Monolith is a brand new indie title by developers TeamD-13. It's a top-down space shooter that combines elements from old-school shooters like Gradius or Thunder Force and mixes it with a brutal dungeon crawler style of gameplay. The maps and rooms are randomly generated, and dying brings you all the way back to the start, so you will need to proceed with caution and pursue new weapons and upgrades to descend further into the ominous abandoned factory.
Monolith is a game that is almost solely focused on gameplay. It is a throwback to a time when games were pick up and play, and the gameplay mechanics were far more important than any other aspect of the game. You play as an unnamed ship, and the game immediately tosses you into a short intro to learn the controls. Oddly enough, there is a safe room where you have a peculiar cat that acts as an ally. He gives you hints about the enemies, gossips a little bit, and you can eventually buy items from it as well as decorate your abode. A few other allies will enter this "safe-room" throughout the course of the game, but there is very little that tells you why or what your objective or reason for existence in this universe actually is.
As a space shooter, Monolith succeeds spectacularly. It's adrenaline filled, nerve-wracking, and it's really addicting. Your ship's movements are very fluid, and there are tons of powerups and some really neat weapons to try out. Weapons like fireballs, lasers, and charge cannons definitely make this adventure a bit less daunting. Obstacles in the rooms effect how you play as well. Sometimes blocks offer a safe haven from incoming projectiles, while some rooms have obstacles such as warp points, water, and fireball launchers that could help or hinder your ability to defeat the enemies flawlessly. This makes each room both exciting and terrifying to enter because if you get hit, it greatly diminishes your chances of surviving the floor since you only have 10 HP to start, and health refills can be both rare and costly depending on how the floor is generated.
You are free to explore each floor as you wish, and you have a map that you can open to see where you are. Certain rooms, like the boss room, shopping room, and upgrade room are delineated on your map. You do not need to go through every room to succeed, and depending on your weapon and or your health, the amount you explore ends up becoming a crucial decision. This is where the RPG elements can really become both fun and frustrating. As I said, health is hard to find, and sometimes you accidentally stumble into a room with a sub-boss or really tough enemies before you can find the upgrades or a shop. There is an element of luck involved here, and though sometimes frustrating, it can also be rewarding if you do manage to survive and rake in some cash or manage to find some valuable items such as extra health or ammo. Yes, ammo is a factor: your initial gun, which is basic and not very powerful, has unlimited ammo, however, the upgraded weapons are limited, and if they run out, you are back to the basic weapon.
The shops are essential because you can buy health, map reveals, and extra ammo. Sometimes you can find some other items such as a max HP boost or damage increases. Money is not very hard to get, but you need to survive and defeat enemies and complete rooms to get it, all while taking as little damage as possible, so that you have a chance of defeating the bosses. Each floor has a boss, and the bosses can change. The floors seemed to have a few bosses each. They are quite formidable, but after you fight them a few times you will start to recognize their patterns.
This game is meant to kill you…many, many times. Dying is really frustrating as you start at the beginning again, but the game encourages you to die and slowly get better and better. I had to die between five to twenty times per floor. The game is fast paced, and as you get better and recognize the enemies, you will find yourself completing floors in mere minutes. This cat ally you have comes in really handy here. Every time you die you have money that is collected and saved. The cat sells expensive items such as better bombs, weapon upgrades, and health that can be bought over time after you keep playing. These new items will pop up in the dungeon as you play.This game is definitely not meant to be beaten in one sitting, and you are going to have to go through the process of dying and retrying in order to conquer this game. For me, I initially found this frustrating, but the gameplay was addicting and fast enough to keep me wanting to try again. I had a very love-hate relationship with this aspect of the game, especially since I had no idea how many floors the game contained.
The pace of the game can hurt it once in a while. Occasionally I entered a room with a barrage of stuff flying at me and obstacles to figure out within a split second. These "killer" rooms are not common, but when you are having a great run then stumble into a room with just too much happening and take a few hits, it's definitely a buzz kill. The randomly generated aspect of this game both helps and hurts it.
It is essential that an unforgiving space shooter has tight controls, and Monolith delivers. The ship definitely moves fast enough to match your reaction time and the dash feature–similar to Resogun–allows you to dash across the screen and escape the line of fire. Because of this, the game is really fun to control and addicting, as everything is very fast paced. Some of the old space shooters felt clunky, and unless you had amazing foresight or memorized the level, it was sometimes almost impossible not to get hit. The developers seemed to pay a lot of attention on giving the player a very fluid and fast-paced experience. You can safely touch walls, and dancing around the screen to avoid taking a hit is very reliable albeit panic inducing.
I found the computer controls to work well, though the crosshair may have been the one feature that subtracted from the fun for me. I think the cross-hair is important to the gameplay–especially since you can move in any direction– but there are definitely moments when I was so worried about getting hit that my crosshair wasn't on the enemy, and instead, I found myself firing at a wall. As the player, you need to maneuver both your crosshair and your ship, and most of the time, it works well, but occasionally the crosshair is a little tedious to aim on the enemy when the action gets frantic.
Graphics and Audio
Aesthetically, Monolith definitely hearkens back to the days of the 8-bit and 16-bit eras. The graphics look like a very polished NES game with backgrounds that are somewhat monochrome but also very detailed. The art style used in this game is definitely both eerie and isolating. It is very reminiscent of the original three Castlevania games on the NES. You will see cracked walls, lanterns, and broken beams among the outlines of many other structures that give an unearthly glow to the atmosphere of this game's labyrinth. I really enjoyed the visuals, and I found myself constantly analyzing the backgrounds once I had disposed of the enemies in the room.
The music is also reminiscent of the 8-bit era. The music in Monolith is all synthesized and 8-bit; it will toss you back to the days of the NES. The music is usually a bit bouncy and energetic though there are definitely some darker tones in the music and sound effects that align themselves with the atmosphere of the game. The quirky game elements are matched by the music that often takes on a playful tone, one example being when you open the options menu. This music is fun and perky and allows you to escape the darker ambiance of the gameplay. If you played a lot of old NES, you will recall a lot of bizarre game elements and sound effects used in old games; Monolith captures that 80s gaming spirit. I never found myself humming the tunes or getting them stuck in my head like those old Megaman tunes, but the soundtrack is all around solid and fun.
Though Monolith has some frustrating elements such as lack of health and the randomized levels occasionally ruining your chances of success, it's all part of the experience, and in the end, I found myself addicted to the game. I always wanted to give the labyrinth one more run before calling it quits for the day (and that always turned into multiple runs).
Monolith does a fantastic job of capturing the difficulty and intensity of old school games, but they also did really well with touching it up with more modern features such as innovative power-ups, a money saving feature, and the ability to play through the game faster as you improve. My favorite aspect of this game is definitely how much your play-style matters. How you choose to proceed whether it be searching every room or trying to quickly get to the lower floors will stand as a testament to your success or destruction
It will definitely challenge you as well as frustrate you, but it's incredibly addicting and will offer and an enormous sense of gratification as you get better and manage to be able to consistently delve deeper and deeper into Monolith. This game is for both old and new gamers, but most of all, adventurous players who are not afraid of a true challenge.
+ Addicting gameplay
– Randomized rooms can destroy your entire run
+ Gives the player a lot of choices
– Difficulty spikes
+ Tight controls
– Random health scarcity
+ Beautiful retro graphics