Monsters and Monocles is a top down shooter in the vein of Nuclear Throne, Binding of Isaac and Enter the Gungeon, made by Retro Dreamer, a development team of two friends. The team was working on mobile games, but since 2014 they gave all their attention to Monsters and Monocles.
The story of the game has to do with a great evil that was unwillingly released by a collector of pecurliar things. Your team of paranormal investigators is tasked to vanguish it and they will travel in 6 worlds to achieve that (3 available on Early Access with 3 more to come in future updates). The story is pretty basic and barebones at the moment, you figure out all about it from the intro cutscene. Also, the in game objectives have nothing to do with the progression of story so if you are looking something deep, look somewhere else.
Mostly though you don’t need story in a top down roguelike shooter, you need responsive and fun gameplay. Thankfully, the controls are definitely responsive and the general gameplay is mostly fun. You can use keyboard and mouse or gamepad, depending on your preference. You can shoot with your guns, dodge, interact with items and change weapons. Not too much to do but enough to give the game a solid gameplay.
When you begin a new game, you choose one of the four available characters, the stage you like to play and begin the mayhem. The layout of the stages is randomly generated but still there are not many visual clues on the design that will make them feel different. You will have some objectives to follow, also randomly generated, that mostly have to do with destroying a number of a certain enemy in order to unlock the exit. Sometimes your objective will have you to traverse the whole stage through a swarm of enemies in order to reach said exit.
Each stage has four levels, with the second being the shop where you can buy weapons and powerups and the final being the boss fight. As you destroy your enemies you might drop coins to use in the store, weapons to cause more havoc or tea pots to regain some of your health. If your health drops to zero you of course die and if you lose all of your three lives, it’s game over for you. Nothing carries over in each playthrough so you will have to start from the beginning again, with your simple revolver and penniless.
There are a few gameplay design choices that make the game feel a bit unpolished. The worst is that while you dodge, you aren’t invisible to the enemies and you don’t go through them. Instead you fall on them and carry them with you. That became a huge problem when the enemy swarm had me in a corner where I would try to dodge my way out of there and it was like hitting a wall. Also, if you hit an enemy, you get thrown back, so when again they swarmed me, I felt like a ping pong ball, thrown around faster than light.
I mentioned enemy swarms and from the moment you begin the game the enemies will come at you with full force. I believe that the fact that each stage has four levels doesn’t leave room for natural progression, to play around until you find some coins or weapon drops. The game feels immediately hard because of that, even though it isn’t. The weapon drops are not immediate so you will have to grind with your peashooter, carefully in each room, until you find something that does more damage. Also, when you reach the second floor store, you won’t have enough money to buy something actually useful weaponwise, you will probably be able to afford only tea cups to replenish your health.
Monsters and Monocles offers multiplayer for you and three of your friends and this is actually the way to go if you are looking for an enjoyable party session. Unfortunately, I didn’t find anyone else playing the game online.
In it’s Early Access form, Monsters and Monocles is a very playable game aimed mostly for co-op or party play with your friends, and there it shows how fun it can be. But there is still a lack of polish, balancing and content that hinders the single player experience. If you are looking for something fun to play with your friends for a couple of hours, then definitely check it. For all the rest, you might be better if you wait for the full release.
You can buy Monsters and Monocles on Steam Early Access for the price of 14,99€.