It’s refreshing to see that instead of incessant banner ads or fake apps flooding our phones, we’re now able to play some quality monster-catching games that aren’t strictly from Nintendo. Coromon borrows a lot of its foundation from Nintendo’s long-running series but does just enough to show that this could be a viable and varied genre if more developers would take a swing at it.
What we’ve been graced with in Coromon is a deep adventure filled with tons of side quests, deep control over stat growth, puzzle-based progression, and over a hundred monsters. For longtime fans of Pokémon, this is a great way to capture the spirit of that game but play on your phone or computer.
STORY – YOU ARE AN UNPAID INTERN
TRAGsoft has laid out an interesting concept filled with smart writing and fantastic jokes. The basic premise is that your character has recently been hired by a massive technology company, Lux Solis, to research six “Titans” that can be found throughout the region. By joining this “Titan Taskforce”, you are granted access to new innovations that will aid in your work.
This all might be a thinly veiled version of a Professor granting you a Pokédex, but with the addition of new components that can be slotted into your Gauntlet (yes, you have a dope gauntlet like it’s a Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Disk) make the game progression much more interesting. Different upgrades will be used to maneuver your way through the environment and to solve puzzles, adding another layer of gameplay on top of the monster battling.
Your character can be customized more than you might think, as you can adjust skin color, hairstyles, and clothes in hundreds of different combinations as you see fit. As the game goes on, different quests require you to don different outfits, and your character’s appearance changes to reflect that. There are even optional unlockable accessories that you can wear, such as fun hats.
The other thing that I feel gives this game such a boost is the dialogue. Most NPCs in games like this, be it Pokémon, older Final Fantasy titles, etc. don’t particularly try to achieve well-written side characters and one-off jokes that actually land. Many indie teams have tried to balance plentiful jokes with quality humor, but this is a very hard thing to achieve. You could go too hard, like in something such as Dungeon of Naheulbeuk or Hero-U, which both suffer from the sheer amount of jokes they tried to include.
Coromon has struck the perfect middle ground between funny and helpful within NPC dialogue. Nearly every town and building has someone who provides some entertaining pun or sly reference (Weird Al Yankovic fans, keep your eyes peeled), but as players, we aren’t overwhelmed with the number of jokes that need to be clicked through to get to quest hints or mechanic tips.
GAMEPLAY – WELL-POLISHED MACHINE
As one would expect, this game is all about catching, and battling with, monsters. Yes, there are many aspects of Coromon that you have seen or experienced before in the Pokémon series. But what makes this title more than a cheap clone of a successful franchise is that it’s clear many hours have been spent refining what works and buffing out what didn’t.
It makes sense then to find out that Jochem Pouwels and Marcel van der Made (the two founders of TRAGsoft) have been working on Coromon for seven years. As their project has grown and they’ve taken on additional staff, the focus of the game is still clear: to be a nostalgic monster-catcher that is also reminiscent of Golden Sun or The Legend of Zelda.
To get right into it, the basic battle mechanics are the same that we’ve seen on countless titles since 1996. One (sometimes two) monsters enter the battle and duke it out according to the will of you, the trainer. Each has four moves to choose from (although these can be swapped out as they level up), and they can only use certain moves a certain number of times.
Here’s where things get interesting. Instead of having each move be tied to a certain number of uses, Coromon all have Stamina Points, which is a shared pool that different moves pull from. Less effective attacks require less SP, while a strong guaranteed knockout move will take up more of that pool. This inhibits the chances that players might simply button-mash their way through battles and requires you to be more strategic with your approach.
Another interesting level of detail is that you now have the ability to directly alter your monster’s stats in a much easier way. Rather than relying on leveling up or using a ton of consumable items to adjust a monster’s Speed or Defense stats, they now have a Potential meter that grows with experience points in tandem with their Level meter. Each time they “awaken to their potential”, you are granted three Potential points to use that will directly raise the stats of your choosing.
If you’ve found that your Armado works best as a tank, you can raise it to specifically have an incredibly high Defense, or maybe a Silquill with a huge Speed stat that gets the first hit every time. This also helps in the competitive sense (online battles against your friends are a thing!), allowing players to focus on the game instead of hidden calculations.
As I’ve mentioned before, one of the key items that you utilize during your time is a Gauntlet. This denotes who is a Coromon Trainer, as well as is the device that grants you moves outside of battles. Sometimes, a big log needs to get Pushed, or you’re in a hurry and don’t want to encounter any Coromon in a specific clump of wild grass. I really enjoyed the Gauntlet item, as it meant that there were things that I, the trainer, could do to affect the world, without relying on my monsters.
The build that I was able to play came in two flavors: one that essentially contained the first eight hours of the game and another that dropped me twenty hours in with a curated squad of Coromon. As the final product is expected to contain around forty hours’ worth of content, the ability to check out the mid-game was helpful in seeing what the arc of the journey will eventually consist of.
That being said, I found myself more drawn to the introduction. Not to say that the game gets worse as it goes on, but starting Coromon felt a lot like booting up Pokémon Ruby for the first time in 2003. I could run! I saw reflections in the puddles! The pixel art was detailed and stunning! Right out the gate, I found myself immersed in exciting new monsters, a grand adventure to complete, and (as with many JRPGs) many confused adults to save along the way.
But even beyond the intense amount of nostalgia that this title brought up for me, I truly did want to see through to the end. My Coromon became my squad, and I loved them all equally. The distressed scientist whose partner was kidnapped by aliens (seriously) was an important character in my world, and I needed to reunite them again. The quality and care that TRAGsoft has put into this game is incredible and will absolutely help the monster-catching genre grow beyond the one main title that gets all of the attention.
GRAPHICS/AUDIO – TERRIFIC THROWBACK
I specifically called out Pokémon Ruby because that’s the Pokémon title that this art style most closely lines up with, but honestly, Coromon stands on its own. Utilizing a “modern pixel art style,” the team has managed to execute a beautiful world with better text than a Final Fantasy remaster. Every battle has some stunning background art that reflects the location you’re in.
I’m not talking about simple bushes or some waves to convey water, these are fully detailed landscapes that flow around the monsters without distracting from the action. As you move through the world, the buildings and areas are beautifully drawn and richly articulated, even if the character sprites are boxy and bland. Character accessories help this, but you’re still just dressing up a cardboard box.
I also want to note my appreciation for the way that monsters are caught. A spinner is a cylindrical device that explodes open when it’s thrown, hovering over the ground with propellers as the energy inside attempts to contain the monster. It’s a fantastically animated sequence that looks extremely cool!
The music and sound design are also top-notch, eschewing arcade-style blips and bloops that many retro-inspired titles try to work with, and instead busting out everything from piano to bass guitar to bells and woodwind instruments. The general “walking around” music is has a light, bouncing quality that seems particularly evocative of the work of Grant Kirkhope (Banjo-Kazooie, Donkey Kong 64). Hearing a Coromon cry out its name is a true delight!
Coromon was reviewed for the PC. A key was provided by Stride PR.