If you’ve ever wondered why the bad guys seldom get their own chapters in swords-and-sorcery novels, it’s probably because they’d have little else to do than sit around drinking blood, hatching plots, and flinging macabre jokes at each other. Expect plenty of that in Monster Wars (Out Now, $0.99 Release Sale), a sequel-of-sorts to last year’s hit Legendary Wars that’s poised to give Castle Defense fans a truly giant dose of everything that goes bump in the night. With its Dwarfys, Elfys and Knightys, Legendary Wars told a pretty silly fantasy tale already, and Monster Wars proves just as lighthearted. That being the case I would normally say it’s safe to jump into Monster Wars without playing the first game, except in one respect. You know how the good guys are always better, faster, smarter and stronger than the bad guys, right? That holds true here, so you can think of Monster Wars as Legendary Wars for the advanced player.
With few exceptions, Monster Wars uses the same formula as its predecessor — a decidedly good thing, because Liv Games pretty much mastered the genre the first time around. You can go back to our Legendary Wars review to see my feelings on the sequel for the most part, but it’s worth reviewing what makes this formula so effective. The Wars franchise doesn’t just hit the player with a ton of content; it hits the player with a ton of variety. Breaking up Monster Wars‘ Castle Defense campaign are light action and running segments that give the player regular breathers between tough strategy missions.
Even the “Castle Defense” levels stray from the genre to a satisfying degree. One level will have you tearing down an enemy castle, while the next might ask you to take down a boss, escort an anti-hero to victory, or protect a siege engine while it does the heavy lifting. The player has to keep his or her eyes all over the field: goblin miners constantly pop up with gems that need to be collected so the player can dispatch more troops, while the troops themselves are all individually controllable and might need to be redirected or goaded into special attacks. Once a battle runs its course the player has to make weighty decisions about how to spend upgrade currency.
In short, there’s never a dull moment in all the dozen hours you can expect to spend in the campaign at a minimum. Well, almost. Ironically, the one notable content shift Liv Games made here is where Monster Wars falls flattest. Legendary Wars placed an emphasis on interesting running levels when it broke up the usual RTS battles, and while Monster Wars still sprinkles these in, the player will spend more time in light action levels. I call them “light” action because they’re the very most basic side-scrolling hack-and-slash fare you could ever imagine. Obviously the idea is to give the player something quick and mindless to do while cooling off from the intensity of the strategy missions, but I found myself trying to wrap up these button-mashing segments as quickly as possible rather than stick around to earn extra upgrade gems. These parts are mercifully short at least, and their presence will leave players with a greater appreciation for the multi-lane, obstacle-packed running levels.
Monster Wars trades that shortcoming for an interface improvement compared to what Legendary Wars had at release. In the initial release of Legendary Wars it was difficult to pick out individual soldiers once the player had amassed a good crowd, and that would have been devastating here because a poorly managed phalanx of skeletons will shatter in no time. Monster Wars lets the player control units as a group; tap on one zombie and you can make all your zombies form into a column, then march them around in tandem so they can be nice meat shields for more brittle units. The column button is key to keeping units in orderly formation, which makes it much easier to pick out individuals as needed at the front.
There are just three more things the developer can do in updates to bring the Wars interface to sweet perfection. First, Monster Wars could use a thorough tutorial to outline advanced army management techniques; the most important points go briefly touched upon in a short live tutorial and on load screens. More importantly, there’s an option to switch off automatic troop behaviors in the main menu — but for the life of me, I can’t see any difference between “Automatic” and “Manual.” I would love to disable the AI that makes short-range units close in on enemies that have started attacking them. This may seem like a helpful behavior on paper, but not so much when you’re just trying to keep a unit with high defense parked in front of a weaker long-range attacker. If this is implemented effectively, no doubt the next request would be having the ability to switch AI modes in battle, without returning to the main menu. Finally, players should note that they have to hit the bottom-left corner of the screen to get out of the castle upgrade menu while rummaging around at headquarters between missions. The escape virtual button marked “Armory” on that screen is much larger than its touch response area, so better matching with the button’s visual shape would be helpful.
To give you an idea just how big Monster Wars’ campaign is, its world map takes four full swipes in any direction before you can find its edge. Yeah. If that’s not enough content, why, several endless modes gradually unlock and entice the player to try them out in exchange for more upgrade resources. IAP-wary gamers will be glad to know that all it takes is a little elbow grease to keep the struggling player awash in in-game currency here.
As one would expect, Monster Wars is every bit the aesthetic masterpiece its predecessor was. Its hand-drawn sprites and portraits all look gorgeous on a Retina display and the game’s orchestral soundtrack has a suitable fun-but-creepy quality.
iFanzine Verdict: If you played Legendary Wars you already know exactly what to expect here — a deep and frantic Real-Time Strategy experience with healthy mission variety, lots of unit types, and an utterly huge campaign by any measure. Veterans can look forward to greater challenge, but on the flipside, it’s easy to be disappointed with the fact that running levels take a back seat to mindless hack-and-slash segments when it’s time for the formula’s trademark “breather” missions.