Who doesn’t love a good old B-movie? A lot of people to be sure but I’m not among that crowd. I love seeing the hokey acting, the obvious claymation, and the plots that are stock at best. The Deadly Tower of Monsters is a game released in 2016 by Ace Team that takes you back to that simple age with an aesthetic, plot, and acting all done as an homage to the terrible science fiction of the 1970s. Though the controls and gameplay could be unintuitive and frustrating at times, the game is redeemed by literally everything else. It isn’t a flawless piece of art, but it is a great game if you're like me and love cheap, corny old films.
It’s the cult classic film, The Deadly Tower of Monsters! Somehow, despite the fact that no one has ever heard of it, the film’s director, Dan Smith, has been called in to do audio commentary on the DVD re-release. The game has a two-layered narrative: The first is the movie itself, in which you play as either renowned space explorer Dick Starspeed, the renegade princess Scarlet Nova, or Dick’s loyal companion The Robot. Dick’s spaceship Intrepid crashed on the planet of Gravoria, and now he needs to save its enslaved inhabitants from the evil Emperor and his chief scientist Dr. Peculiar. This is just as ridiculous as it sounds, and I will not dare spoil any of the important plot points. I will say that your enemies include flying saucers, dinosaurs, apes, land-dwelling psychic squid, and still more. You encounter all sorts of enemies on your epic climb up the titular Deadly Tower of Monsters.
The second layer of narration is the commentary by the director Dan Smith and his sound boy/interviewer Patrick. Imagine if Cave Johnson from Portal 2 did a voice-over like Rucks from Bastion, and that's the best way to describe the narration of Dan Smith. He is thoroughly convinced that the film he created was high art beloved by millions, not garbage that people don’t even love ironically. As you move your choice of character around, he sometimes gives tidbits of how he exploited the cast and crew of this film like crazy, and sometimes he comments on what you are doing. If you stand around, he sometimes talks about how he doesn’t remember those shots dragging on or how the actor was attempting method acting and that required them to just stand around for a few minutes as the camera rolled. If you die, the film stops and Dan comments on how that was the wrong footage, then when you respawn that is them changing the film to what is supposed to be the correct reel. The gameplay and the narrative flow together perfectly.
The ending of the story is absolute insanity, and this is coming from someone who played Saint’s Row IV: Enter the Dominatrix. However, I do mean that as a compliment. Without venturing too far into spoiler territory, the part of the game they want to make you think is the final boss obviously isn’t, you still have collectibles to do and you can see more levels above you. You then enter into a fourth part of the film that Dan doesn’t remember filming. What followed made me laugh out loud, though if you think you know where it's going with that and you love it then this is the game for you.
All in all, the story is a self-aware parody of itself, B-movies, and even kind of video games in general, as it is actually canon that the bodies of things you kill do actually turn into gold rather than having dinosaurs have mysterious pockets with money, like if after mauling you they would go get cookies from a vending machine for dessert.
I played on PC using a keyboard and mouse, which uses the standard WASD to move, then click with the left mouse button to melee and right mouse button to use range. This works really well for the vast majority where is uses the isometric camera, but this is where we reach my biggest problem with The Deadly Tower of Monsters: the camera. The camera is like a cat, it behaves at some points, but just when you get comfortable it knocks you off a ledge. You have no control over the camera, which isn’t a big deal in some games but in this one where you are going around and around a tower, it has a nasty tendency of changing at the worst moment and kicking you off the edge. Sometimes it even goes into a side view, where the controls become really awkward and difficult to use.
In fairness, falling off a ledge is not a death sentence in this game. In fact, when you fall off the edge you enter "Free-fall" mode, which gives you a few options. There’s your jetpack, which can help break your fall if you time it right regardless of how far you fall, and your air teleport, which plucks you from the air and puts you back on the tower from where you fell. There's even a fast travel so you can go to any checkpoint in the tower you've been to, so you don't need to give distance if for some reason you have to land. In fact, you sometimes need to jump from the tower. There is a little mini-game in which you have to jump from the tower and go through rings on your way down. It doesn’t make the camera problem go away, but it is a great way to compensate for what would have been a game-breaking issue.
There is also a bizarre RPG leveling system. You are given a bunch of missions to complete, and whenever you beat one you get a new skill point to put into a minor buff. Part of me loves that they made it a minor part, so you don't have to stick around grinding for experience. The other part of me really loves a good RPG so I would have liked to have not had to kill a dinosaur with a dagger in order to get a point, but in fairness that isn't as hard as it sounds. Some of the missions are just parts of the story, others you need to go out of your way to do. I guess in the end I'm grateful for those missions because they really helped to encourage me to explore the many options of the tower.
The combat is simple, but it is nonetheless fun. Click for a fast attack or click and hold for a stronger charged attack. You can have two melee and two ranged weapons at a time and you can switch at any armory. Each weapon can be upgraded if you find gears that you can find by exploring and killing enemies. The variety is nothing outstanding, only eight melee and eight ranged weapons, but each weapon had their own unique heft that made them all feel different and suited for different play styles. My personal favorites were the hammer and the Tesla gun, which made me feel like Thor when they were both equipped, as well as the sword that resembles but is legally distinct from a lightsaber, which not only damages enemies but reflects projectiles. Each character also has their own set of abilities, all of which can be utilized for different situations, and that really makes your character choice actually matter rather than just playing a man, a woman, or a gender-less automaton.
There are also times where enemies are coming from below and the game becomes space invaders. I’m not even joking, an icon reminiscent of the space invaders icon appears over the edge where the enemies are coming and you have to go over and shoot them before they reach you. That isn’t a bad mechanic though, the special gun you use for those segments is really satisfying to use and if you get them before they get to your level you won't have to fight them when they get up to your level. It can be a bit much when you have to dodge enemies also coming at you from the sides, but I don't recall ever being too overwhelmed.
There is also a survival mode which is completely independent from your progress in story mode. You get a small amount of gold at the beginning which you can use to buy and upgrade your weapon and character, then you dive down into an arena with progressively harder traps and waves of enemies. After each wave, you are allowed to buy and upgrade further before diving back into the fray. When you die, you start over. It isn’t nearly as fun as the story mode, there isn’t as much B-movie cheese and the atmosphere is generally lacking, but it’s a fun mode to go into every now and again. It isn't impressive, but it's a good diversion if you don't have anything to do.
Graphics and AUdio
The graphics on the human characters are standard, there is nothing really wrong with them but they aren’t outstanding. On everything else, however, they are perfect. Not because they’re top-of-the-line, but because the developers did everything they could possibly do to make this feel like a B-movie. Everything that flies has obvious strings, the costumes are terrible, and the claymation is like something straight out of one of the old Sinbad the Sailor films. The developers clearly made a lot of effort to recreate the old special effects of these types of movies.
Let's talk about the titular tower. Whenever you look up or down it just feels big. The first time I looked down to see how high I had gotten I was floored by just how big this game feels. The first few times it's staggering to see just how you've come and how far you have to go. It really helps you are climbing something nearly insurmountable, and it is satisfying to be able to feel your progress through the game.
The music is phenomenal. Nothing I would add to a playlist, but they got a legitimate orchestral score for this game. I know they didn't get a whole world-class symphony orchestra to give the soundtrack to this game, but the musicians they got were excellent and it is engineered so well it sounds like they have the whole orchestra behind them. They did not slouch on being sure the music is as big and melodramatic as the actors.
Speaking of the actors, the voice-over cast is obviously having a ton of fun hamming up every second. Dick Starspeed oozes William Shatner out of every overacting pore and Scarlet Nova could read a grocery list and make it sound urgent. The robot is probably the least characterized of all of them, and it isn't bad it's just a generic robot sidekick. The voice of Dan Smith is enjoyably oblivious and the well-meaning Patrick obviously resents him more and more with every story how he exploited the cast and crew.
Despite the occasionally clunky controls and unruly camera, I can't help it I loved this game. It legitimately felt to me as though I were playing a B-movie and I as the player was present in the sound booth where the obnoxious director was telling horrifically hilarious anecdotes of his time on the set. How you will feel will depend on how forgiving you are to a game in which you can kill a claymation Apatosaurus with a lightsaber while the director says he didn't believe the scientists who said they were carnivores. To me, a few missteps in gameplay and interface are forgivable if the concept is unique, the dialogue is well-written, and it all looks and sounds great. The Deadly Tower of Monsters isn't a great work of art that will shake the medium of video games for years to come, but if you like meta-humor, hammy actors, and the B-movies of yesteryear, this may be a game for you. It's a fun romp through a movie I really wish was real, and when you've played it you will wish that too.
|+ Hilarious writing||– Clunky controls|
|+ Great Weapon selection||– Erratic camera|
|+ B-Movie Aesthetic||– Lackluster survival mode|
|+ Epic feeling of the Tower|