order to customize the machines you were about to send into battle. You then move these actual cards on an optical table in a Real-Time Strategy game. There were others, such as a soccer game by Panini, a wrestling game, and some sort of Japanese feudal war game which I can't make out the name of.

Quest of D
Even more fancy, games like Sega's Quest of D and Key of Avalon have cards which you assemble a complete deck out of and stick into a slot. The machine then reads some barcodes on the top edge of each card which is printed in florescent ink! Wild! Sadly, I doubt we'll ever see any of those games stateside aside from Yugioh Duel Terminals, since arcades here simply do not hold the sway that they do across the pond.

Now, these Nuko cards use a different mechanism from all of those. Inside each card is actually a series of contacts which trigger responses with the touch screens of various smart-devices! The app reads the input of these contacts in order to figure out which card it is. Once it identifies a card, it adds the creature to your inventory so you can use it. Other cards provide items or traps which assist the monsters in combat.

In the actual game, you are trying to stop an evil wizard from, you guessed it, taking over the world (Of course!). In each level, you build a deck from your card collection. If you have no cards, you get a few monsters and a wooden catapult to start you off. Once your deck construction is complete, it's time to engage in combat! Your goal is to capture the portals which the evil wizard is using to unleash his forces.

 You can spawn monsters around your starting location or at any key location you have captured. Monsters have a different cost depending on their power, and the cost really does matter at higher levels. 1s and 2s are hard to tell apart, but each level after that (up to 5) really is a change in level and the monsters really are worth the higher costs. The Dark Hippogriff(Cost 1) you see here is really no match for a Leviathan(Cost 5).

 Once your monsters are out, you can tap them so they can advance to anywhere in the blue circle or attack anything within the red circle, with each of those actions costing one point. The Dark Phoenix you see here can fly, so it has a lot of movement power. You can only move a monster once per turn, but you can attack with them as many times you can pay for. However, keep in mind that the enemy will launch a counterattack each time you hit them without defeating them.

This is where Items and Traps come in; the great equalizers. My Dark Phoenix is no match for a Behemoth, which is where the Wooden Catapult comes in. Wooden Catapults are played near a monster and are used to fire flaming rocks at foes up to three times per turn without fear of reprisal. There are other items with random effects, such as "Egg of the Water", "Vial of Malodorous Bunyip Breath", and "Creature Catapult". There are also traps which behave like land mines and can disable a monster or do other effects.
The game has a fair amount of strategy to it and the environments and monsters look really nice. The cards don't look to shabby either, boasting a unique shape meant to help the contacts hit the screen properly. It's not all guns and roses, however, as the game is a bit buggy. Some bugs cause monsters to vanish or be unable to move and others risk crashing the game (Hint, on levels 8 and 9, use only 19 cards, not 20). Fortunately, several of the bugs are beneficial and balance out the bad ones, such as Wooden Catapults not costing anything to deploy or attack with, and others where you get things other than the card you scanned, some of which are better than what you swiped! These bugs will hopefully get worked out in time, but it adds an interesting challenge when you find your cost-free catapult shots slamming into an invisible terrain barrier, forcing you to change your tactics.

The cards mostly serve the purpose of a unique form of copy protection, but not the best copy protection; you can scan each card as many times as you want, giving you an unlimited supply of each card you have (though the point system helps balance this out) Also, the Animal Planet Wildlands cards, meant for the Animal Planet Wildlands app, can also trigger responses in the game, sometimes changing whether the card is face-up or face-down. While unintentional, it can be fun to explore the possibilities.

So, that's Monsterology. It's a promising start to an interesting idea; you can get a three-pack of cards for between $2 and $4 at Toys R' Us or the Apple Store. It will be interesting to see if any of the other "Ology" books become an expansion pack for this game. You can try the game for free and can actually get pretty far with the pack-in monsters, but a pack or two can make a massive army and make the game much easier. If you try the free version, you've got nothing to lose, so have at it!

Until next time, this is Kohdok signing off!