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Monochrome is fun, but stick to the first half for now

  • Seeric
  • 07/16/2012 02:52 AM
Monochrome is an enjoyable game with a neat black and white retro aesthetic, though it makes use of new and old ideas alike. Its current demo form is an interesting take on the concept of a 'demo' as the entirety of the game is technically playable, but not necessarily all of the content. Unfortunately, this neat take on a demo may do more harm than good for Monochrome, but I'll discuss that later in this review.

Monochrome does a great job of mimicking games from the 1980's in many ways, and the plot is one of them. Aside from a very ambiguous opening sequence which involves the protagonist 'falling' from somewhere to literally crash onto the world of Monochrome, there is no real plot other than a few snippets of background information which can be gleaned by talking to NPC's. Otherwise, the vast majority of the game revolves around exploring the world and taking on dungeons in a relatively non-linear manner. This sense of ambiguity also involves the mute protagonist, who is just as blocky and featureless as any other NPC and is simply labeled 'Player', or rather 'PLAYER' as nearly all the text in the game is capitalized as fits the aesthetic.

Speaking of the aesthetics, they are rather well-done aside from a handful of graphical issues where some objects will turn into a different sprite when interacted with from certain directions. Although the black and white aesthetic along with the blocky and limited graphics may make the overworld at first appear very 'same-y', there are plenty of geographical landmarks which can help you determine just where in the world you are while still allowing for an open sense of exploration. There are also several subtle nods to the first two Zelda games, such as the way enemies appear and move on the overworld and how the number of statues at the entrance to each dungeon indicate which dungeon 'number' it is even though they can technically be tackled in nearly any order. Probably one of the best touches in the game is the use of simplistic emoticons next to each NPC's name instead of character portraits in order to convey emotions. The music and sound effects are all suitably 'retro' and all seem to be good choices, although I do not believe any are original creations, but the complete lack of music while walking around in towns, dungeons, and the overworld is disappointing even if it may fit the overall aesthetic. Lastly, the enemy design is great and seems to be entirely original with bosses especially being surprisingly detailed-looking while still remaining within the bounds of the low-tech appearance of the rest of the game.

The actual gameplay is a good mix of old and new ideas. Players start near the town of Centerville with neither money nor gear. Monsters do not award experience or drop gold, so the beginning is a bit slow as players will need to fight Horn Beasts while doing only 0 or 1 damage per hit until the acquire at least two horns as drops, which can be combined into an offhand weapon or turned in for some money to finally buy an actual weapon. Monochrome is mostly a game of very low numbers, so even acquiring a weapon which increases strength by 1 leads to a notable damage boost and grinding generally takes much less time after the initial tedium. In addition, players can utilize weapons and spells which deal one of three types of damage (blunt, piercing, and slashing) and likewise can acquire armor specialized in defending against each of these types, so discovering which type of damage a dungeon's enemies deal and are weak again can make a large difference. Each dungeon only has one type of enemy in it, but since dungeons do not have random encounters and enemies inside of dungeons never respawn, this is usually not bad and players can make notable progress through a dungeon even if they frequently return to town as a result. In addition, dungeons start small and gradually become more labyrinthine and every dungeon has a useful item and/or a spell scroll hidden somewhere inside it along with a boss; every boss gives the player a useful item known as a Demon Heart, a unique (but weak) sword which players will discover the use for later in the game, and a level up.

Items in Monochrome are one of its best features, but also lead to one of the demo's largest flaws. Although Monochrome doesn't have any puzzles in the more traditional sense of the word, discovering hidden uses for inventory items, such as the previously-mentioned swords dropped by bosses, more than makes up for this. It is also through a certain item which players can become stronger by choosing to increase HP or MP (or a combination of the two) in addition to a single stat point. 'Leveling up' after killing a boss actually does not increase the player's stats, but instead makes new monsters appear on the overworld in additional to larger groups of existing monsters, which in turn leads to significantly better loot and in higher quantities. Unfortunately, since not all of the content is in the game, this leads to a variety of item-related issues. Some of the stronger enemies simply don't drop anything at the moment, so later on in the game it actually becomes significantly harder to grind for sellable loot simply because most of the things you encounter never drop anything. Furthermore, since none of the sidequests are implemented yet, it is often impossible to know if an item has a secret use and therefore should not be sold or if the related content is simply not in the game and the item is currently useless, such as the many items described as 'crafting materials' or the Empty Canteen, which is clearly meant to be used to help cross a desert which otherwise rapidly causes damage even though the broken town well does not yet seem fixable.

The matter of missing or incomplete content does not just stop at items and quests though, and leads to various issues which range from confusing to outright game breaking and is only made worse by the fact that in the game's current state one can rarely ever be sure if something is actually missing or just well-hidden. For example, the town of Eastville is referred to various times, yet does not seem to actually be anywhere on the map. Much more concerning is the fact that the boss of the fifth dungeon is unusually weak and still grants a level up, but drops neither a Demon Heart nor its sword, meaning the game is technically impossible to complete unless there is some sort of related secret. Yet another way to be permanently unable to finish the game involves the boss of the third dungeon; unlike other bosses, there are technically two different ways to initiate the fight with this boss and one of these ways will send the player into a fight against the boss of the second dungeon, resulting in a duplicate of the second boss's sword and permanently denying access to the third sword. There are also various other oddities, such as being able to select to 'attack' bridge guards, but nothing actually happening if you do, and the blunt damage spell hitting multiple targets even though its piercing and slashing equivalents do not.

However, the most frustrating 'incomplete' aspect of the demo by far involves the sixth and seventh dungeons. Unlike the other dungeons, these are 'placeholder' dungeons, at least in terms of the enemies populating them. Both of these dungeons are inhabited solely by "Ichor Oozes", innocent-enough looking slimes with only 10 HP each, but which hit hard, seem to be outright immune to all magic, and at most take 1 damage from any type of physical attack, although even then they dodge the majority of attacks. The only remotely effective way of damaging them seems to be bombs, which will deal about 50 damage, but bombs also cost 50 gold each, cannot be bought in Centerville (which is the only town with the equivalent of an inn), and most of the enemies on the overworld no longer drop loot by the time the average player will enter these dungeons, meaning grinding for 'bomb gold' becomes extremely tedious. In the end, after spending more time farming for money for well over half a hundred bombs than I spent on the entirety of the demo before the sixth dungeon, I was able to make my way to and kill the boss of the sixth dungeon, but ultimately gave up after running out of bombs not even halfway through the truly gigantic seventh dungeon, especially since a weapon found along the way in the seventh dungeon nearly tripled my strength and let me one-shot most enemies yet still dealt 1's and 0's to Ichor Oozes. It didn't help at all that the sixth and seventh dungeons felt outright pointless due to the likely bug-based lack of a fifth boss sword.

Monochrome is a fantastic game when it actually works and likely will receive many 4 and 5-star reviews once it is launched with all of its proper content and bug fixes. However, due to the abysmal nature of the current sixth and seventh dungeons and the overall lack of implementation for late-game content, I would strongly advise against playing the current demo beyond the fifth dungeon.


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Thank you very much for your honest review. I will admit, the game is incomplete in its current form, but hearing that it is actually unbeatable is very disappointing. I rushed through creating the final dungeons in a matter of hours, so I was unable to properly play test them or populate them with appropriate enemies. I will be sure to determine the cause these bugs and implement an update as soon as I can, as well as make Ichor Ooze a much less common enemy.
RMN sex symbol
Oh wow I thought it was just me who thought it was weird. I wasn't sure if the end was the end, that's why I didn't start my review yet. Well that's good to know, review incoming.
Thanks for the fast reply, your game is very fun other than the oozes and the fifth boss not dropping its sword.

I thinking reducing the chance to 'miss' when fighting them and either reducing their health to the 3-5 range or just making them take significantly more damage from one of the damage types (piercing would probably make the most sense especially since the pierce-based spell is near the beginning of the sixth dungeon) would probably help a lot since the main issue is it usually takes 30-40+ rounds to kill a single ooze without a bomb.

As for the fifth boss, I think what may be going on is it might be set as the equivalent of one of the normal plant enemies (and therefore has their loot table), just with a different sprite and name. The reason I think this is not only because of its lack of drops, but also because it doesn't hit very hard and usually goes down after one attack. Also, I didn't mention it in the review because it's not all that important, but for some reason the room that particular boss is in allows you to run around even though everywhere else in the dungeon (and in the game) you can only walk.
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