They Took Fluffy. She Takes Revenge.

What should have been a pleasant stroll along the beach turns into a nightmare for one young woman when the GooMonsters (Out Now, $0.99) hop in and gulp down her hapless but utterly cute pet terrier. It’s not like police are anywhere around on this deserted island, so she’ll have to take matters into her own hands. That, and a scary four-foot meat cleaver!

Once the opening comic ends, the player gets right down to the business of guiding GooMonsters’ heroine in her quest to slash up every slime creature that hops, slides, or rolls into view. The action takes place from a flat overhead perspective and the player can choose between tilt controls or a virtual joystick for movement; one action button slings the heroine’s sword, and if she has a special ability equipped, a second button activates it following a cooldown period. The setup seems incredibly basic, but once I stuck around for a while I was amazed at how much depth this one serves up.

Other than how smooth the controls feel – and if you don’t agree, chances are you can define a tilt or joystick sensitivity level that works for you in the options menu – the first thing to impress me was how GooMonsters handles achievements. This is another title where player performance feeds right back into gameplay, with Game Center or OpenFeint points redeemable for upgrades and not just relegated to the leaderboards. A nice variety of special abilities are on offer in the upgrade menu, ranging from shields to goo-splattering bombs to familiars that provide some offensive backup. Where the game most disappoints me, then, is the fact that the player may carry only one ability into battle at a time. If you’ll allow me to draw a cross-genre analogy: the KRPG variant of Action RPGs can be criticized on many levels, but they’ve amply illustrated how much more fun a simplistic combat system can be when the player has an assortment of specials to work with at any given moment. By the same token, a selection of different primary weapons also would have been interesting to see here.

Mission goals are nicely varied throughout GooMonsters’ 26-level campaign. They range from run-of-the-mill tasks like surviving for a specified time period or eliminating a certain number of goos, to more interesting goals like domesticating a goo by sticking near it and without accidentally killing it as enemy goos close in. Minigames open up gradually; these use the same interface and gameplay style as the campaign, and are mainly useful for bagging tons of upgrade points.

GooMonsters eases the player in with a few lackluster training levels, but give it time and a wide variety of goos enter the mix. The challenge lies in remembering each monster’s properties and reacting to them accordingly. Some foes are mere nuisances, stunning the player character for a fraction of a second, slowing her down, or splattering the screen and hindering the player’s view. The more dangerous types take advantage of these handicaps to deliver instantly fatal strikes. Different jellies might rock the screen with explosions, zip around with razor blades embedded in them, or leave acid puddles on the ground, xenomorph-style. The sheer number of enemy types on offer and the rate at which they’re thrown into the mix does a great job of masking how simple the game really is; once the going gets good, the player’s attention remains fixed on the enemy population and not on the heroine’s all-too-limited bag of tricks.

I suspect GooMonsters’ combination of top-down perspective and a human player character are part of why it’s had an uphill battle for attention since release; it’s simply difficult to figure out how such a game plays judging from screenshots. The single-screen nature of each battle also leaves the game devoid of a sense of high adventure. GooMonsters’ Caribbean music, heavy in steel drums, proves an acquired taste as well, largely thanks to how quickly the tunes loop and how few they are in number. GooMonsters can be counted on for a solid two hours of slime splattering fun, with a little more if the player takes time to earn all upgrades.

iFanzine Verdict: GooMonsters’ formula still has room to grow, but it’s way more fun than its B-movie premise would suggest. The repetitiveness of the player’s actions holds it back, but in many other respects – interface reliability, difficulty curve, enemy design, and achievement handling – it plays like a checklist of things we love to see.

[xrr rating=4/5]