A monstrous life, indeed.
I have tried several times to enjoy free-to-play games. Tiny Tower, Dragonvale, and many more games have lead short lives on my iPhone’s memory. It isn’t the concept of them being free that draws me in, it is the promise of strategic economic management. For the most part I am let down by the free to play model, finding that the game is more about the creators attempting to manage my wallet rather than me managing a village, or tower, or empire of planes.
Monster Life didn’t seem like a game that was setting out to break the mold, but the promise of monster battles tied in to a traditional, “add buidlings to a grid to generate coins” setup seemed like it may have had enough to hold my interest. I want to say this is a game about battling monsters that the player trains, or a game about raising monsters in a player created village, but it isn’t. There isn’t any strategy surrounding the development of your monster ranch, and the battles consist of the occasional tap to perform a critical hit along with hammering on buttons to spend your in-game resources. Monster Life is entirely focused on regenerating resource pools; this is done so with time and ultimately real-world cash.
From the moment the game begins, you are faced with Monster Life’s in-app-purchasing model. Three resources govern play: Gold, Friend Stones, and Crystals. Gold is the most easily gained, and is earned by completing quests and purchasing revenue-generating buildings. Friend Stones are also simple enough to procure; either interact with the game’s non player characters, or buy into Gameloft’s social media push and earn Friend Stones through interaction with other players. Crystals, though, are what caused me to hit a wall after only an hour of playtime with Monster Life. Very few in-game events reward the player with crystals, and at nowhere close to a rate that would allow the player to purchase everything in the game.
If I take my monster in to battle, whether I win or lose, their energy is depleted. I can send them into another battle if I am willing to spend a hefty sum crystals, either that or I can wait hours (literally, over half a day) until my monster is ready for another battle. Heaven forbid I lose the battle and am tempted to revive my monster for, you guessed it, a large sum of crystals. I have hit a point in Monster Life where it cannot be enjoyed without purchasing crystals.
That assumes, of course, that there is something to be enjoyed if I were to have crystals. There isn’t, all that awaits after your purchase is an even longer wait on the meaningless treadmill where player input or creativity has no meaning, or yet another purchase. It is a shame, because I am more than willing to pay for quality content, but nothing Monster Life has for sale will add a meaningful mechanic to the game, or allow me to interact in new and thought-provoking ways.
I would have been willing to pay upwards of $20 if this game were to have ditched the “free-to-play” mechanics in favor of a tactical battle system and engaging village simulation. The game has the foundation: the characters are a good starting point, the village editing system works well enough (minus the difficult time I have selecting elements and monsters) and the game is undeniably easy on the eyes. I understand that free to play is the model in vogue, and I would be willing to pay for content were it to be on par with Hero Academy’s.
What I cannot support is the model that Gameloft has chosen to use. Especially when it comes to the “Jackaloster,” a monster only available via in-game lottery, a lottery that can only be entered by spending 90 crystals ($2-$4 depending on the amount of crystals you purchase at once). While the player can blow all of their crystals earned in game on the lottery with the hopes of winning this monster, the more likely scenario is a child, or someone with a weakness for this kind of game will blow real world money gambling for the chance to win a virtual rabbit. That is a shameless tactic that I cannot endorse, one that I believe crosses the line of how games should be developed ethically. Other games may do this, but no game should.
Let’s face it, even calling Monster Life a game is a stretch, so much so that I am uncomfortable scoring it as one. As a gamer, I can only imagine how frustrating it must have been to work on Monster Life. While the groundwork for making it a beautiful, and potentially creative Pokemon-meets-Animal-Crossing is in plain sight, it is ignored in favor of a carrot-and-stick approach to player psychology with little reward.
Monster Life is available as a free to play universal download on the App Store.